Based on the premise that the president of the United States has a private ring of spies, passed on from one president to the next since Washington's time, Brad Meltzer's latest thriller grew out of a real-life experience. When the Department of Homeland Security asked Meltzer to come in and brainstorm different ways that terrorists might attack the United States, the author began thinking about historical precedents, and learned that George Washington had a secret spy ring that helped him move information during the Revolutionary War. As Meltzer tells Steve Inskeep, when he asked one of his Homeland Security contacts whether such a presidential spy ring might still exist today, the man said, "What makes you think it doesn't?"
A huge hit in the U.S., the Japanese character "Naruto" may be the most popular manga character since "Pokemon." The "Naruto" series chronicles the rollicking misadventures of this ninja in training, who grew up an orphan, rejected and unloved. Yet despite his mischievous, even obnoxious side, this come-from-behind kid has his heart in the right place and always gives his all. Having become the first Japanese comic book to appear on the USA Today bestseller list, this long-running series has also spun off animated series, feature movies and a whole range of "Naruto" merchandise.
In Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff argues that the Egyptian queen of literature, legend and Hollywood is largely inaccurate. First of all, Cleopatra was Greek, not Egyptian, and a commanding woman versed in politics, diplomacy and governance, with a fortune superior to the men in her circle. Schiff's great challenge as a biographer is to create a narrative that reveals the real Cleopatra and demonstrates why history should think of her as a canny political strategist and tough negotiator, and not simply define her by her beauty and the men in her life. This is a tall order, since none of Cleopatra's writings survive and the most comprehensive historical sources on Cleopatra never met her. But Pulitzer Prize winner Schiff rises to the challenge with an engaging biography that relentlessly stitches together the pieces of her subject's broader life, and makes connections between them.
In Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer outlines his ideas about the Constitution and about the way the United States legal system works. Breyer, who joined the Supreme Court in 1994, explains that he interprets the Constitution as a living document, in opposition to some of his colleagues — including Justice Antonin Scalia — who see it as a static and literal set of rules that do not change over time. Breyer argues that the framers knew that the interpretation of the document would continue to change as America evolved — and that members of the Supreme Court should apply the Constitution's values to modern circumstances.
Historian and author Joseph Ellis' First Family draws from decades of correspondence between John Adams and his wife, Abigail, to reveal the achievements of America's second president, and the sacrifice and influence of his first lady. Viewing each other as intellectual equals, and often separated by great distances, the two exchanged more than 1,000 letters over the course of their relationship and, according to Ellis, intended for their correspondence to stand as a record of their lives for posterity. "The sheer emotional power of it and the literary sophistication of it is so overwhelming," Ellis says of the Adams collection. "I've written nine books. I enjoyed writing this book more than any of the others, in part because it's a great story, and in part [because the letters] give you the evidence of this story, which is a love story."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.