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The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix

Howard Markel. Norton, $30 (608p) ISBN 978-1-324-00223-9

One of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century was also the scientific heist of the century, according to this action-packed history. Historian Markel (The Kelloggs) recreates the 1953 elucidation of DNA’s structure by Cambridge University’s James Watson and Francis Crick and their rivalry with the King’s College team of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. While for decades history books have attributed the discovery to Watson and Crick, it really wasn’t so simple, Markel writes—their discovery was based on Franklin’s research that was “borrowed” by Watson. Markel skillfully explains the knotty science behind the breakthrough and highlights the clash of outsize personalities: the mercurial, loudmouthed physicist Crick; the nerdy, manipulative molecular biologist Watson; the prickly X-ray crystallographer Franklin; the “high-strung, bumbling” biophysicist Wilkins; and the world-renowned chemist Linus Pauling (who threatened to beat them all). Markel decries Watson and Crick’s secret appropriation of Franklin’s X-ray data as “one of the most egregious rip-offs in scientific history” and the culmination of her “oppression” by “white, entitled, English academic lords.” His tone sometimes feels overblown, but his tart, sharp-eyed prose—“Chargaff was unimpressed by Crick’s nonstop blathering, not to mention Watson’s Greek chorus of eye-bulging and snorting”—saves the day. This wonderfully evocative tale sings. Photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Fire and Ice: The Volcanoes of the Solar System

Natalie Starkey. Bloomsbury Sigma, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-47296-036-8

Starkey (Catching Stardust), a geologist and cosmologist, breaks down what volcanoes can teach people about Earth and other planets in this fascinating tour of the solar system. The discovery of volcanoes on icy planets, Starkey writes, “forced scientists to reconsider volcano classification,” as the word volcano had typically conjured images of flowing rivers of red-hot lava and plumes of cloud and ash. This “classic” type, though, is skewed toward what volcanoes are like on Earth. On Pluto and on Saturn’s moon Titan, frosty ice volcanoes emit methane and ammonia. Starkey explains that the existence of volcanoes elsewhere in the solar system demonstrates that a planetary object is “alive” and geologically active, and explores the geology of volcanoes thoroughly, describing the origins of magma (which is molten or semi-molten rock, and not the same thing as lava), how volcanoes produce new land by extending coastlines or forming new islands, and the role they might play in a planet’s ecosystem (the gases they release on Earth helped create a life-supporting atmosphere). Along the way, Starkey takes readers on NASA’s expeditions, onto islands, and between tectonic plates undersea with vivid, immersive descriptions. The result is a thoroughly accessible look at a lesser-known part of the universe. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Follow Me Always

Helen Hardt. Entangled Amara, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-68281-556-4

The blistering-hot third installment to Hardt’s bestselling Follow Me series (after Follow Me Under) is an erotic tour de force. Complicated billionaire Braden Black has a penchant for BDSM, but there’s one line he will not cross: erotic asphyxiation. When his girlfriend, influencer and photographer Skye Manning, begs for him to break this hard limit, it damages their relationship and sends both to do some much-needed soul-searching: Skye struggles with self-confidence, believing that she’s only managed to achieve professional success because of who she’s dating, and seeks a therapist to help her understand her submissive desires, while Braden confronts his difficult past. Along the way, Skye and Braden attract a stalker who’s obsessed with destroying their relationship, adding a plot twist with depth and feeling. Hardt has a talent for creating multilayered characters, and her plotting is top-notch and believable, moving from Boston to New York City to Skye’s tiny hometown of Liberty, Kans. Hardt’s skillful characterizations make it easy to empathize with Skye’s self-doubt and understand Braden’s pain. This sexy, sensitive story scorches the pages. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Weird Women, Vol. 2

Edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Lisa Morton. Pegasus, $25.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-64313-783-4

Editors Morton and Klinger deliver another strong installment to their Weird Women anthology series featuring “classic supernatural fiction by groundbreaking female authors,” this time showcasing 16 works written between 1840 and 1925. The stories are as creepy as they are varied, with pieces from classic horror authors like Georgia Wood Pangborn (“Broken Glass”), as well as those not generally associated with the genre, including George Eliot (“The Lifted Veil”) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (“The Ghost in the Mill”). Edith Wharton’s heroine has a richer life after death than any she led when she was alive in “The Fullness of Life.” A cabal of churchyard dead are resurrected in Gertrude Atherton’s captivating “The Dead and the Countess.” In Zora Neale Hurston’s classic revenge tale, “Spunk,” a woman and her lover are stalked by an otherworldly presence. The editors ground each of the works with brief author biographies and explanatory footnotes. Weird fiction fans won’t want to miss this excellent survey of the genre’s female pioneers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Long Players: Writers on the Albums That Shaped Them

Tom Gatti. Bloomsbury, $22 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5266-2578-6

“We are certainly not ready to say goodbye to the album,” suggests New Statesman editor Gatti in this impassioned collection of writers’ love letters to the music that changed them. While the convenience of streaming has transformed the way songs are listened to, Gatti argues that “listeners are returning to the album as an unbroken artwork... to be played from start to finish without interruption.” For some writers, certain albums have been life-changing watersheds: by “embracing both happiness and catastrophe,” Marlon James writes, Björk’s Post helped him reconcile his identity and faith. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star might have been a one-time collaboration, but to Teju Cole its “pure poetry... is permanently fresh and unflaggingly true.” In an essay on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Neil Gaiman posits that sometimes there is no rationale behind why some albums resonate more than others. In his case, Bowie’s album was his favorite “because it was mine.” From Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 to hearing the Beatles’ Revolver for the first time, the revelations discussed brilliantly convey the power music has to shape individual lives. Music lovers will want to put this on repeat. Agent: Antony Harwood, Antony Harwood Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Beast: John Bonham and the Rise of Led Zeppelin

C.M. Kushins. Hachette, $31 (480p) ISBN 978-0-306846-68-7

Journalist Kushins (Nothing’s Bad Luck) delivers a less-than-flattering portrait of one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, a musician whose legacy was marred by his violent reputation. He traces the tragic arc of John Bonham’s brief life, from his childhood in Worcestershire, England, to his premature death after a lengthy struggle with alcoholism. Bonham started playing drums at age five and joined his first band as a teenager. His skills attracted the attention of singer Robert Plant, who recruited Bonham into the New Yardbirds, later renamed Led Zeppelin, in 1968. Led Zeppelin went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, and Bonham was regarded a superior arranger of music, “as one half of Led Zepplin’s powerhouse rhythm section.” But he drank excessively, threatened reporters, assaulted women, and even once pointed a gun at Mick Jagger (a frightening episode Bonham later dismissed as a joke). In 1980, after another gargantuan intake of booze, Bonham was found dead in the English home of Led Zeppelin guitar player Jimmy Page. While it may be hard to look away from, Kushins’s narrative, relying mainly on secondary sources, doesn’t provide any genuine insights into its troubled lead. Zeppelin die-hards may find this intriguing, but it certainly won’t gain the legend any admirers. Agent: William Clark, William Clark Assoc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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All the Best Nights

Hanna Earnest. Carina, $8.99 mass market (360p) ISBN 978-1-335-51716-6

Earnest’s steamy debut pairs pop star Nelle with rock star Bran Kelly, whom she’s had a crush on since before she was “Nelle.” She boldly slips her number into his pocket at an awards show after-party, and their busy schedules finally land them in the same place nearly a year later. Their long-anticipated night together gets off to a rocky start: Bran, already struggling with writer’s block and pressure from his label, just faced his extortionist father that morning at his grandmother’s funeral, putting him in an understandably horrible mood that leaves him less than charming. Things improve as the pair bond over the hounding of the paparazzi and their inability to keep anything just for themselves while living in the public eye. To reclaim their privacy, they impulsively decide to create a secret from the press by getting married that same night and immediately sealing the records. But as that decision gives way to a series of scorching encounters, they begin to wonder what keeping the secret will cost them. Between the ensuing sex scenes, Earnest makes the struggle to hold on to love under the spotlight feel realistic while shedding light on music industry sexism. This red-hot romance should win Earnest fans. Agent: Elaine Spencer, the Knight Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Rigged Justice: How the College Admissions Scandal Ruined an Innocent Man’s Life

John Vandemoer. Harper One, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-302010-8

In this gripping debut, former Stanford University sailing coach Vandemoer makes a strong case for his innocence in the notorious “Operation Varsity Blues” pay-for-play college admissions scandal. While coaches at other schools accepted large payments for designating unqualified students as athletic recruits, Vandemoer claims he didn’t take one penny for himself—instead, he believed the checks flowing into Stanford’s coffers from Varsity Blues plot mastermind Rick Singer were legitimate donations to the university, allegedly confirmed by Stanford’s athletic director Bernard Muir. Despite that, when Vandemoer’s name came up in connection with the FBI’s investigation of Varsity Blues, Stanford fired him and evicted him, his wife, and their two small children from Stanford housing and childcare. While the author notes that his lawyer advised him that the court would go easier on him if he pleaded guilty (“This was how the system worked: innocence didn’t matter”), he proclaims his guiltlessness in powerful prose—which the judge appeared to have believed by his sentencing of Vandemoer to only probation after he took a plea deal. Vandemoer’s earnestness is apparent throughout his tale of intrigue and ruination, making it easy to empathize with his predicament and root for him to successfully rebuild his life. Expertly told, this powerful story will have readers riveted. Agent: Deborah Grosvenor, Grosvenor Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Honor Bound: An American Story of Dreams and Service

Amy McGrath with Chris Peterson. Knopf, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525659-10-5

McGrath, best known for her near-successful campaign to unseat Mitch McConnell in the 2020 U.S. Senate election, reflects on her career of public service in her earnest if disappointing debut. She spent her childhood in Edgewood, Ky., in the 1970s surrounded by a supportive family and, while researching WWII aircraft for a middle school project, her dreams to become a naval aviator took flight. But, at the time, the U.S. military was legally barred from letting women fly combat missions. Even still, McGrath attended the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer in 1997. After the law changed, she went on to fly just shy of 90 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, garnering over a dozen awards for outstanding performance before entering the political realm in 2011 and running for a Kentucky House seat in 2018. Though she lost, her strong showing led Chuck Schumer to recruit her to challenge Majority Leader McConnell in 2020. Despite her inspiring achievements, McGrath’s narrative falters in its clichéd prose (“Home. That word carries such weight and power when you serve in the military”) and curious omission of any mention of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, this feels more like a paint-by-the-numbers campaign bio than anything. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Every Deep-Drawn Breath: A Critical Care Doctor on Healing, Recovery, and Transforming Medicine in the ICU

Wes Ely. Scribner, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9821-7114-8

Ely, a critical care doctor, debuts with a remarkable look at transformations in ICU care. He opens with a confession—that he’d “sacrificed patient dignity and caused harm” as a young physician by trading “the priceless gift of eye contact and conversation for medically induced unconsciousness and...deep sedation.” For years, the standard practice was to keep patients on ventilators heavily sedated, but Ely began questioning the protocol after encountering numerous patients who suffered from “post-intensive care syndrome” and whose cognitive functioning had been dramatically impaired by the length of time spent unconscious. Ely discovered doctors in the U.S. and abroad who’d adopted different approaches, including reducing the duration and level of sedation, and active measures to keep patients mentally engaged, which he began to implement. Ely movingly recounts his efforts, notably when his vision of an improved ICU was put into place in 2014 with rooms that “were spacious, practical, and filled with light... and included a comfortable area for family members or friends.” And the revised, reduced-sedation “return to humanity” program, he writes, saves lives. This humble—and humbling—look at the limits and potential of medicine will stick with readers. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writer’s House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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