Big Bios (Jerry Lee Lewis, Queen Isabella, & More), Hero Dog Lucca, & Cult Novelist Ellis | Barbara’s Picks, Nov. 2014, Pt. 3

Bragg, Rick & Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. Harper. Nov. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780062078223. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062078230. BIOGRAPHY
Having authored All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man, two huge New York Times best-selling memoirs about his Southern upbringing, Bragg seems primed to capture the renegade life of quintessentially Southern rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, the first person inducted into the Rock and Rollisabella Hall of Fame. “Great Balls of Fire,” indeed; look for rare and unpublished photos.

Downey, Kirstin. Isabella: The Warrior Queen. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Nov. 2014. 544p. ISBN 9780385534116. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385534123. Downloadable: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
Remember Spain’s mighty monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella? Downey, finalist for a 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for The Woman Behind the New Deal, argues that it was all Isabella, who went up against not just her unpredictable (but beloved) husband but a nasty brother so that she could seize control of Castile and León. Then she pushed the Moors and Jews from Spain and launched a worldwide empire. Downey did new research, often in primary sources heretofore locked up behind the Iron Curtain, to present Isabella as a significant force in shaping the modern world.

Ellis, Warren. Normal. FSG Originals. Nov. 2014. NAp. ISBN 9780374534974. pap. $14. LITERARY/THRILLER
Cult author extraordinaire, Ellis has written award-winning, best-selling graphic novels, the New York Times best-selling Machine Gun, and Farrar’s first digital original, Dead Pig Collector; for a signing at an FSG Originals Series event last fall, the winding, outdoor line had to be capped at 350. All of which recommends a close look at this upmarket technothriller about a future on the verge of (what else?) the apocalypse, which places plenty of stress on two types of professionals: foresight strategists consider how to geo-engineer cities to avoid Our Coming Doom, while civil futurists go out on a ledge to consider how to survive it. Like many of his colleagues, foresight strategist Adam Dearden suffers enough burnout to be sent to recover at Normal Head, a secure area within Oregon’s wilds. But then another patient vanishes from his locked room, and the chase is on. Adding to the intrigue, this book is being publicized in four serialized installments in Spring 2014.

Goodavage, Maria. Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca. Dutton. Nov. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780525954361. $26.95. DOGS
Goodavage’s New York Times best-selling Soldier Dogs captured the zeitgeist; news stories abound on the work canines do in the military, and various animal charities help soldiers reunite with the luccadogs they have handled. Here Goodavage focuses on one hero dog, Lucca, who carried out an extraordinary 400-mission career in Afghanistan and Iraq as a specialized search dog. If only Lucca herself could talk.

Safran, John. God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi. Riverhead. Nov. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781594633355. $27.95. TRUE CRIME
After interviewing infamous white supremacist Richard Barrett in Mississippi for a film on race, Safran, a white Jewish Australian documentarian born in that state, learned that Barrett had been murdered by a young black man named Vincent McGee. He returned to investigate. As he shows here, the crime was a lot more complicated than what it first appeared to be: an inversion of the race crimes that dominated the Old South. The book promises to be an impassioned study of race, money, sex, and power, with a touch of humor.

Smith, Richard Norton. On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller. Random. Nov. 2014. 640p. ISBN 9780375505805. $38; ebk. ISBN 9780812996876. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
Pulitzer Prize finalist Smith spent 12 years on this biography of Nelson Rockefeller, drawing on thousands of documents and over 100 interviews to paint a portrait of the one-time New York governor and U.S. vice president who led a storied life on the side. Cast as an account of the sort of moderate Republican hardly seen today.

Sykes, Christopher Simon. David Hockney: The Biography, 1975–2014. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Nov. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780385535908. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780385539555. BIOGRAPHY
Published in 2012, David Hockney: The Biography, 1937–1975; A Rake’s Progress won praise as the go-to title on this influential contemporary artist. Now, here’s the second volume, showing how Hockney has expanded his range, leading the art world’s charge into the digital revolution. Written with exclusive access to Hockney and bound to brighten up your day.

Tademy, Lalita. Citizens Creek. Atria. Nov. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781476753034. $26. HISTORICAL FICTION
Tademy returns with a book in the spirit of her New York Times best-selling Cane River, featuring a man born into slavery in 1810 Alabama who uses a gift for languages to buy his way to freedom. Sold to a Creek Indian chief before he turns ten, Cow Tom becomes a translator for his Creek master and is even hired out to U.S. military generals, earning the money he needs to break his chains. His granddaughter Rose takes up the battle against social oppression.

Wilson, A.N. Victoria: A Life. Penguin Pr. Nov. 2014. 624p. ISBN 9781594205996. $36. BIOGRAPHY
Wilson is an authority on Victorian-era Great Britain (his The Victorians is much admired), and as a biographer he takes on the biggies, e.g., Jesus, Milton, and Tolstoy, so we can’t be surprised to see this big biography of Queen Victoria. Wilson’s main argument: despite appearances, she was deeply involved in affairs of state. Wilson limns Victoria’s personal struggles, too; look for national NPR coverage.


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.