Saturday, March 28, 2009

News and notes from Perseus - March Madness edition

I'm scraping myself away from the NCAA basketball tournaments (men's and women's division 1 – go Huskies!) and attending sales conference this week, getting ready for the Fall season. But while I'm there I hope you'll take a few moments to consider the success we're having so far this spring – behold, another round of publicity highlights.

If I'm to be guided by print runs, I've got to start with A Different Life, by Quinn Bradlee (PublicAffairs, 9781586481896). There's certainly a lot to recommend this memoir of growing up with a severe learning disability…but the family connections certainly can't hurt. The book was plugged in Elissa Schappell's "Hot Type" column in Vanity Fair, and this week the rollout begins in earnest: there is a first serial in Newsweek, and Mr. Bradlee (the younger) will be on "Good Morning America" on Thursday (April 3). He will also check in with Diane Rehm on April 13, and will join the ladies on "The View" on April 21. Promotion for the book also ties in with the launch of, a resource and social networking site for learning-disabled youth. I suspect that there will be even more to come.

I've mentioned it elsewhere, but would like to say again, congratulations to Mark Thompson, for making the shortlist for this year's Orwell Prize with his fantastic The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 (Basic, 9780465013296). The prize is awarded annually to that book judged best to accomplish Orwell's stated goal of making political writing an art. This is a well-earned accomplishment – but not entirely a surprise, at least if you've seen the reviews that it's been getting. For example, Hugh MacDonald, in the Glasgow Herald: "It is impossible not to read Thompson and be moved both in emotion and in thought. This is exemplary history…. It brings an area and a time forgotten by much of Europe back into a searching light." I feel confident that more strong reviews are to come. (I've gone into a bit more length about my enthusiasm for this book in an earlier post.)

On the subject of short lists, and a little closer to home: congratulations to Rick Wartzman, whose Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (PublicAffairs, 9781586483319) is a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for History. In their review, they called it "a skillfully drawn reminder of the human toll of deep poverty, intolerance and the unfettered whims of those who control the purse strings." It's a great piece of dust-bowl history, and a great lesson on censorship. The winners will be announced at the Los Angeles Times Festival of the Book in late April.

And another one! Congratulations to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o for making the list of contenders for this year's Man Booker International Prize. This prize (not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize for Fiction) "highlights one writer's continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage." You can learn more about the prize here: (The two previous winners are Chinua Achebe in 2007, and Ismail Kadare in 2005.) Earlier this month Basic Civitas published Mr. Ngugi's nonfiction book of essays on preserving African cultures by preserving African languages, Something Torn and New: an African Renaissance (9780465009466).

All of those contenders were leading up to this: a winner! Lawrence Freedman has been awarded the 2009 Lionel Gelber Prize for A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (PublicAffairs, 9781586485184). The Lionel Gelber Prize is a literary award for "the world's best non-fiction book in English that seeks to deepen public debate on significant global issues," and has been described by the Economist as "the world's most important award for non-fiction." Past winners have included Lawrence Wright, Jonathan Spence, David McCullough, Michael Ignatieff, Adam Hochschild, Walter Russell Mead, and Steve Coll – that is some elite company! The award is well-timed for us – the paperback is due this summer (9781586487010).

Consider Sir Lawrence's book the first part of a one-two punch in the area of Middle East Studies, to be followed by Neil MacFarquhar's rather less formal The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday (PublicAffairs, 9781586486358). In advance of its publication in April, Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review: "While a glut of recent books on the Middle East have addressed Western perspectives on the region, this excellent book emphasizes questions Arabs ask themselves…MacFarquhar's approach is well-rounded…If America is to overcome Arabs' deep distrust, MacFarquhar suggests, it must abandon policies 'too often based on expediency' and listen, not to its own domestic politics but 'to the concerns of the people in [Arabs'] own countries.'" Similarly praise-filled reviews appeared in Booklist and Kirkus, and it's been assigned for review at the San Francisco Chronicle. (On top of which, the consensus seems to be that it has the best title of the season.)

Okay, I'll lighten up a bit. We'll be getting a great ForeWord magazine review for Love As Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him (Da Capo, 9780306818035) by Loree Rackstraw: "As only one who knew him well could, Rackstraw conjures a robust portrait of this paradoxical legend, drawing on their voluminous correspondence to provide singular insights that both contradict and celebrate his iconic status…Rackstraw's forte is finding that satisfying balance of objectivity and subjectivity that memoirists must bring to their work…Artfully blending her confidante's understanding of Vonnegut's kaleidoscopic personality with an academician's assessment of his timeless and universal themes, Rackstraw manages to offer both a dignified testimonial to a literary master and a loving tribute to a lifelong friend." And wasn't he everyone's friend? Entertainment Weekly seemed to think so: "When Love as Always, Kurt is at its best, the 'love' in Rackstraw's title seems to refer not just to Vonnegut's love for her, but his love for all of us."

You know who else has an abiding love for all of us? Sure you do – The Donald! He's here to show you: you'll find a Q&A with Mr. Trump in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine. His advice to them? "You should make this interview a five-page deal. Because of me, everybody will read it." Well, they didn't make it five pages, alas. Still, they did manage to mention his forthcoming book, Think Like a Champion (Vanguard, 9781593155308). And you'll be hearing more from him on the subject: he'll be on "Good Morning America" on April 14, and an interview and review are also scheduled for USA Today. He just wants to share his wisdom with you.

An early note about Walter Staib's City Tavern Cookbook: Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine (Running Press, 9780762434176). This one is truly unique – a return to and reinvention of the food of our Founding Fathers. The book is coming in May, and we've just learned that beginning in June it will be the basis for a new PBS cooking show, A Taste of History, which will also star Mr. Staib. The book will be featured prominently at the end of each show. I haven't heard yet what PBS markets are picking the show up…but it will be available everywhere through the interwebs (

(Speaking of founding fathers: I was pleased this week to see that Ray Raphael's forthcoming Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (New Press, 9781595583277) got a starred review in Kirkus. They call it "[A] highly readable history about the messy work of revolution and nation-building. . . . Raphael's scholarship and scrupulously fair treatment deepens our understanding and appreciation, of what our ancestors wrought. Splendid storytelling that effectively captures and humanizes the tumult of the Revolutionary Era." It will be releasing next week.)

Back in the online kitchen, I'll mention that Da Capo has launched a new website focusing on their cookbooks – (Running Press, by the way, has had one for a while: Have a look – they've done a nice job, and there are some real gems there, including recipes and instructional videos. The lead feature this month is Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen (9780738212289). We've been getting a lot of great attention for this book, by the way: NPR's "News & Notes" aired a segment with Mr. Terry early in the month (you can listen to it here: He also appeared on the syndicated NPR show "Here & Now," and local radio shows in San Francisco ("New America Now") and Portland ("The Food Show"). The March issue of Natural Health is on-stands now and includes a multi-page feature story on healthy soul food, featuring the book prominently throughout, and the Portland Mercury ran a feature last week. We still have him booked for NPR's "The Splendid Table" early in April, as well as a feature on Good stuff.

The New York Times Book Review has been so consistently supportive of Basic books recently you might think it was a house organ. It's nice to see. A couple weeks ago it was Mike Rapport's 1848: Year of Revolution (9780465014361): "In 1848: Year of Revolution, a lively, panoramic new history, Mike Rapport describes the uprising of that year while making clear their modern resonance…. He tells a good yarn, with a keen eye for ground-level details… It's hard to read this book without feeling a deepening reverence for successful postrevolutionaries like Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel, who first made revolution and then made the unheroic compromises that are the lifeblood of actual democratic government." That was a strong enough assessment to make it an Editor's Choice in the Book Review last weekend, and echoes the great reviews it received upon its initial publication in the UK – viz., The Literary Review: "Based on unsentimental judgements and presented in colourful writing. Descriptions of the street fighting in Paris, Vienna and Berlin bring a whiff of cordite to the nostrils….As a guide to who the revolutionaries were and what they wanted, Rapport is impeccable. The writing is to the point, detailed when detail is required, and punctuated by vivid set pieces…No one reading this book can be left in any doubt about the scale of the revolutionaries' failure or the reason for it." Reviews are also forthcoming in The Atlantic and the Seattle Times.

In his foreword to Richard Dowden's Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (PublicAffairs, 9781586487539), Chinua Achebe says we could not wish for a more qualified author to tell the story of the continent's people and nations. Reviewers so far agree. In this month's O Magazine Pam Houston calls the book a "deeply informed and informative 'tough love' love letter to a continent." This follows the starred Kirkus review: "An ambitious, roundly informative and still intimate look at sub-Saharan Africa's turbulent road in the modern era. Dowden displays a deeply felt knowledge of the recent history of sub-Sahara Africa, and his suggestions for its future are well-informed and wise. remarkably full-bodied and frank discussion of Africa's place in the world." Reviews have also been assigned at the New York Times and the New York Review of Books.

Wedged somewhere in Rush Limbaugh's recent tirades against Barack Obama and Michael Steele and all the other namby-pambies who don't see the truth as he declares it was a serious assault on Frank Schaeffer. The modest and reluctant leader of the conservative movement was not at all pleased with Mr. Schaeffer's critique of the religious right. Immediately at issue was Mr. Schaeffer's recent appearances on MSNBC and on CNN's "DL Hughley Show," but behind all of this lay his book, Crazy for God (Da Capo, 9780306817502) – and the subtitle will tell you all you need to know about why Mr. Limbaugh might find it objectionable: "How I Grew up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back." (Whew!) All the controversy has led to some great radio bookings, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.,'s show, "Ring of Fire". Consequently, we've seen a nice uptick in sales. (It bodes well, too, for Mr. Schaeffer's next book, which we'll publish in the fall. Details TK.)

We began to suspect we had something of a gem in Jo Marchant's Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer – and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets (Da Capo, 9780306817427) when the pre-pub trade reviews came in – starred reviews, in fact, in both PW and Kirkus. The latter called the book it "a riveting look at the mysterious Antikythera mechanism…The book's early sections, describing the mechanism's discovery by sponge divers, read almost like a sea-adventure story…Marchant does not shy away from the science involved—astronomy, mathematics, engineering and radiology—but the material is consistently accessible. A valuable, fast-moving look at the history—and mystery—of the world's first analog computer." Well, we're starting to see it get wider recognition. To wit, the recent great review in the Los Angeles Times: Ms. Marchant "deftly handles technical material…[A] marvelous first book…[A] busy, elegant narrative…Marchant's account is the most up-to-date and the first to document the full story…In her hands, a book that could have been a historical autopsy for tech nerds blossoms into an epic of forgotten geniuses, lost treasure, death-defying underwater exploration and egomaniacal scientists…It takes a disciplined brain and a talented writer to explain so many processes with such painless lucidity."

For a couple years now I've been sharing my enthusiasm for Cathy's Book and Cathy's Key by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart (Running Press, 9780762433469 and 9780762435777 respectively). Aside from being great reads, with engaging characters and, if I may say, impeccable structure, they are amazingly inventive in their use of non-print media. Messrs. Weisman and Stewart have created an incredibly detailed world, which you can access online or via your mobile phone – all the phone numbers in the book are active, and allow readers to engage by exchanging messages. (And yes, Cathy is on Facebook, MySpace, and just about any other social networking groove you can think to mention.) The thoroughness of the online world is one of the things that have made these books excellent choices for so-called reluctant readers. Well, recently named Cathy's Key one of their 10 favorite books of the year – the citation is here: This sets us up nicely for Cathy's Ring, the final volume of the trilogy, which will be coming this May (9780762435302). The latter, by the way, is being published with a monumental marketing plan (dwarfing by far what they did for Cathy's Key). The details are still top secret…but they involve lots of teen magazine advertising, plus a ton of MySpace & Twitter action, gizmo contests,…and music downloads! (And think about it – was there ever a book better suited to the Twitter revolution? I'm telling you, Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart were way ahead of the curve on this one – we're just catching up to them now.)

One of the great pleasures of the spring season was selling in Secret Identities: The Asian-American Superhero Anthology, edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma (New Press, 9781595583987). This is an incredibly cool project, and it should be in stores now for you to have a look. But if you want to learn more about it – or, even better, if you'd like a way to let your customers know about it – check out the series of video trailers that the good people at The New Press have created. Begin here: But there's a whole series of them. They're nicely done, and I encourage you to embed them on your websites, in your blogs, etc.

And finally, just a quick word of thanks from everyone at The New Press for making Henning Mankell's newest novel, Italian Shoes (9781595584366), an Indie NextList notable book for May! The only downside is that the book is out now, so it will be a while before you have the IndieBound marketing materials. Oh well – I'm sure you'll manage.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Farewell to arms, but hello to fascism"

Congratulations to Mark Thompson, whose marvelous book The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 (Basic, 9780465013296) has been named a finalist for this year's Orwell Prize for the book judged to have best achieved Orwell's aim of making political writing into art. Well earned, I say.

It can't be that much of a surprise to see it on short lists (it was also a finalist for the Duff Cooper Prize) -- it was the best reviewed nonfiction book in the UK last year. And it's my favorite book of the Spring season. It's beautifully and propulsively written, and eye-opening in the extreme.

Alone among the nations allied against Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy had no defensive reason to enter World War One -- their aims were purely expansionist. It was a nationalist mania among the ruling elites and certain key public figures (the poet D'Annunzio, the journalist Mussolini) that got the nation into the war, but their enthusiasm did not give them competence, and it was a thorough disaster. The generals had no understanding of how technology was changing warfare, and no appreciation of the impossible terrain on which the armies engaged; as a consequence, the sufferings of the soldiers were epic, even Russian in measure. And they achieved no significant territorial gains -- but, as Mr. Thompson deftly shows, they did create Mussolini's fascism. In The White War we see it all develop, in the parliamentary debates, the secret diplomacy, the propagandistic journalism, and in the barracks and the battlefield; but -- and this is what makes the book so magnificent -- we also see it in the diaries, private correspondence, and poetry of ordinary soldiers, many of whom turned out to be Italy's greatest writers (Marinetti, Ungaretti).

I am generally not a reader of "military history," and I picked this book up somewhat reluctantly. Within a couple pages I was hooked, and when I put it down I felt enriched -- not just informed but enlightened, and wiser about the world. I can't recommend it enough, and I do sincerely hope it wins the prize.

For good measure: here are links to a few of the UK reviews -- all profoundly impressed:

The Independent - "Farewell to arms, but hello to fascism"

The Guardian - "a masterly history"

The Telegraph - "a compelling, penetrating book, not just about the 'forgotten front' of the First World War, but about the psychological, political and cultural condition of a nation tussling - even now - with the price of sacred egoism"

(And I might also mention: this marks the second consecutive year that a Perseus book has been on the Orwell Prize short list -- last year, it was Clive Stafford Smith's Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side (Nation Books, 9781568584096).)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's the real thing

This fall, Nation Books will be publishing the US edition of Belching out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola, by Mark Thomas, a lively expose of the world's favorite soft drink. (The title, by the way, comes from a religious ceremony that Mr. Thomas discovers in Chiapas; Mayan peasants there turned to Coke to expel demons because it's cheaper than the local product they had previously used.) It looks like fun. (More details to come; in the mean time, you can catch the author discussing his book in this bit from BBC Two's The Culture Show.)

It was brought to mind by this crazy story heard today on PRI's The World -- in Ethiopia, a shortage of Coca-Cola is being called a national emergency. Get this: the global economic meltdown has made it impossible for Ethiopian bottling plants to import caps; consequently, they can no longer bottle and distribute everyone's favorite soft drink. And this is a real crisis. Elizabeth Blunt of the BBC says that "every tiny village with a tiny village shop, the one thing you can nearly always get is Coca-Cola." That evinces a huge distribution network, one that provides employment and wages for an estimated 150,000 people in Ethiopia alone. What a world we live in....

Here comes the Ponz

When Bernie Madoff made his guilty plea last week, the frustrations of journalists and victims were evident. Mr. Madoff's statement was short on detail, and his oft-highlighted smile nearly Iagoan: "What you know, you know," it seemed to say.

It lookes like we won't get any direct answers from the perpetrator of the greatest financial swindle in history...but we might be able to gain some understanding by looking at his predecessor in notoriety -- or so says Ron Chernow in this week's New Yorker:

Although Madoff's scheme dates back to at least the early nineteen-nineties, we understand little abou the genesis of his criminal operation. Still, a new biography of another grand-scale Ponzi schemer, to be published next month, allows for some educated guesses. The Match King, by Frank Partnoy, a law professor at the University of San Diego, is an engorssing study of Ivar Kreuger, a Swedish financier of the nineteen-twenties ... [who] lifted the prosaic Ponzi fraud to a new level of sophistication and engaged in corporate finagling on a dizzying scale.

The details of Kreuger's schemes are incredible -- but the book shines in the telling. Viz., the starred review in Publishers Weekly:

Partnoy achieves a nuanced portrait of the charismatic and corrupt financial genius whose advice was sought by Herbert Hoover and other heads of state. A fascinating depiction of a man and his era (Greta Garbo makes memorable cameos), this book is a snapshot of a time all too familiar now: a speculative real estate bubble, unbridled consumer spending, investors buying derivatives based on sketchy information and a Wall Street operating by its own rules.

The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, the Financial Genius behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals (PublicAffairs, 9781586487430)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The undiscovered country

Allow me a word about a hidden gem from the Spring season: How Shall I Tell the Dog?: and Other Final Musings, by Miles Kington (Newmarket, 9781557048417). Mr. Kington, a popular British columnist (and the bass player for your favorite band Instant Sunshine), was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007. That's a bad diagnosis. He found himself thinking a lot about his likely impending death, and writing about it. This is the result -- and it's not at all morbid or maudlin, but warm-spirited and funny, and wise, throughout. You might think of it along the lines of Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well-Lived by Laurence Shames, but with less bungee jumping.

Late last year, it was serialized for the BBC Radio Four programme, "Woman's Hour" (with Jenni Murray, one of the great voices I've ever heard on radio). They did it in daily installments for a week, read by Michael Palin. It looks like they've taken down the serial (blast!), but you can catch Jane Garvey's interview with Mr. Kington's widow Caroline here:

I think there might have been a bit of resistance to this book, not only because it's about death (I mean, really...), but because Mr. Kington isn't quite as well known here as in Britain. But the reads on it have been terrific, and it's certainly not "too clever for America" (as they tend to say of things that somehow don't make the leap...). For example, consider this note from Micheal Fraser of Joseph-Beth Booksellers to my comrade Jen Reynolds (reprinted here with permission):

Dear Jen,

I read Miles Kington's How Shall I Tell the Dog out loud to my dogs. That is not an exercise in eccentricity (or insanity) but it forces me to slow down and actually hear and enjoy the language. This was the perfect book to read aloud. I could catch his more subtle humor amid the laugh-out-loud humor.

Couching his memento mori in the form of letters to his agent proposing various books (and responses to already published books) about cancer and death and his observations of life is brilliant. It revealed a man's keen observation of people and events and, although funny, reveals much about his own life, his family and life around him. He truly turns the ordinary memoir on its head and perhaps makes us look at ourselves and our feelings about life and death and dying differently.

As far back as when Evelyn Waugh wrote The Loved One, the English have thought we (as Americans) had a strange and perverted view of death and the English a rather more balanced perspective. Miles Kington would do Waugh proud - especially when he takes his father-in-law to see Waugh's son, Auberon, enacting a rather mild farce that would be familiar to readers of Decline & Fall or Vile Bodies.

You can give this book all the accolades like heart-warming yet ultimately sad, but even though you are laughing you have to admit that it is searingly honest. I hope I would have Kington's approach to death when it comes time but have I the guts? Do I dare disturb the universe? Kington definitely mixes it up.

How's that for an endorsement? Maybe worth a try? (For more info, check it out on Newmarket's website:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Be sure you've got pen and paper handy...

Yesterday, Morning Edition featured a pleasant little story about new research into the psychology of doodling. We may think of doodling as something we do when we're bored, or at least not fully engaged, but it turns out that doodling might just be what enables us to process information even when we're not fully engaged. Check it out: The experiment that Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth conducted is, I think, a marvel of ingenuity...and kind of funny.

I mention it because it immediately put me in mind of a delightful book that Basic published a couple years ago, Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles and Scrawls from the Oval Office by David Greenberg and the editors of Cabinet magazine (9780465032679). (As I learned putting this post together, it reminded the NPR editors of this book as well - the current story links to the story they did upon this book's initial publication in 2006. If you want to go straight there, it's They've even got a gallery up of some signature doodles - perhaps it will not surprise you to see that President Reagan was fond of drawing cowboys.)

Congratulations to Martin Duberman

From this morning's Shelf Awareness:

"Martin Duberman is the 2009 recipient of the Publishing Triangle's Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement.... For more information, go go"

I've been an admirer of Mr. Duberman's since I read his extraordinary biography of Paul Robeson. As it happens, I'm fortunate enough now to be the sales rep for his publisher, The New Press; and we've got a new book from him coming later this month: Waiting to Land: A (Mostly) Political Memoir, 1985-2008 (9781595584403). Jonathan Kozol has called Mr. Duberman "a deeply moral and reflective man who has engaged the greatest struggles of our times with an unflinching nerve, anwise hear, and a brilliant intellect." This forthcoming book chronicles his endeavors over the last 20 years or so, combining memoir with trenchant social analysis; the spirit Mr. Kozol praises is evident on every page.

As for Robeson - a great man, and a great American - the book is Paul Robeson: A Biography (9781565849418). It is a heavy tome at over 800 pages - but it was a large life, and an incredibly inspiring one. His is the story of race and politics and the avant garde in America. And come to think of it, the anniversary of his birth is coming up on April 9 (birthday number 111 for him). I encourage you to celebrate it with Mr. Duberman's honest, amazing book.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Crazy for Crazy for God

Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God: How I Grew up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or almost) of It Back (Da Capo, 9780306817502), has been making a lot of media appearances recently, and generating solid interest in his book. Last week he appeared on Campbell Brown’s show on CNN; over the weekend he was on the DL Hughley Show (also CNN); and this very afternoon (1pm local time) he’ll be on MSNBC.

I should of course not fail to mention that the book is extremely well written. Here’s what Andre Dubus III had to say: “As a lifelong liberal democrat, it’s a pleasure for me to see Frank Schaeffer turn his back on the extreme religious right here, but it is a far deeper pleasure to go where this painstakingly honest and courageous memoir really takes us, into a finely nuanced exploration of how easy it is to lose one’s way and how difficult it is to find one’s true direction home. We are fortunate that Frank Schaeffer’s path has taken him from the rigid fundamentalist thinking of his youth to where he is now, working not in stark black and white, but in the blessed gray from which true art arises. Crazy for God is a brave and important book.”

Congratulations to Lawrence Freedman

PublicAffairs is thrilled to announce that Lawrence Freedman has won the 2009 Lionel Gelber Prize for A Choice of Enemies (9781586485184)!

The Lionel Gelber Prize is a literary award for "the world's best non-fiction book in English that seeks to deepen public debate on significant global issues,” and has been described by the Economist as “the world’s most important award for non-fiction.” Past winners have included Lawrence Wright, Jonathan Spence, David McCullough, Michael Ignatieff, Adam Hochschild, Walter Russell Mead, and Steve Coll.

In presenting the award, Prize Board chairman Noah Rubin said, "If you were to select only one book to understand the turmoil and confusion ofevents in the Middle East over the past 30 years, this is a perfect choice." Judges on this year's panel included Walter Russell Mead and Amity Shlaes.

Other finalists for this year's award included Ahmed Rashid, for Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, and Fareed Zakariah, for The Post-American World.

For more information on the prize (and the book), check out its website:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Announcing the 2009 Delay the Real World Fellowship

About four years ago, Running Press published a book called Delaying the Real World (9780762421893) – it’s a cheap, accessible, inventive book, and a great grad gift. Along with it, they have been sponsoring a fellowship, now in its fifth and last year, offering $5,000 to one enterprising soul to embark on a year of exploration.

Here is the link to the fellowship application: I encourage you to spread the word (or even, if you’ve got a great idea, to apply!) – and if in doing so you promote the book, well, all’s the better. (If you’ve got any pool money left, this would be a fine way to claim some of those last coop dollars.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

In praise of vegans

Will wonders never cease? New York Times food editor Pete Wells is a man proud to be on intimate terms with someone known chiefly as Captain Bacon. In his refigerator, unwary guests seeking a cold beverage will sometimes find whole quarters of myriad beasts. But in this week's Times Magazine, you'll find him expressing extraordinary gratitude to vegans everywhere, for teaching him to bake without eggs. And above all others he salutes Da Capo authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. You can read Mr. Wells's piece here:

The book he consults is Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (Da Capo, 9781569242735). He should also examine Veganomicon (9781569242643) and Vegan with a Vengeance (9781569243589), as well as Ms. Moskowitz's forthcoming Vegan Brunch (9780738212722), which will expand his arsenal of pancakes and waffles.

And although Captain Bacon will surely shudder, I'm certain that Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen (9780738212289, just released) will astonish Mr. Wells all the more.

The cruelest month indeed

From Bookselling This Week:

"Books of Conscience" Raise Awareness of Genocide
The Genocide Prevention Project and ABA have partnered to raise public awareness that April is Genocide Prevention Month, a commemoration of past genocide and mass atrocity crimes and a call for a global prevention policy. To mark the month, they have developed "Books of Conscience," a list of fiction and nonfiction, memoir, history, and reportage, which presents the historical realities and human tragedies of genocide.

A bit of an explanation might be helpful here: "six acts of genocide and mass atrocity crimes have anniversaries in April: Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and Armenia, and each will have a commemoration during the month."

Still, it does make one wonder: shouldn't every month be Genocide Prevention Month?

Here is their list of books to raise awareness:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When Oprah talks...

As I mentioned, yesterday's Oprah show was devoted to the work of Basic author Dr. Bruce Perry. Sure enough, word is spreading: the New York Post had an article about the show; Dr. Perry’s coauthor Maia Szalavitz wrote about the feature in a long piece that is one of the rotating lead stories today; and she also mentions it as an aside in a piece she has up on HuffPo today. See links below

News, notes, and Oprah in the Perseus universe

As we all know, it has been an eventful winter-into-spring…but we continue to do what we do. Here’s some encouraging evidence that it’s getting noticed:

Since much or most of this roundup concerns history writing, I suppose I should begin at the beginning – with Justin Marozzi’s The Way of Herodotus (Da Capo, 9780306816215), which has really excited reviewers, historians, and armchair travelers. The LA Times kicked things off, calling it “one of the year’s best and most engaging travel books…. It’s a trip well worth making because the proof of Marozzi's pudding is in the application of the Herodotean spirit to his own journey, which elevates The Way of Herodotus into first-rate travel writing…Marozzi has taken his admiration for history’s father and his own rather formidable skill as a journalist and made a book that does equal justice to the ancient and the contemporary. Herodotus was his guide; fortunate readers will allow Marozzi to be theirs.” Similar praise is to be found in the New York Times Book Review (“Sometimes the trip that starts out on the wrong foot can prove to be the most rewarding….Such is the case in tagging along with the travel writer Justin Marozzi in The Way of Herodotus”) and in the March issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine (“A delightful scrawl…A terrific time…Marozzi’s book is an excellent introduction to [Herodotus] and is great fun in its own right”). And although all of these reviews focus on the travel aspects of the book, I want to point out that Mr. Marozzi has great chops as a proper historian – viz., his earlier book (which still sells, by the way), Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (Da Capo, 9780306815430).

Some of you may recall the intensity with which I spoke of James Palmer’s The Bloody White Baron (Basic, 9780465014484), without doubt one of the most enjoyable, fascinating, horrifying history books I’ve read in quite some time. Had the winds of history blown in a slightly different direction, we might all speak of Baron Ungern von Sternberg as we do of another Auslander Deutsch villain of the 20th century – as Jason Goodwin notes, “Ungern’s contempt for human life, his icy hatred of Jews, his appeal to a monstrous, ill-informed mysticism foreshadowed the foundation of the Third Reich.” That remark is to be found in Mr. Goodwin’s recent review for the New York Times: “Uncomfortable but fascinating reading, it weaves together the weird alliances, murderous dreams and improbable careers that emerged in the aftermath of World War I and the fall of czarist Russia…. What makes The Bloody White Baron so exceptional is Palmer’s lucid scholarship, his ability to make perfect sense of the maelstrom of a forgotten war. This is a brilliant book, and I’m already looking forward to his next.”

(Much as I loved that book, by the way, it has been supplanted in my ravings by another book forthcoming on Basic’s Spring list – The White War, by Mark Thompson (Basic, 9780465013296). I’ll be reporting on this in greater detail later, I am sure, but for a moment let me quote from Hugh McDonald’s review in the Glasgow Herald: “It is impossible not to read Thompson and be moved both in emotion and in thought.” Stay tuned.)

I had not yet gotten to William H. Goetzmann’s new book, Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Patriotism (Basic, 9780465004959) – which, as I reflect on it, is odd, considering how much I both respect and enjoy his Pulitzer Prize-wining opus, Exploration and Empire. But Jedediah Purdy has stoked my interest with his recent review (in that very same issue of the New York Times Book Review). Forgive me for quoting at length: “[Goetzmann’s] strange and valuable book…is richly populated with radicals and utopians who, with one eye on the innermost soul and the other on world history, created a tradition of open-ended experiment…. His book, rich in strange detail and vivid speculation, … is a fox dreaming of hedgehogs. So is the America it describes. Indeed, this is an apt book for the opening of the Obama administration. The Declaration of Independence is Obama’s touchstone, as it was Lincoln’s, because it anchors the country to a cosmopolitan vision of openness and equality. It has never been clearer that the country’s best self is a global inheritance, its worst a parochial self-certainty. A book of 19th-century ideas that portrays America as one part Google, one part melting pot and one part utopian dream may just have found its moment at the inauguration, eight years late, of the 21st century.”

We had a tremendous launch week for The Great Decision by Clifford Sloan and David McKean (PublicAffairs, 9781586484262), including an appearance on Colbert and a feature in Newsweek. But it’s not just publicity we’re getting; check out some of the praise the book has received: “Whoever thought that Marbury v Madison could be a page turner? Landmark constitutional law, yes, but a nail-biting drama crafted in dimly lit hotel rooms in Washington? Filled with memorable players such as ‘Old Bacon Face’ Justice Samuel Chase and a slovenly Thomas Jefferson? Cliff Sloan and David McKean’s new book, The Great Decision, tells a wonderful tale of how the decision – which established that the Supreme Court had the power to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional – came to be. To produce this impressive and gripping narrative, they culled newspaper accounts and diaries and conducted a wide-ranging array of interviews, including with Justice John Paul Stevens, who went back and analyzed his law school notes – which he apparently has kept all these years.” So writes Jan Crawford Greenburg on the ABC News legal blog. Nice. The subject matter isn’t as narrow as it might seem – especially with a Constitutional lawyer in the White House – and it truly is a terrific read.

Yesterday in the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley wrote a belated valentine to one of the books we’re most proud of this season, Paule Marshall’s elliptical memoir, Triangular Road (Basic Civitas, 9780465013593): “Paule Marshall is a singularly accomplished novelist, soon to turn 80 years old, whose work is not as well-known as it deserves to be…But though fiction may have pride of place in her heart, Triangular Road reveals a strong gift for self-scrutiny made all the more revealing by quiet humor and what appears to be complete honesty. Paule Marshall has lived a full life, has accomplished much, and we can only hope to have more from her as she heads, confidently and enthusiastically, into her ninth decade.” Those of you who had the pleasure of meeting her at the Winter Institute will surely agree.

We have just learned that next Sunday (3/8) the LA Times will review Jo Marchant’s Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-old Computer, and the Century-Long Search to Discover its Secrets (Da Capo, 9780306817427). Expect it to be a rave. Kirkus gave it a starred review: “The book’s early sections … read almost like a sea-adventure story. The dives were treacherous; one man died, and two more were paralyzed during the salvage effort. The most engaging chapters, however, portray the many brilliant minds in many scientific fields that have applied their expertise to the task of solving the Antikythera mystery. Physicists used X-rays and CT scans to find out more about the fragments, while engineers puzzled over its function. It is now thought to have been as an astronomical calculator. The curator of the London Science Museum spent 20 years, using only ancient Greek tools, trying to reconstruct the device. Even celebrities like marine researcher Jacques Cousteau and author Arthur C. Clarke were intrigued. Marchant does not shy away from the science involved—astronomy, mathematics, engineering and radiology—but the material is consistently accessible. A valuable, fast-moving look at the history – and mystery – of the world’s first analog computer.” And PW? You know it – also a starred review: “this globe-trotting, era-spanning mystery should absorb armchair scientists of all kinds.”

A quick note of congratulations to Oscar winners Dustin Lance Black and Simon Beaufoy, who won for their respective screenplays Milk and Slumdog Millionaire. The shooting scripts for both movies, of course, are available from Newmarket Press (9781557048271 and 9781557048363). Additionally, BBC Audiobooks America has the audio version of Q&A, the novel on which Slumdog Millionaire is based. You can get it under its original title (9781572704879) or under the new one (9781602834668).

Okay, I know I’ve made you wait a long time for it, and I apologize, but here, at last, is the Oprah news: yesterday, Oprah finally aired the episode she taped last October featuring Dr. Bruce Perry and his work with traumatized children. Dr. Perry is the author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: What Traumatized Children can Teach Us about Love, Loss, and Healing (Basic, 9780465056538). Apparently, when the abuse scandal broke at Oprah’s school in South Africa, she contacted Dr. Perry, as the “foremost expert” on childhood trauma. The show is engineered to showcase his book and his research. It looks like the wholesalers are well stocked…so be ready.

This time around, though, I think I might have something to top Oprah – and (no surprise) it concerns the Skinny Bitch empire (Running Press, 9780762424931…et al.). Last month, authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin visited with Tyra Banks, and they brought with them to the program a cavalcade of testimonials worthy of a revival meeting: it started with a woman named Lisa who had lost roughly 180 pounds following the Skinny Bitch plan. Lisa then introduced everyone to her father; he was supposed to undergo heart surgery, but when he saw his daughter’s weight loss, he too went on the diet and lost 80 pounds himself and avoided the surgery. (Keep that in mind this April, by the way, when we release the next in the series, Skinny Bastard, 9780762435401.) And as if that weren’t enough, Lisa has two daughters with special needs, one of whom could only speak a couple words at a time … until they put her on the Skinny Bitch diet, too. Now she’s speaking in complete sentences. Glory be. But that’s still not all! The really big news is that the book is going to get a push on, of all things, The Office! Look for it in the hands of branch manager Michael Scott. (I’ll say again: Skinny Bastard!)

Finally, few quick notes before I sign off about some forthcoming items that I’m particularly excited about – these aren’t out yet, but their advance buzz is so great I want to share it with you:

It’s shaping up to be banner spring for Henning Mankell. Starting in May, PBS’s “Mystery!” series will run three adaptations of Mr. Mankell’s Kurt Wallander mysteries; they ran last year in the UK, to rave reviews (e.g., the Times of London: “One of those superior cop shows in which the character of the detective matters more than the plot”). I’m told that Vintage will be resoliciting the paperbacks of these…but it’s worth remembering that it was The New Press that introduced Mr. Mankell to American readers with their hardcover editions. And this month, The New Press is proud to publish a new novel from Mr. Mankell – not one of his so-called “permafrost procedurals,” but a stand-alone literary novel, Italian Shoes (9781595584366). It has already garnered incredible advance praise, including this starred review in Publishers Weekly: “A tragic operating room error has cost Swedish surgeon Fredrik Welin his career in this moving novel from Mankell, who's best known for his Kurt Wallander mystery series (Firewall, etc.). Welin, 66, lives on a remote island with only his dog and cat for company. His routine is abruptly shattered by the arrival of an elderly woman who proves to be Harriet Hörnfeldt, the youthful love he ditched four decades earlier. Hörnfeldt, who's dying of cancer, has sought out Welin because she wants to share a secret about their relationship. This reintroduction to the world of human emotions and interactions proves to be the first of many, leading the doctor to an awkward attempt to get absolution from the woman whose perfectly healthy arm he mistakenly amputated. Mankell displays his considerable gifts for characterization as he succeeds in making his emotionally limited lead character sympathetic.” Additionally, all three of my colleagues here on the west coast (Cindy Heidemann, Roy Remer, and Andrea Tetrick) have read this and praised it to the skies. (The only reason I haven’t read it yet is that, for some reason, I never got a copy. I’m seeking to remedy that….) We’re hoping that this will be a bit of a breakout novel for him.

Last week also saw a starred PW review for the forthcoming West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders, and Killers in the Golden State by Mark Arax (May 2009, PublicAffairs, 9781586483906). This follows a glowing review in Kirkus – and both of them compare Mr. Arax’s book favorably to Joan Didion, so it’s not just me! Here’s what PW had to say: “These swift, penetrating essays from former Los Angeles Times writer Arax (In My Father’s Name) take the measure of contemporary California with a sure and supple hand, consciously but deservedly taking its place alongside Didion’s and Saroyan’s great social portraits. Expect the unexpected from Arax’s reports up and down the state: on the last of the Okies, the latest migrants from Mexico, the treesitters of Berkeley, Bay Area conspiracy theorists, an Armenian chicken giant’s infamous fall or the mammoth marijuana economy of Humboldt County, among much else. For Arax, a third-generation Californian of Armenian heritage who spent years covering the Central Valley as an investigative reporter, the state’s outré reputation and self-representation are a complex dance of myth and memory that includes his own family lore and personal history. It’s partly this personal connection, running subtly but consistently throughout, that pushes the collection past mere reportage to a high literary enterprise that beautifully integrates the private and idiosyncratic with the sweep of great historical forces.” Please notice, too, that the people in this book all came to California from somewhere else – this is more than a book about a state, it’s about what people seek when they migrate, and what they find. I truly think it should have readers everywhere.

And finally, a word about K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude by Peter Carlson (PublicAffairs, 9781586484972): as I’ve been telling people, this is just a total hoot. I’ve been pleased to learn that a few people, at least, agree – cocktail conversations at the ABA Winter Institute resulted in a few extra galley requests, which I found highly gratifying. Thanks indeed to those of you buzzing it. But it’s not just booksellers: Christopher Buckley evidently gave it a thumbs up in The Daily Beast, and now we’ve gotten a nice blurb from Steve Coll (author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens: “Any work of history whose chapter titles include ‘It Killed Milton Berle and It Can Kill You Too’ and ‘Chihuahuas For Khrushchev’ deserves to be read. Like the mid-century journalists who chronicled this Strangelovian chapter of the Cold War, Peter Carlson writes with wit, energy, clarity, and delightful skepticism. This book seems to have been a joy to write; it is certainly a joy to read.” This is great fun, and I look forward to the reviews once it’s published in May.

If anything here strikes your fancy, let me know. And if you have any questions, or want to place orders, or have some good gossip, just let me know.

Keep on keepin’ on-