Jill Lepore, Azar Nafisi, Simon Schama, Edward O. Wilson | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Oct. 2014, Pt. 3

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Knopf. Oct. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780385354042. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385354059. HISTORY
A Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer who’s a Bancroft Prize winner and Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist, Lepore offers some surprising history here. She tells the story of the creation of Wonder Woman, who with Superman and Batman is among our most enduringly popular comics superheroes, and of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston. Lepore argues that Marston had strong feminist beliefs, dating from British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst’s being banned from speaking at Harvard when Marston was a freshman there, while also revealing that he and his wife brought a niece of Margaret Sanger in the family as his nafisimistress. Also inventor of the lie detector, Marston communicated his complex beliefs in the pages of Wonder Woman comics, which Lepore aims to decode here.

Nafisi, Azar. The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books. Viking. Oct. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780670026067. $28.95. BIOGRAPHY/LITERARY
As she explained in her No. 1 New York Times best-selling Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi worked behind closed doors in a severely repressed theocratic Iran to teach a handful of committed women students the joys of great literature, creating for them a “republic of imagination.” Here, responding to a Seattle reader’s comment that Americans don’t care about books the way Nafisi’s Iranian students did, she analyzes her most beloved works of American literature, especially The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, to show that we indeed have a republic of imagination, with so much to learn from our literature. With an eight-city tour.

Schama, Simon. The Story of the Jews. Vol. 2: When Words Fail: 1492–Present. Ecco. Oct. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9780062339577. $39.99. HISTORY
The second volume in a two-volume tie-in to a PBS and BBC series airing this spring (The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BC–1492 AD just appeared in March), this work opens with the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula (which brought about the end of Spain’s Golden Age), then ranges from Spinoza and Freud to Hollywood and the horrors of the Holocaust in a sweeping history of Jewish life and culture. University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia, author of highly praised books like the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Rough Crossings, and the writer/presenter of 40 TV documentaries, wilsonmeaningSchama clearly has the tools to make this a vivid telling.

Wilson, Edward O. The Meaning of Human Existence. Liveright: Norton. Oct. 2014. 192p. ISBN 9780871401007. $23.95. SCIENCE/PHILOSOPHY
A Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard professor emeritus, Wilson has long been credited with introducing and promoting the concept of sociobiology, the idea that much human behavior is grounded in genetics. But he has become more expansive, as evidenced by this meditation on human existence. Wilson does see humans as holding a special place in the universe—the poet’s or engineer’s work is different from the spider’s web—but he also warns us that it’s dangerous to take too much power upon ourselves and think that we can redesign humans and the rest of nature at will. Look for the New York Times serial.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.