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Books for Grownups - February 2012

Authors Thomas Frank and Susan Cain are featured in our monthly review of the best in publishing


In Our Prime Book Review

In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age
By Patricia Cohen
(Scribner, $25)

In this comprehensive and entertaining social history, Cohen, a culture reporter for The New York Times, reminds us how relatively recent is the very notion of middle age: It emerged during the febrile decades of American industrialization and urbanization at the end of the 19th century. Cohen's neatly synthesizes history, psychology and the latest research on the "middle-aged brain."

Pity The Billionaire Book Review

Pity the Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right
By Thomas Frank
(Metropolitan, $25)

In spotlighting what he sees as the nation's rightward drift, Frank dubs laissez-faire economics "the dogma of the nation's ruling class." He adopts an authorial voice that might best be described as "justifiably perplexed": Why, Frank demands to know, have so many of us damaged by the Great Recession been so happy to continue waving the banner of free-market theory?

Money Well Spent Book Review

Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History
By Michael Grabell
(PublicAffairs, $28.99)

Grabell focuses the lens of his investigative microscope on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He analyzes its effect on three cities, each an exemplar of the economic downtown: Elkhart, Ind.; Aiken, S.C.; and Fremont, Calif. His thorough exploration will educate readers about "where the money went" and show why shock waves from the Great Recession continue to crash upon our shores.

The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess Book Review

The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion and DNA
By Jeff Wheelwright
(Norton, $26.95)

A science journalist tells the story of Shonnie Medina, a young woman who died of breast cancer in Colorado in 1999. Medina, of mixed Indian and Spanish descent, carried a genetic mutation with implications both scary (a high risk of cancer) and intriguing: Geneticists deem it a reliable marker of Jewish ancestry. While clearly explaining two controversial sciences — genetic screening and ethnogeography — the author paints a sensitive portrait of how our modern identity is woven from ancient strands.

Power Concedes Nothing Book Review

Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, from the Kill Zones to the Courtroom
By Connie Rice
(Scribner, $26)

Civil rights lawyer Rice, a cousin of Condoleezza's, insightfully describes a strange and remarkable episode in her life's journey: She went from suing the Los Angeles Police Department and other entities (including the states of Mississippi and California) for civil-rights violations to forging an alliance with "good cops" to fight rampant violence in drug- and gang-riddled neighborhoods.

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