Summer books: History and biographies

American Tapestry

The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama

Rachel L. Swarns


Amistad, $27.99

An intimate look at the First Lady’s colorful family tree going back five generations, traversing through the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the great migration and on to the White House. (June)

As Texas Goes…

How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda

Gail Collins

Norton/Liveright, $25.95

How the conservative political agenda growing deep in the heart of Texas is creating social and economic consequences for the rest of the country. (June)

Barack Obama

The Story

David Maraniss

Simon & Schuster, $32.50

This new biography of President Obama explores his early beginnings and his struggles with self-identity. Based on hundreds of documents, letters, journals and interviews, including with the President. (June)

Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel

Henry Holt: $28

Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell’s vicious maneuverings continue in this sequel to “Wolf Hall.” (May)

The Chinatown War

Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871

Scott Zesch

Oxford University Press, $29.95

A little known small-scale turf war that erupted between immigrant Chinese gangs and mobs of white Angelenos reveals the workings of the early Chinese-American community in Los Angeles. (June)


Douglas Brinkley

Harper, $34.99

This biography of the journalist known to many as “the most trusted man in America” digs deep into his personal life through private papers and interviews with family and friends. (May)

Our Divided Political Heart

The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

E.J. Dionne Jr.

Bloomsbury, $27

Dionne offers the notion that as people we can’t agree on our future because we can’t agree on our common history or what it is that makes us Americans. (May)

The Dozens

A History of Rap’s Mama

Elijah Wald

Oxford University Press, $24.95

So where did rap come from? Wald suggests that its roots came from an outrageously inventive game played in urban neighborhoods called “The Dozens.” (June)

A Good Man

Rediscovering My Father, Sarge Shriver

Mark K. Shriver

Henry Holt and Co., $24

An intimate father-son portrait by the son of Sargent “Sarge” Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps, architect of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and social advocate. (June)

Lionel Asbo

State of England

Martin Amis

Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95

Modern society and celebrity culture take a beating in this satire on an oddly principled thug raising his bookish nephew. (Aug.)

The Obamians

The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power

James Mann

Viking, $26.95

The story of the President’s inner-circle of young advisers and their efforts to forge a new direction in U.S. foreign policy. (June)

The Twilight War

The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran

David Crist

Penguin Press, $36

Iran and the U.S. have been each other’s largest national security nightmare for the last 30 years. This book attempts to explain why. (June)

The Rise of Rome

The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire

Anthony Everitt

Random House, $30

This history of a city’s remarkable ascent from an agrarian backwater includes portraits of its key citizens who became history’s leading lights. (August)

George Orwell: Diaries

Edited by Peter Davison

Liveright, $39.95

The 11 extant diaries cover everything from his youthful travels behind “Down & Out in Paris and London” to his bouts with tuberculosis in the midst of completing “1984.” (August)

James Joyce

A New Biography

Gordon Bowker

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35

This first biography of the literary master in more than 50 years explores his complex attitudes toward England, Ireland and Judaism and the correlation between the iconic fictional characters Joyce created and their real-life models and inspirations. (June)

American Empire

The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home, 1945-2000

Joshua B. Freeman

Viking, $36

A study of the post-WWII transformation of America to a global force and the domestic elements and events that threaten its future influence and role in world affairs. (August)

Embers of War

The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam

Fredrik Logevall

Random House, $40 (tentative price)

Historian Logevall draws on material gleaned from previously untapped sources to trace three decades of political decisions and battles leading up to the Vietnam war beginning with the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. (August)

Too High to Fail

Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution

Doug Fine

Gotham, $27

Can this burgeoning cash crop revitalize our nation’s economy? (August)

San Francisco Chinatown

A Guide to Its History and Architecture

Philip P. Choy

City Lights, $15.95

Native Choy writes an insider’s guide to America’s oldest Chinese community, tracing its storied history from post-quake reconstruction to popular tourist destination. Features photographs and walking tours. (June)

Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ‘N’ Roll

Marc Dolan

Norton, $29.95

The cultural, political and personal forces that shaped the music and decades-long career of the working-class “Boss” from New Jersey. (June)

Van Halen

Exuberant California, Zen Rock ‘N’ Roll

John Scanlan

Reaktion, $25

A look at the influences and events that shaped the band and its relationship to Southern California’s sense of cultural exuberance. (June)