Noteworthy paperbacks

February 22, 2014 

The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower. (Minotaur) This is a swift and detailed rendering of the little-known Baltimore-based plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in February 1861, days before he assumed the presidency. Stashower’s narrative hurtles along Lincoln’s train route from Springfield, Ill., to Washington; standing tall among the conspirators and politicos is the “fierce and incorruptible lawman” Allan Pinkerton, who led efforts to thwart the scheme.

Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer. (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Bauer’s epistolary novel concerns kindred spirits who meet at an artists’ colony in 1957. As the two find their way to New York, they share their preoccupations with literature, art, theology and philosophy. It’s “a story of conversion, shattered love and the loss of faith,” Christopher Benfey wrote in the New York Times, “recalling 20th-century masters like Graham Greene and Walker Percy.”

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, by Fredrik Logevall. (Random House) Logevall’s “Choosing War” (1999) chronicled the U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. With the Pulitzer-winning “Embers,” he traces the history of the French conflict in Vietnam and the beginning of the U.S. one, from the end of World War II to the beginning of the second Vietnam War in 1959.

Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi. (Penguin) In Selasi’s daring first novel, the death of Kweku Sai, a renowned Ghanaian surgeon and failed husband, sends a ripple around the world – in Accra and Lagos, London and New York – bringing together the talented but troubled family he abandoned years before.

In the Body of the World: A Memoir of Cancer and Connection, by Eve Ensler. (Picador/Metropolitan/Holt) Framed as a series of short chapters called “scans,” this raw and revelatory memoir by the activist, playwright and author of “The Vagina Monologues” reflects on her work on behalf of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and on her inspiring battle with uterine cancer.

The Son, by Philipp Meyer. (Ecco/HarperCollins) An epic of the American Southwest, Meyer’s masterly second novel follows several generations of a Texas ranching and oil dynasty through the 19th and 20th centuries: Col. Eli McCullough, the family’s progenitor, captured by Comanches at 13; Eli’s son Peter, a pariah who bears the emotional cost of his father’s drive for power; and Jeannie, Eli’s great-granddaughter and the modern-day matriarch, who fights hardened rivals to succeed in a man’s world.

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread From the Data, by Charles Wheelan. (Norton) The author of “Naked Economics” ably walks readers through descriptive statistics, correlation, basic probability, the central limit theorem and inference, all the while providing insights into real-world situations (baseball, the lottery, opinion polls).

New York Times

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