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December 2011 Newsletter
It has been an outstanding year for the agency and our clients. Highlights include a Washington Post bestseller, inclusion on many "Ten Best Books of the Year" lists, a direct e-publishing project with a media star, and much more. The year's projects spanned past, present and future -- from great works of history and biography to current affairs to insightful futurism, plus a gonzo memoir, droll satire, and a unique look at creativity from an Internet sensation. Here is a brief look at the year's new books and new deals for the future.
From modest beginnings as a tea shop in New York, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company became the largest retailer in the world. But its explosive growth made it a mortal threat to hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop grocery stores. Main Street fought back tooth and nail and eventually the federal government pressed criminal charges against the Great A&P for selling food too cheaply -- and won. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America is Marc Levinson's brilliant business history of a stunningly successful company that forever changed how Americans shop and what Americans eat. Marc received tons of media coverage -- not one but two raves in the New York Times, praise in The Atlantic, and in-depth interviews on NPR's "Morning Edition" as well as "Fresh Air" -- and the Wall Street Journal named it one of the Ten Best Nonfiction Books of 2011! (Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
We were saddened this fall to mourn the death of Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and Global Environment and a legendary leader in public health issues worldwide. His career-capping book, written with award-winning science journalist Dan Ferber, is Changing Planet, Changing Health, which delves deeply into the uncomfortable reality that climate change is now doing far more harm than marooning polar bears on melting chunks of ice -- it is damaging the health of people around the world. The book brilliantly connects Paul's lifetime of encounters with real people plus cutting-edge scientific information to offer innovative, essential solutions for shaping a healthy global economic order in the twenty-first century. Former Vice President Al Gore called it "a landmark that will raise our consciousness." Elizabeth Kolbert said it is "an illuminating, important, and deeply sobering book," and Bill McKibben said "You'll never find a clearer or smarter explanation of one of the toughest problems the world faces." Booklist named it one of the Top Ten Health Books of 2011, and their starred review said "If ever there was a book that ought to be on everybody's reading bucket list this is it." (University of California Press)
Humanity is on the cusp of an exciting longevity revolution. The first person to live to 150 years has probably already been born. What will your life look like when you live to be over 100? Will you be healthy? Will your marriage need a sunset clause? How long will you have to work? Will you finish one career at 65 only to go back to school to learn a new one? And then, will you be happily working for another sixty years? Maybe you'll be a parent to a newborn and a grandparent at the same time. Will the world become overpopulated? And how will living longer affect your finances, your family life, and your views on religion and the afterlife? In "Washington Post" bestseller 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith, futurist Sonia Arrison presents an eye-opening journey to the future at our doorsteps, where science and technology are beginning to radically change life as we know it. She introduces us to the people transforming our lives, the scientists, inventors and billionaires who fund their work, and paints a vivid picture of a future that only recently seemed like science fiction, but now is very real. Sonia was featured on the Today Show and reviewed in New Scientist and the Wall Street Journal, who also ran a big first serialization. (Basic Books/Perseus)
Journalist Matthew Shaer takes readers inside the hidden world of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, a close-knit but divided community. On a cold night in a recent December, the members of a Hasidic anti-crime patrol called the Shomrim were summoned to a yeshiva dormitory in Crown Heights. There to break up a brawl, the Shomrim instead found themselves embroiled in a religious schism that has split the community and turned roommate against roommate, neighbor against neighbor. Among Righteous Men offers a peek into the deepest corners of a normally hidden world, in a book filled with car chases, tragic figures, racial strife, and tense courtroom scenes as well as insights into Hasidic life and culture. Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day, said "The book feels novelistic, but it is all too true, and Shaer brings to life the great characters: gangs, lawyers, religious leaders, victims, and perpetrators. All come alive in this wonderful, riveting book." (John Wiley & Sons)
Acclaimed visual thinking guru Dan Roam has taught his remarkable insights at the White House, at Boeing, and to countless clients and workshop attendees in between. He teaches that as powerful as words are, we fool ourselves when we think our words alone can detect, describe, and defuse the multifaceted problems of today. On the heels of his global bestseller The Back of the Napkin, Dan's new book Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don't Work demonstrates remarkable new tools to combine our verbal and visual minds so we can think and learn more quickly, teach and inspire our colleagues, and enjoy and share ideas in a whole new way. In just the past few months Dan has been distilling complicated business current affairs issues into compelling and understandable pictures on MSNBC with Dylan Ratigan, on CNN, ABC and elsewhere, and his work inspired the new "White House Whiteboard." David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says "The elegance of this book lies in how it makes clear and simple the insanely hard work of making things clear and simple." (Portfolio/Penguin)
In 1202, a 32-year old Italian finished one of the most influential books of all time, which introduced modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Devised in India in the 7th and 8th centuries and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system helped transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and commerce, leaving behind Muslim cultures which had long known it but had failed to see its potential. The young Italian, Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci), had learned the Hindu number system when he traveled to North Africa. The book he created was Liber abbaci, the "Book of Calculation," and its publication led directly to large-scale international commerce and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance. Now in The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution, NPR's "Math Guy" and one of the great math popularizers of our time, Keith Devlin, Ph.D., recreates the life and enduring legacy of an overlooked genius, and in the process makes clear how central numbers and mathematics are to our daily lives. (Walker & Company/Bloomsbury) And in a short e-book that our agency directly published with Keith to complement The Man of Numbers, Keith explains the fascinating similarities between Leonardo of Pisa and Steve Jobs, the 20th Century founder of Apple computers. Leonardo & Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years shows the uncanny parallels between Leonardo's arithmetic revolution that took place in Tuscany centuries ago and the one that began in California's Silicon Valley in more recent times. It is a story about the personal computing revolution that occurred in the 1980s, but with the novel twist that it was actually history repeating itself.
Kill or Capture is the electrifying true story of the pursuit for the man behind al Qaeda's suicide bombing campaign in Iraq. It is a true-life thriller that tells the story of senior military interrogator Matthew Alexander's adrenaline-filled, "outside the wire" pursuit of a notorious Syrian mass murderer named Zafar -- the leader of al Qaeda in northern Iraq -- a killer with the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands. In a breathless thirty-day period, Alexander and a small Special Operations task force brave the hazards of the Iraqi insurgency to conduct dangerous kill-or-capture missions and hunt down a murderer. Kill or Capture immerses readers in the dangerous world of battlefield interrogations as the author and his team climb the ladder of al Qaeda leadership in a series of raids, braving roadside bombs, near-death by electrocution and circles within circles of lies. Matthew is a frequent guest on national public affairs shows, arguing from first-hand experience that torture is the wrong way to achieve our military and political objectives. NPR correspondent Dine Temple-Raston says "Matthew Alexander has been a consistent and reliable source in helping NPR explain to our listeners the intricacies of interrogation policy. He has done more to clarify why harsh interrogations don't work than anyone else I have interviewed on the air. Policy experts can tell you why they think these techniques don't work. Matthew Alexander provides real-life examples of how ineffective they are." (St. Martin's Press)
Gonzo memoirist Rick Lax (author of Lawyer Boy) was paranoid and terrified of being conned, so he bolted for Las Vegas, deception capital of the world, to learn the game and how to guard against it. There he met deceivers of all kinds, from back-alley hustlers and poker pros to the biggest headliners on the Strip. During the course of his unconventional education, which included passing himself off as an octogenarian, being exposed as a card counter, and picking up a hooker (inadvertently, of course), Rick got closer to becoming a human lie detector... but at what cost? By the end of his gonzo memoir Fool Me Once, you'll know why seventh graders make better liars than college students, how to use a handful of rice as a polygraph, and how to bluff a poker pro. Above all, you'll understand why some things in life are a lot worse than being fooled. Kirkus Reviews said "Plenty of cons and cheap hustles in this lively memoir of time spent on the seamier edge of Casinoland... An entertaining field guide to vice, but also one with a point." (St. Martin's Press)
It has also been a year filled with new deals for a fantastic range of forthcoming books.
Executive Director of the Institute for the Future Marina Gorbis for decades has helped governments, Fortune 100 companies and many others prepare for unpredictability, volatility and massive change. Now her book Socialstructing: The End of the Organization and the Birth of the Amplified Individual translates her insights into a practical roadmap for the transition from an era of organizational hierarchies to an era of personal connections. New currencies, transaction mechanisms, educational tools and governance models are quickly arising, requiring each of us to master new skills and a whole new way of thinking about our lives and work. As amplified, empowered individuals, we are now infusing our transactions and interactions with a new layer of sociality. Noted games theorist Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken says "Socialstructing takes some of the most complex, challenging and disruptive economic and social forces of our times and deftly weaves them together into a bold, optimistic and persuasive vision for the future." Douglas Rushkoff, author of Life Inc., says "Marina Gorbis is the smartest person I know thinking about the future of organizations. This isn't just a picture of what is about to happen, but an entire approach to begin reckoning with change itself as our society transitions from a managed population to a social organism." Emily Loose at The Free Press/Simon & Schuster acquired the book in a good deal, after a heated auction.
Former Microsoft executive and fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Ramez Naam, is the author of More Than Human, which the Los Angeles Times called "a terrific survey of current work and future possibilities in gene therapy, neurotechnology, and other fields." His new book is The Infinite Resource: How Accelerating Human Knowledge Will Overcome the Challenges of a Finite Planet, which surprisingly and convincingly argues that the most important resource on Earth is not oil, not gold, not water, not even money. It's human knowledge. Starting with a broad look at key inflection points in human history, Naam illustrates how cultures thrive not simply from acquiring new resources but from developing fundamentally new knowledge that helps capture, extend or transform societal assets. He then examines the challenges we face today -- finite fossil fuels, human-fueled climate change, dramatic population growth and shortages of everything from fresh water to rare earth minerals -- and shows how our best hope for securing long-term health and prosperity requires actions directly aimed at enhancing our knowledge and actively inventing new solutions. Featuring blurbs from Ray Kurzweil (The Singularity Is Near), Charles Mann (1491), Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist), Kevin Kelly (What Technology Wants), and Stewart Brand (Long Now Foundation), this fascinating new book was acquired by Stephen Hull for the University Press of New England.
CUNY/Hunter College professor of political science Andrew Polsky, Ph.D. is the author of the forthcoming book Victory in the Balance: Why Presidents Fail at War, a superb work of history and political analysis making the surprising argument that American presidents have repeatedly failed at war. True success in war, he notes, is defined not by battlefield triumphs but by whether it accomplishes a nation's political objectives; even in wars we consider victories, including the Civil War and both World Wars, presidents have often failed to achieve their key political goals, especially the kind of peace they sought. Victory in the Balance offers a penetrating analysis of the multiple dimensions of wartime presidential leadership and an insightful explanation for why presidents fail. It offers important cautionary lessons about avoiding overly ambitious war goals, the need to begin peace building well before the fighting ends, and the domestic price a president inevitable pays when he takes the country to war. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson says "Combining the insights of a political scientist with the narrative flair of a historian, Polsky has written a book that policy makers and ordinary citizens alike will find informative and valuable for understanding the limitations on presidential leadership in wartime." Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, says "Polsky's cautionary tale is as timely as it is important. Students of presidential politics (not to mention would-be presidents) take note: those presuming to master war all too frequently become war's prisoner." Tim Bent acquired this surprising and insightful work for Oxford University Press.
Phil Edwards is the "Senior Fake Scientist," who simulataneously misinforms and amuses hundreds of thousands every month. He is now writing the definitive, less-than-factual reference book to build on his popular Fake Science Tumblr blog. Fake Science: For When the Facts Are Too Confusing is a heavily-illustrated, less-than-factual textbook, covering everything the average person should pretend to know. With sections on biology, physics, chemistry, and any other type of 'science' the author discovers along the way, the book provides a laugh-out-loud tour of all the subjects you cheated on in school. Brendan O'Neill at Adams Media acquired the book and hopes his parents (who helped pay his way through university) don't find out.
Best known, of course, for his smash hit "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" (whose 50th anniversary arrives in 2013), Allan Sherman was one of America's greatest comedians, a coarse voice singing off-key about seltzer, the garment industry, and why being a knight wasn't really so great (aluminum pants), who almost singlehandedly changed the course of comedy. Now journalist and scholar Mark Cohen brings us Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman, the first full-length biography of this hilarious and fascinating individual. Sherman played Carnegie Hall, befriended Harpo Marx, produced Bill Cosby, met President Kennedy, sang at the National Press Club, and even participated in a New York orgy frequented by luminaries including George Plimpton. Sherman's fame hit its peak in the summer of 1963 with the international success of the Grammy-winning "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!" and his record albums from that year sold a total of three million copies. More importantly, Sherman's unexpected and extraordinary success changed American comedy and popular culture forever. For the first time since the end of vaudeville more than a half-century earlier, Jewish dialect humor conquered mainstream culture, paving the way for Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and many more. Ethnicity was back. Overweight Sensation features blurbs from Bill Cosby, Seinfeld star Jason Alexander, "Weird Al" Yankovich and more. Stephen Hull acquired the book for Brandeis University Press.
When asked to talk to students at a community college in upstate New York, designer and author of Newspaper Blackout Austin Kleon sat down and wrote a simple list of 10 things he wished he'd heard when he was in college:
Steal like an artist. Don't wait until you know who you are to start making things. Write the book you want to read. Use your hands. Side projects are important. Do good work and put it where people can see it. Geography is no longer our master. Be nice. Be Boring. Creativity is subtraction.After giving the speech, he posted the text and slides to his blog. It quickly went viral, and since then millions of readers have been inspired by Kleon's post, with more than
So there you have it, a quick look back at a busy and incredibly rewarding year. Thanks for reading this update and best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful new year.
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