Noteworthy paperbacks

February 15, 2014 

“The Marlowe Papers” by Ros Barber.

The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber. (St. Martin’s Griffin) Barber’s novel isn’t the first to reimagine the life and mysterious death of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, but it may be the first to do so in verse. In this, Marlowe’s “death” in London is a ruse to escape charges of heresy; spirited across the English Channel, he continues his career under the nom de plume of a Stratford merchant: William Shakespeare.

The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr. (Anchor) This is an astute, nonideological analysis of the weaknesses of U.S. foreign policy under President Barack Obama. Nasr, a former senior adviser to Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, sheds light on the infighting between the White House and the State Department, and argues that, from North Africa to Afghanistan and Pakistan, diplomatic efforts have been crippled by the administration’s fear of political reprisals and the specter of terrorism.

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes. (Harper Perennial) With a deft finger on today’s conservative pulse, Shlaes, the author of “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression,” portrays Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) as a paragon of a president by virtue of his small-government policies.

Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew. (Ecco/HarperCollins) The fraught issue of illegal immigration divides an Oklahoma clan and their town in Askew’s heartfelt novel. It’s 2008, and what’s left of Sweet Kirkendall’s family is falling apart. Her father is behind bars for harboring illegal Mexican immigrants, her husband is keeping an ugly secret, and with the news media camped on her doorstep, Sweet is down to a few precious dollars and dwindling resources.

The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers. (Basic Books) From the fibs parents and children tell to manipulate one another to the “false historical narratives” political leaders foist on their citizens, Trivers, an evolutionary biologist, makes the intriguing argument that deceit is a “deep feature” of life, even a necessity, given genes’ brutal struggle to prevail.

The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe by Marci Shore. (Broadway) This is an assured, highly personal memoir of Shore’s encounters with the scarred lands of Eastern Europe, from the early 1990s to the present – as an undergraduate, as a teacher, as a Jew trying to make sense of post-Holocaust Poland and as a researcher tracking down survivors of Stalinism everywhere from Warsaw to Jerusalem to New York.

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. (Scribner) Radical politics, avant-garde art and motorcycle racing all spring to life in Kushner’s radiant second novel, one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2013. At the story’s heart is Reno, a young woman from Nevada who moves to New York in the mid-1970s to become an artist, only to wind up involved in the revolutionary protest movement that shook Italy in those years.

New York Times

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