Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Freebie: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott; Auto Biography by Earl Swift; This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett; A Case for Solomon by Tal McThenia; An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins; A Curious Man by Neal Thompson; and Karl Marx by Jonathan Sperber

Congratulations to Marjorie Rommel, Carl Scott, Frank McGeough and Edie Rylander--winners of last week's Friday Freebie: My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner.

This week's book giveaway is sure to put a smile on the face of any lover of history, biography, true crime and--oh heck, just damned good writing.  There's something here for just about everybody.  Up for grabs: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott; Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream by Earl Swift; This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett; A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation by Tal McThenia; An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins; A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley by Neal Thompson; and Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life by Jonathan Sperber.  Auto Biography and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy are hardcovers, the rest are trade paperbacks.  One happy reader will win a copy of ALL THE BOOKS.  Here's more about what you'll find between the covers:

In Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, bestselling author Karen Abbott tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything--their homes, their families, and their very lives--during the Civil War.  Seventeen-year-old Belle Boyd, an avowed rebel with a dangerous temper, shot a Union soldier in her home and became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her considerable charms to seduce men on both sides.  Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union private named Frank Thompson, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the war and infiltrating enemy lines, all the while fearing that her past would catch up with her.  The beautiful widow Rose O'Neal Greenhow engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians, used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals, and sailed abroad to lobby for the Confederacy, a journey that cost her more than she ever imagined.  Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring--even placing a former slave inside the Confederate White House--right under the noses of increasingly suspicious rebel detectives.  Abbott's pulse-quickening narrative weaves the adventures of these four forgotten daredevils into the tumultuous landscape of a broken America, evoking a secret world that will surprise even the most avid enthusiasts of Civil War-era history.  With a cast of real-life characters, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, Detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy shines a dramatic new light on these daring--and, until now, unsung--heroines.

A brilliant blend of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The Orchid Thief, Earl Swift's wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw-genius auto mechanic as he painstakingly attempts to restores a classic 1957 Chevy to its former glory--all while the FBI and local law enforcement close in.  To Tommy Arney, the old cars at Moyock Muscle are archaeological artifacts, twentieth-century fossils that represent a place and a people utterly devoted to the automobile and transformed by it.  But to his rural North Carolina town, they're not history; they're junk.  When Tommy acquires a rusted out wreck of an old Chevy and promises to return it to a shiny, chromed work of American art, he sees one last chance to salvage his respect, keep himself out of jail, and save his business.  But for this folk hero who is often on the wrong side of the law, the odds of success are long, especially when the FBI, local authorities, and the bank are closing in.  Written for motor heads and automotive novices alike, Auto Biography interweaves this improbable hero's journey with the story of one iconic car to chart the rise, fall, and rebirth of the American Dream.  Told in words and eight pages of photos, this wise, charming, and heartbreaking true story is an indelible portrait of a man, a machine, and a nation on the road from a glorious past into an unknown future.

"The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living."  So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to--the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun.  Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up.  Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.  These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life.  Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable--scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel--are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will.  The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn't capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.  An irresistible blend of literature and memoir, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a unique examination of the heart, mind, and soul of one of our most revered and gifted writers.

A Case for Solomon chronicles one of the most celebrated—and most misunderstood—kidnapping cases in American history.  In 1912, four-year-old Bobby Dunbar, the son of an upper-middle-class Louisiana family, went missing in the swamps.  After an eight-month search that electrified the country and destroyed Bobby’s parents, the boy was found, filthy and hardly recognizable, in the pinewoods of southern Mississippi.  A wandering piano tuner who had been shuttling the child throughout the region by wagon for months was arrested and charged with kidnapping—a crime that was punishable by death at the time.  But when a destitute single mother came forward from North Carolina to claim the boy as her son, not Bobby Dunbar, the case became a high-pitched battle over custody—and identity—that divided the South.  Amid an ever-thickening tangle of suspicion and doubt, two mothers and a father struggled to assert their rightful parenthood over the child, both to the public and to themselves.  For two years, lawyers dissected and newspapers sensationalized every aspect of the story.  Psychiatrists, physicians, criminologists, and private detectives debated the piano tuner’s guilt and the boy’s identity.  And all the while the boy himself remained peculiarly guarded on the question of who he was.  It took nearly a century, a curiosity that had been passed down through generations, and the science of DNA to discover the truth.  A Case for Solomon is a gripping historical mystery, distilled from a trove of personal and archival research.  The story of Bobby Dunbar, fought over by competing New Orleans tabloids, the courts, and the citizenry of two states, offers a case study in yellow journalism, emergent forensic science, and criminal justice in the turn-of-the-century American South.  It is a drama of raw poverty and power and an exposé of how that era defined and defended motherhood, childhood, and community.  First told in a stunning episode of National Public Radio’s This American Life, A Case for Solomon chronicles the epic struggle to determine one child’s identity, along the way probing unsettling questions about the formation of memory, family, and self.

With the 2006 publication of The God Delusion, the name Richard Dawkins became a byword for ruthless skepticism and "brilliant, impassioned, articulate, impolite" debate (San Francisco Chronicle).   His first memoir offers a more personal view.  His first book, The Selfish Gene, caused a seismic shift in the study of biology by proffering the gene-centered view of evolution.  It was also in this book that Dawkins coined the term meme, a unit of cultural evolution, which has itself become a mainstay in contemporary culture.  In An Appetite for Wonder, Richard Dawkins shares a rare view into his early life, his intellectual awakening at Oxford, and his path to writing The Selfish Gene.  He paints a vivid picture of his idyllic childhood in colonial Africa, peppered with sketches of his colorful ancestors, charming parents, and the peculiarities of colonial life right after World War II.  At boarding school, despite a near-religious encounter with an Elvis record, he began his career as a skeptic by refusing to kneel for prayer in chapel.  Despite some inspired teaching throughout primary and secondary school, it was only when he got to Oxford that his intellectual curiosity took full flight.  Arriving at Oxford in 1959, when undergraduates "left Elvis behind" for Bach or the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dawkins began to study zoology and was introduced to some of the university's legendary mentors as well as its tutorial system.  It's to this unique educational system that Dawkins credits his awakening, as it invited young people to become scholars by encouraging them to pose rigorous questions and scour the library for the latest research rather than textbook "teaching to" any kind of test.  His career as a fellow and lecturer at Oxford took an unexpected turn when, in 1973, a serious strike in Britain caused prolonged electricity cuts, and he was forced to pause his computer-based research.  Provoked by the then widespread misunderstanding of natural selection known as "group selection" and inspired by the work of William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and John Maynard Smith, he began to write a book he called, jokingly, "my bestseller."  It was, of course, The Selfish Gene.  Here, for the first time, is an intimate memoir of the childhood and intellectual development of the evolutionary biologist and world-famous atheist, and the story of how he came to write what is widely held to be one of the most important books of the twentieth century.

A Curious Man is the marvelously compelling biography of Robert “Believe It or Not” Ripley, the enigmatic cartoonist turned globetrotting millionaire who won international fame by celebrating the world's strangest oddities, and whose outrageous showmanship taught us to believe in the unbelievable.  As portrayed by acclaimed biographer Neal Thompson, Ripley’s life is the stuff of a classic American fairy tale.  Buck-toothed and cursed by shyness, Ripley turned his sense of being an outsider into an appreciation for the strangeness of the world.  After selling his first cartoon to Time magazine at age eighteen, more cartooning triumphs followed, but it was his “Believe It or Not” conceit and the wildly popular radio shows it birthed that would make him one of the most successful entertainment figures of his time and spur him to search the globe’s farthest corners for bizarre facts, exotic human curiosities, and shocking phenomena.  Ripley delighted in making outrageous declarations that somehow always turned out to be true—such as that Charles Lindbergh was only the sixty-seventh man to fly across the Atlantic or that “The Star Spangled Banner” was not the national anthem.  Assisted by an exotic harem of female admirers and by ex-banker Norbert Pearlroth, a devoted researcher who spoke eleven languages, Ripley simultaneously embodied the spirit of Peter Pan, the fearlessness of Marco Polo and the marketing savvy of P. T. Barnum.  In a very real sense, Ripley sought to remake the world’s aesthetic.  He demanded respect for those who were labeled “eccentrics” or “freaks”—whether it be E. L. Blystone, who wrote 1,615 alphabet letters on a grain of rice, or the man who could swallow his own nose.  By the 1930s Ripley possessed a vast fortune, a private yacht, and a twenty-eight room mansion stocked with such “oddities” as shrunken heads and medieval torture devices, and his pioneering firsts in print, radio, and television were tapping into something deep in the American consciousness—a taste for the titillating and exotic, and a fascination with the fastest, biggest, dumbest and most weird.  Today, that legacy continues and can be seen in reality TV, YouTube, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Jackass, MythBusters and a host of other pop-culture phenomena.  In the end Robert L. Ripley changed everything.  The supreme irony of his life, which was dedicated to exalting the strange and unusual, is that he may have been the most amazing oddity of all.

Between his birth in 1818 and his death sixty-five years later, Karl Marx became one of Western civilization's most influential political philosophers.  Two centuries on, he is still revered as a prophet of the modern world, yet he is also blamed for the darkest atrocities of modern times.  But no matter in what light he is cast, the short, but broad-shouldered, bearded Marx remains as a human being distorted on a Procrustean bed of political isms, perceived through the partially distorting lens of his chief disciple, Friedrich Engels, or understood as a figure of twentieth-century totalitarian Marxist regimes.  Returning Marx to the Victorian confines of the nineteenth century, Jonathan Sperber, one of the United States leading European historians, challenges many of our misconceptions of this political firebrand turned London emigre journalist.  In this deeply humanizing portrait, Marx no longer is the Olympian soothsayer, divining the dialectical imperatives of human history, but a scholar-activist whose revolutionary Weltanschauung was closer to Robespierre's than to those of twentieth-century Marxists.  With unlimited access to the MEGA (the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, the total edition of Marx's and Engels' writings), only recently available, Sperber juxtaposes the private man, the public agitator, and the philosopher-economist.  We first see Marx as a young boy in the city of Trier, influenced by his father, Heinrich, for whom the French Revolution and its aftermath offered an opportunity to escape the narrowly circumscribed social and political position of Jews in the society.  For Heinrich's generation, this worldview meant no longer being a member of the so-called Jewish nation, but for his son, the reverberations were infinitely greater namely a life inspired by the doctrines of the Enlightenment and an implacable belief in human equality.  Contextualizing Marx's personal story his rambunctious university years, his loving marriage to the devoted Jenny von Westphalen (despite an illegitimate child with the family maid), his children's tragic deaths, the catastrophic financial problems within a larger historical stage, Sperber examines Marx's public actions and theoretical publications against the backdrop of a European continent roiling with political and social unrest.  Guided by newly translated notes, drafts, and correspondence, he highlights Marx's often overlooked work as a journalist; his political activities in Berlin, Paris, and London; and his crucial role in both creating and destroying the International Working Men's Association.  With Napoleon III, Bismarck, Adam Smith, and Charles Darwin, among others, as supporting players, Karl Marx becomes not just a biography of a man but a vibrant portrait of an infinitely complex time.  Hailed by Publishers Weekly as a major work . . . likely to be the standard biography of Marx for many years, Karl Marx promises to become the defining portrait of a towering historical figure.

If you’d like a chance at winning all the books in this week's Friday Freebie, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 2, at which time I’ll draw the winning name.  I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 3.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! An embarrassment of possible literary wishes! The ones that really 'get' me are the Ann Patchett (nobody better!), Jonathan Sperger's unusually human take on the person and history of Karl Marx, Richard Dawkins' Appetite for Wonder, and especially A Case for Solomon by Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright, which considers the strange kidnapping case of the boy who might or might not have been missing Bobby Dunbar. Delicious mystery, provocative social and legal conundrum, and one hell of a good story!