NONFICTION

A Godly Hero

The Life of William Jennings Bryan

Michael Kazin

Alfred A. Knopf

On the Democratic populist, orator and perennial presidential candidate whose legacy was forever tarnished by his ignominious swan song at the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial." Kazin's biography is a balanced and contextual account of Bryan's prodigious political career.

*

Andrew Carnegie

David Nasaw

The Penguin Press

A fresh and thorough assessment of the character and career of the founder of the Carnegie Steel Company, the richest tycoon of America's Gilded Age. According to one of his business rivals, this captain of industry "radiated warmth and light.... He was the most consistently happy man I ever knew."

*

At Canaan's Edge

America in the King Years, 1965-68

Taylor Branch

Simon & Schuster

The final volume of Taylor Branch's trilogy on the U.S. civil rights movement recounts the struggles of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the last three years of his life, beginning with the voting-rights campaign in Selma, Ala., and ending with King's assassination in Memphis, Tenn.

*

Blood Money

Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq

T. Christian Miller

Little, Brown

The L.A. Times reporter's chronicle of the war profiteering and fraud that have hindered U.S. efforts at the reconstruction of Iraq. Our reviewer wrote that Miller "describes naivete, incompetence, corruption and venality on a scale so colossal as to make it impossible to blame the results on any single figure."

*

Blue Arabesque

A Search for the Sublime

Patricia Hampl

Harcourt

An anecdotal history of Henri Matisse's painting "Femme et poissons rouges" (its English title is "Woman Before an Aquarium"), Hampl's book is also part memoir and part meditation on the images of women in Western art. She uses "each of the painting's compositional elements as a springboard for exploration, weaving together autobiography and art history."

*

The Din in the Head

Essays

Cynthia Ozick

Houghton Mifflin

A new collection of essays from one of our foremost literary critics, including trenchant commentary on Lionel Trilling, Susan Sontag, Isaac Babel and Saul Bellow's "Ravelstein." Our reviewer described Ozick as an "arch defender of the independent rights and powers of literature, and of the novel in particular."

*

Gay L.A.

A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians

Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

Basic Books

In this "meticulously researched history" of Los Angeles from its earliest days to the present, the authors maintain that this city has had a greater influence than other major American metropolises -- San Francisco and New York, for instance -- on the gay movement's development over the years.

*

Ghost Hunters

William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death

Deborah Blum

The Penguin Press

An account of the investigations by the eminent philosopher and psychologist and his fellows in the Society for Psychical Research of seances and other supernatural phenomena at the turn of the 20th century. Blum demonstrates the extent to which James risked his professional reputation in his dogged pursuit of proof of life after death.

*

The Great Black Way

L.A.'s Central Avenue in the 1940s and the Lost Negro Renaissance

RJ Smith

PublicAffairs

A cultural and musical chronicle of Los Angeles' vibrant African American community and its principal thoroughfare in its heyday. "Central Avenue was like a river, like the Amazon or the Nile," Smith writes (quoting musician Clifford Solomon), "and downtown was the mouth."

*

The Greatest Story

Ever Sold

The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina

Frank Rich

The Penguin Press

The New York Times columnist dissects what he calls the Bush administration's "truthiness" (a word, Rich explains, that describes a situation in which "what matters most is whether a story can be sold as true, preferably on television") about the Iraq War, as well as its response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the destruction of New Orleans.

*

Hotel California

The True-life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends

Barney Hoskyns

Wiley

Hoskyns' entertaining account of how American popular music had, by the early 1970s, become dominated by mellow rock musicians from Topanga and Laurel canyons -- and, our reviewer wrote, "how so many groovy hyper-literate songwriters turned into pretentious, backstabbing, coke-sniffing lunatics."

*

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Inside Iraq's Green Zone

Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Alfred A. Knopf

An account by the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post of the "myopia and arrogance" endemic within the fortified enclave of palaces and villas that serve as the headquarters of the U.S. occupation.

*

Justice for All

Earl Warren and the Nation He Made

Jim Newton

Riverhead Books

Newton, a bureau chief for the L.A. Times, meticulously chronicles the life of the Supreme Court chief justice who presided over landmark decisions on segregation, the right to privacy and school prayer.

*

The Looming Tower

Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Lawrence Wright

Alfred A. Knopf

This history of the growth of Islamic militancy and the West's failure to anticipate it also describes the rise as a mastermind of Osama bin Laden, whose terrorist plots have inspired a host of imitators.

*

The Lost

A Search for Six of Six Million

Daniel Mendelsohn

HarperCollins

The author's epic journey to understand what happened to members of his mother's family in the Holocaust, taking him from family stories and old letters to explorations on the Internet and eventually to the streets of Poland, in search of anyone who might remember his lost relatives.

*

The Omnivore's Dilemma

A Natural History of Four Meals

Michael Pollan

The Penguin Press

During a cross-country trip, the Berkeley journalism professor investigates America's eating habits and their moral and ecological consequences. He traces the production of food from farm to dinner table to give us a true sense of the origins of what we eat.

*

The One Percent Doctrine

Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11

Ron Suskind

Simon & Schuster

Suskind contends that intelligence gathered by U.S. counter-terrorism experts was greatly exaggerated or dismissed by Bush administration officials to justify going to war with Iraq.

*

Prisoners

A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide

Jeffrey Goldberg

Alfred A. Knopf

The New Yorker correspondent recounts his youthful experiences as a member of the Israeli Defense Forces guarding Palestinian prisoners in the 1990s and his friendship with one of them.

*

The Shakespeare Wars

Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups

Ron Rosenbaum

Random House

The scholarly textual battles over certain Shakespearean plays set Rosenbaum off on, our reviewer wrote, a "persistent (if sometimes futile and inconclusive) search for the original way Shakespeare was spoken, written, played, heard." The resulting book has been "written by a fine mind on holiday."

*

State of Denial

Bush at War, Part III

Bob Woodward

Simon & Schuster

Woodward's inside story of a White House that dismisses bad news about the war on Iraq. He chronicles the divisions and bitter feuds that fulminated within the administration and shows how the "war on terror" served chiefly to fuel the spread of terrorism.

*

A Three Dog Life

Abigail Thomas

Harcourt

A poignant memoir by the daughter of writer-scientist Lewis Thomas about her struggles in the wake of a car accident that left her husband with traumatic brain damage, including short-term memory loss, dementia, anger and all manner of delusions.

*

Walking Zero

Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian

Chet Raymo

Walker

In his trademark lyrical prose style, the author describes his trek along the prime meridian across southeastern England while contemplating the history of humanity's awareness of its place in the universe. Our reviewer wrote that Raymo "lights this factual terrain romantically, from a low angle, accenting details in scenes painstakingly composed to show a wild nature looming behind the tamed human foreground."

*

Walt Disney

The Triumph of the American Imagination

Neal Gabler

Alfred A. Knopf

Gabler, an eminent historian of American popular culture, assesses the not entirely happy life and career of the legendary animator and studio head, whose obsessive desire for complete control helped him to manufacture "a better reality than the one outside the studio."

*

The Worst Hard Time

The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

Timothy Egan

Houghton Mifflin

In this vivid depiction of one of the horrors of the Depression, Egan tells us that the storm clouds of "Black Sunday," April 14, 1935, "carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal." The year before, another windstorm roiled up "three tons of dust for every American alive," plunging even New York City into partial darkness.

*

You Must Set Forth at Dawn

A Memoir

Wole Soyinka

Random House

A self-portrait of an activist-in-the-making, this "powerful and arresting" memoir is also a detailed and sharp-eyed analysis of Africa's post-colonial history by the Nigerian poet, playwright and Nobel laureate who both witnessed and participated in it.

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