Nonfiction Short Take: Murder in Matera – Helene Stapinski

Combining armchair travel, history and true crime, this memoir is a beach read for nonfiction readers. Stapinski is a journalist who has worked for both the NYT and NPR; her previous memoir explored her family’s criminal history in New Jersey. The Guardian said of that book that it “is not your ordinary memoir…she sews together family history, local history and personal history…. And there is never a dull moment.”

The same could be said of this new book that reaches farther back in her family’s history to a sun-drenched Italian village and the mystery of her great-grandmother and the murder she was said to have committed.

Italian-American author Stapinski mines her immigrant family’s roots to write a part memoir, part murder mystery…. The author posits that the darker side of her genealogy may have consequences for her own family: ‘All of us, I thought, are made up not only of what we know, but of all that we don’t know as well,’ she writes—as if the violence, revenge, and curses that accrued along with ignorance and poverty in Southern Italy in the 19th-century are somehow transmitted through DNA. The book—enlivened by anecdotes about Italian culture—will appeal to armchair travelers who long to visit the caves and culture of Matera.”
Publishers Weekly

“Stapinski continues her investigation into her family’s checkered past. The narrative begins as an enticing page-turner, an investigative jewel sending readers racing to the next clue…”

Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy (9780062438454) by Helene Stapinski. $26.99 hardcover. 5/23/17 on sale.

Publicity: Dreaming the Beatles – Rob Sheffield

 It looks like the infectious and electric Mr. Sheffield might have written himself another hit with this look at how “The Beatles” came to transcend being a mere rock band and become an enduring cultural influence. As a USA Today rave review observes:

Four Liverpool chums make a go of it as a group, climb to the toppermost of the poppermost, and break up dramatically at the height of their powers. Then here’s where the story gets really interesting: Everyone on Earth rejects that ending. Somehow, The Beatles just keep getting bigger.

‘Our Beatles,’ the author marvels, ‘have outlasted theirs.’”

First serial is already out in Rolling Stone. A second serial in People should expand interest in the book even further.

Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World (9780062207654) by Rob Sheffield. $24.99 hardcover. 4/25/17 on sale.


Book of the Week: everybody Lies – Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It’s hard to escape the term “big data” these days and this book is one explanation why.

Everybody Lies looks at how data researchers are crunching the unimaginably large amounts of information people feed into the web in an effort to understand our true beliefs and behaviors. It is by turns both entertaining (our obsession with sex) and alarming (how pervasive racism remains).

It’s an important book about how marketers and researchers are diving beneath what we say and to explore our innermost thoughts and attitudes. To me it feels as groundbreaking as 2005’s Freakonomics–perhaps a version 2.0 of what behavioral economics can tell us in the age of big data.

In his foreword Stephen Pinker writes, “This book is about a whole new way of studying the mind…an unprecedented peek into people’s psyches….Time and again my preconceptions about my country and my species were turned upside-down by Stephens-Davidowitz’s discoveries.”

The author is a former Google data scientist trained as both an economist and philosopher. The book has already been chosen as one of Fortune Magazine’s Best Business Books for Spring. Wired, Slate and Salon will run excerpts. The NYT will run an op-ed by the author about our Facebook lives vs. our Google lives, and additional op-eds will appear in Glamour and Fast Company. Reviews start with the Economist and New York magazine. Stephens-Davidowitz will appear on NPR an CBS This Morning.

[A] tour of the many things that big data can tell us about ourselves….[often yielding] uncomfortable results, revealing hidden reservoirs of racism, sexual insecurity, hypocrisy, and outright dishonesty. For instance, he writes, so-called undecided voters usually aren’t undecided at all…[The] data that Stephens-Davidowitz sifts through reveal a strongly racially motivated vote on the part of whites, speaking to ‘a nasty, scary and widespread rage that was waiting for a candidate to give voice to it,’ even though those same people would profess publicly to being beyond issues of race and indeed ‘postracial’…. [Stephens-Davidowitz looks]… at the correlation of education and financial success, the keywords of lying, and other big-picture questions. Statistics wonks will find much of interest in this survey.”

“In example after highly quotable example, he illustrates the observational power of massive data sets … While the book is brimming with intriguing anecdotes and counterintuitive facts, Stephens-Davidowitz does his level best to help usher in a new age of human understanding, one digital data point at a time.”

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are (9780062390851) by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. $27.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

Just Added: The Case for Impeachment – Allan J. Lichtman

Lichtman is a Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, DC and has correctly predicted 30 years of presidential outcomes–including the 2016 election of Donald Trump, which he famously wrote about in the Washington Post.

 Mere weeks after the election he appeared on CBS News predicting that Trump would be impeached in her first term. That video piece has been viewed over 1.6 million times.

While Lichtman will lay out his argument in this new book, it will also include a survey of situations that have led to the impeachment of previous presidents.  “Impeach Trump” has continued to be one the is one of the most searched phrases on Google for the last four months. I think there’s a built-in audience of people wanting to know more.

Lichtman has written eight books and is a frequent commentator on TV and major news outlets. We expect this to have major media hits in all outlets.

The Case for Impeachment (9780062696823) by Allan J. Lichtman. $24.99 hardcover. 4/18/17 one day laydown.

Publicity: The Trump Survival Guide – Gene Stone

It’s been another alarming week for human rights. The marches last weekend sent a strong message–but these are messages that need to continue if Americans want true legislative representation.

If you find social media a bit of a dispiriting rabbit hole when it comes to research, grab a copy of The Trump Survival Guide. PW just posted a stellar review; Salon calls it “crisp and pragmatic.” And the $10 price point makes it an affordable starting point for almost everyone.

“Stone addresses 12 key issues, including civil rights, the economy, entitlement programs, health insurance, and immigration. Each is divided into several sections: a Wikipedia-style quick historical overview; what happened under the Obama administration; worst-case scenarios asking ‘What might Donald Trump do?’; and ‘What you can do,’ with information on how to get involved, organizations to join and support, further reading, and the like. This book has everything novice activists need to get started, all in one place….The ‘What you can do’ sections, which could easily have been repetitive, are instead varied and each worthy of careful perusal. Americans concerned about their country’s fate under a Donald Trump presidency will find that this book is the ideal resource for meaningful civic engagement.”
Publishers Weekly

The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen (9780062686480) by Gene Stone. $9.99 trade paper original. Available now.

Nonfiction Short Take: The Spider and the Fly – Claudia Rowe

This is an ambitious if not completely successful attempt to marry the exploration of a horrific and bizarre series of murders to an introspective examination of the author’s own obsession with the case. It rises above the usual true crime fare in its attempt to throw a light on our personal and cultural obsession with violent and aberrant behavior.

“What begins as an investigation into how a person can commit cold-blooded murder became Rowe’s albatross, ultimately leading her to examine her own life… [It is] when Rowe admits her bias, that her story begins to strike a chord.”
Publishers Weekly

“Rowe’s engaging prose means the pages practically turn themselves….”

Extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching, The Spider and the Fly is not just a superb true-crime story but an insightful investigation of the nature of evil, the fragility of good, and the crooked road that can turn human beings into monsters. A must-read.”
— Gillian Flynn

“I read through The Spider and the Fly in one rapt day. It’s unique unto itself, a mix of thoughtful memoir and true crime, as author and reporter Claudia Rowe becomes fascinated by the bizarre case of Kendall Francois, a little known serial killer from Poughkeepsie, NY. Living in Poughkeepsie herself, Claudia becomes enmeshed in the story herself when she reaches out to Kendall in prison, hoping to find some kernel of truth that would explain the hows and whys of such a horrific case. But instead of finding truths, she just finds more questions as her life becomes more and more consumed with the case, and with Kendall as a person. Gripping and incisive, The Spider and the Fly is literary true crime that is a must read for anyone who is fascinated by the psychology of crime, and by our fascination with it.”
— Whitney Spotts, Schuler Books & Music, Lansing, MI

“When Claudia Rowe first hears the story of Kendall Francois, she convinces herself that she is investigating the story merely as a journalist. Francois makes an interesting case, giving her just enough information to pull her further and further into his web. Soon Rowe is uncovering secrets, exploring shame, and writing about the darker side of human nature. However, she finds that it is often herself and her family that she is writing about and exploring, rather than the life of Kendall Francois. Her relationship with the killer forces her to look at her life in a different and more challenging way. What starts as a true crime tale of a New York serial killer who targeted prostitutes, turns into a rumination on broken families, and the broken people who emerge from them.”
— Becca Chavez, Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder (9780062416124) by Claudia Rowe. $26.99 hardcover. 1/24/17 on sale.

Publicity: Dylan Goes Electric! – Elijah Wald

Booksellers are being deluged by publishers this week with suggestions for books on Bob Dylan now that he has won the Nobel Prize. Let me climb on to that train with a recent title of ours:

Dylan Goes Electric covers the seminal moment in modern musical history when Bob Dylan shocked the Newport Folk Festival by playing an electric set. It was said that he “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other.” The book got great reviews and Janet Maslin said in the NYT that “it’s the agility of Mr. Wald’s thinking and his willingness to treat a long-ossified event as living history that give Dylan Goes Electric! its bite.”

Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties (9780062366696) by Elijah Wald. $15.99 trade paper. 6/14/16 on sale.