Noteworthy paperbacks

February 9, 2013 

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind by Richard Fortey. (Vintage) A paleontologist, Fortey has spent most of his life looking at fossils. Here he pursues the distinguished groups of organisms that have survived the many cataclysms thrown at them over the past 450 million years: horseshoe crabs and velvet worms, but also lungfish, musk oxen, jellyfish and cockroaches.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. (Random House) The earth’s rotation has begun to slow in Walker’s stirring first novel, with dire consequences: oceans rise, crops fail, people panic. At the story’s center is an 11-year-old narrator, Julia, who is as concerned with the social politics of middle school as she is with the potential end of the world.

Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss. (Simon & Schuster) This huge, absorbing biography traces the president’s African and American lineages back more than a century; it ends with Obama, at 27, leaving Chicago for Harvard Law School and what Maraniss presents as the end of his search for identity and the beginning of a purposeful political career. The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power by James Mann. (Penguin) Mann, the author of “Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet” (2004), now examines the ideas and formative experiences of Obama’s foreign policy advisers – and the administration’s evolving vision of America’s place in the world.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. (Broadway) In Pavone’s smartly executed first novel, Kate Moore gladly quits her secret life as a CIA operative to reinvent herself as a housewife when her husband is hired as a security consultant to a bank in Luxembourg. But his activities have become suspicious, and as she travels around Europe, Kate finds herself looking over her shoulder, terrified that her own past is catching up with her.

Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland. (Other Press) Maitland meticulously reconstructs the story of her mother’s flight from occupied France in 1942 – and her star-crossed love for the Frenchman whose picture she continued to treasure 50 years after they parted.

At Last by Edward St. Aubyn. (Picador) This is the final installment of the cycle of novels chronicling the life of Patrick Melrose and his aristocratic but barbarous English family. “At Last” takes place on the day of Patrick’s mother’s funeral, but flashes back to his harrowing childhood, his stints in rehab and his stumbling efforts to navigate marriage and fatherhood.

Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton. (Vintage International) Secular society has been “unfairly impoverished” by the loss of spiritual aspiration and moral guidance, de Botton argues in this provocative book, which calls on secular institutions to adopt the rituals, habits and pedagogy of Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

New York Times

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