Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Semi-escapist notes

While I’ve got a moment between the end of the election season, which monopolized my attention more than I’d care to admit, and next week’s sales conference, which is sure to knock me out of commission for a spell, allow me to offer a roundup of goings on in the Perseus universe. Turns out a lot happened while we were watching the markets and selecting the next leader of the Free World.

I intend this edition to be mostly free of current events, but I do feel duty bound to begin by mentioning John Lanchester’s recent discussion of Charles R. Morris’s The Trillion Dollar Meltdown (PublicAffairs, 9781586485634) in last week’s New Yorker: “A number of new books describe the link between derivatives, subprime mortgages, and the meltdown of ’08, and they all have the claim on our attention of having been written before the full scale of the implosion became clear….Charles Morris’ The Trillion Dollar Meltdown was handed to the publisher last Thanksgiving, a fact that gives Morris, a former banker, rock-solid status as a predictor of the crash. He homes in on the complexity and the paradoxical unpredictability of these financial instruments, which were supposed to manage risk and ended up magnifying it.” Mr. Morris has recently completed the forward to the paperback edition (9781586486914, forthcoming in March); if you have a use for it (say, to post on your websites), we can provide a .PDF for you.

And since so much has been written of late to put us in mind of the (Franklin) Roosevelt era … Publishers Weekly recently rhapsodized over Curtis Roosevelt’s sumptuous memoir Too Close to the Sun: Growing up in the Shadow of My Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor (PublicAffairs, 9781586485542): “Curtis writes affectionately and beautifully about his grandparents.… Along with relaying a rich and fascinating cornucopia of anecdotes involving family life, Curtis devotes thoughtful discussion to the complex subject of reflected fame and its impact on young people growing up as the scions of celebrity. No one alive today knew Franklin and Eleanor quite as well as Curtis, their eldest grandson, and his sister. Thus this splendid, intimate memoir represents an invaluable addition to the literature of the Roosevelt era.”

Philipp Blom’s magnificent The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914 (Basic, 9780465011162) has made it onto the Indie Next List as a December Notable – those of you who heeded my urgings and read it, I thank you for supporting it. I know it’s shaping up to be a tough season, but I do believe this will be a great gift book (particularly since it’s not just a “gift” book); if you don’t have a shelf-talker of your own, consider making one with one of the outstanding reviews it’s been getting. The Guardian (UK), for example, exclaims: “The Vertigo Years is an ambitious book - a one-volume assessment of the gravity-eroding, giddying sweep of European cultural, social, political and spiritual change that permeated the first 15 years of the 20th century. But Philipp Blom has pulled it off triumphantly. The vertiginous atmosphere of a tumbling prewar society - at the same time exciting and frightening - is described with atmospheric clarity. The combination of easily worn scholarship, fascinating character studies and fluent story-telling that is often very funny makes this a hugely enjoyable and illuminating book…. A work of narrative history at its best.” More recently, the Economist was fulsome in praise: “Masterly and panoramic … Impressive and thought-provoking.... His particular gift is to encapsulate complex historical and biographical events pithily and in an illuminating context…The book brings the fears, enthusiasms and blindspots of the period brilliantly to life. If civilisation lasts another 100 years, perhaps an equally talented historian will one day compare the first decade of this century to its dizzying counterpart before 1914. If so, Mr. Blom’s book is unlikely to be bettered as a source.” And keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming review in The Atlantic.

As I’ve said recently, a close second to The Vertigo Years among my favorites this fall has been Matthew Goodman’s rollicking history The Sun and the Moon (Basic, 9780465002573). The early response has been quite encouraging. “Mr. Goodman has managed not only to give us a ripping good newspaper yarn but also to illuminate life in the nation’s largest city in the early part of the 19th century,” notes the Wall Street Journal’s recent review; “He also provides something of a treatise on the birth of modern mass-market newspapering.” Newsweek’s “Conventional Wisdom” column lists it one of the offbeat books that “should be on your autumn reading list,” and the Los Angeles Times has a review scheduled for this Sunday.

Da Capo’s biggest book of the season will be landing shortly – Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq (9780306817434), by Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Fainaru. The prepub reviews have been strong indeed, if a little frightened by the contents: “Exempt from Iraqi law and oversight by the U.S. government,” goes the PW review, “the mercenaries … play by ‘Big Boy Rules’—which often means no rules at all as they barrel down highways in the wrong direction, firing on any vehicle in their path. (His report on the Blackwater company, infamous for killing Iraqi civilians and getting away with it, is meticulous and chilling.) Fainaru’s depiction of the mercenaries’ crassness and callousness is unsparing, but he sympathizes with these often inexperienced, badly equipped hired guns struggling to cope with a dirty war…Fainaru’s vivid reportage makes the mercenary’s dubious motives and chaotic methods a microcosm of a misbegotten war.” Kirkus reads it similarly: “Fainaru takes to heart the old journalistic adage, ‘show, don’t tell,’ as he portrays men seeking to escape difficult personal circumstances, who crave adventure even if it means losing their lives…An informative, dramatic look at a significant, often unexamined, aspect of contemporary military culture.” Mr. Fainaru is back from assignment long enough to do some strong publicity for the book – he’ll be on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now” on November 19, and the next day he’ll be on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

The San Francisco Chronicle has an unsurprisingly but still gratifyingly glowing review of the Letters of Allen Ginsberg (edited by Bill Morgan; Da Capo, 9780306814631): “This wonderfully rich collection of 165 letters from the 1940s until the poet's death in 1997, put together by his longtime archivist, Bill Morgan, gives us a firsthand view of the man behind the poems, someone of whom it can be truly said that the personal was political…This remarkable collection by someone who perhaps invented the concept of ‘oversharing’ long before it became fashionable, reminds us of why he mattered then, and still does now.”

Last time out I mentioned that Margaret Leslie Davis’s Mona Lisa in Camelot (Da Capo, 9780738211039) was a November pick for the Indie Next List – and again thanks. Since then, it’s gotten some lovely attention. There was the promised serial (with many photos) in Vanity Fair, and More magazine called it an “instant classic,” praising its “lively, behind-the-scenes slice of Kennedy history…. Davis captures the breathless approach that newspapers and magazines of the day brought to the story….but the book is also a potent reminder of how effectively Jackie Kennedy championed the arts, how shrewdly she played her role as first lady, and how far away her cultural Camelot now seems.”

It was expected that Joyce Tyldesley’s Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt (Basic, 9780465009404) would be recognized by high-falutin’ journals like Natural History magazine, which gave her a cover story. But Ms. Tyldesley is one of those rare scholars who still know how to capture a general audience. She certainly grabbed the reviewers at the Tucson Citizen: “This is a multilayered biography of one of the most interesting historical figures ever. Tyldesley presents the great queen in such a way that she almost leaps from the printed page.” If you somehow missed that one, though, perhaps you caught the recent full-page review in Newsweek: “In the year of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, untangling the legend of Cleopatra has special urgency…. To regard Cleopatra as an Egyptian ruler instead of a male myth, and to assess her using scholarly and archeological tools, is a worthy goal. It seems long overdue.” You can read the full article at http://www.newsweek.com/id/165640

And if Cleopatra is not going to exhaust the classicist in you (or among your customers), the new year will bring Justin Marozzi’s delightful combination of history and travel, The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History (Da Capo, 9780306816215). We’ve got a very nice blurb from Paul Cartledge, who certainly knows a thing or two about writing classical history for a trade audience: “Herodotus may have lived twenty-four centuries ago but he is our twenty-first century contemporary and companion—the father not just of history but of comparative ethnography too, not only a brilliant storyteller and indefatigable traveler but also a shrewd and tolerant observer of human fads and foibles on the grandest global scale. Justin Marozzi, himself a veteran traveler and journalist and intrepid crosser of cultural frontiers, does his hero full justice in this scintillating, thought-provoking and entertaining homage.”

Ellen Heltzel and Margo Hammond are getting set to burn up every available wavelength to promote their just-landed reading guide, Between the Covers: The Book Babes’ Guide to a Woman’s Reading Pleasures (Da Capo, 9780738212296). Prepare yourself for the onslaught: the current issue of More magazine has a discussion of the book and a specialized reading list from the authors (“5 Most Important Books for Midlife Women”), and the current issue of Pink has a similar feature, with the “3 Best Books for Businesswomen”; Complete Woman also has a similar feature this month. The December issue of Elle will have a review; and Body + Soul magazine will discuss the book alongside a list adapted from it. Plus, Mss. Heltzel and Hammond are touring our Pacific coast – get your book clubs ready.

I’m pleased to report that Da Capo continues its total ownage of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards, the most prestigious awards in music publishing. This year, they had two winners for Outstanding Musical Biography: in the Concert Music category, the Nicolas Slonimsky Award went to Kevin Bazzana’s Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extraordinary Musical Prodigy (9780306817489). And in the Pop Books category (their bread and butter), the winner was John Kruth’s To Live’s to Fly: the Ballad of the Late, Great Townes van Zandt (9780306816048). This, by the way, is the third consecutive year a Da Capo book has won this award: The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald won in 2006; and Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll by Rick Coleman in 2007. So consider that track record as you gear up for David Wild’s He Is…I Say: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond (9780306817847). “Wild takes us on a witty odyssey of obsession,” writes the Palm Beach Post, “and makes a strong case for the man as a true musical iconoclast impervious to hip fashions. Wild's defense of Diamond…is a courageous piece of pop criticism.” Reviews are forthcoming as well in the New York Times Book Review and Magnet magazine. It should also serve as a reminder that they know what they’re doing when they compile the Best Music Writing 2008 (9780306817342) – edited this year by Nelson George. The Nashville City Paper raved “always a treat and a delight…this year’s edition proves no different, and the scope, variety and quality are quite impressive.”

Mac Montandon has timed the zeitgeist awfully well. Late this summer, the New York Times reported that an inventor from New Zealand unveiled what he calls “the world’s first practical jetpack,” which he hopes to sell for $100,000. And this fall, a Swiss inventor with the marvelous sobriquets “FusionMan” and “Jet Man” flew across the English Channel with his version of the personal jet propulsion system. Well, Mr. Montandon has written the singular all-purpose guide to this fantasy of flight and the people who follow it, Jetpack Dreams: One Man’s Up and Down (but Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention that Never Was (Da Capo, 9780306815287). Allow me to quote the PW review at length: “Generations of boys, inspired by characters from Buck Rogers to Boba Fett, have dreamed of flying with jetpacks strapped to their backs. Freelance writer Montandon, editor of Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader, documents his search for the ultimate jetpack; along the way he encounters an offbeat bunch of middle-aged men with the same obsession. Montandon explains, for readers who don’t attend the venues where jetpack jockeys rake in thousands of dollars from viewers who want to see a few seconds of flight, that the sticking point with jetpack technology is that you can’t pack enough concentrated hydrogen peroxide on your back to fly for very long. Most jetpacks today are built from the original 1950s plans for the first working model, although many men have spent countless hours in the garage trying to improve on it. Along the way, there has been one unsolved murder and a gruesome torture and extortion case associated with a fabled lost jetpack that has taken on Holy Grail status. This snappily written, often funny book should attract dreamers of both sexes and all ages.”

From something out of a comic book, let me turn to…a comic book: Running Press has followed up last year’s Marvel Vault with The DC Vault (9780762432578), and the December 2008 issue of the Comics Buyer’s Guide absolutely loves it: “Divided into a multitude of chapters, the history and insights alone would be worth more than half the $50 cover price, but it’s the extras tucked into plastic sheets every few pages that really make this book worth the price….Whether you’re a longtime fan or a new reader, this book is indispensable.” It’s true. Please make sure customers can look at a copy, so they’ll appreciate exactly what it has to offer.

I’ve said a couple times that I thought Timothy Snyder’s The Red Prince: the Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (Basic, 9780465002375) would appeal to readers of Alan Furst…but you no longer have to take my word for it. Foreign Affairs recently remarked that “Not often does scholarly history soar and entrap like a fine historical novel, but here it does” And Anne Applebaum’s recent New York Review of Books review agrees: “Unlike novelists, historians are not usually inclined to humor or absurdity. A few jokes are allowed, but most historians of late Austria-Hungary dissect the empire’s various national conflicts, ponder the political machinations of the time, and debate the causes of its dissolution. With a certain amount of bravado, Timothy Snyder…has now bucked that tradition. His new book, The Red Prince, is in a deep sense not humorous at all: it ends in profound tragedy. But it is a book about a fundamentally silly man – though one whose escapades, both humorous and tragic, are emblematic of his era.”

You should have known you wouldn’t make it through one of these without further news of the world conquering Skinny Bitch franchise. VegNews Magazine has picked Skinny Bitch co-author Rory Freedman as their “Person of the Year.” She might have gotten a vote from Eva Longoria Parker – the current issue of People reveals that she’s taken some Skinny Bitch tips to heart. All three Skinny Bitch books, as well as the forthcoming Skinny Bitchin’ (Running Press, 9780762435371) and Spring ’09 highlight Skinny Bastard (April 2009 – it never ends!) were discussed in the October 27 Publishers Weekly article titled “Eat Food…Mostly Plants.” Skinny Bitch (9780762424931) was included in a Chicago Tribune story on the “Best Veggie Burgers.” But it doesn’t stop there: I’ve mentioned before the plans for some Skinny Bitch fitness DVDs. To those you can now add a music deal (a compilation CD is in the works, to be produced by Hollywood music supervisor Randall Poster) and – wait for it – a sitcom! No joke. Greg Behrendt (of He’s Just Not That into You fame) and his wife Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt have signed on to produce a show for NBC. Good times.

More indications of Running Press’s marketing ingenuity (or maybe they just have an in at the network): in a recent episode of NBC’s “My Name is Earl,” Earl’s ex-wife, Joy, pines for the Open Hearts pendent after seeing the Kay Jewelers commercial on TV. In effort to fulfill her dream of owning one, she must win the local science fair. At the end of the show she gets her pendent and wears it proudly, calling it the most beautiful thing ever. You can view the clip here: http://www.nbc.com/My_Name_Is_Earl/video/clips/sold-a-guy-a-lemon-car/817142/ And there you have the first salvo of Kay Jeweler’s multi-million dollar campaign, which also includes two months of television advertising leading up to Christmas, as well as a national media campaign and appearances. All of which will surely benefit the companion book by Jane Seymour, Open Hearts: If Your Heart is Open It Can Never Stay Broken (Running Press, 9780762436620), which will be available to meet the pent-up demand in January. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this….

Let me change gears, then, and move far away from product placement issues. I was pleased to discover that the Santa Cruz Sentinel took notice of The Leftmost City: Power and Progressive Politics in Santa Cruz, by Richard Gendron and G. William Domhoff (Westview, 9780813344386): “Advocates of progressive politics may read The Leftmost City as a guide for taking control of local and even national policymaking through activism, coalition-forming and electoral efforts . . . . However, those from across the political spectrum will gain insight from the reporting of the unusual course of the rise and fall of various political factions in Santa Cruz, and will find the book useful, as Domhoff pointed out, ‘for understanding how cities are really governed.’”

Some great advance word, and high hopes, coming in for The Age of Anxiety, by Andrea Tone, which will be landing at the end of December (Basic, 9780465086580). Jonathan Metzl, author of Prozac on the Couch: “Extensively researched and convincingly argued, The Age of Anxiety sets the gold standard for histories of contemporary pharmacology. It is required reading for anyone interested in the ways in which psychiatric drugs become metabolized into the American popular imagination.” UCSF Professor Dorothy Porter calls it “a captivating story of our times told by a superbly talented scholar who is able to make complex historical analysis a tale for everyone.” And in case you are inclined to doubt, consider this: O, the Oprah Magazine plans to feature The Age of Anxiety in the “Reading Room” section of the January 2009 issue. I’m looking forward to the show when all the guests find a copy underneath their seats.

An item I noted with delight in the New York Times: “An exhibit that opens on Tuesday in New York presents cigarette ads from the 1920s through the early 1950s in an effort to demonstrate what has changed since then — and what may not have. The exhibit, of hundreds of print ads and television commercials, is titled ‘Not a Cough in a Carload: Images Used by Tobacco Companies to Hide the Hazards of Smoking.’ The first part of the title is borrowed from a slogan for Old Gold cigarettes, a brand that subsequently boasted in its ads of being ‘made by tobacco men, not medicine men.’” Awesome. You can access the exhibition online at www.tobacco.stanford.edu. It’s truly astonishing – and in many ways it feels like an illustrative counterpart to a book you’ve heard me rave about before: The Cigarette Century, by Allan M. Brandt (Basic, 9780465070480). (Have I mentioned that it won the Bancroft Prize?)

As the year-end roundups begin, let me say thanks again to Southern California Independent Booksellers, who awarded Jeanne Kelley’s Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes (Running Press, 9780762431830) the nonfiction book of the year at their annual trade show. And while I’m drawing attention to the laurels: VegNews gave props (in the form of a 2008 Veggie Award) to their “Favorite Cookbook Authors” Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. The award recognized Veganomicon in particular (Da Capo, 9781569242643), but, of course, don’t forget about their previous books Vegan with a Vengeance and Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. And congratulations to two Basic Books chosen by PW as among the year’s 10 best: Asne Seierstad’s Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War (Basic, 9780465011223), which they praised as a “searing journey through a traumatized Chechnya… Seierstad’s vivid, unsparing reportage makes this distant tragedy very personal;” and Martha C. Nussbaum’s Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (Basic, 9780465051649), which the New York Times Book Review called a “grand and penetrating discourse on religion and American law.” Congratulations to all.

And that’s a wrap – next week I get the lowdown on everything coming this Spring – looking over the advance materials I already know a few things I’ll be wild about. I can’t wait to discuss them with you. In the meantime, fight the good fight, and let me know if I can help with anything.

And though it’s a bit early, let me wish a happy Thanksgiving and a happy season to all-

Thursday, September 25, 2008


It is hard to keep up with the financial news and political news of late. And even harder, I’ve found, to keep an even temper. I know it sometimes seems that “political” books are the only ones that anyone has been publishing over the last year or so. Still, let me mention a few of ours that are especially timely, and that, I think, stand out amidst the fog and noise. And forgive, please, if I get a little agitated – there is so much going on to exercise one these days.

To wit: the Bailout. (“Bailie Mae,” some have called it; others “Cash for Trash,” and others “Hanky Panky.”) This especially has really gotten into my wiring. I’ve become unhealthily obsessed. And far from impressed, let alone convinced. Sad to say, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank doesn’t help at all by saying, as he did on the NewsHour Tuesday night, that the Federal Government should have the ability to renegotiate the terms of the mortgages it buys with Secretary Paulson’s $700 billion. It’s a nice idea, but slips past the fact that the government wouldn’t actually be buying mortgages, but would be buying mortgage-backed securities. That’s a huge difference. (Also on the NewsHour, Paul Krugman pointed out that the government has already bailed out the conventional mortgage market, by nationalizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Of course, as of this writing it’s looking uncertain that there will even be a bailout.) Presumably Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explained the distinction, since the agreement – or at least the phantom agreement that was said to exist a couple hours ago – no longer included such a provision. But if you or anyone you know is looking to make sense of the problem this $700 billion is expected to solve, the best place to turn is still The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash, by Charles R. Morris (PublicAffairs, 9781586485634). It’s true that the crisis has exceeded even Mr. Morris’s dire expectations (the paperback, coming in February, will be retitled The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown), but his book still gets more directly at the heart of the problem, explaining how poor regulatory oversight, anything-goes mortgage lending, and widescale financial chicanery over the past 25 years created the credit crisis that has hollowed out the economy as a whole. Several reviews pegged this as the book to read. The Economist, for example, called it “a well-aimed opening shot in a debate that will only grow louder in coming months” – as it surely has done. In fact, Mr. Morris is currently writing a new essay, which will appear in the paperback and which you’re invited to post on your websites or in other promotional material. We expect to have a .PDF available a week from Monday; let me know if you’re interested. In the meantime, you can still get Mr. Morris’s podcast about the book and the crisis at www.perseuspodcasts.com; and you can find his assessment of the Paulson plan – “it will make an unholy mess even worse” – at http://washingtonindependent.com/6707/hopes-for-clean-bailout-bill-gone.

Mr. Morris was ahead of the curve on this one. George Soros was way ahead of the curve 10 years ago, when he wrote The Crisis of Global Capitalism. His most recent book, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means (PublicAffairs, 9781586486839), sharpens his analysis, and suggests what is needed going forward is not just a new set of regulations, but a new way of thinking. You might call it a new honesty. “The new paradigm I am proposing is not confined to the financial markets. It deals with the relationship between thinking and reality,” Mr. Soros writes in his introduction, “and it claims that misconceptions and misinterpretations play a major role in shaping the course of history.” Demand has spiked in this political season, and we’ve just reprinted.

(I beg your indulgence for an aside: typing that bit about “thinking and reality” and how their relationship affects the course of history reminded me of what I’m thinking now might be the most important book of political philosophy written in the current era: On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt (Princeton University Press). I’d love it if the cable news shows started inviting Mr. Frankfurt back to discuss the tendency among politicians of both parties, particularly presidential candidates, to make public pronouncements that are not just untrue, but that disregard entirely the very notion of truth. Oh, I might as well mention, too, that Jonathan Chait has just written an essay about this distressing tendency for The New Republic online….)

Of all the reporting of the bailout plan and the Congressional hearings, I think the best has been in the LA Times. It’s been clear and far more thorough than anything I’ve found elsewhere. For example, I haven’t seen any other newspapers discuss Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson’s explanation of why they propose simply to buy (at above-market prices) troubled assets, rather than acquire an equity stake in failing companies: “The two officials said the point of the plan was not to relieve troubled companies of their financial burden. Instead, the goal is to attack a more fundamental problem: helping the markets regain the ability to set prices for these assets. To do that, they said, Washington must reboot the buying-and-selling process…. That goal also helps explain Bernanke’s call for the government to pay a reasonable price for the assets it buys, rather than the lowest price it can get. If the Treasury pays a higher price, the central banker said, ‘credit markets should start to unfreeze. New credit will become available to support our economy.’” (Until late this afternoon the only other place I saw this explanation was in Paul Krugman’s blog. He called it the “slap-in-the-face” theory, by the way, and pointed out that that strategy has already failed twice in the last year. On top of which is the fact that no one has yet explained convincingly how they intend to “discover” a price, or even if it’s possible…but I’ve said too much. Hard to say if the math changes if taxpayers actually get an equity stake…if that’s even a possibility anymore.) It heartens me that one of the writers of that LA Times piece, Peter Gosselin, has done as careful a job reporting on “Main Street” woes as he and his colleagues have done here with Wall Street arcana: in June, we published his book High Wire: the Precarious Financial Lives of American Families (Basic, 9780465002252). No one in Congress seems to have been paying attention, but the book did get startling reviews. Truthdig.com’s Jeff Madrick makes the case for shining a light on it now: “It would be a pity if Peter Gosselin’s new book, High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families, gets lost in the current turmoil over subprime mortgages and deepening recession. He has done the most convincing job I’ve seen in capturing the failures of America to deal with a changing, complex and far less generous economy than it has known in the past.” His book makes for great reading – the Washington Post Book World called it a page-turner – and also articulates clearly how the big economic decisions government has made in recent decades have steadily eroded Americans’ financial security.

Matt Taibbi writes in the current issue of Rolling Stone: “Here’s the thing about Americans. You can … saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore… and none of it matters….” Cue Rick Shenkman, author of Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter (Basic, 9780465077717). It seems the question has been much on people’s minds recently, because after a successful summer of promoting the book (we went through at least 3 printings), it looks like he is back in demand to talk about the election season. Recent and scheduled appearances include CNN Headline News, CNN International, CBS Sunday Morning, and a special Brian Lamb interview on C-Span. His book was also the focus of a terrific article on Newsweek.com – which points out, by the way, that while pieces like Mr. Taibbi’s provide a laugh and maybe help blow off some steam, Shenkman is after something a bit more constructive: “What Shenkman does not do is chortle, Mencken-like, about stupidity. He offers plausible suggestions for how the knowledge level of the American electorate might be raised to a respectable threshold.” You can access the full article here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/158224/output/print

In the midst of our current financial cataclysm it may cause a bit of whiplash when Friday’s Presidential Candidates’ Debate addresses foreign policy. (If, that is, there is a debate – as of this writing it is still unclear what Senator McCain is going to do. I wonder if there’s a futures market out on that question.) Well, whether you’ve got a day or a week to prepare for it, we can help. Topic A is likely to be Iraq, and what we do after the “surge.” I expect both candidates to be disingenuous about its results – Senator Obama will have a hard time insisting that the surge has not manifestly reduced violence in Iraq, but the recently reported internal friction among the “Awakening Councils,” for example, makes assessments of progress a bit trickier. But for a full accounting of the surge, and what led up to it, there is nowhere better to turn than Linda Robinson’s Tell Me How This Ends: General Petraeus and the Search for a Way out of Iraq (PublicAffairs, 9781586485823). Last week Ms. Robinson appeared on the NewsHour to discuss the situation in Iraq, and we expect she will be frequently consulted.

And Topic B is sure to be…everything else. Conveniently, we have a book for that, too: America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy (Basic, 9780465015016). This interesting encounter between Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft (with David Ignatius moderating) has just landed, and is already getting some extraordinary reviews. For example, the New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani: “What makes these discussions between Mr. Brzezinski and Mr. Scowcroft so bracing is their combination of common sense and an ability to place America’s relationship with a particular country in both a historical perspective and a regional context of competing interests and threats. Their book should be required reading not only for the next president elect but also for any voters concerned with the foreign policy issues that will be on the next administration’s plate.” Both authors are taping with Charlie Rose tomorrow – the show should air shortly.

One area that doesn’t get a ton of high profile attention anymore, and is likely to be left out of the debates altogether, is Chechnya. But it’s still there, and still horrific. So after starred PW and Booklist reviews, we’re encouraged to see general reviewers agreeing that Asne Seierstad’s Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War (Basic, 9780465011223) is worth a detour. The New York Times reviewed it last Sunday. The photograph that appeared with the review got me even more than the cover photo (you can see it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/books/review/Baker-t.html). I mention it because it’s a great illustration of the book’s goal, as articulated by the reviewer Peter Baker: “After some 14 years of war, terror and lawlessness, the children of Chechnya have been damaged in ways outsiders can barely fathom. Even now, with the war part of the war essentially over, Chechnya remains a place of hidden horrors, where life is fragile and exceedingly cheap. The world long ago turned its gaze away, content that the big guns had been silenced and uninterested in peering beyond the illusion of stability that Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow presents. But Asne Seierstad forces us to look again, to confront the reality of a savage place, to recognize that a broken, brutalized people have only begun to figure out how deep the wounds really go.… Seierstad has produced a masterly and much needed call to attention for the international community, …[displaying] the same literary style that distinguished The Bookseller of Kabul.” The New Yorker also singled the book out for praise: “…she is a humane witness to a dehumanizing conflict, and recent developments in the Caucasus make her testament all the more timely.”

Okay, that’s more than enough political crankiness and doom and gloom. We can change gears by looking over Frank Wilczek’s The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces (Basic, 9780465003211). A review in New Scientist calls Mr. Wilczek “wonderfully irreverent” and concludes: “The Lightness of Being is an apt description of Wilczek’s writing style, which manages to be at once profound and light, filled with humor, wordplay and original explanations of difficult concepts.” Mr. Wilczek is apparently a marvelous performer – I heard that he was smash at the MPBA trade show, and that his recent events up and down our coast have been great fun. Additionally, MSNBC.com’s science editor just posted a Q&A with the Nobel laureate, and the reader comments are fantastic. E.g. “Chad W”: “This guy rocks! One of the better science interviews I’ve read and Wilczek is great at offering impactful analogies and simple answers to complex questions that help bring this kind of science down to a layman’s level….” Or, even better, from “Duke”: “Great article. I will buy this book.” Hear, hear. (And the book will give us something to occupy our attentions while they fix that pesky transformer at the Large Hadron Collider….)

Don’t think of it as politico-religious allegory – think of it as just a cracking good read. Episcopal Life is now joined by Daily Kos in its enthusiasm for Salvation Boulevard, the new novel from Larry Beinhart (Nation, 1586584119). “This is a perfect novel for fans of the political thriller or mystery genre, with current issues interwoven smoothly into the mix…. While the plot is engaging and the dialogue crisp, sharp and believable, what keeps you glued to the book, turning page after page long into the night, is the evolution of the PI from stubborn Bible-verse quoter to thinking questioner. His wrestling with gradually dawning doubts, not merely triggered by events, but also by his loosening leash on his own mind and conscience, is really superbly and believably drawn.” Or, put more succinctly (and wholesomely) by The Seattle Times: “Carl's an interesting character — a smart man observing his rock-solid faith begin to crack — and the book is, often, pretty darned funny.”

I believe I’ve mentioned Margaret Leslie Davis’s Mona Lisa in Camelot (Da Capo, 9780738211029), a book that really surprised me. Well I’m pleased to see that some of you have read the galley: it’s been selected as a “notable” on the November Indie Next list. Thanks! As it happens, the list will be well timed: we just learned that Vanity Fair has decided to run their excerpt a month earlier than previously planned – look for it in the issue that hits stands October 7; the book should be in stores just a couple weeks later.

Finally, and wholly removed from contemporary politics, I need to point to the great UK reviews that have been coming in for Philipp Blom’s The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914 (9780465011162). The Guardian calls it “narrative history at its best”: “The Vertigo Years is an ambitious book - a one-volume assessment of the gravity-eroding, giddying sweep of European cultural, social, political and spiritual change that permeated the first 15 years of the 20th century. But Philipp Blom has pulled it off triumphantly. The vertiginous atmosphere of a tumbling prewar society - at the same time exciting and frightening - is described with atmospheric clarity. The combination of easily worn scholarship, fascinating character studies and fluent story-telling that is often very funny makes this a hugely enjoyable and illuminating book.” And the first word on this side of the Atlantic is equally admiring – Booklist gives it a starred review: “Blom is a superb writer who wisely unfolds his story year by year, so readers can gauge the growing intensity of these factors. We, of course, know how the story ends, but Blom succeeds in infusing this outstanding chronicle with drama, compassion, and poignancy.” I’ll say again: it’s my favorite book of the year. And then some. If you’re looking for a history choice this holiday season, something to get for the people who loved Cultural Amnesia, this would be the one.

I’ve gotten it out of my system; I feel better. I thank you most sincerely.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Gearing up for fall

No dilly-dallying: let’s get right to the important stuff. VegNews has a rave review of Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven (Running Press, 9780762431052) in the September/October issue: “Bursting with smarts and their classic sense of humor … With this sassy new tome, the authors give pregnant women everywhere a whole new reason to eat healthy….an entertaining read even if you’re not preggers, but it makes the perfect gift for a friend who is.” Keep in mind, there isn’t much else out there on vegan pregnancy. And even if you (or your customers) happen to be among the few who do not subscribe to VegNews (for shame!), consider that People Magazine has a feature in next week’s issue. And not for nothing has Running Press’s Craig Herman received marketing awards: there’s an arrangement now for Warner Bros. Home Video to release a trio of workout videos based on the Skinny Bitch brand, the first two of which will land this coming December. It is our understanding that WHV will be looking to package the DVDs to mimic the Skinny Bitch books, and it’s quite possible that the packages will be a DVD and a book bundle. One is called Skinny Bitch Fitness Bootcamp and the other is called Skinny Bitch Fitness: Body. Both DVDS will be 60 minutes and feature authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin performing the exercises. Warner Home Video is the supplier for those – unfortunately, I can’t fill the orders you’re sure to have. But we will cross market in each others’ packages. The empire grows!

The conventional wisdom is that Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times doesn’t like anything… so we were particularly pleased to see her strong endorsement of Farnaz Fassihi's Waiting for an Ordinary Day: the Unraveling of Life in Iraq (PublicAffairs, 9781586484750): “Powerful...[T]he volume’s intimate portraits of ordinary Iraqis, combined with its forthright account of what it was like to be a reporter covering the war, leave us with a devastating sense of the fallout that the American invasion and occupation have had on civilians’ daily lives.” You can read the full review at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/02/books/02kaku.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&sq=farnaz%20fassihi&st=cse&scp=1

Not to get bogged down in Iraq or anything, but Linda Robinson will appear on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” on Wednesday to discuss Tell Me How this Ends: General Petraeus and the Search for a Way out of Iraq (PublicAffairs, 9781586485283). This follows the excerpt that appeared two weeks ago in US News and World Report. This weekend Ms. Robinson will have an essay in the Washington Post “Outlook” section, and CSPAN will air Brian Lamb’s interview. We also know that the book has been assigned for review in the New York Times Book Review – there will be good visibility on this, especially as people start to think about what to do now that the surge has surged.

Of course, it looks like the paramount election issue is the economy. I’ve mentioned before the terrific praise we’ve seen for Peter Gosselin’s High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families (Basic, 9780465002252). To which you can now add The Washington Post Book World’s recent review: “You might not expect a book on economic policy to be a page-turner, but Peter Gosselin’s High Wire is just that…Gosselin shows, in frightening detail, how our lives as Americans have become riskier over the last few decades.” A review is still to come in the New York Review of Books…and depending on how the campaign goes, maybe a lot more.

If you’re looking for something both a bit hipper and a bit more optimistic, you can turn to Lisa Chamberlain’s Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction (Da Capo, 9780786718849). She has been making the rounds of NPR affiliates in the past couple weeks, and will be a guest on the nationally syndicated show “To the Best of Our Knowledge” on September 14. Sandra Tsing Loh calls Ms. Chamberlain “A Suzy Orman for the Deconstructionist set, Chamberlain is witty, brainy, fabulous. A necessary addition to any collapsing IKEA bookshelf.” And in the next couple of weeks Newsweek will feature the book in their “Enterprise” supplement.

You’ve probably heard by now that shortly after she became mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the current Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin tried to fire her town librarian; the offense, it seems, was a reluctance to ban some books. A well-timed story, I thought, considering that Banned Books Week is coming so soon (FYI: September 27-October 4 -- http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bannedbooksweek.cfm). It also got me thinking of Rick Wartzman’s Obscene in the Extreme: the Banning and Burning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (PublicAffairs, 9781586483319). Booklist has high praise in the current issue: “This case study of an attempt to censor John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath exposes the wrongheadedness of censorship in a way that more theoretical arguments often fail to do… This is a skillfully written, passionate book… Wartzman has really done his homework, and he tells the story dramatically, using character and dialogue to propel the narrative.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Scott Martelle pointed out that the book covers far more than censorship: “In these current times of bubbles and bursts, foreclosed-upon homes and entire industries confronting their own mortality, it’s good to have a fresh history such as this to remind us of what has gone on before, and to assure that the times will indeed change—eventually…. A skillfully drawn reminder of the human toll of deep poverty, intolerance and the unfettered whims of those who control the purse strings.” A big tour is in the works, up and down the coast, with an upcoming NPR appearance, and advertising in the NCIBA holiday catalog. Mr. Wartzman will even be at the NCIBA trade show – come by the Author Reception to say hello!

You’d expect that if anyone were to review Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier’s America Between the Wars: 11/9 to 9/11 (PublicAffairs, 9781586484965) it would be Foreign Affairs, and you’d be right: they called it “splendidly illuminating.” But even the Charleston Post & Courier says this is a book “you should have on your desk this summer”: “A wonderfully illuminating and timely expose…. It’s an eyebrow-raising, jaw-dropping, albeit entertaining review of the political climate and policy dynamics of an era in which politicians and statesmen clumsily joggled to define the nature of America’s role in an unprecedented global paradigm.”

It might not be your market…but then again it might: On December 7, Patrick Henry Hughes, author of I Am Potential: Eight Lessons on Living, Loving, and Reaching Your Dreams (Da Capo, 9780738212982) will perform and speak at the world-famous mega-church, the Crystal Cathedral, in Garden Grove, CA, at their 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. services. The former will be broadcast nationally on “The Hour of Power” television program on December 21, and they’ll mention the book (and flash the cover art) at least twice. The show is seen by 2 million viewers in the U.S. and Canada on Trinity Broadcasting Network and Lifetime TV (as well as local stations like California’s KCAL). As for the non-theists among you, recall that Mr. Hughes will have appeared on the Today Show on October 27.

Time for another hand-sell recommendation: have a look at Tycoon’s War: How America’s Richest Man Invaded a Country to Overthrow America’s Most Famous Military Adventurer, by Stephen Dando-Collins (Da Capo, 9780306816079). The Wall Street Journal just plain loved it: “A fascinating window into an era when the rules of industrial capitalism were in their infancy and gunboat diplomacy was standard operating procedure… Dando-Collins tells this tale well, bringing the events and the personalities to vivid life. The book reads almost as a densely detailed screenplay treatment for a hell of a movie…A terrific read.” You can see the full review at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122005706156685241.html?mod=googlenews_wsj. And I know not a lot of folks out here are likely to have seen the review in the Augusta Metro Spirit, but it’s an indication of how appealing the book is: “A classic story of conflict, desire, and the strive for success at all costs…Packed from cover to cover with greed and suspense, this book resonates with a contemporary America buried in a struggling economy where the rich buy yachts while the rest struggle to fill gas tanks…A gem of a tale.”

Matthew Goodman’s forthcoming The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York (Basic, 9780465002573) is shaping up to be a sleeper – initial orders on this were modest, awaiting the read, but I can now say: it’s terrific. We just received a great advance blurb from Edwin G. Burrows, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gotham and author of our forthcoming Forgotten Patriots:The Sun and the Moon is flat-out fascinating—not only for its brilliant reconstruction of one of the great newspaper hoaxes of the nineteenth century, but also for the Dickensian characters who populate its pages, each more outlandish and outrageous than the other.” And Kirkus agrees, giving it a starred review: “A delightful recounting of ‘the most successful hoax in the history of American journalism.’… Goodman consistently entertains with his tale of press manipulation, hucksterism and the seemingly bottomless capacity for people to believe the most outrageous things. Absolutely charming.” Like I said, most orders were low…but please consider bumping this one up: you’ll like it, and it’ll sell. I’m all out of galleys at the moment, but am expecting a new supply soon – let me know if you’d like me to send you one.

And since I mentioned it: Edwin Burrows’s Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners during the Revolutionary War (Basic, 9780465008353) was another book I loved selling this season, and the finished product does not disappoint. “In this tour-de-force of relentless research, keen interpretation, and elegant prose,” says Barnet Schecter, “Burrows has given us an engrossing, dramatic narrative that is also the definitive account of a monumental tragedy unknown to most Americans. By refusing to recognize captured Americans as legitimate prisoners of war, and despising them as ‘damn’d rebels,’ the British created a climate in which their commanders’ and jailers’ worst instincts had free reign, leading to atrocious suffering and possibly half of all American fatalities during the Revolutionary War. It’s a harrowing tale about the defiance of international norms of humanity, which speaks pointedly to the present.” And Ark of the Liberties author Ted Widmer agrees: “In Forgotten Patriots, Edwin Burrows has unearthed a treasure trove of history, in some cases literally. This vivid and compelling study shows that the P.O.W. is hardly a new phenomenon, but goes back to our origins as a nation.”

Curtis Roosevelt’s memoir Too Close to the Sun: Growing up in the Glorious Shadow of Franklin and Eleanor (PublicAffairs, 9781586485542) met with some befuddled stares when I presented it…but consider, if you will, what historian Joseph Persico has to say: “No one living today has had as intimate a personal relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt as his grandson, Curtis Roosevelt. Curtis was the favorite of FDR’s numerous grandchildren. He spent formative years living in the White House, a firsthand witness to history and the ever-fascinating relations among the Roosevelts. He is, fortunately, also enormously perceptive and articulate about the times and the people with whom he grew up.” It’s astounding how every season brings another Roosevelt book or 3; I feel confident saying none will have the perspective of this one.

Keep an eye out for A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books by Alex Beam (PublicAffairs, 9781586484873). We just got a nice blurb for it from Michael Kinsley: “Alex Beam’s A Great Idea At the Time is a hilarious tale about academia, commerce, and middle class intellectual insecurity in mid-twentieth-century America. In Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, Beam has a comic character on the level of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. This would be one of the best campus novels in a generation, except that it’s all true.”

We’re still waiting on promised features in Greek America and Hellenic Voice, but in the meantime The Weekly Standard had a fantastic review of Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 (Basic, 9780465011193), calling it an “energetic and terrifically readable narrative of the events… Giles Milton’s account, by reason of its forthrightness, its brilliant use of hitherto-unseen archival Levantine sources, its feeling for the day-to-day life of the city, and its devastating quest for the hidden truth, seems also to lay to rest some of the ghosts of that shocking and shameful event.”

Let me take a moment to thank you again for your help keeping Scott McClellan’s What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception (PublicAffairs, 9781586485566) out there. Convention season has meant still more national attention for Mr. McClellan: “Fresh Air” re-aired their interview, and there were new reviews in the LA Times and on Politico.com. Even Stephen Colbert could no longer ignore the story, inviting Mr. McClellan to the Report just last week. Mr. McClellan’s next scheduled stop is “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday. He should be a good interview these days, considering the theme at the Republican National Convention seems to be “Washington is Broken.” Gee, I wonder who to blame for that.

As I made the rounds this season, I heard a lot of hesitation about how well the big gift books would do in the current straitened economic climate. I hear you. At the very least I can say that we’re working hard to get the word out about our marquee gift book, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, by Richard Schickel and George Perry (Running Press, 9780762434183). Mr. Schickel will appear on “CBS Sunday Morning” on September 21, to discuss his book and the companion documentary. The next day he is slated to appear on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The documentary will run as a five-part “American Masters” special on most PBS stations, beginning September 23. And we will be advertising in the SCIBA holiday catalog. I’ve seen the finished product, and I think it’s fair to say that it came out very well indeed – altogether gorgeous, and a lot of book for $50.

But if your cinephiles don’t have the scratch for such a large and magnificent gift, you can perhaps entice them with a paperback original: The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love (Da Capo, 9780306815669). On October 13, co-editor David Sterritt will be on “Talk of the Nation” for the full second hour to discuss B movies. The first trade review is in – not a publishing trade, but a cinema trade: Editor’s Guild Magazine calls it “A tome that will set nicely on the shelf beside your movie collection and provide rewarding reading as a supplement to the film viewing experience.” You don’t have to be a guild member to agree.

If you happen to be watching network television tomorrow, you’ll see “Stand Up to Cancer,” a one hour TV special to be broadcast on all three networks, simultaneously and commercial-free, hosted by Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, and Brian Williams. Errol Morris interviewed Robert Schimmel for the program about how cancer has affected his life – a subject he’s treated at length in Cancer on $5 a Day (Chemo Not Included) (Da Capo, 9780738211589). Later this year or early next Mr. Schimmel will have a new, one-hour special on Showtime. Even before then, though, it’s possible he’ll win the SCIBA award for best non-fiction book of the year. Talk about building momentum….

The New Republic recently featured a lengthy review of books about the crisis in Darfur (sadly still relatively ignored by politicians in this country). It leads with The Devil Came on Horseback by Brian Steidle with Gretchen Steidle Wallace (PublicAffairs, 9781586485696), calling it “the best written of the Darfur memoirs and the most politically astute.” That was nice to see, even if no one is really paying attention.

Ishmael Reed is mixing it up for Mixing it Up (Da Capo, 9781568583396): he has an essay in the August issue of Oakland Magazine, and got a strong review in the East Bay Express. But he’s not going to stop there! He’ll be appearing on the syndicated program “West Coast Live” (produced by San Francisco’s KALW) on September 13, and is part of the inaugural Berkeley Arts & Letters Series with an appearance scheduled for October 22.

Just about every science publication in the known four dimensions has committed to reviewing The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces by Frank Wilczek (Basic, 9780465003211), but the first words of praise to hit newsstands will be found in The Economist. It’s complicated stuff, and I think merits quoting the review at length: Mr. Wilczek “engages in a riveting dialogue with nature, using experiments and hypotheses as questions. He draws on recent developments in the special theory of relativity, quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics (which accounts for the behaviour of quarks and which won Mr. Wilczek the Nobel prize in 2004) to arrive at a satisfactory answer about the origin of mass. In the process, he broaches some probing questions about the ultimate structure of physical reality, and about the prospects for a unified theory that would account for all its seemingly disparate aspects. The book offers not just some striking answers, but also a peek at the creative process that produces them. At its heart lies the continual tension between new consequences derived from existing mathematical formulae, their novel physical interpretations and the search for their discernible manifestations.” The result is “a thrilling read. In an endnote Mr Wilczek warns that the nitty gritty of quantum field theory is not for sissies. Nor is this book. But readers who are both doughty and patient will be rewarded with a glimpse of physics at its quirkiest and most illuminating.”

Let me include a strong word of praise for a small book (in terms of its likely market), but one I quite valued (and one I wish had a bigger market): MichaelAxworthy’s A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind (Basic, 9780465008889) has been getting very solid reviews, including one recently in ForeWard Magazine: “Readers are likely to share this reviewer’s sense that a fragmentary knowledge of Persian history suddenly, with the author’s engaging help, approaches a rounded picture—one well worth enlarging. It is hard to imagine a better treatment of Persia within a single volume than this.”

I don’t really see Samuel Johnson: The Struggle, by Jeffery Meyers (Basic, 9780465045716) having a gigantic audience either, alas; but my word is it getting strong endorsements, including advance praise from that notorious malcontent (and terrific writer) Paul Theroux: “This is a superb book, not only an intellectual history of one of English literature's greatest and most restless minds, but to me an incomparable portrait of a man who was physically an oddity and a marvel. Dr Johnson with his tics and his appetites and his lopsided wig is depicted with the full-blooded gusto he deserves.” Or the renegade anti-theorist Frederick Crews: “Jeffrey Meyers’s Samuel Johnson is the strongest of his many books. Its portrait of Johnson and his London is Hogarthian in its unsparing detail, but the grotesquerie is overmatched by Meyers’s sympathy for a writer whose handicaps and sorrows threatened his sanity at every turn. Too often, Johnson has been misperceived as a sententious bully. Meyers shows us, instead, a man whose wisdom sprang from misfortune, from a heroic will to prevail, and from intimate compassion with the wretched of the Earth.”

Although I could go on recommending books all day, I’ll stop after only one more: it should come as not surprise that we’ve been able to get some good advance praise for Between the Covers: the Book Babes’ Guide to a Woman’s Reading Pleasures by Margo Hammond and (Portland’s own) Ellen Heltzel (Da Capo, 9780738212296). Certainly some of the authors praised in its pages could be counted on to offer a recommendation, right? Okay, so it’s a structurally debased currency. Still I ask you to consider someone who struck me as an unlikely blurber, Andrei Codrescu: “I wouldn't normally and publicly praise a book I'm in, but in the case of these enthusiastic readers who devour books as if they were gorgeous and smart lovers, I'm making an exception. Any reader will be swept away by this swift and useful guide through life's dilemmas through literature. These two guides have read deeply and widely and their sure touch translates into practical and pleasurable uses for books. Trust them, they'll fix you right up, and they are cheaper than shrinks.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

FW: The Supercollider - news and reviews from Perseus

Time for another of my periodic round-ups of what it looks like when our books get out there in the world. Let me start with some late information about forthcoming titles, particularly fall books for which review and publicity plans are just coming into focus:

USAToday and USAToday.com “Science Snapshot” columnist Dan Vergano recently interviewed Frank Wilczek about The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces (Basic, 9780465003211). Mr. Wilczek will be quoted and the book will be mentioned in America’s newspaper’s upcoming article about the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). But Mr. Vergano couldn’t wait that long to share his excitement about the book -- he featured it in his August 4 round-up of science beach reads, writing: “Don’t worry, the chapters are short, fun and larded with historical points that offer readers the payoff of understanding all the excitement in the scientific world over Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, just getting warmed up in its operations.” The full column is online at: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2008-08-04-science-books_N.htm.

It was of course a bit unusual this fall for the Basic Books Group to be publishing not one but two works of fiction. But the truth is that both fit very well within Basic’s central mission of publishing serious, readable works on history and matters of current interest. Early buzz is building for Walter Mosley’s first Socrates Fortlow book in over 10 years, The Right Mistake: the Further Philosophical Investigations of Socrates Fortlow (Basic Civitas, 9780465005253), keyed by a starred PW review: “In the face of gangs, drugs, poverty and racism, Mosley poses the deceptively simple question—‘What can I do?—and provides a powerful and moving answer.”

And the other work of fiction on the list – Larry Beinhart’s Salvation Boulevard (Nation, 9781568584119), also got a starred review: “…splendid religious legal thriller.” In fact, the range and pitch of advance praise for this has been bewildering: it’s gotten great blurbs from the likes of Donald Westlake (“intelligent, provocative, often outrageous…it will grip you, from first page to last”), Vincent Bugliosi (“a great and memorable read”), and Robert K. Tannenbaum (“a tempestuous philosophical personal drama that will unquestionably motivate intense discussion, debate and critical thinking”). But above all, remember this as maybe the only book you’ll ever find that gets singing praise from both Episcopal Life (“a high-speed, rip-roaring chase for meaning in these strange times…. If you’re a mainline liberal protestant, I think you’ll shout ‘Amen’”) and – wait for it – Penthouse Magazine (“…a very atypical witches’ brew of sex, religion, hypocrisy, and evil in which the war on terror, is cynically manipulated to subvert America’s basic values”). A lot of folks were nervous about this, but I entreat you to give it another thought. I can probably dig up some more galleys if you’re interested – say the word.

I continue to be optimistic that Farnaz Fassihi’s Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq (PublicAffairs, 9781586484750) will be able to break through the much-cited Iraq fatigue. For starters, consider the advance praise we’ve been getting. Geraldine Brooks does not mince words: “Of all the fine, brave books that have been written about the Iraq debacle, this is the indispensable one. The Wall Street Journal’s outspoken Iraq correspondent, Farnaz Fassihi has a reporter's eye, a humanist's heart, and a fierce identification with the people she was assigned to cover. This is not a book about military tactics or political blunders, but of the effects of these things on ordinary Iraqi lives. Heartbreaking and resonant, Fassihi’s work makes her a worthy successor to the great war correspondent Martha Gellhorn in understanding that ‘War happens to people, one by one.’” “Her descriptions expose much of what is glib and inadequate in our analysis and policy,” says Rory Stewart; and Rajiv Chandresekaran calls it “a fascinating account of life in Iraq that helps us understand why stability there has been so elusive. In her richly textured, deftly written narrative, Fassihi chronicles the shattered dreams of the middle-class Iraqis who welcomed the Americans as liberators, using their stories to illustrate the country's unraveling. It is a must-read for anyone who cares about Iraq and its future.” And Kirkus, notoriously hard to impress, brands it a “highly personal, deeply disturbing report…. Fassihi’s reporting on the bloody conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and of the rival Shiite factions is enlightening, as is the account of her experiences as a Muslim woman working as a journalist in an increasingly fundamentalist society…. Fassihi’s passionate reporting is certain to stir controversy.” Unfortunately, Ms. Fassihi won’t be able to make her planned trip to Portland; she is still committed to extensive media appearances, though. To wit: a first serial in the Wall Street Journal on September 6 will be followed closely by WBUR’s “On Point” September 11, and “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross on the day of publication, September 15.

I hope it’s okay that I keep pointing to starred reviews in PW – they sure are a nice affirmation. Another recipient is Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt, by Joyce Tyldesley (Basic, 9780465009404): “This entertaining biography hits the elusive sweet spot between scholarship and readability…. Writing with an easy mastery of her subject, Tyldesley always seems to be able to lay her hands on the perfect lively detail, whether an excerpt from an obscure bureaucratic document or a description of a kind of giant robot that paraded through the streets of Alexandria pouring libations of milk from a gold bottle. Though she makes it clear we’ll never know what Cleopatra was ‘really’ like, Tyldesley provides a memorable journey through the rich and contradictory sources of our knowledge about her.” We were also pleased (and a bit surprised) to see an early review from Feminist Review: “Tyldesley’s work is surprisingly readable for those of us who are not Egyptologists and historians. It makes the reader feel privy to the exciting battles, intimate moments and private life of the queen…. Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt is one of the best introductions out there.” Ms. Tyldesley will write a cover story about Cleopatra for Natural History Magazine’s October issue.

We’ve gotten some very nice advance praise (although no starred PW, alas) for Mona Lisa in Camelot by Margaret Leslie Davis (Da Capo, 9780738211039), including from LA Times art writer Suzanne Muchnic: “No detail goes unexamined, no gesture unexplored in Margaret Leslie Davis's impassioned account of Mona Lisa's historic journey from France to America. Much more than a story about the travels of a world-famous painting, this is a tale of international diplomacy, personal relationships, cultural symbolism and—most of all—the power of two great ladies.” You may recall my saying that I found this to be an unexpected delight. It will get a first serial in Vanity Fair’s December issue, so hopefully that will drive folks in for it.

I sold it in a long time ago, but please don’t lose sight of Ronald Wright’s What is America?: A Short History of the New World Order (Da Capo, 9780786720972), which should be arriving (after long delay) in the next couple weeks. The recent Kirkus review just confirms me in my sense that this is a book we could do well with out here on the coast: “Through a lens seemingly constructed by Howard Zinn and Jared Diamond, Wright’s oblique take on the past 500 years, a parade of European and American horrors, will not come as news to anyone who’s sat in a high school or college history classroom in the past 40 years. Still, few of those students will have likely heard so charming an analysis of American depredations… An entertaining, highly tendentious account of where we’ve been and where we’re headed.”

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser’s Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Basic, 9780465005154) is another late arrival from the spring season, but also worth the wait. Booklist declared, “As old institutions crumble, there is a need for just this sort of enlightening, commonsensical, and positive guide to digital reality.” Nice advance praise came as well from Howard Gardner (“From now on, any attempt to understand what it is like to grow up or to live one's life in a digital world must begin with the outstanding, original synthesis”) and Lawrence Lessig (“Digital technologies are changing our kids in ways we don't yet understand. This beautifully written book will set the framework for a field that will change that. It is required reading for parents, educators, and anyone who cares about the future”). (Wow, that would be a lot of people….) The authors are scheduled appear on Talk of the Nation, and at Bay Area and Seattle events.

I am Potential: Eight Lessons on Living, Loving, and Reaching Your Dreams, by Patrick Henry Hughes (Da Capo, 9780738212982) “is likely to be the feel-good story of the year,” says Carol Besse of Carmichael’s Books in a recent PW piece. “Patrick Henry Hughes is someone who has become a celebrity for all the right reasons. He is an inspiration to everyone who knows him and will become an inspiration to everyone who reads his book.” Patrick Henry and his father and co-author, Patrick John, will be on the Today Show the week of October 27.

And of course, the time draws near when we unleash Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven: A Gutsy Guide to Becoming One Hot and Healthy Mother! (Running Press, 9780762431052). PW gave the latest title in the franchise by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman a stellar (if not a starred) review: “Characteristically feisty and foul-mouthed … these in-your-face, incisive authors have done their research, exposing a host of health issues related to the use of bovine growth hormone and antibiotics in farm animals. Repeating the mantra ‘you and your baby are what you eat,’ they explain the effects of pesticides in foods (with links to learning disabilities, developmental delays and behavioral disorders), how a high protein diet in pregnancy can lead to high blood pressure, stress and diabetes in the child, and the connection between mercury in fish and birth defects. Insisting that a vegan diet is healthy for both baby and mom (a claim substantiated by the AMA), the authors also include sample menus and vegan tips to satisfy food cravings. Passionately questioning the status quo, Freedman and Barnouin make a compelling case for a vegan pregnancy.” The book will be in stores by late September, and, as usual, there will be a huge publicity blitz. And from what I can tell, there is not a lot out there about vegan pregnancy, so there’s yet another market they might be able to corner (now that they’ve conquered the world of professional athletes).

Bridging between the soon-to-land and already-in-your-store, is Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (Da Capo). The movie is coming in October, and Toby Young is already on the hustings promoting. The movie trailer premiered on Entertainment Tonight and The Insider; was featured on MSNBC.com and TVGuide.com; blogged about on gossip sites like Jossip; and can now be seen on all of the movie sites (Movieweb, AOLMovies, etc.). Mr. Young will also be a guest judge for 3 episodes of Top Chef in November (who thought that would be a good idea?). You’ve got two versions to choose from: the original paperback (9780306812279), or the movie tie-in (9780306816130). I’ve attached a sell-sheet for the latter, so you can see what the cover will look like.

In the spirit of the Olympics (did you see that men’s 4x100 Freestyle Relay? crazy!), let me start in on those books already available with a couple books about China. First, John Man’s The Great Wall: The Extraordinary Story of China’s Wonder of the World (Da Capo, 9780306817441), which got great reviews both in PW (“This engrossing and well-researched history of China’s most famous architectural project whets the reader’s appetite to tread in Man’s footsteps”) and Kirkus (“A learned, lively history of the Great Wall’s evolution that cuts it down to size without diminishing its allure…A shifting, kaleidoscopic portrait—cultural, geopolitical, symbolic—that puts the mighty edifice into perspective…Man presents readers with a Wall for every season, even more awe-inspiring in its workaday clothes than in its romantic garb.”)

And China: Empire of Living Symbols by Cecilia Lindqvist (Da Capo, 9780306816093). This really is a gem, and I don’t think there’s another book like it. I don’t have any recent reviews to share with you, nor any great publicity (although PW did have a small feature about how long it took to get this book in paperback). But here’s the link to its page on our website: http://perseusbooksgroup.com/perseus/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0306816091. Take a gander at the book – if you get it in front of people, they’ll buy it.

Deborah Stone’s reasoned but still passionate argument in favor of an affirmatively engaged government, The Samaritan’s Dilemma: Should Government Help Your Neighbor? (Nation, 9781568583549) has been getting strong praise from unexpected sources. It’s not surprising that this would get noticed by Bill McKibben -- “We need each other. As this very fine book reminds us, the recent American creed of hyper-individualism is making us less happy and more vulnerable--real solace lies in rebuilding the kind of communities that take care of everyone. Everyone.” But I was impressed that it got reviewed in the August issue of O: The Oprah Magazine: “Stone’s calm, logical, and immensely reassuring book dismantles the standard arguments against a more caring society…and persuades us that acts of charity and social responsibility actually make us stronger as individuals and better citizens of a democracy…when the time comes for our next president to assemble a cabinet, Deborah Stone could be appointed our first Secretary of Compassion.” Now there’s an idea.

Even as the first of the show trials at Gitmo was unwinding, Mahvish Khan was speaking out about the absurd world in which they were set. She made appearances on Talk of the Nation and Your Call with Rose Aguilar, as well as at a number of bookstores up and down our coast, to discuss her book, My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me (PublicAffairs, 9781586484989). Reviews are also assigned in the Utne Reader and Bitch Magazine, and hopefully they will echo the assessment of Jeffrey Rosen in the New York Times Book Review: “Once you know the endings to Khan’s stories, they read like the gripping narratives of the wrongly accused…. Khan captures the bizarre culture of Guantanamo, where lawyers struggle to represent their clients…. Her first-person accounts of detainee abuse by American soldiers are gut-wrenching.… My Guantanamo Diary provides a valuable account of what we can now recognize as one of the most shameful episodes in the war on terror. It is hard to read this book without a growing sense of embarrassment and indignation.”

Lucas Conley recently faced the nation on The Colbert Report, pitting the good vibrations of his refreshing Sunkist soda against the 23 flavors of Colbert’s Dr. Pepper. They squared off over Mr. Conley’s delightful OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder (PublicAffairs, 9781586484682), which recently got a nice review in the Boston Globe: “Tartly written…. [Obsessive Branding Disorder] is instructive, even entertaining…. Conley is a keen observer and a trenchant critic…. [A] timely call to arms.”

John Mutter of Shelf Awareness recently wrote a fine feature about Sam Wyly and his memoir of entrepreneurship, 1,000 Dollars and an Idea (Newmarket, 9781557048035): “The memoir/business book is written in elegant, declarative style and chronicles the author's life and career, starting as a record-breaking salesperson at IBM, then founding his first company and becoming a millionaire before age 30.” Mr. Wyly and his wife also recently bought Explore Booksellers in Aspen, to keep it from going out of business. “I come from a long line of people who read and write,’ Mr. Wyly says in the article, “Books have always been in my life." It goes on to quote store manager Lynda Schultz, who finds Mr. Wyly to be “one of the most genuine, down-to-earth, kind and ethical men I've met." The Wylys, she continued, are "fabulous people who truly value independent bookstores. You can't ask for more than that.”

For the second time in this roundup I’ll cite praise for one of our books from Lawrence Lessig: of Michael Heller’s The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives (Basic, 9780465029167), Mr. Lessig recently wrote, “His clear and beautifully crafted analysis is absolutely compelling, and will fundamentally change the debate in core policy areas. There are very few books that reorient a field. Almost none that reorient many fields. This is in that ‘almost none’ category: Paradigms will shift. Many of them.” BusinessWeek seemed to agree, writing that “Although the idea may be unfamiliar, after reading this book you’ll start seeing its spooky tentacles everywhere.” James Surowiecki devoted a recent “Financial Page” in The New Yorker to Mr. Heller’s book, and Slate.com called it “One of the most perceptive popular books on property since Das Kapital.” Goodness. And don’t forget that no less august a forum than Penthouse Magazine determined “This could be one of this year’s most important books.” Mr. Heller will be holding events in the San Francisco Bay Area, but even if you can’t make one of those, you might want to check out the video interview posted on Time Magazine’s “Curious Capitalist” blog: http://time-blog.com/curious_capitalist/2008/07/the_muchignored_problem_of_was.html

(By the way: I don’t know if it’s because Penthouse Magazine’s reviewers have been so attentive to Perseus books recently, but they’ve arranged to carry the first serial of Mac Montandon’s forthcoming Jetpack Dreams: One Man’s Up and Down (But Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention that Never Was (Da Capo, 9780306815287) in November. For a brief introduction to the curious landscape that book traces, check out a recent article in the New York Times about jetpack enthusiasts, nay, obsessives: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/science/29jetpack.html?scp=1&sq=jetpack%20dreams&st=cse.)

Billie Jean King’s Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes (LifeTime Media, 9780981636801) has just landed, and the publicity rollout will be impressive indeed for the next several weeks. In the current issue of Vanity Fair, Billie Jean (as she prefers to be called) handles a wildly inappropriate interview with great humor, and even offers to do some risqué intelligence gathering. She’ll do live interviews on August 19 with Kyra Phillips (CNN) and Neil Cavuto (Fox News), and will tape an interview for NPR’s Morning Edition, scheduled to air on August 20. George Vecsey will interview her for a column in the New York Times during the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament (which takes place, by the way, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center). And she will also do a bit during the tournament with Regis and Kelly! It’s all Billie Jean, all the time!

Vincent Bugliosi is intense and determined, and he continues to burn up the blogs and the “alternative” media, taking his case to the people, even if the mainstream outlets still generally ignore his admittedly aggressive The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder (Vanguard, 9781593154813). He has a couple big events scheduled in Santa Monica (at the Santa Monica Public Library) and with Warren Etheridge in Seattle. And if anyone at either place has a cell phone, expect to see the proceedings on YouTube – if you look him up there, you’ll find people are regularly taping his appearances. You might as well start with his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which was among YouTube’s top 10 videos through the weekend of 7/26: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDAFozFn4kU. All this attention is keeping him on the bestseller lists – not just the New York Times, but also at some point all 3 west coast regional lists (PNBA, NCIBA, SCIBA) – so thanks for getting and staying behind this.

Popmatters.com recently reviewed Harpoon, by Andrew Darby (Da Capo, 9780306816291): “Darby’s experience as a reporter is visible in his writing. The text is analytical yet clear, packed with valuable supporting quotes from authorities in every area. From international diplomats to whalers themselves, Darby has sought the right people to speak with…As well as being a wonderful and comprehensive analysis of whaling from its inception to the present, the text can be regarded as a parable of people’s inability to respond to environmental crises as they unfold.” It also got a starred review as the on-line “Pick of the Week” from PW, which called it “a definitive work on the past and present of whaling…. Darcy tracks international efforts to curb whaling, which have been stymied through the years by diplomatic maneuvers and outright fraud, concluding that decades of work by both ecologists and governments have still not guaranteed that any species will survive human predation; one hopes his exceptional history will act as a bulwark.

Let me suggest as a great history hand-sell: The Black Death: a Personal History, by John Hatcher (Da Capo, 9780306815713) received a glowing review by New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester: “This totally absorbing book presents the best account ever written about the worst event to have ever befallen the British Isles. In the hands of John Hatcher…the extraordinary tragedy of the great plague…has been brought to life in a manner rarely attempted, and with a level of success even more rarely achieved…[Hatcher writes] medieval history ‘from the inside’…The technique, offered here with masterly precision and for a lay audience, makes for a history book like very few others, and a triumph at that…Mr. Hatcher has turned his highly specialized attentions to the minutiae of the tale, and in doing so has come up with a book — half fact, half highly informed speculation — that can have few rivals.” Read the full review here: http://www.nysun.com/arts/the-black-death-john-hatchers-remarkable-history/80591/

Another great history hand-sell is the Timothy Snyder’s The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (Basic, 9780465002375), which got a fantastic review by John McFarland in Shelf Awareness: “The tumult of 20th-century Europe, in all its destruction, confusion and change, comes into sharp focus as Timothy Snyder views it through the lens of Habsburg Archduke Wilhelm (1895-1948), dubbed the Red Prince by Germans upset about his pro-liberation stance for the Ukraine…. Snyder draws parallels between the Habsburg dream at the beginning of the 20th century and the organization of the European Union at the beginning of the 21st. His argument that the E.U. bears significant similarities to the Habsburg blueprint for organizing independent nation states under an over-arching authority is one more illuminating flourish in this brilliant work of history that also allows space to note twin ironies: the Habsburg crown now appears on every bottle of beer produced at the Zywiec brewery in Poland (formerly run by Archduke Albrecht, confiscated by the Nazis, taken over by the Polish communist government and now owned by Heineken); in Vasyl Vyshyvanyi Square in Lviv, Ukraine, there is a pedestal dedicated to Wilhelm using his Ukrainian name--Vasyl Vyshyvanyi stands for Vassily the Embroidered--but the pedestal is missing a statue.” The Seattle Times also found it entrancing: “Deeply researched and beautifully written, The Red Prince captures in shimmering colors the death of old Europe and the continent’s descent into barbarism…” This one is perfect for readers of Alan Furst who might want to sink their teeth into some history to go along with the novels. It has been assigned for review in The New Yorker; and, if you’re concerned that we need to reach a wider circulation, I’m told it’s also been assigned for review in the Moscow Times. Seriously.

Hey, speaking of Moscow: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the response we’ve been getting for Yeltsin: A Life, by Timothy J. Colton (Basic, 9780465012718). Time.com calls it “a fine biography of Russia’s first postcommunist president…. Colton’s research is thorough and his chronicle lively and measured. It’s fitting, too, that Yeltsin has sprung his last surprise by finding a biographer to rank him, justifiably, among the politicians with the greatest impact on the 20th century.” And the New York Times agrees: “Mr. Colton is not the first to undertake Yeltsin’s redemption…. But Mr. Colton has used the extra time to excellent effect. He has mined declassified Kremlin transcripts; fact-checked many memoirs; conducted extensive interviews with participants, including Yeltsin, shortly before his death last year; and synthesized a story that anyone curious about contemporary Russia will find illuminating.”

These days there is a lot about contemporary Russia that should raise interest – so let me briefly mention a few titles, in case you’ve got anyone clamoring: The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections, and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union by Mark MacKinnon (Basic, 9780786720835); or, for the seriously hardcore, Russia and the Soviet Union An Historical Introduction from the Kievan State to the Present, Sixth Edition, by John M. Thompson (Westview, 9780813343952). And there will be some very interesting and timely material on Russia’s aggressive foreign policy stance in America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft (Basic, 9780465015016), which should be arriving in stores shortly; both of these esteemed statesmen will be doing a lot of media, including Charlie Rose and The Colbert Report.

And let’s hope Georgia doesn’t turn into another Chechnya. How hard should we hope? For perspective, look at Asne Seierstad’s Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War (Basic, 9780465011223). It’s a tumult of bad news, but it did get a starred PW review: “In this searing journey through a traumatized Chechnya, two children orphaned by the civil war—Timur, a violent street urchin, and his sister Liana, a waif molested by her uncle who becomes a kleptomaniac—symbolize their country's agony, abandonment and lingering dysfunctions. Norwegian journalist Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul) includes them in a gallery of portraits drawn from her reporting—sometimes undercover—from the region. These include a kindly childless woman who runs Grozny’s last orphanage; a Russian soldier suffering from brain damage caused by a rebel mine; survivors of Stalin's expulsion of the Chechens to Kazakhstan in WWII; and a family whose daughter joined an Islamist sect and died in the spectacular terrorist takeover of a Moscow theater. Even more disturbing is her chilling, absurdist depiction of the regime of Moscow-backed Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, which combines torture and disappearances with a saccharine cult of personality. (One of Kadyrov’s youth groups distributed roses on his behalf to every woman in Grozny.) There are many victims but few heroes…. Seierstad’s vivid, unsparing reportage makes this distant tragedy very personal.” It’s also been getting great reads from the booksellers who asked for advance copies.

While I’m piling on the depressing news, I want to point as well to Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 by Giles Milton (Basic, 9780465011193), which Kirkus called a “gripping account of a half-forgotten 20th-century war that ended in gruesome ethnic cleansing… Teaches a lesson that needs repeating: Genocide is never the work of a few perverted individuals but springs from common patriotism accompanied by intense hatred of national enemies.” “Milton draws on eyewitness accounts to render these events in all their horror,” adds PW, “and ends with an almost incredible rescue led by an unlikely hero. Milton powerfully renders this tragic tale of an army that came to ‘liberate’ Smyrna and instead massacred its citizens and burned their prize to the ground in a vengeful frenzy.” Mr. Milton will be touring in California in late September and August, with events at USC and San Francisco State University, as well as at local bookstores.

Okay, let’s try to turn things around a bit. One path to spiritual renewal might be Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion (Basic, 9780465003006). Science Magazine says that it “sparkles from every angle as its author gallops through the relevant science, philosophy, economics, history, ethics, poetry and – well, we had better use the word because Kauffman does: religion…. Bringing science and religion together globally in the way that Kauffman wishes is not going to be easy – as other ecumenical movements have repeatedly found – but it is necessary.”

Or you could turn to Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist, by Sharman Apt Russell (Basic, 9780465005178). In a feature last month The Oregonian called it “a brilliant and wise exploration of the philosophy [pantheism] -- from Marcus Aurelius to American transcendentalists -- through the lens of her own life.” I found this quite lovely – peaceful and centering, the way it should be.

Speaking of Oregonians… congratulations to Douglas Wolk, whose Reading Comics (Da Capo, 9780306816161) just won the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book. The award was presented at Comic-Con (by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s, no less!) Wolk was featured in the special Comic-Con issue of the San Diego Union Tribune, and he blogged about the show for PW.com. And he’s a lovely fellow.

Finally, let me give a shout of thanks to Southern California Booksellers, who put two Perseus titles on their shortlist for this year’s SCIBA nonfiction book award: Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden, by Jeanne Kelley (Running Press, 9780762431830), and Cancer on $5 a Day (Chemo not Included): How Humor Got Me Through the Toughest Journey of My Life, by Robert Schimmel (Da Capo, 9780738211589). I know the authors, and everyone at world headquarters, appreciate your support.

That’s all for now, my friends. Keep on keepin’ on-