Marcia Clark was a rising legal star in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office when she was assigned to the O.J. Simpson trial — then called the trial of the century. More than 15 years later, she's still hip-deep in crime — but now as a mystery writer. Her first mystery, Guilt By Association, features Rachel Knight, a rising DA who handles prominent, sensitive and controversial trials. Critics and mystery writers alike say Clark gets the legal procedures right.
In British writer Julian Barnes' understated and moving third collection of stories, the main focus is on love and intimacy — how it starts, and what accounts for its endurance or failure to thrive. Many of his characters suffer the loss of one of their five senses, or of a close relationship. Details about American politics, global warming, health care and gender distinctions in talking about love and sex demonstrate that Barnes has his finger on topics that matter.
Americans are adjusting their religious views to fit their politics, argues Robert Putnam in American Grace. Since 1990, the number of young people who say they have no religion has skyrocketed to about 25 or 30 percent, from roughly 5 percent in earlier decades. For many who came of age in the 1980s and '90s, religion seemed to be mostly about sexual morality and, as they saw it, intolerance and homophobia. Another huge factor is that more marriages cross once-rigid religious lines, which has helped build the unity that the authors also found along religious lines.
During the Cold War, many people around the world lived in daily fear of a nuclear holocaust. But just two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, most Americans are more likely to fear an act of terrorism than nuclear annihilation. Ron Rosenbaum, author of How the End Begins, says we forget about the global nuclear threat at our peril. Rosenbaum tells NPR's Neal Conan that after 1991, "we took what's called a holiday from history. ... I wrote the book as a warning that we need to address these questions that we've left behind with the Cold War."
Marine veteran and Atlantic correspondent Bing West also served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. In The Wrong War, he charges that after a decade of war, the U.S. military failed its assigned missions of protecting village populations and nation-building, based on his trips to Afghanistan during the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy. Even with continued training for Afghan forces, he predicts, the military situation will remain perilous as long as Pakistan provides shelter to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.
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.