Nonfiction Previews, Jan. 2014, Pt. 2: the Parthenon, the Staple Singer, Great Gatsby Inspiration, & More

Connelly, Joan Breton. The Parthenon Enigma. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780307593382. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385350501. ARCHAEOLOGY
We have long regarded the Parthenon as summing up the glory that was Athens, birthplace of democracy. But after studying a lost play by Euripides, inscribed on scraps of papyrus wound around an Egyptian mummy, MacArthur fellow Connelly (currently an NYU classics professor) has concluded that our understanding of the noble edifice is completely wrong and that in fact it may have been a darker place of cult ritual and human sacrifice. Not just for scholars.

Churchwell, Sarah. Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby. Viking. Jan. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781594204746. $29.95. LITERATURE
F. Scott Fitzgerald was inarguably inspired while writing The Great Gatsby, and one thing that inspired him was his learning about a notorious double murder in New Jersey involving the married Eleanor Mills and her lover, Episcopal priest Edward Wheeler Hall, found shot to death under a crab apple tree with their billets-doux scattered about. Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia, Churchwell shows how this now-forgotten “Crime of the Decade” affected Fitzgerald’s writing.

Coughlin, Con. Churchill’s First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250043047. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466841048. HISTORY
Executive foreign editor of the Daily Telegraph and a Middle East expert, Coughlin gives us Winston Churchill early in his military career, when he participated in Britain’s 1890 Afghan campaign. While perhaps just a fragment of his illustrious career, it has profound relevance for understanding our involvement in Afghanistan today. Tellingly, an account Churchill wrote of his first major campaign is still referenced today by British and American military leaders.

Jarvis, Tim. Shackleton’s Epic: Recreating the World’s Greatest Journey of Survival. Morrow. Jan. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780062282736. $35. TRAVEL/POLAR REGIONS
Famed explorer/filmmaker Jarvis didn’t just retrace Sir Ernest Shackleton’s extraordinary three-year journey through Antarctica’s snow and ice; he did it in period clothing and gear. Brrrr. Because Jarvis’s re-creation of Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1912 trek across Antarctica became a best-selling book and an award-winning documentary, and because his new book is companion to a three-part prime-time PBS series, purchase would seem wise. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

Kot, Greg. I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway. Scribner. Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781451647853. $26. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
Music critic at the Chicago Tribune, Kot tells the story of Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers, who started out on the Southern gospel circuit of the 1950s and, on the way to selling more than 30 million records, produced a unique blend of gospel, soul, folk, and rock that became the musical backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. Even Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired. Read with Mark Kurlansky’s Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America, coming from Riverhead this month.

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.