Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"The missing link between Freud and Oprah"

I'm a couple days behind the news, but still thought it worthwhile to post a brief notice of the death last week of a monumentally important figure in the history of psychotherapy, Dr. Alice Miller.

Dr. Miller was of course a prolific writer, of tremendous influence; her signature book remains The Drama of the Gifted Child (Basic, 9780465016907). See here for the New York Times obituary.

(Credit where credit is due: the heading of this post comes from a wry appraisal of Daphne Merkin's, quoted in the Times obit.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Take that, Julie & Julia!

This is truly a post I never could have imagined ... but:

According to their website, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is "a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research." A lofty mission - and some high profile doctors are behind it: T. Colin Cambell (The China Study, 9781932100662) and Andrew Weil are on the advisory board; Neal Barnard (Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook, 9780738213583) is the organization's president. As you might be able to tell from the personnel, diet & nutrition are high on their list of interests.

As part of their continuing mission to improve the public health, they yesterday announced their list of the five best and worst (read: healthiest and least healthy) cookbooks of the decade. Second on their list of "worst" was, yes, the 13th edition (2001) of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Look what all that butter will get you....)

But more shocking still, among the best: Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (Running Press, 9780762431069). Honest! Here's what they had to say - and with no prompting from us (as far as I know):

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)

Number one New York Times best-selling authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin wrote this cookbook after their manifesto, Skinny Bitch, sparked a worldwide movement toward healthy eating. The cookbook offers 75 easy, satisfying vegan recipes, served up with an irreverent sense of fun. From the "Bitchin' Breakfast Burrito" to "Cha Cha Chili," Freedman and Barnouin show readers that you can eat well, enjoy food, and lose weight—all at the same time. Abundant research has shown that people who maintain a healthy weight over the long-term tend to eat a plant-based diet.

You can find the entire list here. So there you have it....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Economist chimes in

The Economist, too, has posted its list of the year's best. A couple repeat appearances - but also a couple unexpected (not to say forgotten) treasures. Here's what they have to say about our books -- you can fine the complete feature here.

The Silence and the Scorpion: The Coup Against Chavez and the Making of Modern Venezuela, by Brian A. Nelson (Nation Books, 9781568584188) A scrupulous account of one of the most important, yet most misunderstood, events in recent South American history. It should be read by all those who believe that Hugo Chavez is a worthy champion of democracy and the oppressed. [And lest you think this is some right-wing revisionism, pray consider the publisher.]

The Arabs: A History, by Eugene Rogan (Basic, 9780465071005) Inspired by the work of Albert Hourani, this is a traditional history that focuses on the interplay of powers and the march of events to set the Arab story in a modern context. [That's two lists since this morning - I told you this was a remarkable book!]

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo (Basic, 9780465018277) Paul Dirac's equations predicted the existence of antimatter. His insights were so astonishing and so counter-intuitive that it is hard to imagine anyone else devising them. This excellent biographer demonstrates how he was probably the best British theoretical physicist since Isaac Newton.

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham (Basic, 9780465013623) A startling and persuasive analysis of the evolutionary role of cookery, arguing that you really are what you eat.

That's it for the Perseus books - but I also want to give a shout out to one of their fiction selections:

Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow and Farewell, by Javier Marias, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (New Directions) Mr Marias has seized the spy thriller and turned it into a novel of ideas.

I've been praising Mr. Marias to the skies for years - I'm glad to see him getting his due. (If, by the way, you want to start with something smaller & more self-contained than the final volume of a series, allow me to recommend A Heart So White. This takes the family melodrama and turns it into a novel of ideas; it's so good it made me dizzy.)

Fun with the Financial Times list of the best of 2009

Yet another year-end roundup has crossed my path, and this one might be my favorite. After all, combing through lists can get a bit dull, no matter how magnificent the books sound; it breaks the monotony somewhat when you have to really pay attention -- as in the case of the Financial Times, where many of our books are listed under the UK publisher, and occasionally under the UK title. Since my job is to sell books here in the good ol' U S of A, I'll use our titles first:

America, Empire of Liberty, by David Reynolds (Basic, 9780465015009)

The Arabs: A History, by Eugene Rogan (Basic, 9780465071005)

Bring Me My Machine Gun: the Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma (appearing as After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa), by Alec Russell (PublicAffairs, 9781586487386)

The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals, by Frank Partnoy (PublicAffairs, 9781586487430)

Keynes: The Return of the Master, by Robert Skidelsky (PublicAffairs, 9781586488277)

Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport (appearing simply, and delightfully, as Why England Lose: And Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained), by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (Nation, 9781568584256)

Tragically, still no recognition for Eduardo Galeano.

Making our mark in the history section

One thing I've enjoyed tremendously in the past few years is watching our history lists -- already strong to begin with -- develop so substantially. Some nice affirmation of that came recently, when the History Book Club put together its list of the top 100 history books of the year. Ten of their selections are Perseus books - and six are from Basic alone:

9. The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness, by Harlow Ungar (Da Capo, 9780306818080)
14. Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It, by Susan Wels (Running Press, 9780762437634)
21. Marcus Aurelius: A Life, by Frank McLynn (Da Capo, 9780306818301)
28. America, Empire of Liberty, by David Reynolds (Basic, 9780465015009)
42. China: A History, by John Keay (Basic, 9780465015801)
45. Jerusalem’s Traitor: Josephus, Masada, and the Fall of Judea, by Desmond Seward (Da Capo, 9780306818073)
68. The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson (Basic, 9780465013296)
69. Fatal Journey: The Final Journey of Henry Hudson, by Peter Mancall (Basic, 9780465005116)
76. Leningrad: State of Siege, by Michael Jones (Basic, 9780465011537)
96. The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe, by Andrew Wheatcroft (Basic, 9780465013746)

That list is not without its disappointments - I shake my head in wonder that neither Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (Nation, 9781568584232) nor Eugene Rogan's The Arabs: A History (Basic, 9780465071005) made the list; both are among the richest, most memorable history books I've encountered in a long while.

And I'm also of the mind that The White War should have been much closer to the top than #68 (picky, picky!) -- you may recall the enthusiasm with which I presented it (and even wrote about it in this forum). It vied with Mirrors for my favorite book on the Spring 2009 list. Everyone thought I was crazy for pushing it -- and I'll agree, unless your author's name is Hemingway Italy in World War One is not the easiest sell -- but this is a fantastic, enriching read. When a customer asks for a history book for that close relation who's already read all the big ones, I promise you this will satisfy.

But why quibble overmuch? It's lovely to see such recognition.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A brilliant review for A Brilliant Darkness

This was a book I really warmed to as the season progressed. I think this is a good sleeper opportunity. Booklist would agree - here's just some of what they said in their starred review:

"Magueijo explains [Majorana's] scientific theories in mercifully simple terms. But what simple terms can illuminate a tortured and unstable personality, vulnerable to bouts of depression and prone to antisocial reclusiveness? The complexities of that personality resist assimilation into any of the standard explanations – suicide, kidnapping, flight, monastic retreat – for Majorana's disappearance. But astounded readers will thank Magueijo for his daring venture into the science and the psyche of a perplexing figure."

Further reviews are upcoming in Seed Magazine (online) and New Scientist; and Mr. Magueijo will be making an appearance on KPFA's morning show in the coming weeks. This one is worth a gamble.
A Brilliant Darkness: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age, by Joao Magueijo (Basic, 9780465009039)

(There's good precedent for a science biography really taking off: consider The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Master of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo [Basic, 9780465018277]. We've been chasing stock of that book since July - partly owing to this sensational New York Times review.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let us begin to judge

It has begin to happen: the arbiters of taste are taking turns declaring the "best books of the year." True, there have been a few such lists already (Publishers Weekly, Amazon.com), but they came a little too early, I thought -- we're only now half way through November, for Pete's sake. But I like the list that The Atlantic just published. I won't lie: I like it because it includes two Basic titles. Obviously I'm not an impartial judge...but I have to say I applaud their decision. Here's what their reviewers had to say about these wonderful history books (the links in the second review are original; the emphasis in both is mine):

The Arabs: A History, by Eugene Rogan (Basic, 9780465071005)

Describing the Arab world as perpetually reacting to the superpower du jour, Rogan, an Oxford scholar, provides a prism through which the lay Westerner can view five centuries of tumult, zealotry, and complication. During this period, Rogan writes, Arabs have had to contend with four geopolitical eras: the Ottoman Empire, European colonialism, the Cold War, and the current U.S. hegemony. But they have not been "passive subjects in a unilinear history of decline." Rather, these diverse people—making up a "national community stretching from Morocco through Arabia" and distinguishing themselves via wondrous linguistic, religious, and aesthetic achievements—"have worked with the rules when it suited them, subverted the rules when they got in the way, and suffered the consequences when they crossed the dominant powers of the day." Deeply erudite and distinctly humane, Rogan consistently plays up (and never papers over) the bountiful East-West parallels: "Nationalism, imperialism, revolution, industrialization, rural urban migration, the struggle for women's rights—all the great themes of human history in the modern age have played out in the Arab world." (reviewed November 2009)

The author, a scintillating young Cambridge historian, argues that the coming of a German prince to the British throne in 1714 and the consequent link with the House of Hanover made the United Kingdom into a true European power. In the next half century, the island nation became, thanks to a series of shifting alliances, a Continental juggernaut. Britannia's ascendance culminated in its victory over France in 1763 at the conclusion of the Seven Years' War. This success, which included expelling France from North America, led Britain into the dangerous error of focusing on its empire across the Atlantic, rather than on its hard-won, newfound place among the Continental powers. Soon faced with a rebellion in North America, it found itself without allies to help it; indeed, its European foes and former friends alike helped the American colonists succeed. Simms has a superb knowledge of diplomatic and military history to buttress his passionate, elegantly written argument that 18th-century Britain needed to concern itself less globally and concentrate its primary energies closer to home—an argument that has particular resonance at the beginning of the 21st century, as Britain fights in Iraq and Afghanistan and fails too often to pull its weight at the center of European decision-making. (reviewed April 2009)