Parrot And Olivier In America
by Peter Carey
This novel is a riff on Alexis de Tocqueville's famous book Democracy in America, and, like its source, it is an insightful look at America in the 19th century. But it's also a delightful romp with of two of contemporary fiction's most memorable characters. There's Olivier, a sickly and overprotected young aristocrat raised in the ever-threatening shadow of the French Revolution, and Parrot, the son of an itinerant British printer, who suffers an early tragedy that spins his life in unexpected directions. When the two become unlikely companions, they bicker and grumble their way through America until finally realizing that this new world really is entirely new and completely different. The aristocratic Olivier thinks he has found love. The plebeian Parrot wonders if this is a place where he can finally rest. For those who like to fall into a big, sprawling novel and get lost, this book is for you.
400 pages, $15.95, Vintage Books
The Life and Rise of Barack Obama
by David Remnick
Largely told through the prism of race, David Remnick's The Bridge is an exhaustive history of America's first African-American president. The New Yorker editor takes the reader from colonial Kenya, where Barack Obama's father grew up, to the gritty world of South Side Chicago politics, where Obama cut his political teeth, to the historic presidential race in 2008. Based on numerous on-the-record interviews with friends, associates and Obama himself, The Bridge is the most expansive look yet at where Obama came from, how he came to train his eye on the presidency and how he executed that vision.
704 pages, $16, Vintage Books
The Other Wes Moore
One Name, Two Fates
by Wes Moore
The idea that two very similar people can grow up to live two completely different lives is at the heart of the endlessly intriguing The Other Wes Moore. Begun when Rhodes scholar and White House Fellow Wes Moore read an article about a condemned prisoner with the same name, this story follows the free Moore into his past and that of his same-named counterpart, daring to ask what might have been with a few simple strokes of luck. Born within two years of each other, both Moores were raised in poverty and fatherless homes in Baltimore. And yet one went on to speak at the Democratic National Convention while the other is in prison for life, without parole.
The book's most powerful moments undoubtedly come when Moore visits and interviews the other Moore in prison, where he learns how little has separated the two men's lives.
272 pages, $15, Spiegel and Grau
The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown
by Simon Johnson and James Kwak
In the wake of the financial crisis, Johnson says that six of the country's megabanks are not just too big to fail; they're too big for the good of the American market. The six — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and Bank of America — are all so huge that if they fall into danger, the government will be forced to bail them out. "These banks do not benefit society at an additional size but they obviously create big risks for society," Johnson tells Robert Siegel. To make the banks smaller, Johnson says the government needs to "modify and update legislation that already applies to this issue." Johnson and Kwak, who also blog about economics at The Baseline Scenario, suggest a cap on the size of banks in terms of their total liabilities and their total assets, of 4 percent of the gross domestic product.