A string of high profile coverage has brought attention and sales to Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill, Candice Millard (PRH/Doubleday; RH Audio/BOT), causing the book to leap to #61 on Amazon’s sales rankings.
The NYT‘s Jennifer Senior, in a review that appeared in the paper yesterday, says the book’s mix of biography, history, war, and adventure is “as involving as a popcorn thriller.”
Summarizing Millard’s career, Senior continues “Over the years Millard has made a stylish niche for herself, zooming in on a brief, pivotal chapter in the life of a historical figure and turning it into a legitimate feature-length production.”
Other reviews similarly emphasize the author’s ability to make history come alive, USA Today calls it a “a slam-bang study of Churchill’s wit and wile as he navigates the Boer War like some porto-james Bond” and The Washington Post cites her formidable storytelling skills,
In addition, the Wall Street Journal interviews the author about her “distinctive approach to writing about historical giants” by focusing “tightly on a forgotten yet riveting episode in an extremely well-documented life.”
The Red Bandanna: Welles Crowther, 9/11, and the Path to Purpose by Tom Rinaldi (PRH/Penguin; Penguin Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) is rising on Amazon’s sales rankings, leaping over thousands of other titles to move from #6,305 to #15.
The book recounts the heroic actions of Welles Crowther who worked for an investment banking firm at the World Trade Center. Crowther had planned to leave the firm to join the fire department, finally fulfilling a life long dream.
He was still working for the bank on 9/11, 2001 and he sacrificed his life to save at least five others, leading people out of the tower and then returning to help more. He was identified by the red bandanna he wore as a mask against the smoke.
The NYT highlights Lett’s in the “Inside the List” feature, noting that while WWII is a perennially popular subject, recently it seems books on the “quirky corners of the war” are particularly gaining ground. Like The Monuments Men before it, Lett’s book recounts a little-known mission during the waning days of the war, to save prized Lipizzaner stallions. The Nazis had abducted the horses, stockpiling them as part of a plan to create a super breed. With the war ending, supplies short, and the Russian army closing in, the horses were in danger of being slaughtered for food. No less a figure than General Patton ordered the rescue.
Letts is the author of a previous best seller about a horse, The Eighty-Dollar Champion (2011).
Check your holds. Several libraries show spikes on modest ordering.
Check your orders, a new nonfiction account of the 1971 Attica Prison rebellion that led to a multi-day standoff, dozens of deaths, and a tense, politically charged aftermath, is making news and building a strong holds list.
Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (PRH/Pantheon; OverDrive Sample) published this week is getting attention because, unlike previous authors and some news organizations, she names the officers she believes shot and killed inmates and, in friendly fire, the prison guards taken hostage during the standoff. CBS News reported the story, also highlighting Thompson’s discussion of then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s “secret efforts afterward to establish an acceptable narrative of what happened.”
Thompson’s account is also catching Hollywood’s attention. Variety reports it will make its way to movie theaters as TriStar Pictures just won a “heated bidding war” for film rights, with a production crew already named.
Libraries that bought it, ordered very few copies. Some are showing holds topping 5:1.
A circuitous publishing path has brought new attention to a frontier memoir, recounting the hardscrabble life in Arkansas and on the Mississippi Delta during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman, Mary Mann Hamilton (Hachette/Little, Brown; Hachette Audio; OverDrive Sample).
Featured on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, the book is rising on Amazon, leapfrogging over a thousand other books to move from #1,170 to #76.
Hamilton’s life story first saw the light of day when a neighbor urged her to enter her journal into a writing competition sponsored by publisher Little, Brown in 1933. It did not win and languished in a box kept under a bed, until the University Press of Mississippi published it to little fanfare in 1992 (although it was reviewed by the New York Times). Coming full circle, Little, Brown, has just published a new edition.
NPR reviewer Maureen Corrigan calls it a “standout,” with a “blunt voice” that makes vivid the world Hamilton occupied. Highlighting a racist passage, she warns some of the “sections are ugly and tough to read” but that ultimately the book is rewarding, revealing the wildness of that world and “just how easy it was to vanish in an earlier America.”
USA Today gave it three out of four stars, writing it “underscores the huge power of unvarnished storytelling.”
The Chicago Tribune writes vividly about the “backbreaking labor” and wilderness Hamilton existed within, offering a picture of a woman tough as nails. In an especially intense example: soon after Hamilton gave birth, her home was cut off by flood waters, she “shelters with her daughter and three-month-old baby on a tree stump while bears swim past in the flood, not knowing whether her husband is dead or alive.”
Similar to the unexpected success of another frontier memoir, Pioneer Girl, holds are growing and inventory is low. In libraries we checked some systems are showing hold figures as high as 6:1.
Jeffrey Toobin wrote the definitive book about one of the highest profile crime of the 1990’s, The Run of His Life, about O. J. Simpson. The popularity of two recent TV series on the case, one of which is based on that book, demonstrate there is a strong interest in revisiting such stories.
Going back even further in his latest book, Toobin takes a new look at the story of the 1974 kidnapping and arrest of Patty Hearst: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, (PRH/Doubleday; OverDrive Sample).
Following in the footsteps of Toobin’s O.J. title, Deadline Hollywood reports film rights were acquired prior to publication.
Libraries ordered the book modestly and holds are growing as a result of media attention. In an almost hour long conversation on NPR’s Fresh Air, Toobin talks to an enthralled Terry Gross about the case.
Hearst was the 19-year-old granddaughter of the famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and while her case was a sensation at the time, Toobin found that nothing new had been written about the case in decades and decided to investigate it again.
Placing the story in its time, Toobin calls the period a “toxic, dangerous, scary time in America. … During the early and mid ’70s, there were 1,000 — 1,000!— bombings a year in the United States … [due to] a violent political culture.”
In this environment “the Symbionese Liberation Army, a small, armed revolutionary group with an incoherent ideology and unclear goals” kidnapped Hearst – at a point in her life where she was at “a particularly vulnerable and restless moment in her life … uniquely receptive to new influences.”
Against the standard story line that Hearst was brainwashed or suffering from Stockholm syndrome, Toobin argues that she “responded rationally to the circumstances she was confronted with at each stage of the process” and joined her kidnappers in their crimes.
Under her own power, says Toobin, she committed real harm, “She robbed three banks. She shot up a street in Los Angeles. She helped plant bombs in several places in northern California.”
Toobin says she “had multiple opportunities to escape over a year and a half. She went to the hospital for poison oak and she could’ve told the doctor, ‘Oh by the way, I’m Patty Hearst.’ She was caught in an inaccessible place while hiking and the forest rangers helped her out, and she could’ve said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m Patty Hearst.’ She didn’t escape because she didn’t want to escape.”
She was eventually captured and sent to prison for 7 years, but only served 22 months before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. President Bill Clinton pardoned her years later. Toobin calls both actions “the purest example of privilege on display that frankly I have ever seen in the criminal justice system.”
In her advanced NYT review, Janet Maslin writes, “As Mr. Toobin sees it, Patty — now Patricia again — was always an adroit opportunist, never a deep thinker, and remained an artful pragmatist under any circumstances.”
The Washington Post calls it “terrific” and “riveting” book, a “lurid crime story with its own toxic mix of race, class, celebrity and sex.”
Premiering tomorrow night, August 2, on PBS American Experience is a documentary titled The Boys of ’36, based on the bestseller The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Penguin/Viking; Penguin Audio; Thorndike).
Both Jackson and director David Yates tell Variety that Williams deserves a film of his own. Unfortunately, however, this movie may not make the best case for it. The LA Times writes, “Part comic relief, part valued ally, Williams is an altogether puzzling script component, and Jackson’s habit of sounding like he just stepped out of Pulp Fiction does not help things.”
For more about Williams and this period, two backlist titles are available:
George Washington Williams: A Biography, written by the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient John Hope Franklin (Duke UP, 1998)
The dramatic move is due to a segment of the show’s special summer reading series that offers author interviews conducted at book shows around the country. The Newshour‘s Jeffrey Brown sat down with Holt at the Los Angeles Book Festival and the pair talked about women in science during the early years of the space program and today.
Holt says that in the early days of the Jet Propulsion Lab a group of women called “computers” figured out the calculations of the space program, doing math with pencil and paper and some very bulky calculators.
Once computers were introduced, these women became the first programmers.
Her book traces their history and accomplishments and recounts how both NASA and JPL overlooked their achievements as time went by. Case in point, none were invited to the 2008 gala held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Explorer 1 (America’s first satellite), an oversight that is particularly galling since one of the Rocket Girls, Barbara Paulson, figured out the trajectory on the night Explorer 1 launched, working in the control room. Holt says “when the first American satellite is a success, its because of her. She is the one that found out it’s actually in orbit.”
Holt also talks about how 2016 is a “desperate time for women in technology,” largely due to a lack of role models. In 1984, she says “37 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences were awarded to women. And today that number is 18 percent.” While female astronauts are doing astoundingly well, making up half of the current class at NASA, female engineers are seeing their lowest numbers in decades.
Holt hopes reading the stories of the pioneering Rocket Girls and learning what they achieved and overcame, will help change that.
Rising dramatically on Amazon, leapfrogging over nearly 1500 titles ahead of it to move from #1,494 to #45 is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg (PRH/Viking; Tantor Audio; OverDrive Sample).
The jump coincides with a rave NYT daily review, running today on the front page of section C and also online. In it Dwight Garner calls the book “formidable and truth-dealing” and says Isenberg:
“has written an eloquent volume that is more discomforting and more necessary than a semitrailer filled with new biographies of the founding fathers and the most beloved presidents … This estimable book rides into the summer doldrums like rural electrification … It deals in the truths that matter, which is to say, the uncomfortable ones.”
Holds so far are low in libraries we checked but like Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond and A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, it seems destined to be a title that will spark discussion for months to come and appear on end-of-the year best lists.
Soaring on Amazon’s sales rankings due to a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal is Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, John Boessenecker (Macmillan/Thomas Dunne Books; OverDrive Sample), which jumped from #5,403 to just outside the Top 100.
Writing for the paper, author Bryan Burrough (Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence), a frequent reader of “biographies of American lawmen and detectives” says that “in terms of sheer action and violence, from close-quarters gunfights to Mexican-border ambushes to face-offs with lynch mobs, I’m hard-pressed to think of one that rivals John Boessenecker’s excellent” account.
He goes on to say:
“What makes Texas Ranger a notable achievement is how thoroughly Hamer has eluded so many would-be biographers. Though he took part in 52 known gunfights and killed at least 27 men—and probably more—he was humble and tight-lipped about his achievements. He left no diaries and granted few interviews. But Mr. Boessenecker, after years mining state archives and yellowed newspapers, finally captures the full life of a man whose exploits could easily pack a dozen Hollywood movies.”
The book is getting a range of local press coverage as well as a vividly illustrated feature in Garden & Gun. The NYT, which is not as glowing, features it as part of their “Adventurers Shortlist” in last week’s Sunday Book Review.
Holds are thus far light on light ordering but this is the kind of book that can take off if there is word of mouth.