Listen up, President-elect Obama: ADAM COHEN's Nothing To Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America (Penguin, January 8) shows how profoundly different US government became after Franklin D. Roosevelt's first months in office. IVO H. DAALDER & I.M. DESTLER's In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served—from JFK to George W. Bush (Simon & Schuster, February 10) argues that security advisers — accountable only to the president — have enhanced foreign policy but undermined Congressional authority. JAMES MANN's The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (Viking, March 5) courts controversy by aiming to pinpoint exactly what President Reagan had to do with the fall of communism.
Moving to the present, THOMAS RICKS's The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006–2008 (Penguin, February 10) shows us how the war is being managed now — by intellectually astute military personnel who in many cases opposed the initial invasion. Crisis editor-in-chief JABARI ASIM considers What Obama Means. . . for Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future (Morrow, January 20), while PBS doyenne GWEN IFILL takes on the next generation of African-American politicians in The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (Doubleday, January 20). In More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City (Norton, March 9), Harvard's WILLIAM JULIUS WILSON sees continuing racial inequality as resulting from the interplay of institutional and cultural forces.
African-American history also gets its due. Companion to a two-part PBS series, HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.'s In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past (Crown, January 27) relies on scrupulous research and DNA analysis to reconstruct the family histories of notable subjects like Oprah Winfrey — who, argues Gates, found the revelation of these histories profoundly transformative.
Don't worry, literature lovers, there's something for you, too: try BRAD GOOCH's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor (Little, Brown, February 25) and BLAKE BAILEY's Cheever (Knopf, March 12). ELAINE SHOWALTER's A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx (Knopf, February 25) surveys 250 writers from 1650 onward, while MICHAEL HOLROYD's A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Two Remarkable Families (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 10) intertwines the lives of Ellen Terry, George Bernard Shaw, and actor-manager Henry Irving. And for a completely different reading experience, consider SUSAN GUBAR's Judas: A Biography (Norton, March 30), which explores the representation throughout history of Jesus's betrayer.
In Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World (Riverhead, March 19), MARY PIPHER details her efforts to find a quieter personal space after making headlines with Reviving Ophelia. Hayden Planetarium director NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON comes clean on his part in demoting a celestial underdog in The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet (Norton, January 26). NEAL BASCOMB gives us Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 11). And if you want to understand Darwin's impact beyond science, read BARRY WERTH's Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America (Random, January 13).
Astonishingly, the translation of PABLO NERUDA's poetry into English is only now nearing completion with World's End (Copper Canyon, February 1), the last in the publisher's nine-book series of the poet's late and posthumously published works. Nicaraguan poet/priest ERNESTO CARDENAL, now in his 80s, helped pick the poems in Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems (New Directions, January 29).
In the run-up to National Poetry Month, look for BARBARA HAMBY's playful All-Night Lingo Tango (University of Pittsburgh, February 28) and D.A. POWELL's survey of heartbreak and desire in Chronic (Graywolf, February 3). J. D. MCCLATCHY goes to the boundaries in Mercury Dressing (Knopf, February 10). And poet/performer JAYNE CORTEZ lets loose in On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose, February 23.)