December 15, 2012 

[sic]: A Memoir by Joshua Cody (Norton). This sprightly, manic cancer memoir sidesteps sentimentality by mocking it. Drawing from journals he kept during his treatment, Cody, a young composer in New York, combines the story of his illness – and his attempts to find refuge in sex and drugs – with meditations on family and the relationship between art and life.

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason (Vintage). In Amsterdam in 1907, Piet Barol, the dashing 24-year-old protagonist of Mason’s novel, is eager to exercise the taste for fine living instilled by his deceased mother. He takes a job tutoring the troubled son of one of the city’s wealthiest families, but it’s the boy’s sisters and sexually neglected mother who dominate his new life.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary edited by Steven R. Weisman (PublicAffairs). Moynihan (1927-2003) – presidential adviser, U.S. senator and prolific author – never wrote an autobiography. But his substantive letters to a range of correspondents (from John Updike to Rajiv Gandhi) pondered the times and the grand themes of history: the disaffection of the intellectual class, the Vietnam War, health care and welfare reform.

Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie (Scribner). In this rumination – not quite a biography, not quite a novel – Pat Nixon, Richard Nixon’s wife of 53 years, emerges, much like the standard popular image, as lonely, inward-looking and long-suffering.

Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial by Janet Malcolm (Yale University). In the insular Bukharan Jewish community of Queens, N.Y., Malcolm shrewdly discovers elements of Greek tragedy in the case of a cultivated doctor accused of hiring a hit man to kill her estranged husband in 2007.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively (Penguin). A retired schoolteacher breaks a hip in a mugging on a London street and moves in with her daughter, setting off a cascade of effects on others in Lively’s novel.

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes (Vintage). Hughes’ panoramic paean to the Italian capital excavates its bloody past and deconstructs its artistic masterpieces.

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples by David Gilmour. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In this alternative history, Gilmour argues that the 1861 unification of the Italian peninsula into a single nation ignored the reality of its distinct city-states with long, separate histories and little in common.

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (Random House). It’s 1868, and Boston is besieged by acts of scientific sabotage: ships colliding in the harbor, windows spontaneously melting in the busy financial quarter. It falls to the heroes of Pearl’s latest historical thriller, a group of the best and brightest from the upstart Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to track down the truth.

New York Times

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