Science, Knausgaard, & America from Abroad | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Jul./Aug. 2017

Davis, Angela J., ed. Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment. Pantheon. Jul. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781101871270. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101871287. AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES
The recent deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and more bring into ever sharper POLICINGfocus the long, tragic history of the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of African American men. This timely anthology, edited by a professor at the American University Washington College of Law, collects essays by leading criminal justice experts that explore issues like racial profiling, the role of implicit bias, the disproportionate imprisonment of black men, and the Supreme Court’s failure to redress the balance.

Fountain, Henry. The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet. Crown. Aug. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781101904060. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101904077. Downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORY/SCIENCE
New York Times science journalist/editor takes us back to March 27, 1964, when the biggest earthquake ever recorded in North America–and the second biggest ever in the world—hit the Prince William Sound region of Alaska. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, it devastated coastal towns and villages and cost 139 lives in an area that was thinly populated. Asked to investigate the cause, George Plafker, a geologist for the U.S.fountain Geological Survey, found evidence that substantiated the then-controversial theory of plate tectonics and has since been used to plan for future earth shakers. For more on present causes and future consequences, see Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland: Preparing for America’s Next Devastating Earthquake (Dutton. Jul. 2017. ISBN 9780525955184. $28).

Hansen, Suzy. Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. Farrar. Aug. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780374280048. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374712440. POLITICAL SCIENCE
After 9/11, determined to understand the history behind the headlines, budding journalist Hansen moved to Istanbul and encountered not a gauzy postimperial city but some hard-edged truths about how America is viewed in the world today. Even as she explored the city she has called home for years and traveled to Greece, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, absorbing their histories, cultures, and politics, she found a sense not of violent hatred but of disappointment with America, even “a broken heart … [with] a one-hundred-year-old relationship.” Can relationships be mended? A first book from a New York Times Magazine contributing writer.

Higashida, Naoki. Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism. Random. Jul. 2017. 272p. tr. from Japanese by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell. ISBN 9780812997392. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812997408. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
At age 13, Higashida wrote The Reason I Jump, an international phenomenon that offered readers an extraordinary look into the mind of a child with autism. This new memoir finds the author moving into young adulthood and wrestling with issues of identity, family, and society, creating the portrait of a unique individual, not just a labeled type. The first book stayed on the New York Times best sellers list for 20 weeks, so expect demand.

Knausgaard, Karl Ove. Autumn. Penguin Pr. Aug. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9780399563300. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399563317. MEMOIR
Following the retrospective autobiographical fiction of his monumental “My Struggle” series, which brought him New York Times bestsellerdom and international fame, Knausgaard offers the first in what is billed as an autobiographical quartet grounded in the four seasons. Here, in typical hypnotic detail, he describes the world to his unborn daughter, writing a page a day as he assays the sun, chewing gum, lice, stars, and rural life generally. At the same time, he clarifies the relationship between parent and child, concluding “showing you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.”

Losos, Jonathan B. Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution. Riverhead. Aug. 2017. 384p. ISBN 978039918492. $28. SCIENCE/EVOLUTION
Losos is the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America in the lososDepartment of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator in Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University—quite a mouthful—and he’s also a leading expert in experimental evolutionary science. This might sound like watching grass grow—evolution does take place over time, often quite a lot of it—but scientists have found that experimenting with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, field mice, and, in Losos’s case, the anole lizards on various Caribbean islands helps them understand how contingencies can move evolution to a whole new track. Just how inevitable is our evolutionary path? And what can we learn about protecting our rapidly shifting ecosystems today? Prepare to have some assumptions blasted.

Mezrich, Ben. Woolly: The True Story of the De-Extinction of One of History’s Most Iconic Creatures. Atria. Jul. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781501135552. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501135576. SCIENCE
Under the direction of a world-class geneticist named George Church, a bunch of persevering young scientists sequence the DNA of a frozen woolly mammoth, splice elements of the sequence into the DNA of a modern elephant, and dream of bringing back a creature long ago hunted to extinction. No, not escapist fiction but reality, as reported by Mezrich, author of the New York Times best sellers The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House.

Ullman, Ellen. Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology. Sean McDonald: Farrar. Aug. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780374534516. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374711412. SCIENCE/MEMOIR
Famously one of the few women in early days of computer programming, Ullman wrote the now classic Close to the Machine in 1997, explaining what it was like to be present at the creation of a technology revolution that has radically changed our world. A lot has happened since then, starting with the ascendance of the Internet, and in a series of essays Ullman ponders what these developments mean and what’s good about them (or not). Author of the novel The Bug, a PEN/Hemingway finalist, Ullman can speak to the human side of technology, translating for the rest of us, which makes her book welcome.

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.