American Fun, SAT Prep, & the Financial Divide | Nonfiction Previews, Feb. 2014, Pt. 4

Beckman, John. American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt. Pantheon. Feb. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780307908179. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908186. SOCIAL HISTORY
Author of the debut novel The Winter Zoo, a New York Times Notable Book, Beckman challenges our understanding of American Puritanism by showing that we’ve been an essentially prankish, fun-loving nation. Colonists reveled wildly, Patriots mocked Redcoats, slaves lampooned masters, the Twenties roared, Hollywood entertained, Yippies invaded the stock market, and the Internet isn’t entirely sober-minded either. Have fun reading.

Crist, Charlie & Ellis Henican. The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. Dutton. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780525954415. $26.95. MEMOIR/POLITICAL SCIENCE
In this political memoir, the former Republican governor of Florida explains why he became disenchanted with his party and ended up running for the Senate as an independent, endorsing Obama, and finally becoming a Democrat. Here he argues that Democrats have the right vision for the nation while offering the lowdown on Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and more. More fuel for our political fires.

Epley, Nicholas. Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want. Knopf. Feb. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780307595911. $26.95. PSYCHOLOGY
If you like books like Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and Daniel Pink’s Drive, you’ll be interested in this book by Epley, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Epley shows us how our minds work to understand other minds—and the kinds of mistakes we make when we overstep the boundaries and project too much. With a 35,000-copy first printing.

Feifer, Gregory. Russians: The People Behind the Power. Twelve. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781455509645. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455509652; lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455552146. CD: Hachette Audio. CURRENT EVENTS
A native Russian speaker who was National Public Radio’s Moscow correspondent and is now senior correspondent for Radio Free Europe, Feifer has reported from Russia for a decade. Here he aims to explain Russians to the rest of us, showing how some seeming illogicalities (e.g., their embrace of Vladimir Putin) are grounded in history. Russians themselves get a voice, which isn’t just interesting but validating; readers interested in the state of the world will want to investigate. Pushed back from May 2013; see also Masha Gessen’s Words Will Break Cement, previewed below.

George, Nelson. The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style. Morrow. Feb. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780062221032. $27.99. MUSIC
Distinguished critic George, the author of Where Did Our Love Go? and other key black music histories, here tells the story of a variety show that took America on one hip trip. Debuting in 1971, Soul Train featured performers that appealed to young African Americans, ranging from James Brown to Christine Aguilera, with the sound of jazz, gospel, and rhythm & blues ringing through. A big cultural history; with a 75,000-copy first printing.

Gessen, Masha. Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. Riverhead. Feb. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781594632198. pap. $16. POLITICAL SCIENCE
A book about the Russian activist/feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot might simply have been about their artistic accomplishments had these five young women not entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in February 2012 to offer a “punk prayer” asking the Mother of God to get rid of Vladimir Putin, currently president of Russia. Their actions led to the arrest of three of the women, with two eventually sentenced to a prison colony. Award-winning Russian American journalist/author Gessen (The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin) draws on exclusive access to members of the group and their friends and family to show how they came to their daring act.

Gold, Russell. Frackistan: The Promise and Peril of America’s Energy Revolution. S. & S. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781451692280. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451692303. BUSINESS/ECONOMICS
A Pulitzer Prize finalist who has written about energy for the Wall Street Journal since 2002, Gold here examines the pros and cons of fracking—the controversial practice of pumping liquid into the ground at high pressure to shatter shale rock and release the oil and natural gas trapped there. As the category indicates, this book is not so much a scientific study as a study of the energy industry. Part of the conversation.

Jones, Daniel. Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers). Morrow. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780062211163. $25.99. RELATIONSHIPS
Featured in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, the popular “Modern Love” column delivers personal, affecting pieces on love triumphant, love failed, and love as a life lesson. (I’m a fan.) Jones, who has edited the column since its inception in 2004, pulls from the 50,000 pieces he’s considered to create a narrative of love as a journey passing through ten steps: pursuit, destiny, vulnerability, connection, trust, practicality, monotony, infidelity, loyalty, and wisdom. Great idea; with a 75,000-copy first printing.

Lively, Penelope. Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir. Viking. Feb. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780670016556. 26.95. MEMOIR/LITERATURE
Starting with her earliest years in Cairo and boarding school in England, Man Booker Prize winner Lively’s life—and her memoir—sweep through decades of change in 20th-century Britain. Her examination of memory, “the moth-eaten version of our own past that each of us carries around,” is framed by images of that have stayed with her: a bit of Egyptian pottery showing dancing fish and ammonites found on a Dorset beach.

Macur, Juliet. Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong. Harper. Feb. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780062277220. $27.99. SPORTS
A record seven Tour de France titles, multimillion-dollar sponsorships, and, most significantly, the huge respect of fans for his accomplishments; Lance Armstrong lost them all after the USADA determined that he had used illicit performance-enhancing drugs. He finally admitted to doping in an Oprah interview. Macur, an award-winning investigative reporter journalist covering sports for the New York Times, interviewed more than 100 people to explain how and why Armstrong crashed and burned. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Meck, Su with Daniel de Vise. Think Again: A Memoir of Life with Amnesia. S. & S. Feb. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781451685817. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451685831. MEMOIR
Amnesia figures as a provocative theme in fiction (see M.D. Waters’s Archetype, previewed in Fiction), but for Meck it has been all too real. In 1988, at age 22, she was hit on the head by a ceiling fan and awoke with profound memory loss. Unlike most other patients who have suffered such trauma, she never regained her memories, having to relearn everything—including how to parent her two children and love her husband. After nearly 20 years, her carefully reconstructed life came crashing down owing to shattering personal events, and she had to figure out how to move forward again. A high-profile book for the spring.

Roose, Kevin. Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits. Grand Central. Feb. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780446583251. $26; lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455551743; ebk. ISBN 9781455572328. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. BUSINESS/BANKING
Crash or no crash, plenty of young overachievers still set their sights on Wall Street and start there after college graduation as junior investment bankers and traders. Roose, a New York magazine writer whose The Unlikely Discipline did nicely, followed eight such aspirants for three years to show us not just the 100-hour workweeks and big bonuses but the birth of a new Wall Street culture. With a 40,000-copy first printing.

Rowlands, Penelope, ed. The Beatles Are Here!: 50 Years After the Band Arrived in America, Writers and Other Fans Remember. Algonquin. Feb. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781616203504. pap. $15.95. MUSIC
I know, you’re likely shocked—shocked—to realize that it’s been 50 years since the Beatles landed in America. For Rowlands (Paris Was Ours), it’s personal; she was there, captured in a world-famous image of several screaming girls hoisting a “Beatles, Please Stay” sign. Here she offers a scrapbook of reminiscences of that moment from folks as widely spaced as Alec Baldwin and Joe Queenan, ultimately reflecting on what the Beatles have meant to all of us.

Sebald, W.G. A Place in the Country. Random. Feb. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781400067718. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812995039. LITERARY/ESSAYS
The last big work by the renowned author of Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn to be translated into English, this book studies the interrelationship of place, memory, and creativity by investigating six important influences on Sebald’s life, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the painter Jan Peter Tripp. By talking about them, he reveals more of himself and how he came to be a prize-winning author. Anyone who has read Sebald’s works knows that they are doused in a sense of place, so this book should be an illuminating read as well as a testament to an important writer. Pushed back from December 2011.

Sikka, Madhulika. A Breast Cancer Alphabet. Crown. Feb. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780385348515. $19; ebk. ISBN 9780385348522. Downloadable: Random Audio. HEALTH/MEMOIR
Since Sikka is executive editor for NPR News, you might expect this to be a journalist’s report on her experiences after being diagnosed with cancer. Instead, she crafts a personal story of coping with the unexpected challenges, presented in an A-to-Z format; H is for hair (it’s going to be a problem), while J for journey (and an argument to drop that cliché). Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich has provided 26 hand-drawn two-color illustrations. A gift book with big buzz.

Stier, Debbie. The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SATs. Harmony: Crown. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780307956675. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780307956699. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. EDUCATION/PARENTING
According to the Wall Street Journal, parents in this country spend $4.5 billion annually on test prep and tutoring, so why not a little guidance from a friend? Stier steps up with this book, part manual and part memoir, that draws on what she learned from working through the SATs with her son, cruising through all the test-prep methods, and taking the test seven times herself. You might want to read it before you spend $1,000 an hour on a tutor. Check out Stier’s popular website, Debbie, the ACT is next!

Sutton, Robert I. & Hayagreeva Rao. Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling for Less. Crown Business. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780385347020. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780385347037. BUSINESS/ECONOMICS
How do you “scale up” your company, helping it reach Facebook heights by creating a culture of excellence among employees? Best-selling Stanford professor Sutton (Good Boss, Bad Boss) and his colleague Rao, who jointly teach an MBA class on scaling up, draw on five years of research to help large company and small, boss, entrepreneur, and consultant alike. With a 60,000-copy first printing.

Taibbi, Matt. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Spiegel & Grau. Feb. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780812993424. $27. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Those who know the work of Taibbi, a National Magazine Award winner, contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and author of New York Times best sellers Griftopia and The Great Derangement, won’t be surprised by his subject or the passion of his argument. He here argues that the widening gap between the rich one percent and the rest of us is not only reconfiguring our economy but our sense of justice, as one percenters act strictly in their own interest and everyone else risks stop-and-frisk. With a six-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.

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.