Set in Washington, D.C., Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol, continues the tale of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, the same character featured in Brown's blockbusters The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. In its essence, the novel is about the Freemasons, a group that has faced centuries of persecution for its secrets. "We live in a world where people kill each other every day over whose definition of God is correct," Brown tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "And here is a worldwide organization that, at its core, will bring people together from many, many different religions and ask only that you believe in a god. It seems like a perfect blueprint for universal spirituality."
In 1977, Diane Keaton's charming incoherence in Woody Allen's Annie Hall earned her an Oscar and turned her into a star. No one believed Keaton would make it more than her mother, Dorothy Keaton Hall. A child of the Depression who had been abandoned by her father, Keaton Hall lived for her children. So when she died three years ago, after a slow decline from Alzheimer's disease, Keaton began writing a memoir for both of them. That memoir, Then Again, draws on the 85 journals Keaton's mother kept over her lifetime. Keaton tells NPR's Renee Montagne "the two of us were partners in life. That's really why I forced myself to read them. And, of course, I was completely unprepared for the depth that I encountered."
Journalist Fareed Zakaria is an optimist: He believes in the ability of the United States to adapt. But in his new book, The Post-American World, Zakaria raises a tantalizing argument that the war in Iraq will mark the decline of American power, and that the rise of China, India, Brazil and other countries pose a special challenge to the United States in this century. Zakaria, a columnist and the editor of Newsweek International, talks to Robert Siegel about a possible precedent for the U.S. in Iraq — Britain's war over a century ago in South Africa, the Boer War. He also discusses how the U.S. ought to think of its role in the world going forward as being the "chairman of the board."
Area 51 is a desert land parcel just outside the abandoned Nevada Test and Training Range, where more than 100 atmospheric bomb tests were conducted in the 1950s. The secrecy surrounding Area 51 has made it fertile ground for conspiracy theories. In Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base, Jacobsen draws on interviews with 74 individuals with rare firsthand knowledge of the secret base to detail how several agencies — including the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Defense and the CIA — once used the site to conduct controversial and secretive research on projects including planes that traveled three times faster than the speed of sound and nuclear-propelled, space-based missile launch systems.
Several years ago, journalist Mitchell Zuckoff came across an article about a World War II plane crash in New Guinea that had all the elements of an unforgettable story: There was a terrible accident in a harsh landscape, three survivors, a hidden world with a Stone Age existence, and a heroic rescue mission. Zuckoff tells that epic tale in a new book, Lost in Shangri-La. The story is set against the unforgiving backdrop of New Guinea's high mountains, dense rain forests and thick clouds. At the time of World War II, much of the island was uncharted. His book is the story of one of the few crashes in New Guinea where survivors lived to tell the tale.
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.