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"Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation" by Robert J. Norrell; St. Martin's Press (272 pages, $27) (Macmillan Publishers)

A Biography on Malcolm X’s Biographer

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Alex Haley was a working freelance writer, not an ideologue. Yet he wrote two of the 20th century’s chief texts of African-American consciousness: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the saga Roots. The latter was adapted for a blockbuster TV miniseries watched by a reported 130 million viewers. In Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation, Robert J. Norrell describes the making, often messy, of these seminal books and their powerful impact on American culture. He also grapples with questions about them, including the criticism that Haley softened Malcolm’s point of view on black nationalism, and accusations that Haley plagiarized parts of Roots. …

Ta-Nehisi Coates Talks About His Book and Moment

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, a dark, angry and eloquent meditation on the state of being black in America, would seem a highly unlikely candidate for best-sellerdom. And yet, since it was published in July, this slim book (Spiegel & Grau, 150 pages, $24) has gone through 12 reprintings, its visibility fueled by the country’s debate over a succession of deaths …

Book Review: ‘American Sweepstakes’ Chronicles New Hampshire’s Ground-Breaking Lottery

Friday, November 20, 2015

American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age; by Kevin Flynn; ForeEdge Books; $29.95 When a proposal for a state sweepstakes first came up in the New Hampshire Legislature in 1949, Lebanon’s own Lane Dwinell was there to shoot it down. …

Science and History of Standing in Line

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New York — To queue or not to queue? And why is the queue you’re not standing in always the best? David Andrews went in search of answers and unearthed a world of science, history and cultural norms …

How American Comedy Got to Where It Is

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Here is the history of American funny that we didn’t know we needed, but did. In The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy, his highly readable overview of the comedy business and its colorful …

Nice Work If You Can Get It: Book Looks at ‘Cats on the Job’

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Los Angeles — Dogs work. Cats sleep, purr and preen. At least that is what dog people would have you believe. Author Lisa Rogak set out to discover what cats really spend their time doing. The result is …

How Shonda Rhimes Broke Out of Her Shell and Said ‘Yes’

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New York — Shonda Rhimes, who owns ABC’s Thursday night (with hit dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder ), had found comfort and refuge in ShondaLand, the dream factory she rules as a …

John Irving Wrestles With Memory in Latest

Sunday, November 8, 2015

John Irving has used the wrestler’s tool kit to become among the very best known novelists in America. His latest effort, Avenue of Mysteries, is a book about the strength of memory, the mystery of faith, the weariness …

New Book, in a Hurry

Friday, November 6, 2015

Over more than a quarter of a century of writing and illustrating his How Things Work series of books, David Macaulay grew used to spending at least a year or two at a time on a project, the …

Rock Star’s Memoir Is a Mash Note to Her Bandmates

Friday, November 6, 2015

There’s a cliched arc to rock memoirs: the ambitious young man (almost always a man), the climb up the charts, the blinding success, the sex and drugs, then the crash and burn. Thankfully, that’s absent from the new …

‘Slade House’ Is a Spooky but Cerebral Thriller

Friday, November 6, 2015

Slade House: A Novel by David Mitchell; Random House (256 pages, $26) With Slade House, the latest thrill ride from the astounding David Mitchell, you really can judge the book by its cover. True: At first glance, that cover presents as your standard clothbound board, colored in nondescript …

Zadie Smith on Family, Love, Life

Sunday, November 1, 2015

There’s something about interviewing the author Zadie Smith that brings to mind Little Red Riding Hood’s reaction when she finds the wolf in bed dressed as her grandmother. You know the line — “What big eyes you have!” And you know the wolf’s response: “All the better to …

Literary Inventors: Retired Dartmouth Professor Spengemann Studied Creators of American Language

Friday, October 23, 2015

William Spengemann, professor emeritus of English at Dartmouth College, and a scholar of the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, two writers as associated with New England as it is possible to be, is a California boy. …