July isn't the most glamorous month for new releases, but I did a little scavenging and found some very interesting titles. First I spotted Paul Greenberg's American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood (Penguin Press). Greenberg's Four Fish made some waves, so to speak, and his appearance on Fresh Air this week definitely speared me in. His points were many, but most notably, why is it that most of the fish we catch in domestically is sent abroad, and most of the fish we eat is imported. Something seems to outweigh the transportation costs. And the results, especially with weak labeling laws, is that we're likely eating shrimp that's inadvertently the product of Thai slave labor. While much of the book focuses on salmon and shrimp, there are is also some progress, such as the oyster restoration project. Now if only we could get a taste for delicious zebra mussels, we'd be going somewhere.
Oh, how I remember the time of Sean Wilsey's Oh, The Glory of it All, a much-recommended memoir that we still stock at Boswell. Wilsey's had a lot of stuff going on since then, including editing State by State with Matt Weiland and The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, which I assume you are using as you guidebook these past few weeks. The new book, More Curious, is a collection of essays from GQ, McSweeney's (where he was once editor and is who now publishes this very book), Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, and Fast Company. The subjects range widely, from the artistic underbelly of Marfa, Texas to Cape Canaveral's launchpad to John Updike. I should also note that the paper quality seems good and the line illustrations add a whimsical touch, like a copy of The New Yorker. My suggestion is to follow my policy with said magazine; buy a copy and then feel guilty about not having read enough of the essays; it will make everyone involved in the publishing process a little happier.
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book (Pantheon), by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, tell the story of Doctor Zhivago, starting with the Italian scout who, in 1956, spirited the manuscript out of the Soviet Union. Per the publisher, the story turns into the plot of a spy novel, which is why it makes sense that Finn is National Security Editor for The Washington Post. Couvée is a writer and translator and teaches at Saint Petersburg State University. Did you know the CIA smuggled a Russian edition of the book and smuggled it into the Soviet Union? Neither did I. Here's Ted Koppel's story on All Things Considered: "The Zhivago Affair...does a masterful job of putting flesh on the bare bones of a story that has been hinted at in the press for decades."
Matthew Stewart's Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (W.W. Norton) makes the claim that the radicals who fought for the American Revolution were branded "infidels" and "atheists" of their time. Per the publisher, "the ideas that inspired them were neither British nor Christian, but largely ancient, pagan, and continental: the fecund universe of the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, the potent (but non-transcendent) natural divinity of the Dutch heretic Benedict de Spinoza." on the blurbs page, Susan Jacoby calls this "a lively, powerful, and erudite refutation of the myth that the framers of our secular Constitution had any intention of founding an orthodox Christian nation." Wendy Smith in the Los Angeles Times concludes "It's become a conservative commonplace to argue that the Constitution
establishes freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, but
Stewart's eloquently argued book makes a strong case that freedom from
religion is precisely what America's founders had in mind." And I just want to note that this book is a very good deal--at $28.95 list price, this is a book that would normally be $35. It's over 500 pages!
On the other hand, Gordon Martel's The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (Oxford) is $34.95, but it is very, very high quality paper. In fact, at about 100 pages less, it's a full two ounces heavier than Nature's God, which itself has a hefty feel. The 100th anniversary of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was June 28, and boy has there been a lot of media attention. Gordon Martel is considered a leading authority on war empire, and diplomacy in the modern age, having edited the five volume Encyclopedia of War. The Month that Changed the World devotes a chapter to each day of the infamous July crisis, making clear how little the conflict was in fact premeditated, preordained, or even predictable, to paraphrase the publisher. Publishers Weekly calls Martel's thesis "hard to argue with."