Charlotte Rogan's novel is told from the perspective of Grace Winter as she recounts an unspecified crime that occurred on a lifeboat after a Titanic-like ship goes down at sea. As she tells it, a sailor takes brutal but effective control of the small vessel, quickly creating factions for and against him. NPR's Lynn Neary explains: "Gradually we come to understand that Grace is quite beautiful and more than a little manipulative. And since the story is told completely from her point of view, it's never quite clear whether she is telling the whole truth ... Rogan cleverly sets up a plot that questions whether right and wrong are values that can be tossed overboard like so much ballast when one's life is at stake."
Nearly 40 years after the Watergate scandal, Thomas Mallon's 2012 historical novel "captures both the metastasizing dishonesty and the ludicrousness of this great American tragedy of political ambition run amok," writes book critic Heller McAlpin. Told from the perspectives of several of the perpetrators and their supporters, Mallon's Watergate emphasizes "the inanity of the whole mess rather than the darker implications of such rampant disregard for the law." In the end, McAlpin says, the author "manages to combine extensive research with the tools of fiction to provide a new perspective on an iconic episode in American history."
"Haiti has a noble, unique and often bloody history," observes NPR's Scott Simon. "It was the only nation of slaves to successfully revolt against their colonial overseers [and become] the first black-led republic in the world." Author Laurent Dubois — whose account of the Haitian Revolution, Avengers of the New World, was a 2004 best-seller — knows this history well. In 2012's Haiti, Dubois explores the country's less-familiar history, such as the 20-year U.S. occupation that ended in 1935, and misguided international aid efforts, like USAID's attempt to prevent the spread of swine fluin 1983. Dubois tells Simon, "There's enormous knowledge in Haitian rural communities. And, you know, a more collaborative effort and listening to that knowledge, I think, obviously will bear a lot more fruit than kind of trying to impose something that might sound great in the abstract but can't take root in the context."
Why is there matter in the universe rather than emptiness? That's the question theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss tackles in A Universe From Nothing, a book that surveys the discoveries that have led to scientists' current understanding of the universe and explores what the future of the universe may be. Krauss tellsTalk of the Nation Science Friday host Ira Flatow, "What the book's about is the revolutionary developments in both cosmology and particle physics over the past 30 or 40 years that have not only changed completely the way we think about the universe, but made it clear that there's a plausible case for understanding precisely how a universe full of stuff — like the universe we live in — could result literally from nothing by natural processes."
In Religion for Atheists, writer Alain de Botton argues that everyone can benefit from the wisdom and power of religion, regardless of beliefs. According to critic Aengus Woods, "The moment feels ripe for de Botton's latest offering ... The public discourse around religion has been given a fresh if polarizing perspective by its tenacious presence in American political life and the apoplectic dispatches of Hitchens, Dawkins and the 'New Atheism.' " And while "[d]e Botton fluently identifies how religion traditionally addressed social needs before offering his own secular proposal for meeting them anew," Woods says, his book is "perhaps just a little too sure that it knows what is best for us."