Sean Carroll, Janine di Giovanni, Roxane Gay, Mark Kurlansky, Nathaniel Philbrick | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, May 2016, Pt. 1

Carroll, Sean. The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. Dutton. May 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780525954828. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780698409767. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. SCIENCE
A theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, Carroll won the Royal Societycarroll Winton Prize for The Particle at the End of the Universe, his explication of the world-blowing discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. As if that weren’t a big enough deal, here he guides us through several centuries’ worth of scientific discoveries to show how they have shaped our understanding and indeed how the laws of nature are linked to the most fundamental human questions of life, death, and our place in the cosmos. A TED talker who’s appeared on The Colbert Report and PBS’s NOVA and been interviewed by publications like the New York Times, Carroll should make his subject transparent for the scientifically muddled.

di Giovanni, Janine. The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria. Liveright: Norton. May 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780871407139. $26.95. MIDDLE EAST
An award-winning foreign correspondent who currently serves as Middle East editor of Newsweek, di Giovanni draws on several years’ worth of reporting on Syria to show what the fighting there has cost the populace. (Her coverage has appeared not only in Newsweek but in Vanity Fair, for which she serves as contributing editor, and on the front page of the New York Times.) She tells her story from the perspective of numerous ordinary individuals, among them a doctor, a musician, and a student, revealing moments of real decency amid the blood, tears, and disintegration of a nation. Originally scheduled for November 2014 as Seven Days in Syria and presumably expanded from the original plan; so much has happened in Syria since then. With comparisons to Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s much-lauded Imperial Life in the Emerald City.

Gay, Roxane. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Harper. May 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780062362599. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062362605. MEMOIR
“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere.” So Gay, who deals fearlessly with our hardest truths in both essays (the New York Times best-selling Bad Feminist) and fiction (An Untamed State, an LJ Best Book), addresses issues of eating, self-image, and learning to address one’s hunger in safe and satisfying ways. She then broadens her meditation on body as she examines kurlanskyviolence against women, starting with a terrible incident in her youth that proved transformative. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Kurlansky, Mark. Paper: Paging Through History. Norton. May 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780393239614. $27.95. HISTORY
Paper has been around for two millennia, getting ever easier to produce and helping with the spread of literacy, religion, commerce, and art. It certainly kept Leonardo da Vinci busy; he left behind only 15 paintings but 4,000 works on paper. Now that paper will supposedly be cashiered by technology sometime in the future, here’s a study by the man who has made cod, salt, and more sparkling and focused reading in his previous titles. And, no, he doesn’t think those bendable sheets of pulped cellulose are going anywhere soon. With an eight-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia and, obviously, library marketing.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. Viking. May 2016. ISBN 9780525426783. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780698153233. CD/downloadable. Penguin Audio. HISTORY
In fall 1776, not long after George Washington was compelled to evacuate New York, his philbrickfavorite general, Benedict Arnold, managed a key victory by holding off the British at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain. By the end of the war, his faith in revolution destroyed by the underhanded dealings of politicians and fellow soldiers, Arnold had switched sides, with his name henceforth used by Americans as an epithet for betrayal. New York Times best-selling author Philbrick, a National Book Award winner for In the Heart of the Sea, details the fraught relationship between Washington and Arnold (not shown here as the devil we assumed) while revealing that for many of the rebelling Colonists, the war was an opportunistic time for settling scores with one’s neighbors. With a whopping 18-city tour; a feature film based on In the Heart of the Sea opens in December.

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.