Thursday, September 28, 2006

Goodwin Revisits Lincoln, Doctorow Follows Sherman: Paperbacks

Goodwin Revisits Lincoln, Doctorow Follows Sherman: Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Doris Kearns Goodwin's look at Lincoln's political circle, E.L. Doctorow's powerful novel about Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and John Berendt's adventures among Venice's eccentrics highlight this month's crop of new paperbacks.

``Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln'' by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster). In this penetrating look at Lincoln's presidency, the popular historian argues that Abe's savviest move was to load his cabinet with political opponents, including William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates.

``The March'' by E.L. Doctorow (Random House). This recreation of Sherman's fiery march through the South at the end of the Civil War is told from the multiple perspectives of a pampered Southern lady, a sadistic surgeon, a freed slave and the grizzled general himself.

``Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street'' by William Poundstone (Hill & Wang). The story of how Ed Thorp applied the ``Kelly criterion,'' developed by Bell Labs scientist John Kelly, to compute optimal bets while playing blackjack and, later, the securities markets.

``The City of Falling Angels'' by John Berendt (Penguin). The author's picaresque adventures during his on-again, off-again eight-year residency in Venice, where he was ostensibly investigating the fire that destroyed the historic Fenice opera house in 1996 but spent most of his time mingling with the city's eccentric aristocrats and artists.

``Melville: His World and Work'' by Andrew Delbanco (Vintage). Combining history and criticism, this compact, engaging biography shows how the writer's life and work reflected a rich era in the U.S.

``Teacher Man'' by Frank McCourt (Scribner). The Irishman continues the memoir mining he began with ``Angela's Ashes'' in this third outing that covers the nearly 30 years he spent teaching in New York City public schools.

``The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq'' by George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Packer, a self-described liberal hawk who initially favored invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, documents his growing dismay as he witnesses mismanagement, incompetence and ignorance at home and abroad.

``Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945'' by Tony Judt (Penguin). An encyclopedic and readable survey covering six decades of history across 34 countries, from Europe's painful postwar recovery to the expansion of the European Union into formerly communist countries in 2004.

``A History of the Jews in the Modern World'' by Howard M. Sachar (Vintage). This tome of more than 800 pages by an eminent scholar covers the past 400 years and chronicles the many roles Jews played in the development of modern civilization.

``Four Quarters of Light: An Alaskan Journey'' by Brian Keenan (Broadway). Irishman Keenan, who spent more than 1,500 days as hostage in Beirut from 1986 to 1990, takes his family to live in Alaska for a summer and revels in the freedom of its wide-open spaces.

``Bonjour Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay'' by Corinne Maier (Vintage). Frenchwoman Maier became a cult hero after writing this little Gallic shrug of a book that warns against selling your soul to the corporation and suggests cultivating ``active disengagement'' at work, which is both practical and subversive.

Le Carre Stages Coup, Albom's Froth at Starbucks: New Novels

Le Carre Stages Coup, Albom's Froth at Starbucks: New Novels

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Books by some big names in fiction head into stores this month, including John le Carre, Alice McDermott, Cormac McCarthy, Claire Messud, Sebastian Faulks, Mark Haddon, Mark Z. Danielewski, Bruce Wagner and Ward Just. Here are some of the month's highlights.

``The Mission Song'' by John le Carre (Little, Brown). The author's 20th novel returns to Africa, the setting of ``The Constant Gardener,'' and the Congo, where a mixed-race Congolese interpreter married to a famous British tabloid journalist becomes embroiled in a possible coup.

``The Road'' by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf). McCarthy channels Samuel Beckett in this story of a father and son who traverse a blasted landscape of post-apocalyptic America in search of the sea. They dodge gangs of murderous thugs and scavenge for food, while the father reminisces about a civilization the son has never known.

``World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War'' by Max Brooks (Crown). Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio got into a bidding war over the film rights to this entertaining, tongue-in- cheek chronicle -- by the son of Mel Brooks -- of the decimation of the world by a plague of zombies.

``The Emperor's Children'' by Claire Messud (Knopf). This group portrait shows a trio of spoiled, over-educated, 30-year- old New Yorkers living in the orbit of their friend's famous father -- a celebrated journalist -- whose reputation is threatened when a malicious Australian magazine publisher plans to take him down.

``Human Traces'' by Sebastian Faulks (Random House). The British master of high-toned historical fiction depicts the Victorian-era birth of psychiatry through a pair of globe- trotting doctors who travel from academe to insane asylums and from Gold Rush California to unexplored regions of Africa.

``A Spot of Bother'' by Mark Haddon (Doubleday). Haddon's ``The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,'' about an autistic boy, was a surprise hit. His new novel, an English social comedy, delivers more dysfunction in the form of a retired family patriarch who is mistakenly convinced he's dying of cancer and ignores his wife and adult children's pleas for attention.

``After This'' by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The author of ``Charming Billy,'' which won a National Book Award, tells of Irish-Catholic Long Islanders Mary and John Keane as they contend with the changing social mores of post-WWII America and grapple with their four children in the cultural ferment of the Vietnam War era.

``When Madeline Was Young'' by Jane Hamilton (Doubleday). The Oprah-blessed author returns with another affecting family saga, in which a young husband copes with caring for his brain- damaged first wife while trying to raise two children with his second.

``For One More Day'' by Mitch Albom (Hyperion). The Detroit sportswriter-turned-sensitive-scribe agreed to sell this novel in Starbucks, where he hopes coffee addicts will imbibe the tall, frothy tale of a drunk getting a second chance to bond with his dead mother as she haunts his childhood home.

``Paint It Black'' by Janet Fitch (Little, Brown). Another Oprah anointee, Fitch took seven years to write this doleful novel about a druggy Los Angeles punk rocker whose artist boyfriend kills himself and then finds her life intertwined with that of the man's mother, a world-class concert pianist with her own issues.

``Only Revolutions'' by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon). The fall's most inventive novel, Danielewski's typographically tricky tale -- half the book is printed upside-down -- portrays a pair of lovers on a time-traveling road trip across America in which they literally try to outrun history in a progression of ever- faster autos.

``Memorial'' by Bruce Wagner (Simon & Schuster). This latest outing from a maestro of the Hollywood satire tells of a shattered Angelino family that includes an architect daughter designing a memorial to the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, a mother lured into a wicked confidence scheme and a father who has sued the LAPD for shooting his dog.

``Forgetfulness'' by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin). In this elegant thriller, a retired CIA spy who has turned to portrait painting realizes he can't outrun his past when his wife is killed by Moroccan terrorists as payback for an earlier job and he's forced to seek revenge.

``The Last Town on Earth'' by Thomas Mullen (Random House). Part history, part horror, this debut novel describes the tumult that ensues in the utopian logging community of Commonwealth, Washington, after it enacts a self-imposed quarantine during the 1918 influenza pandemic and a sick soldier is shot dead at the town's gates.

``The Book of Fate'' by Brad Meltzer (Warner). ``The Da Vinci Code'' meets ``The West Wing'' and the Masons in Meltzer's latest, which requires the hero, a Washington politico, to decipher a 200-year-old code written by Thomas Jefferson to solve the mystery of what really happened during a failed presidential assassination eight years earlier.

``The Meaning of Night'' by Michael Cox (Norton). A Victorian-era page-turner starring an ambitious, blood-thirsty bibliophile, Edward Glyver, who murders an anonymous ``red-haired man'' as prelude to dispatching his despised literary rival, a man who threatens to inherit wealth intended for Glyver. Unfortunately, an unseen witness has complicated Glyver's plans and must be confronted first.

``The Interpretation of Murder'' by Jed Rubenfeld (Holt). In the latest worthwhile mystery to feature historical heroes, the year is 1909 and Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are enlisted to assist in the investigation of the torture and murder of a young Manhattan heiress. Only the master himself has the skills to coax the clues from the memory of one hysterical near-victim and help catch the culprit.

``The Thirteenth Tale'' by Diane Setterfield (Atria). In this sprawling modern gothic tale, intentionally echoing the Bronte sisters, a young author is summoned to a creepy mansion to write the death-bed biography of a world-famous writer and discovers her own secret history in the process.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Wozniak Revisits Apple, O'Reilly Rants Again: September Nonfiction

Wozniak Revisits Apple, O'Reilly Rants Again: New Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's autobiography, Bill O'Reilly's latest screed and a look at Bush's ``propaganda presidency'' by Frank Rich are among the highlights of new September nonfiction.

``iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It'' by Steve Wozniak (Norton). Steve Jobs may get much of the credit for Apple Computer's nearly decade-long revival, but Wozniak's maverick vision continues to have an imprint on the brand.

``Making Globalization Work'' by Joseph E. Stiglitz (Norton). The 2001 Nobel Prize-winner's sequel to his best-seller ``Globalization and Its Discontents'' prescribes practical solutions for sustaining global economic growth while limiting the negative impact on people and the environment.

``Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers'' by Gus Russo (Bloomsbury). A fascinating chronicle of the rise to power of the enigmatic and influential Korshak, who helped negotiate the collaboration between labor unions and organized crime and counted Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio among his clients.

``Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships'' by Daniel Goleman (Bantam). In a sequel to the best-selling ``Emotional Intelligence,'' Goleman looks at the social propensities of humans and how they can be nurtured or stymied.

``The Price of Admission'' by Daniel Golden (Crown). In this investigative work by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter, the subtitle says it all: ``How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.''

``The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall'' by Ian Bremmer (Simon & Schuster). Bremmer theorizes that all nations fall along a ``J'' curve, with the left side representing stability because of economic and political isolation (Cuba, North Korea) and the right stability because of openness (the U.S., Japan). To shift from left to right, countries face ``dangerous instability'' at the curve's bottom.

``Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance'' by Ian Buruma (Penguin Press). Buruma, an insightful Anglo-Dutch writer, examines an unusual incident for the culturally diverse and tolerant Netherlands, where an Islamic extremist killed the Dutch filmmaker Van Gogh (great-grandnephew of the painter) after he made a film depicting Muslim women as victims of abuse.

``The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million'' by Daniel Mendelsohn (HarperCollins). In this powerful and real-life take on the plot of ``Everything Is Illuminated,'' Mendelsohn visits a dozen countries in search of evidence of six Ukrainian forebears killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

``The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West'' by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press). The Harvard and Oxford historian asserts that three factors -- ``ethnic conflict, economic volatility and empires in decline'' -- caused most conflicts in the 20th century, whether global, such as the world wars, or local, such as the genocides in Armenia and Rwanda.

``There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children'' by Melissa Fay Greene (Bloomsbury). In a narrative that combines history, reporting and personal experience (Greene has adopted two Ethiopian children), this book tells of a woman who started an orphanage for AIDS babies in Addis Ababa.

``Culture Warrior'' by Bill O'Reilly (Broadway). The Fox News personality vents some familiar peeves: the decline in personal responsibility, the shortcomings of media rivals like Al Franken, and the sins of what he dubs the ``secular-progressive'' movement embodied by George Soros.

``China Shakes the World: A Titan's Rise and Troubled Future -- and the Challenge for America'' by James Kynge (Houghton Mifflin). The former Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times writes that China's growing hunger for raw materials and oil may cost us, but the country's systemic fraud, corrupt banks and spineless government institutions are an even greater threat to global economic stability.

``Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation'' by Michael Zielenziger (Doubleday). The former Knight-Ridder Tokyo bureau chief uses profiles of socially withdrawn youths know as ``hikikomori'' to show how Japan's rigid, tradition-steeped society has stifled economic revival, political reform and social evolution, abetting its eclipse by China.

``The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina'' by Frank Rich (Penguin Press). The New York Times editorialist delivers a full-on assault of the Bush administration and its PR-savvy cronies, accusing them of running a ``propaganda presidency'' and reducing truth to collateral damage in the war on terrorism.

``How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime'' by Sidney Blumenthal (Princeton University Press). A politically astute collection of columns from the former Clinton staffer analyzing George W. Bush's use of executive privilege and power to stifle debate and push through his agenda, whether it's cutting taxes or invading Iraq.

``Things I Didn't Know: A Memoir'' by Robert Hughes (Knopf). The bombastic art and culture critic offers a rich and irreverent reminiscence of his Australian childhood, one that included a truculent father, Catholic boarding school and, later, a period of formative, far-out years in England during the swinging '60s.

``The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups'' by Ron Rosenbaum (Random House). Rosenbaum's personal and passionate guide to the contemporary battles being fought over how to interpret the life and work of the Bard, whether on stage, on film or in the academy.

``Creationists: Selected Essays: 1993-2006'' by E.L. Doctorow (Random House). This noteworthy collection of 16 essays from the award-winning novelist considers the work of dozens of writers, artists and visionaries -- from Twain and Hemingway to Harpo Marx and Albert Einstein -- and in the process offers a one-volume master class on creativity.

``The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain'' by David Shenk (Doubleday). Shenk tracks the game of chess from its origin in India about 500 A.D. to the beginning of modernism, arguing that it has had a pervasive influence on intellectual development.

``The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris'' by Alicia Drake (Little, Brown). This gossipy recreation of the high-chic fashion wars of the era features Warhol, Jerry Hall and a host of others behaving badly.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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