"Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds," wrote American historian Richard Hofstadter in this classic study, in which he argues that the rational choosing of irrational anger and paranoia as a political position is a phenomenon that has existed throughout history, and throughout American history in particular. Hofstadter, who died in 1970 at 53, had a deep understanding of the lures and pathologies of politics, and these elegant, analytical essays seem uncannily relevant today. Newly introduced by Sean Wilentz.
Klein launches a highly polemical, and persuasive, assault on free-market fundamentalism. She rips into the big-business agenda to show how economic opportunists need and promote misery and disaster, challenging us to look at world-changing events -- Pinochet's coup, Tiananmen Square, the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hurricane Katrina -- from a whole other perspective. Not everybody's going to agree with her, but this is reporting and history-writing in the tradition of Izzy Stone and Upton Sinclair. Klein upends assumptions and demands that we think -- her book is thrilling, troubling and very dark.
"How Novels Work" by John Mullan (Oxford University Press)
This book collects a series of columns that John Mullan has done for The Guardian in England, a mixture of lit crit and hands-on advice about the craft of novel-writing. He tackles character, genre, beginnings, endings, narrative technique and plot device, among other topics, drawing on examples from Daniel Defoe, Ali Smith, Donna Tartt and many others. "One clause detonates another in anguished repetition," he writes, analyzing Philip Roth's tightly controlled use of prose amplification in "The Human Stain," and the "detonates" is spot-on. Readers and writers alike will finds this an excellent guide.
"Silence" by Thomas Perry (Harcourt)
Perry, who seems to have always been around and is not so well known as he should be, writes the best pursuit thrillers around. In "Silence" he sets up his game of cat-and-mouse with parallel narratives: In one, private investigator Jack Till, who helped Wendy Harper disappear six years ago, now has to find her again so he can save her; in the other, Wendy is tracked by an insanely smooth pair of tango-dancing assassins whose insecure marriage doesn't prevent them from ratcheting up a high body-count. As villains, these two, the Turners, are delicious creations. Perry's plotting is always smart, and he's very good on what's going on every day in L.A., including murder.
"Fer-de-Lance; The League of Frightened Men" by Rex Stout (Bantam)
Here, in one volume, are the earliest, and best, of Stout's novels. The dialogue crackles, sidekick Archie dashes about, while Nero Wolfe -- possibly the best, and certainly the fattest and most eccentric, of detectives -- sits in his chair, too gross to cross his legs, tending his multitude of orchids in that brownstone on New York's West 35th Street and effortlessly getting the job done, the crime solved. The plotting -- and plotting was never Stout's strong point -- is tight here, and these two books remain peaks in the genre.
"Demons" by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Penguin)
"Demons," which describes the activities of a group of political radicals and culminates in murder, is the most bamboozling of Dostoevsky's novels -- and that's saying something. Is "Demons" (previously translated as "The Devils" and "The Possessed") social comedy, scathing political satire, depth psychology or an ultimately thrilling tale of violence? Actually, it's all of the above, and the various styles of this glorious mess of a book are captured in this superb new version by Robert Maguire. Also included, as an appendix, is the famous chapter, at first banned and suppressed, in which the charismatic, and indeed demonic, Stravrogin confesses to the rape of a child who then kills herself.
"The Thief and the Dogs" by Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor)
A man, recently released from an Egyptian jail, seeks revenge on those who put him there -- his wife and former partner. The plot has elements of noir, or even Dostoevsky, but in the hands of Mahfouz becomes a bleak and irresistible existential tale. Mahfouz wrote this book in mid-career, when his spare style made for clarity of narrative. Said Mahran, the hero, is possessed by a searing will that only violence will snuff out. The novel will be featured as a "Big Read" selection for the National Endowment of the Arts.
"Selected Poems" by C.P. Cavafy (Penguin)
Cavafy, the great poet of Alexandria, was first introduced to an English readership by E.M. Forster and later championed by W.H. Auden. He was gay, and his charged erotic poems make no attempt to hide the fact. Other strands of his poetic output -- interior reflections on history and fate -- have proved perhaps even more influential, drawing admirers and followers, like Czeslaw Milosz and Zbigniew Herbert. "Suddenly, around midnight, when you hear / an invisible troupe of players pass / with exquisite music and solemn voices -- / do not lament in vain your waning luck, the many deeds / undone, all of your life plans gone astray," Cavafy writes in "The Gods Abandoning Antony." Cavafy's various tones -- whether mournful, ironic or sexual -- are made to feel indispensable in these new translations by Avi Sharon.
Richard Rayner's Paperback Writers column appears monthly at www.latimes.com/books. He is the author of several books, including "The Associates" and "The Devil's Wind."