The subjects that novelist Jodi Picoult chooses to write about make her popularity somewhat surprising. The long list of difficult issues she has taken on include neonaticide, the death penalty, mercy killing, stem cell research and gay rights. In Lone Wolf, a brother and sister must decide whether to terminate medical care for their father, Luke, who is in a vegetative state after a car accident. Larger than life, Luke is a researcher who was so absorbed by the wolves he studied that at one point he left his family to live with a wolf pack. "I like the fact that there's so much research that goes into her books," one of Picoult's fans, Carrie Dunn, tells NPR's Lynn Neary. "It's not just that she's a good storyteller. ... You learn something every time you read one of her books."
Dr. David B. Agus — one of the nation's leading authorities on cancer treatment — addresses modern misconceptions about illness and wellness in The End of Illness.Highlighting the importance of "honoring the body as the exceedingly complex system that it is," he advocates working with a doctor to define and assess individual health and to improve it with nutrition and exercise, and by capitalizing on new technologies. Agus also makes some surprising claims, asserting that a sedentary lifestyle can be worse than smoking, that vitamin supplements may do more harm than help and that poorly designed footwear factors into the development of heart disease.
Virologist Nathan Wolfe was once dubbed "the world's most prominent virus hunter" by The New Yorker. As founder of the nonprofit Global Viral, he spends his days tracking emerging infectious diseases before they turn into deadly pandemics. In The Viral Storm, Wolfe describes how most of those emerging infectious diseases originally start out in animals before making the jump to humans. He has worked for over a decade in Central Africa, where viruses like HIV rapidly spread across populations. Wolfe also recently traveled to Asia, where the H5N1 flu, which has killed hundreds around the world, was first detected. "Are we willing to live in a world just waiting for [viruses] to go global before we catch them?" he asksFresh Air's Terry Gross. "That's one of the things we're trying to change."
"It doesn't happen often, but there are times when a single book turns the world on its head," NPR's Joe Palca writes. "Isaac Newton's Principia unraveled the mystery of gravity. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species explained how evolution worked. But before either of these, there was On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus. It was published in 1543. In it, Copernicus made the astounding claim that Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around." It took Copernicus three decades to work up the courage to publish his theories. What pushed him over the edge was a visit from Rheticus, whom Palca describes as "a young German mathematician who was inspired to make the arduous and risky journey to Poland to meet the aging astronomer." Dava Sobel's A More Perfect Heaven contains a play imagining how Rheticus convinced Copernicus to share his theories with the world.
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is widely considered to be one of the best war novels ever written, but as NPR critic Michael Schaub notes, the author's other works could confound conventional readers with their "dark tone and oddball sensibilities." In the first authorized biography of the cult-hero author, Charles J. Shields explores Vonnegut's life, from his days as a World War II prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany, to his final days in New York (where he died in 2007). "Shields presents Vonnegut as a maddening figure, who wrote frequently about the importance of human kindness but was often mean, ill-tempered and unfaithful to his family," Schaub writes. "Like all people, he wasn't perfect — but he was never less than wholly original. And So It Goes proves to be a fascinating portrait of a fascinating man."
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.