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; and you can find his assessment of the Paulson plan – “it will make an unholy mess even worse” – at

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.’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 – 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:

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: 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,’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

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 -- 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 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 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.”