A SPIKE THROUGH THE COUNTRY'S HEART
Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, Richard White; Norton, $35.
More than a dozen years in the making, this Gilded Age history of America shows that the transcontinental railroad lines "created modernity as much by their failure as by their success." History professor White, a MacArthur fellow, crunches prodigious amounts of data to convince readers that the railroads were an innovation unneeded in their moment and that they proved politically and financially ruinous to the markets they supposedly benefited. Most intriguing are the parallels that can be drawn between the rail boom and the dotcom one.
13, rue Thérèse, Elena Mauli Shapiro, '00; Reagan Arthur Books, $23.99.
This sensuous debut was inspired after the French-born Shapiro inherited a box of keepsakes—postcards, a pair of church gloves, a pansy pressed into a letter, a pen made from fused bullets. An American scholar named Trevor Stratton researches the life of a '20s Parisienne named Louise Brunet. As he accommodates to Paris and studies Louise's life—through both world wars and three romances—he slowly realizes that he's taking a litmus test for his own future happiness.
Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz, Barbara Babcock; Stanford U. Press, $45.
Law professor emerita Babcock finds inspiration in Clara Foltz, the first woman admitted to the California Bar (in 1878)—even as her biography determines "to mix the hag with the hagiography." A public intellectual and a multitasking single mother of five, Foltz made the most of her "first woman" status. She campaigned tirelessly for parole, for speeding up the pace of jurisprudence and for the rights of women to vote and serve on juries.
The Wisdom of the Radish, and Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm, Lynda Hopkins, '05, MS '07; Sasquatch Books, $23.95.
Lynda Browning fell in love not only with Emmett Hopkins, '05, MS '06, but his calling: young farmer. Her likable memoir explains why greenhorn agriculture is not for wimps. Locavore customers who meet Hopkins at the Healdsburg, Calif., farmers' market have little notion of how much labor goes into even "worm-friendly" corn—or they'd never raise their eyebrows at paying $4 a pound for beans.
Wrecker, Summer Wood, '83; Bloomsbury, $20.
Set in a Humboldt County where blackberries are harvested more than weed, this elegiac novel examines the '70s upbringing of a foster child amid an unlikely group of adults. Wrecker is only 3 when his loving but addicted mom blunders her way to jail. Haphazard circumstances bring him to Bow Farm, where things have a way of working out—mostly because the earnest adults there have learned from past mistakes.
The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw, Jay R. Tunney, '62; Firefly Books, $35.
Gene Tunney, the author's father, was not a typical heavyweight fighter in that he prized most the life of the mind. And when he met George Bernard Shaw, the era's preeminent playwright but also the author of a novel about the sweet science, there ensued a two-decades-long friendship that took on the closeness of a son and father.
“The greater the difficulty of the change, the greater the need for enchantment.”
—Guy Kawasaki, ’76, in Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, Portfolio/Penguin, $26.95.