Barbara’s Picks, Dec. 2013, Pt. 2: Data Mining, Gold, Suspense, Fiction in Translation, & a Big Debut Novel

Aiden, Erez & Jean-Baptiste Michel. Uncharted: Big Data and an Emerging Science of Human History. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Dec. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781594487453. $27.95. SCIENCE/HISTORY
Harvard Society Fellow Aiden and Harvard University scientist Michel, a 2012 TED Fellow recently named one of Forbes’s “30 under 30,” here address a hot (indeed, controversial) topic: mining big data. Wondering what all those data on all those servers worldwide could tell us, they joined with Google to build the Ngram Viewer, a web-based tool that can chart words throughout the Google Books archive. The one-million-plus queries run through the viewer since 2010 reveal startling cultural patterns on everything from how languages change over time to how art has been censored. Not just for geeks.

Franck, Julia. Back to Back. Grove. Dec. 2013. tr. from German by Anthea Bell. 320p. ISBN 9780802121677. $24. LITERARY FICTION
Franck’s first publication in this country (2010) was the German Book Prize winner The Blindness of the Heart, which has appeared in 35 countries; it received significant review and off-the-bookpage attention here. Her second U.S. publication opens in East Berlin in 1954 and features Käthe, a sculptor of Jewish descent who raises her children in hardnosed Socialist fashion. But Thomas and Ella long for the West, where their father has fled. Furthermore, Ella is being abused by the family’s Stasi lodger, which adds psychological drama to Franck’s intense study of the relentless forces of history. Great for elevated book-club discussion.

Hart, Matthew. Gold: A History, a Hunt, a Fever. Gallery: S. & S. Dec. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781451650020. $26. HISTORY
Since its emergence six millennia ago as the mark of royal or priestly power, gold has dominated our imagination. Hart, a well-established journalist and author whose works have appeared in venues like the Atlantic Monthly and the London Times, offers a history of this glittery, gorgeous metal, ranging from the conquistadores’ plunder of South America to the 1800s Gold Rush to the recent doubling of the price of gold from $800 to $1900 an ounce. And guess what? The biggest gold-producing country of all is China. Already, several long-lead print and TV and radio sources have expressed interest, so expect big things.

Joss, Morag. Our Picnics in the Sun. Delacorte. Dec. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780385342766. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345539670. SUSPENSE
One dark night, two drunk and querulous strangers come to the English countryside cottage owned by Howard and Deborah, who has turned it into a bed-and-breakfast after Howard’s stroke. The next morning, one of the strangers has vanished and the other cannot pay the bill Deborah presents, which sets the scene for a suspenseful, intricately wrought investigation into the dark, linked pasts of all three characters. Scottish-born Joss, an Edgar Award nominee and Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger Award winner, is building a strong fan base.

Muñoz Molina, Antonio. In the Night of Time. Houghton Harcourt. Dec. 2013. tr. from Spanish by Edith Grossman. 656p. ISBN 9780547547848. $30. LITERARY FICTION
Winner of the 2011 Prix Méditerranné Etranger, the French award for best foreign-language novel, this novel opens in October 1936 with Spanish architect Ignacio Abel arriving at New York’s Penn Station, having abandoned his wife and children to the rising ferocity of the Spanish civil war in pursuit of a brightly burning affair with an American woman. The U.S. publication of Muñoz Molina’s Sepharad in 2003 was met with rapturous reviews (“a masterpiece,” the New York Review of Books), and with the redoubtable Grossman as translator this book can’t miss for sophisticated readers.

Mutch, Barbara. The Housemaid’s Daughter. St. Martin’s. Dec. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781250016300. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250031969. HISTORICAL FICTION
Cathleen Harrington hadn’t seen her fiancé, Edward, for five years when she traveled from Ireland to South Africa in 1919 to marry him. She makes the best of a loveless situation in a harsh desert environment by writing in her diary and befriending first her housemaid and then the housemaid’s mixed-race daughter, Ada, whom she teaches to play the piano and bonds with in a way she cannot with her husband and her own daughter. When Ada disappears, Cathleen must decide whether to challenge convention by trying to find her. South African–born Mutch’s debut received UK raves, with rights sold to a dozen countries; here she’s benefiting from big in-house buzz.

Ridley, Jane. The Heir Apparent: A life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Random. Dec. 2013. 752p. ISBN 9781400062553. $35. BIOGRAPHY
Known as Bertie, King Edward VII was a wild womanizer and gluttonous gambler until he ascended the throne at age 59 after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. Suddenly, he emerged as a conscientious ruler who redefined the monarchy for the 20th century. All you need to know: the London Independent’s review called this “not only the best biography of King Edward VII; it’s also one of the best books about royalty ever published.” A huge British best seller; does this tell us anything about Charles?

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.