Upcoming: HEROES by Stephen Fry (Penguin)

FryS-HeroesUKHCMythology was a big part of my childhood: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse… I loved it all. I remember we had a particular hardcover book of mythology, heavily illustrated that covered the first three. I read that book over and over again, poring over the details and adventures of the heroes, villains and gods. I loved it, and is most likely the root of my interest in fantasy fiction. (I cannot for the life of me remember what the book was called, though, nor who published it. I’ve been trying to remember for years, but the details escape me completely.)*

I am also a big fan of Stephen Fry‘s work — his comedy, films and also his memoirs (strangely, I haven’t read any of his novels, yet). I bought his critically-acclaimed Mythos a little while ago. Like so many of the books I buy, I have yet to get around to reading it — but it is rapidly climbing my TBR mountain. Penguin recently announced Fry’s upcoming, companion book, Heroes, which I think it also sounds great. (I think the cover was officially unveiled today.) Here’s the synopsis:

There are Heroes — and then there are Greek Heroes.

Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes.

In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta — who was raised by bears — outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.

Filled with white-knuckle chases and battles, impossible puzzles and riddles, acts of base cowardice and real bravery, not to mention murders and selfless sacrifices, Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of — at our worst and our very best.

Really looking forward to reading this. Heroes is due to be published by Penguin in the UK, on November 1st, 2018.

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* If you think you might know which book I’m referring to, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. I really want to find this book!

 

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Quick Review: LEADERSHIP by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAn excellent examination of four presidents, their development into leaders, and how they overcame the challenges they faced

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?

In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others. By looking back to their first entries into public life, we encounter them at a time when their paths were filled with confusion, fear, and hope.

Leadership tells the story of how they all collided with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardships. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of the best presidential historians working today. Best known for her superb, exhaustive biography of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet and presidency, Team of Rivals, Goodwin has also written substantial biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson (who she worked for), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In Leadership, she examines how Lincoln, Johnson, FDR and TR developed into the leadership roles they inhabited. It is an excellent distillation of her previous scholarship with that specific question in mind. Engaging, rigorous, and illuminating, this is an excellent history. Continue reading

Upcoming: MAKE ME A CITY by Jonathan Carr (Henry Holt)

CarrJ-MakeMeACityUSChicago is one of my favourite American cities. I was there earlier this month (damn, it was hot), and when I spotted Jonathan Carr‘s Make Me A City on Edelweiss, I put it on my wishlist. A debut novel that “embroiders fact with fiction to tell the story of Chicago’s 19th century”, I think it looks really interesting:

The tale begins with a game of chess — and on the outcome of that game hinges the destiny of a great city. From appalling injustice springs forth the story of Chicago, and the men and women whose resilience, avarice, and altruism combine to generate a moment of unprecedented civic energy.

A variety of irresistible voices deliver the many strands of this novel: those of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the long-unheralded founder of Chicago; John Stephen Wright, bombastic speculator and booster; and Antje Van Voorhis, the first woman to report for the Chicago Tribune. The stories of loggers, miners, engineers, and educators teem around them and each claim the narrative in turns, sharing their grief as well as their delight.

As the characters, and their ancestors, meet and part, as their possessions pass from hand to hand, the reader realizes that Jonathan Carr commands a grand picture, one that encompasses the heartaches of everyday lives as well as the overarching ideals of what a city and a society can and should be. Make Me a City introduces us to a novelist whose talent and ambition are already fully formed.

Make Me a City is due to be published by Henry Holt, on March 19th, 2019 (it will be available in the UK, too).

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Quick Review: CITY OF DEVILS by Paul French (Riverrun/Picador)

FrenchP-CityOfDevilsUKAn intriguing glimpse into Shanghai’s pre-war underworld

A spellbinding and dramatic account of Shanghai’s lawless 1930s and two of its most notorious criminals…

1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made – and lost.

‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren — a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

Until City of Devils, I had only read Paul French’s shorter books on Asia — mainly on early 20th Century China, but also an excellent short book about Kim Jong-un. In City of Devils, French turns his attention to the criminal underworld of Shanghai in the 1930s, and two foreigners who managed to turn certain sectors of the city into their own private kingdoms. It’s a fascinating look at extraterritoriality, Westerners’ fascination with China, and their willingness to take advantage of their hosts. Continue reading

Recommendation: Penguin’s World War I China Specials

ChinaPenguinSpecials-WWI

This series of nine short books is fantastic. I bought them quite some time ago — they were released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — but I have finally caught up. If you have any interest in learning about China, then I would highly recommend these books. Each of them was informative, engaging, sometimes entertaining, and frequently brutally honest. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE DINOSAUR ARTIST by Paige Williams (Hachette)

WilliamsP-DinosaurArtistUSLike a great many people, I grew up fascinated by dinosaurs. I loved reading about them, and also playing with my set of unpainted, hard-plastic dinosaur toys. (My grandfather collected special coupons from his Weetabix boxes for months before sending off for the set. Probably my happiest childhood memories of him.) There seems to be a bit of a resurgence in dino-interest in publishing — for example, Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was recently released to much fanfare (I’ll be reading it pretty soon). Also, in movies, we have the incredible success of Jurassic World and its sequel, which will no doubt be a blockbuster success as well. This September, Hachette will release Paige Williams’s debut non-fiction book, The Dinosaur Artist. It sounds really interesting:

The first time Eric Prokopi saw T. bataar bones he was impressed. The enormous skull and teeth betrayed the apex predator’s close relation to the storied Tyrannosaurus rex, the most famous animal that ever lived. Prokopi’s obsession with fossils had begun decades earlier, when he was a Florida boy scouring for shark teeth and Ice Age remnants, and it had continued as he built a thriving business hunting, preparing, and selling specimens to avid collectors and private museums around the world. To scientists’ fury and dismay, there was big money to be made in certain corners of the fossil trade. Prokopi didn’t consider himself merely a businessman, though. He also thought of himself as a vital part of paleontology — as one of the lesser-known artistic links in bringing prehistoric creatures back to life — and saw nothing wrong with turning a profit in the process.

Bone hunting was expensive, risky, controversial work, and he increasingly needed bigger “scores.” By the time he acquired a largely complete skeleton of T. bataar and restored it in his workshop, he was highly leveraged and drawing quiet scorn from peers who worried that by bringing such a big, beautiful Mongolian dinosaur to market he would tarnish the entire trade. Presenting the skeleton for sale at a major auction house in New York City, he was relieved to see the bidding start at nearly $1 million — only to fall apart when the president of Mongolia unexpectedly stepped in to question the specimen’s origins and demand its return. An international custody battle ensued, shining new light on the black market for dinosaur fossils, the angst of scientists who fear for their field, and the precarious political tensions in post-Communist Mongolia. The Prokopi case, unprecedented in American jurisprudence, continues to reverberate throughout the intersecting worlds of paleontology, museums, art, and geopolitics.

In this gorgeous nonfiction debut, Williams uncovers an untold story that spans continents, cultures, and millennia as she grapples with the questions of who we are, how we got here, and who, ultimately, owns the past.

The Dinosaur Artist is due to be published in North America and in the UK by Hachette.

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Upcoming: LEADERSHIP IN TURBULENT TIMES by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAs the author of Team of Rivals and other fantastic history books, Doris Kearns Goodwin needs little introduction. This year, Goodwin’s latest book will be published by Simon & Schuster: Leadership in Turbulent Times. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and the book draws from the presidencies of four men she is most familiar with: Abraham Lincoln (Team of Rivals), Theodore Roosevelt (The Bully Pulpit), Franklin D. Roosevelt (No Ordinary Time) and Lyndon B. Johnson (Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream). Here’s the official synopsis:

In this culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an illuminating exploration into the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the man make the times or do the times make the man?

In Leadership in Turbulent Times, Goodwin draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they first recognized leadership qualities within themselves, and were recognized by others as leaders.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Leadership in Turbulent Times is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in North America and Viking in the UK, in September 2018.

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