Noteworthy paperbacks

Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, And The Illusion Of Safety by Eric Schlosser. (Penguin) How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That’s the question at the heart of Schlosser’s disquieting examination of nuclear risk, which weaves a riveting account of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a crisp historical narrative covering more than 70 years.

Levels Of Life by Julian Barnes. (Vintage International) This series of essays – an elegant triptych of history, fiction and memoir – were prompted by the death of Barnes’ wife. Each begins with the same organizing concept: putting together “two things that have not been put together before.” The opening essay, “The Sin of Height,” follows a 19th-century French photographer’s efforts to unite the evolving science of aeronautics with the art of photography.

Manson: The Life And Times Of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn. (Simon & Schuster) Guinn’s narrative tour de force encompasses Manson’s rise and subsequent fall and its grisly centerpiece, the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders; the 1960s music industry; and the decade’s bizarre ambience. “Though most of the literate world knows what’s to come, Guinn ably maintains suspense,” Ann Rule said in The Times Book Review. “It stands as a definitive work.”

The Affairs Of Others by Amy Grace Loyd. (Picador) Celia, the 30-something widow at the center of Loyd’s sensual first novel, has gone to great lengths to fill her small Brooklyn apartment building with tenants who respect one another’s privacy. But everything changes with the arrival of Hope - a sultry older woman on the run from her husband - and soon the building’s sanctity is shattered by myriad domestic crises.

The Wet And The Dry: A Drinker’s Journey by Lawrence Osborne. (Broadway) In this travelogue, the rakish and perceptive Osborne imbibes his way around the globe – from New York and London to Istanbul and Dubai – trying to make sense of where societies fall on the spectrum between indulgence and restraint.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. (Riverhead) In this magnificent romp of a novel, the 2013 National Book Award winner, a Kansas slave named Henry is mistaken for a girl by the fiery abolitionist John Brown and is swept up in his ramshackle entourage of crusaders. Hiding his true identity, Henry becomes a witness to history as Brown’s band makes its way to Virginia.

Revolutionary Summer: The Birth Of American Independence by Joseph J. Ellis. (Vintage) This dramatic retelling of the fateful summer of 1776 expertly balances the political (John Adams and the Continental Congress) and the military (George Washington and the Continental Army).

New York Times