Fresh off an invigorating, if exhausting, election season, this spring’s crop of social science titles reflects the complex cultural challenges underpinning the political battles facing the Obama administration in his second term. Issues of income inequality and economic fairness simmer beneath a sluggish economy, women’s issues still dominate, and food is front-and-center, as the country is plagued by an obesity epidemic that threatens our national personal health. But perhaps more than anything, re-thinking our gun culture looms largest, after the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
With the deaths of 20 children looming over the country, Dam Baum’s Gun Guys: A Road Trip examines the love affair so many Americans have with guns, with insights many still-horrified Americans might appreciate, as the tragedy of Newtown morphs into an epic Second Amendment battle.
On the economic side, while things appear to be slowly improving, Barbara Garson’s Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession addresses the deeper, basic problems that remain. A PW starred review calls it “a compelling portrait of an economy that has turned against the people.”
Food may be less dangerous than guns—but not by much. This spring offers a smorgasbord of food-related titles including new books from big names. Leading the way is Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, from bestselling author Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Behind the Kitchen Door, coauthored by Sarumathi Jayaraman and the bestselling author of Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser. A book that its publisher says seeks to follow in both Pollan and Schlosser’s footsteps—Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal—is by Melanie Warner, and it’s a call to the green market.
For all their talk about being laser-focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, the GOP-led House instead focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and abortion. That was even more true in the states, where a slew of new laws sought to dramatically limit abortions, or in some cases make them total unavailable. With the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade comes two books examining this trend: Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Has Become the New Standard In Women’s Health and How We Can Change That by Jessica Mason Pieklo and Robin Marty, and Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich. Female sexuality remains a, yes, hot topic as well, with a slew of books on the subject, led by What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner, a follow-up to his massively popular 2009 New York Times Magazine piece.
And closing out the top 10, insights on American culture from two of our nation’s great, lifesaving Americans. American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics is by Dan Savage, the man behind the It Gets Better campaign, which has not only done much to change American attitudes about tolerance and acceptance, it has literally helped saved lives. And Glen Weldon’s Superman: The Unauthorized Biography—hard to imagine, but this year the marks the Man of Steel's 75th birthday—how has he stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? I’ll simply note this: Superman has never needed a gun.
PW’s Top 10: Social Sciences
Gun Guys: A Road Trip. Dan Baum. Knopf, Mar.
Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession. Barbara Garson. Doubleday, Apr.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Michael Pollan. Penguin Press, Apr.
Behind the Kitchen Door. Sarumathi Jayaraman and Eric Schlosser. Cornell/ILR Press, Feb.
Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. Melanie Warner. Scribner, Feb.
Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That. Jessica Mason Pieklo and Robin Marty. IG Publishing, Apr.
Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. Sarah Erdreich. Seven Stories, Mar.
What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire. Daniel Bergner. Ecco, June
American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics. Dan Savage. Dutton, May
Superman: The Unauthorized Biography. Glen Weldon. Wiley, Apr.
Social Sciences Listings
Marijuanamerica: One Man’s Quest to Understand America’s Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed by Alfred Ryan Nerz (Apr., hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-1419704086). A.J. Jacobs meets Mary Roach and Chuck Klosterman in this entertaining look into marijuana’s place in America.
Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh by Thomas Glave (July, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1617751707). The O. Henry-Award-winning author’s new collection ventures even further into the political, the personal, and the secret.
Allen & Unwin
Sex Drive: In Pursuit of Female Desire by Bella Ellwood-Clayton (June, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1741756661). For women’s libidos threatened by forces of media, marketing, and medication, this book stirs up a passionate debate.
No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood by Henriette Mantel (Apr., trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1580054430). This humorous, honest anthology about choosing not to have children includes essays by Margaret Cho, Merrill Markoe, and more.
Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner (May, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1580054744) is a groundbreaking exploration of bisexual politics by a revolutionary thinker.
The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy by Donna Freitas (Apr., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0465002153). Hookup culture dominates the lives of college students today, and many feel great pressure to engage in it. How do these expectations affect young people?
Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World by David D. Burstein (Feb., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0807044698). A millennial examines how his generation is profoundly influencing politics, business, media, and activism.
Light Without Fire: The Making of America’s First Muslim College by Scott Korb (Apr., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0807001639). The first extended look into the nation’s first Muslim institution of higher education, Zaytuna College, in California.
Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate by Lisa Prevost (May, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0807001578). An exploration of the corrosive effects of overpriced housing, exclusionary zoning, and the flight of the younger population in the Northeast.
Chicago Review Press
Rape Is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis by Jody Raphael (Apr., trade paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-1613744796). This exposé reveals how interest groups deny the seriousness of rape to further political agendas.
Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories by Sacchi Green (June, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1573449335). Real women find the courage to reveal intimate, unrestrained details of their sex lives.
Cornell Univ. Press
3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan by Richard J. Samuels (Apr., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0801452000) takes a definitive look into the political fallout within Japan after the tsunami disaster and the unprecedented multireactor meltdown of a nuclear power plant.
Cornell Univ. Press/ILR Press
Behind the Kitchen Door by Sarumathi Jayaraman and Eric Schlosser (Feb., hardcover, $21.95, ISBN 978-0801451720). The next step in the sustainable food movement is improving the health and safety of restaurant workers, the authors argue, noting that the lowest paid jobs in the U.S. are in restaurants, where poor working conditions severely affect the safety, health, and overall dining experience of Americans.
The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate by Jayson Lusk (Apr., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0307987037) is a rollicking indictment of the hypocrisy surrounding food.
Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession by Barbara Garson (Apr., hardcover, $26.95 ISBN 978-0-385-53274-7). In a starred review, PW called Garson’s vivid, shrewd, warmly sympathetic profiles “a compelling portrait of an economy that has turned against the people.”
Duke Univ. Press
Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina by Vincanne Adams (Mar., trade paper, $22.95, ISBN 978-0822354499) presents a sobering account of long-term recovery in post-Katrina New Orleans.
American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics by Dan Savage (May, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0525954101). On the heels of his Emmy-winning It Gets Better campaign, columnist and provocateur Savage weighs in on such diverse issues as health care, gun control, and marriage equality.
What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner (June, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0061906084). The award-winning journalist goes beyond his explosive 2009 New York Times Magazine story in a thought-provoking look at female sexuality.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle (Mar., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0374299293) chronicles one woman’s journey inside New York City’s grittiest—and most important—uniformed workforce.
Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell by Katherine Angel (June, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0374280406) offers a provocative meditation on sex, power, and female desire.
Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter (May, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-1455512874). As Bill Carter’s The Late Shift did for late night, this book reveals the dirt behind the polite smiles and perky demeanor.
Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ben Greenman and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (June, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1455501359). Thompson, founder of the Roots and Jimmy Fallon’s bandleader, teams up with the New Yorker’s Ben Greenman for a memoir on music, black art, and culture.
Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson (June, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0316227940) details a new, radical way to select fruits and vegetables and reclaim the flavor and nutrients we’ve lost.
Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America by Jeff Chu (Mar., hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062049735). A memoir-based work of journalism explores the intersection of faith, politics, and sexuality.
A Chance to Win: Boyhood, Baseball, and the Struggle for Redemption in the Inner City by Jonathan Schuppe (May, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0805092875). A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist follows an embattled Little League team in inner-city Newark, N.J.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books
Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success, and Style by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph (Mar., trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0547738307). A rallying call for a new brand of 21st-century feminism that is “doable, cool, and, sexy.”
Crow After Roe: How “Separate but Equal” Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That by Jessica Mason Pieklo and Robin Marty (Apr., trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1935439752). Since 2010, hundreds of bills banning or creating roadblocks to abortion access, contraception, and basic women’s health have been proposed across the United States. This book shows how such efforts would create a reproductive health care system that puts women into a class with fewer choices or no control.
Gun Guys: A Road Trip by Dan Baum (Mar., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0307595416). Whether they’re collecting antique weapons, practicing concealed carry, or firing an AR-15 or a Glock at their local range, many Americans love guns—which horrifies and fascinates many other Americans. This book explores from the inside the American love affair with firearms.
High Rise Stories: Narratives from Chicago Public Housing by Audrey Petty (June, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1938073373) sheds light on the human cost of one of America’s most ill-conceived and catastrophic civic programs: the Chicago housing projects.
Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century by Rebekah Peeples Massengill (Mar., trade paper, $24, ISBN 978-0814763346). Wal-Mart is increasingly becoming the central symbol in the debate over consumption, capitalism, and government regulations.
Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way by Nickie D. Phillips and Staci Strobl (July, trade paper, $24, ISBN 978-0814767887) provides an in-depth look at how comic books embody American values of order, fairness, justice, and retribution, and are seen as a historically important cultural medium.
Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet by Abraham H. Foxman and Christopher Wolf (June, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0230342170) takes a hard look at the ease with which hate, bigotry, and incitements to violence are spread on the Internet, and what we can do to diminish it.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (Apr., hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594204210). Fire, water, air, earth—our most trusted food expert recounts the story of his culinary education.
The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving by Leigh Gallagher (June, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1591845256). A Fortune journalist examines why the suburbs are transforming and losing their appeal—and why that’s not a bad thing.
Princeton Univ. Press
Human Capitalism: How Economic Growth Has Made Us Smarter—and More Unequal by Brink Lindsey (May, hardcover, $14.95, ISBN 978-0691157320). Why the rich are getting smarter while the poor are being left behind.
Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America’s Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense by Vincent Ruggiero (June, trade paper, $19, ISBN 978-1616147495). This in-depth historical analysis of cultural trends in America traces the problems of our current malaise to two profoundly misguided views of human nature.
A Place at the Table: The Crisis of 49 Million Hungry Americans and How to Solve It by Peter Pringle (Feb., trade paper, $15.99, ISBN 978-1610391818). From the company that brought you Food, Inc. and Waiting for ”Superman” comes this exploration of how we can end hunger in America.
Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko (June, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1610392112). An award-winning journalist tells the story of how politicians transformed America’s police forces into a standing army.
The Future of Truth: Mass Deception, Information Control, and the Public’s Right to Know by Charles Lewis (June, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-1610391177). The founder of the Center for Public Integrity explores the consequences of powerful governments and corporations gaining ever more control over information.
Rowman & Littlefield
Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex by Katherine Frank (May, hardcover, $34, ISBN 978-1442218680). From depictions in paleolithic cave art to the Playboy mansion, this book explores both participation in group sex and our complex reactions to it.
Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner (Feb., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1451666731). In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a fascinating and cutting-edge look at the scary truth about what really goes into our food.
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman (July, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1439184493) contains original pieces by the cultural critic on villains and villainy in popular culture.
Seven Stories Press
The Autism Puzzle: Connecting the Dots Between Environmental Toxins and Rising Autism Rates by Brita Belli, foreword by Caroline Cox (Mar., trade paper, $13.95, 978-1609804602) unlocks alarming truths about this worldwide epidemic, with 1 in 88 American children now affected.
Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich (Mar., trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1609804589) argues that 40 years after Roe v. Wade, it is time to finally demystify abortion.
Holistic Beauty from the Inside Out: Your Complete Guide to Natural Health, Nutrition, and Skincare by Julie Gabriel (Apr., trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1609804619) presents a comprehensive yet simple book that brings all four corners of the natural beauty paradigm together: natural skincare, holistic nutrition, stress-relief, and healthy lifestyle.
Simon & Schuster
The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson (Mar., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1439158036). This thought-provoking exploration upends stereotypes and fallacies to reveal the heart of the South today—a region still misunderstood by outsiders and even by its own society.
Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism by Elizabeth Becker (Mar., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1439160992) looks at the largest global business in the world today. Tourism, which produced $6.5 trillion of the world’s economy, is the main source of income for many countries.
Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions
Crisis Tales by Lanny J. Davis (Mar., hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1451679281). A veteran political strategist provides insight into crisis and what to do when disasters—both personal and political—strike.
Spiegel & Grau
From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation by Jeanne Nolan, foreword by Alice Waters (July, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0812992991). A leader in America’s burgeoning organic garden movement explains how we should and why we can all grow our own gardens.
(dist. by Norton)
The Quantum Guide to Life: How the Laws of Physics Can Explain Our Everyday Lives from Laziness to Love by Kunal K. Das (May, hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-1620876244) applies the laws of physics to explain everything from relationships and human nature to the effects of globalization.
Food Tyrants: Fight for Your Right to Healthy Food in a Toxic World by Nicole Faires (May, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1616088651) tells readers why their basic right to healthy food is at risk, and what they can do about it, with examples from her own homesteading lifestyle.
Soft Skull Press
Approaching the Future: 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then by Ben Hammersley (Apr., trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1593765149). An editor-at-large for Wired magazine explains the effects of the changes in the modern world, and the latest ideas in technology.
Gender and Sexuality for Beginners by Jaimee Garbacik, illus. by Jeffrey Lewis (June, trade paper, $16.99, ISBN 978-1934389690). The latest in the For Beginners series questions what sexual orientations mean if the very categories of gender are in question?
Bad Samaritans: The ACLU’s Relentless Campaign to Erase Faith from the Public Square by Jerome R. Corsi (Apr., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1595554741) claims that the American Civil Liberties Union is waging a war against faith and the legacy of the founding fathers.
Is College Worth It?: A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education by William J. Bennett and David Wilezol (May, hardcover, $22.99, ISBN 978-1595552792). Conservative authors claim that higher education is plagued by runaway costs, “inferior” academics, poor graduation rates, and “political indoctrination.”
Univ. of Minnesota Press
Hikikomori: Adolescence Without End by Saito Tamaki, trans. by Jeffrey Angles (Mar., trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0816654598). The first English translation of a controversial Japanese bestseller that made the public aware of the social problem of hikikomori, or “withdrawal,” a phenomenon estimated to involve approximately one million Japanese adolescents.
Univ. Press of Kentucky
Sidelined: How American Sports Challenged the Black Freedom Struggle by Simon Henderson (Mar., hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-0813141541). Drawing on historical materials and more than 40 oral histories, this book explores how athlete activists in professional and college sports promoted the struggle for civil rights in the late 1960s.
Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn by Brian Purnell (May, hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-0813141824) draws from archival sources and interviews with individuals directly involved in the chapter to explore one of the most important civil rights organizations of the early 1960s.
Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon (Apr., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1118341841). How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? A celebration of Superman’s life and history coincides with his 75th birthday.
Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalynn Miller and Susan Kelley (July, trade paper, $22.95, ISBN 978-0470900307), a companion to the bestselling The Book Whisperer, delves into whether we are truly instilling lifelong reading habits in our students and provides practical strategies.
Yale Univ. Press
Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering by Clive Hamilton (Apr., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0300186673) book attempts to come to grips with the actions and events that will determine the fate of the Earth.