As the 2012 presidential campaign shifts into high gear and talk of American values hits a fever pitch, this spring’s social science books offer a deeper dive for those not satisfied with the one-liners and sound bites offered on the campaign trail.

Among the most anticipated titles are two from Nation Books: activist and former White House adviser Van Jones is publishing Rebuild the Dream, which builds on Jones’s American Dream Movement, including “a 10-point plan to fix the economy, create jobs, and restore America’s democracy.” And in February, John Nichols puts out Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, which recalls the lingering effect of Gov. Scott Walker’s bid to curb collective bargaining rights for public employees—and the broader political implications of the backlash that move has caused.

The tenuous state of public education takes center stage, from different perspectives. In All Born to Rise: Trusting Teachers to Fix Public Education, Harlem-based education reformer Deborah Kenny shares her views and her compelling personal story. A sudden widow at age 38, with three young children, Kenny’s personal tragedy turned her attention to improving the lives of all children. In The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools, Jessie Klein takes on one of the most tragic situations in our schools.

This season offers a number of books on how we live as Americans, including a host of books on food culture, a subject that is clearly booming. Among the most interesting of these titles is Tracie MacMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, which questions how America’s working class can afford, let alone find the time, to eat as they should. In May, Jack Hitt—a funny, insightful and deeply entertaining writer for a number of major publications—offers his take on American living in Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character. And Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian offer a stark look at the dark side of the American dream with In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America, out from the University of North Carolina Press in April.

On the subculture side, HarperCollins is releasing John Holmstrom’s The Best of Punk Magazine. This long-awaited collection not only provides some great, visceral writing from the front lines of the punk movement but helps trace the line from outsider movement to mainstream influence. In March, the University of California will publish The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, which examines one of the eeriest, most fascinating—and tragic—phenomena in America.

And, of course, this season’s offerings include a number of excellent books on the state of feminism and women. Chief among these, and a book that could be the biggest hit of the spring social science crop, is Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, out from Ecco in May. Wolf is a popular, bestselling author, and the book—billed as “cutting-edge scientific and cultural history”—promises to reframe how we understand women.

PW’s Top 10: Social Science

Rebuild the Dream

Van Jones. Nation Books, Feb.

Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street

John Nichols. Nation Books, Feb.

All Born to Rise: Trusting Teachers to Fix Public Education

Deborah Kenny. HarperCollins, May.

The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools

Jessie Klein. New York Univ. Press, Mar.

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

Tracie McMillan. Scribner, Feb.

Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character

Jack Hitt. Crown, May.

In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America

Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian. Univ. of North Carolina Press, Apr.

The Best of Punk Magazine

John Holmstrom, HarperCollins/It Books, Apr.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge

John Bateson. Univ. of California Press, Mar.

Vagina: A New Biography

Naomi Wolf. Ecco, May.

Social Science Listings

Atria Books

The Shadow Catcher by Hipolito Acosta with Lisa Pulitzer (Apr., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1451632873). A firsthand look inside U.S. undercover operations targeting the immigrant smuggling, counterfeiting, and drug rings of Mexico’s dangerous mafia, based on three decades of U.S. agent Acosta’s undercover work.

Beacon Press

Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption by Jorja Leap (Mar., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0807044575).

A compassionate portrait of the gangs of Los Angeles, by an anthropologist who learns more than she expected to.

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain (Mar., hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0807044681). A social history shows how our relationship with this most beloved and reviled food staple reflects our country’s changing values.

Broadway Books

Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup by Mark Haskell Smith (Apr., paper, $14, ISBN 978-0307720542). After reporting on Amsterdam’s famous expo and competition, the Cannabis Cup, novelist Mark Haskell Smith tracked down a ragtag community of underground botanists and outlaw farmers who pursue excellence and diversity in marijuana.

An Age of Reckoning: Obama’s Unorthodox Use of American Power by David E. Sanger (June, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0307718020). Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times and has written extensively on the challenges faced by the Obama administration.

Chelsea Green Publishing

2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers (May, paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-1603584210). Randers has synthesized dozens of expert predictions on how our economies, natural resources, climate, militaries, political divisions, cities, psyches, and more will take shape in the coming decades.

New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family by Madeleine M. Kunin (Apr., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1603584258; paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1603582919). Former Vermont governor Kunin charts the course for the next feminist revolution—one that mobilizes women, and men, to call for policies that can improve the lives of women and strengthen families.

City Lights Books

I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters by Michael Long (Apr., paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-0872865785). Rustin’s life story is told in his own words through his intimate correspondence, published on the centennial of his birth.


Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character by Jack Hitt (May, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0307393753). Hitt, author of Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain, turns his eyes homeward in what’s sure to be one of this spring’s most insightful—and fun—reads.


Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum (May, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0061994937). Blum plunges into the ether of the Internet, bringing the “network of networks” into stirring, surprising, relief.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf (May, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0061989162). A cutting-edge scientific and cultural history reframes how we understand the vagina and, consequently, how we understand women.

Globe Pequot Press

Dam Nation: How Water Shaped the West and Will Determine Its Future by Stephen Grace (June, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0762770656). In the scramble to claim water rights in the west during the fevered days of early immigration, a dam-building fever transformed the region and created a map that may be unsustainable.

Grove/Atlantic/Black Cat

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro (Feb., paper, $15, ISBN 978-0802170927). Already published in India and cited as an Economist Book of the Year, this is a brilliant exposé that offers a rare firsthand glimpse into Bombay’s notorious sex industry.


All Born to Rise: Trusting Teachers to Fix Public Education by Deborah Kenny (May, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0062106209). One of America’s most acclaimed educators reflects on her struggle to create schools that transform the lives of children and teachers.

HarperCollins/It Books

The Best of Punk Magazine by John Holmstrom (Apr., hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0061958359). Fans of Please Kill Me, rejoice: here is the raucous, star-studded, anarchic best of the era-defining Punk magazine, reproduced in facsimile format, including one completely unseen “lost issue.”

Haymarket Books

My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain by Aaron Dixon (July, paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1608461783). In an era of stark racial injustice, Aaron Dixon dedicated his life to the struggle for change, founding the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968 at age 19.

The History Press

(dist. by IPG)

Concorde Conspiracy: The Battle for American Skies by Graham M. Simons (July, paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0752463650). An in-depth look at the political machinations involving the Concorde conspiracy, with inside information from CIA records and the JFK and LBJ presidential libraries.

MIT Press

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold and Anthony Weeks (Mar., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0262017459). This book examines how we can use digital media in ways that empower us, rather than as just passive receivers.

Nation Books

Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones (Feb., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1568587141). In the face of Wall Street’s recklessness, Washington’s negligence, and the Tea Party’s belligerence, President Obama’s former green jobs czar sets out a bold manifesto that reclaims the American dream on behalf of all working Americans.

Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street by John Nichols (Feb., paper, $15.99, ISBN 978-1568587035). The Nation’s Washington correspondent shows how the controversy over Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector workers has spurred a popular uprising with national consequences.

New Society Publishers

Share or Die: Voice of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis by Malcolm Harris, Neal Gorenflo, and Cory Doctorow (June, paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0865717107). From urban Detroit to central Amsterdam, from worker cooperatives to nomadic communities, a wide variety of recent graduates are finding (and sharing) their own way through a new economic order.

North Atlantic Books

(dist. by Random House)

Decolonize the Media: Occupying and Reclaiming the Cultural Commons by Antonio Lopez (July, paper, $12.95, ISBN 978-1583944592). Lopez calls for media producers and consumers to bring a sense of collaboration back to the process of communication, to utilize collective intelligence, and support a culture of participation.

NYU Press

Money at Work: On the Job with Priests, Poker Players, and Hedge Fund Traders by Kevin Delaney (July, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0814720806)explores how we think about money and particularly how our jobs directly influence that thinking.

The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools by Jessie Klein (Mar., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0814748886). The author argues that the rise of childhood aggression and school shootings are consequences of a society that actually promotes aggressive and competitive behavior.

Oxford Univ. Press

Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871 by Scott Zesch (July, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0199758760). In October 1871, a mob of white Angelenos, spurred by racial resentment, rampaged through the city and lynched some 18 people before order was restored.

Penguin Press

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg (Feb., hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594203220). A revelatory examination of the most significant demographic shift since the baby boom—the rise of people who live alone.

Prometheus Books

Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health by Martha Rosenberg (Apr., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1616145934). With interviews and stories from doctors, researchers, and experts, Rosenberg takes on the food and drug industries.

The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home from Iraq and Afghanistan by Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard (July, paper, $18, ISBN 978-1616145538). This inside look into the lives of veterans reveals the lingering impact our wars continue to have on too many of our finest young people.

The Language of Life: How Communication Drives Human Evolution by James Lull and Eduardo Neiva (May, paper, $19, ISBN 978-1616145798). This unique look at the biological evolution of life and the human development of culture explores the communication processes that create and sustain biological and social stability.


The Betrayal: How the American Dream Was Destroyed by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele (June, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1586489694). A deeply reported and damning indictment illustrates how the American middle class has been condemned to decline, from the authors of the New York Times bestseller America: What Went Wrong.

The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu (May, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1586489403). A scrupulously researched deconstruction of the “eat local” ethos and how it distracts us from solving serious global food issues.

Random House

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Feb., hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1400067558). The Pulitzer Prize winner delineates a dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the 21st century’s most unequal cities.

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye (June, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1400068661). Tye does American heroes well—his last book, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, was a bestselling bio of the great Satchel Paige.

Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari Press

No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution by John Robbins (Apr., paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1573245753). Internationally known vegan and bestselling author Robbins continues his observations and investigations into contemporary food politics and food-related issues.

Rowman & Littlefield

Protecting Your Internet Identity: Are You Naked Online? by Theodore Claypoole, Theresa Payton, and Chris Swecker (Mar., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1442212206). A look at the effect our online profile and images have on our offline lives.


The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan (Feb., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1439171950). Inspired by the growing conversation about what we should eat and where it should come from, award-winning journalist McMillan questions how America’s working class can afford, let alone have time, to eat as well as they should.

Seal Press

No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power by Gloria Feldt (Feb., paper, $17, ISBN 978-1580053884). A prominent women’s activist and former CEO of Planned Parenthood, Feldt issues a call to women to step up to leadership and equal gender power now.

Simon & Schuster

The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family by Liza Mundy (Mar., hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1439197714). A smart, deeply reported analysis of the most important cultural shift since the rise of feminism: the coming era in which women will earn more than men.

S&S/Threshold Editions

Crisis Tales by Lanny J. Davis (July, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1451679281). The veteran political strategist and Fox News contributor provides insight into what to do when disasters, both personal and political, strike.

St. Martin’s/Griffin

Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators Are Revolutionizing How America Eats by Katherine Gustafson (Apr., paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-0312577377). An exploration of America’s food innovators gives us hopeful alternatives to the industrial food system described in works like Michael Pollan’s bestselling Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Temple Univ. Press

A Midwestern Mosaic: Immigration and Political Socialization in Rural America by J. Celeste Lay (May, paper, $28.95, ISBN 978-1439907931) examines how native-born rural adolescents adapt to new immigrants in their communities.

Governing How We Care: Contesting Community and Defining Difference in U.S. Public Health Programs by Susan J. Shaw (Mar., paper, $27.95, ISBN 978-1439906835). This analysis of local struggles over community health is a window into governance, citizenship, and identity.

Transaction Publishers

Con Game: Bernard Madoff and His Victims by Lionel S. Lewis (June, hardcover, $34.95, ISBN 978-1412846097). Madoff has been the story, but this study focuses on the victims, analyzing letters, e-mails, blogs, legal statements, and direct questionnaires to form a picture of the victims and the aftermath of Madoff’s con.

Univ. of California Press

Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line Between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help by Mara Einstein (Mar., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0520266520). A media studies professor offers a broad analysis of marketing and its impact, positive and negative, on consumers, causes, and the corporate bottom line.

Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature by Agustín Fuentes (Apr., hardcover, $27.50, ISBN 978-0520269712). Using a range of anthropological evidence, Fuentes challenges conceptions of human nature regarding race, sex, and violence.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge by John Bateson (Mar., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0520272408). Weaving drama, tragedy, and politics against the backdrop of a world-famous city, this is the first book about suicides from Golden Gate Bridge.

Univ. of Minnesota Press

Gay Rights at the Ballot Box by Amy L. Stone (Apr., paper, $22.50, ISBN 978-0816675487). From Boulder in 1974 to Maine Question 1 in 2009, Stone presents a comprehensive history of the LGBT movement’s fight against antigay ballot measures.

Univ. of Nebraska Press

Beyond Bend It Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer by Timothy F. Grainey and Brittany Timko (May, $19.95, ISBN 978-0803234703). Though it burst into public consciousness only with the 1999 World Cup, women’s soccer has been around almost as long as its male counterpart, flourishing in England during and after WWI.

Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball by Chris Lamb (Apr., hardcover, $39.95, ISBN 978-0803210769). The campaign to desegregate baseball was one of the most important civil rights stories of the 1930s and 1940s, but most of white America knew nothing about it because mainstream newspapers said little about the color line and efforts to end it.

Univ. of North Carolina Press

Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography by Randal Maurice Jelks (Apr., hardcover, $39.95, ISBN 978-0807835364). A full-length biography of Benjamin Mays, the man Martin Luther King Jr. called his “spiritual and intellectual father.”

Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery by Heather Andrea Williams (June, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0807835548). After the Civil War, African-Americans placed ads in newspapers, searching for missing family members. Inspired by these, Williams uses slave narratives, letters, interviews, and public records to explore the heartbreaking stories of separation.

In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian (Apr., hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0807835395) explores life on death row in Texas and other states, including the convoluted judicial processes and inmates’ day-to-day experiences between sentencing and execution; includes a DVD of the authors’ 1979 documentary film, Death Row.

Univ. of Wisconsin Press

Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall by St. Sukie de la Croix, foreword by John D’Emilio (June, paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-0299286941). A record of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people who lived and loved in Chicago from the city’s beginnings in the 1670s as a fur-trading post to the end of the 1960s.

Univ. Press of Kansas

Terrorism TV: Popular Entertainment in Post-9/11 America by Stacy Takacs (Apr., hardcover, $39.95, ISBN 978-0700618378; paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0700618385). A comprehensive survey and analysis of “war on terror” themes in post-9/11 American television, showing how popular culture mediated a profound national trauma.

Univ. Press of Kentucky

Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies by Mary Hamilton (Apr., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0813136004). Folktales, legends, tall tales, and ghost stories hold a special place in the imaginations of inventive storytellers and captive listeners in Kentucky.

UPNE/Brandeis University Press

Polygamy in Primetime: Media, Gender, and Politics in Mormon Fundamentalism by Janet Bennion (May, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1611682632). A provocative look at polygamy among Western fundamentalist Mormon women, Bennion examines the media-driven depiction of plural marriage as uniformly abusive and harmful to women.

Visible Ink Press

(dist. by IPG)

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier by Brad Steiger and Sherry Steiger (June, paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-1578593682). Separating fact from fiction, this work provides details on hundreds of individuals, organizations, and events for which official claims and standard explanations remain shrouded in mystery.

The Superhero Book: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Comic-Book Icons and Hollywood Heroes by Gina Misiroglu (Apr., paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-1578593750). Appealing to the casual comic book reader as well as the hardcore graphic novel fan, this A-to-Z compendium is the first comprehensive profile of superheroes across all media, from comic book stardom to radio, television, movies, and novels.