March 16, 2013 

Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times by Eyal Press. (Picador) What impels people to defy authority and convention? Sharing insights from sociology, political theory, neuroscience and philosophy, Press traces the paths of four dissenters: a Swiss police commander who broke the law to help Jewish refugees in 1938; a Serb who saved Croats by lying about their ethnic identity; an Israeli soldier who refused to serve in the occupied territories; and a financial industry whistle-blower.

No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer. (Picador) A mixed-race couple, veterans of the anti-apartheid movement, navigate the new South Africa in the Nobelist’s wise political novel.

Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels. (Penguin) Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton and the author of “The Gnostic Gospels” (1979), places the biblical Book of Revelation – the seven-headed beast, the whore of Babylon, apocalyptic images of the end of times – in the context of other ancient narratives of vision and prophecy.

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. (Berkley) This historical thriller offers a fascinating look at early police work among the untested and ill-trained “copper stars” who patrolled New York in the 19th century. Making the rounds of the wretched 6th Ward in the summer of 1845, Faye’s damaged hero, Timothy Wilde, encounters new depths of depravity: a serial killer who is butchering child prostitutes.

As Texas Goes …: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins. (Liveright/Norton) The New York Times columnist’s breezy polemic pictures Texas – with its zest for guns, military adventures, right-wing dogma, regressive taxes, deregulation and privatization – as an ideological oil spill.

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger. (Vintage Contemporaries) The story of a Bangladeshi woman, her new American husband and their romantic entanglements is told with empathy in Freudenberger’s beguiling second novel.

Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin with Benjamin Whitmer. (It Books/Igniter/HarperCollins) Rough-and-tumble road stories illuminate the career of the gospel and country duo Charlie and Ira Louvin. (The memoir gets its title from a noted Louvin recording.)

In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes. (Anchor, $15.) Raised in a two-room shack in 1960s Oklahoma, Barnes’ heroine believes a better life awaits when she marries the young hometown hero. But nothing can prepare her for what’s to come when they move to Saudi Arabia for her husband’s job with the Arabian American Oil Co.

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