BookExpo America highlights the biggest releases in books each year. Here are eight books that will have a presence at the conference this week that we can solidly recommend:
How Children Succeed: Rethinking Character and Intelligence
Turning the conventional wisdom about child development on its head, New York Times Magazine editor Tough argues that noncognitive skills (persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence) are the most critical to success in school and life. Building on reporting for his magazine, the author interviewed economists, psychologists and neuroscientists, examined their recent research, and talked to students, teachers and principals to produce this fascinating overview of a new approach with “the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net.”…Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential reading for anyone who cares about childhood in America.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
Nature writer and intrepid traveler Quammen sums up in one absorbing volume what we know about some of the world’s scariest scourges: Ebola, AIDS, pandemic influenza—and what we can do to thwart the “NBO,” the Next Big One. The author discusses zoonoses, infectious diseases that originate in animals and spread to humans. The technical term is “spillover.” It’s likely that all infections began as spillovers...You can’t predict, say the experts; what you can do is be alert, establish worldwide field stations to monitor and test and take precautions. A wonderful, eye-opening account of humans versus disease that deserves to share the shelf with such classics as Microbe Hunters and Rats, Lice and History.
Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience
Having limned the odds and wherefores of surviving various challenges in Deep Survival (2003) and Everyday Survival (2008), Gonzales looks deeply into the mental processes that enable us to cope with the trauma that often sets in during and after a challenge to our survival…Here Gonzales narrates plenty of grim and gruesome tales, not all of them elective; his survivors are those who have suffered war and terrorism as well as falls off mountains and into choppy surf. The best parts are not those harrowing stories, though, but instead the author’s contemplative explanations of the science behind, for instance, how the amygdala works, a blend of inheritance and hard-won education…Survivors of traumatic events often do not recover without help from others, and Gonzales’ excellent book is an education for those wishing to be of use in a stressful, often frightening world.
The acclaimed novelist (Sunset Park, 2010, etc.), now 65, writes affectingly about his body, family, lovers, travels and residences as he enters what he calls the winter of his life. Written entirely in the second person and, loosely, using the format of a journal (undated entries), Auster’s memoir courses gracefully over ground that is frequently rough, jarring and painful: the deaths of his parents, conflicts with his relatives (he settles some scores), poor decisions (his first marriage), accidents (a car crash that could have killed him) and struggles in his early career. But there are summery memories, as well: his love of baseball (begun in boyhood), his fondness for Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, his relationship with his mother, world travels (not all cheery; he recalls a near fistfight with a French taxi driver), books and friends. Most significant: his 30-year relationship with his wife, writer Siri Hustvedt (unnamed here), whom he continually celebrates…A consummate professional explores the attic of his life, converting rumination to art. (Ed note: Read our interview Auster online tomorrow.)
In an era of phone-hacking scandals, invasive body scans and warrantless electronic snooping, it’s easy to conclude that traditional notions of privacy are under serious assault. But Keizer isn’t interested in restating the obvious. In an intellectually robust discussion of privacy, the author finds that what can properly be thought of as a true American virtue is actually a lot more precarious than normally presupposed. A man’s home may be his castle, but what about the lady of the house? How much “privacy,” historically speaking, has she been afforded? Does the cleaning woman who visits once per week fare even worse? When does “private” slip into something “secret”—and what's the difference? With unyielding analytical scrutiny, Keizer raises plenty of doubt about the primacy of so-called private lives…A provocative and unsettling look at something most take for granted—but shouldn’t.
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
A compelling new work by literary detective Reiss tracks the wildly improbable career of Alexandre Dumas’ mixed-race father. Using records from Gen. Dumas’ final residence and the military archives at the Chateau de Vincennes, the author provides a vivid sense of who Dumas was and how he attained such heights and fell so low after the French Revolution, being nearly forgotten by the time of his death in 1806. The simple answer seems to be racism…A rarefied, intimate literary study delineating a roiling revolutionary era.
Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years
What exactly does it mean to call someone an asshole? When did the epithet come to prominence as a social and now political invective? Who are some of the biggest assholes in the public eye today? These are just a few of the questions that linguist Nunberg explores in this often raucously funny account of what seems to be America’s most popular insult. The author avoids many potential hazards, including an overly academic and pretentious tone or, conversely, an exceedingly snarky or droll satire. In other words, he avoids, by his own surmising, being an asshole himself, thereby rendering a skillful narrative…A witty and politically charged analysis of a potent obscenity in its modern and contemporary context.
John Quincy Adams: A Life
Harlow Giles Unger
John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), writes Unger, bridged the years between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He ate with Charles Dickens, ended the War of 1812, shaped the ever-so-slightly misnamed Monroe Doctrine, taught at Harvard, and was one of the most prominent abolitionist leaders in the years preceding the Civil War. On top of that, his father was the nation’s second president. So why is he not better known? The short answer is that he didn’t trumpet his own accomplishments. The longer answer is that American history is so badly taught these days that it seems surprising that anyone remembers Washington, much less Millard Fillmore. Unger’s bracing, readable text is a remedy…A fine examination of a life, well deserving a place alongside David McCullough’s study of Adams père.