The Dead Republic: A Novel
by Roddy Doyle
Much of The Dead Republic, the final book in Roddy Doyle's trilogy about the fictional Henry Smart, is about clashing visions of Ireland. As a young man, Smart was a foot soldier in the Irish war for independence and the manager of a young Louis Armstrong in New York City. Now, he's working for the famous American movie director John Ford, who decides to make a movie about Ireland after World War II, The Quiet Man. Though Ford promises Henry that the film will tell the story of Henry's life with the Irish Republican Army, it becomes a love letter to rural Ireland, much to Henry's disgust. When Henry becomes involved in the IRA uprising more than 20 years later, an IRA man tells Henry that the war was always about who got to hold the copyright on what it means to be Irish. Or as Doyle tells Lynn Neary, "In the '50s, '60s, '70s — when Ireland was kind of an economic backwater, we had to kowtow to a notion of what Ireland was in the hopes that tourists would arrive."
336 pages, $16, Penguin Books
Hellhound On His Trail :The Electrifying Account Of The Largest Manhunt In American History
by Hampton Sides
Hampton Sides' Hellhound on His Trail weaves together the stories of James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King Jr., painting a picture of both men and tracking their movements in the period leading up to King's murder in 1968 and the massive manhunt that led to Ray's capture. The son of a lawyer who represented King as he took up the cause of striking Memphis garbage workers, Sides' account brings scores of perspectives together in a retelling that lets us see King and his associates, the FBI, Scotland Yard and even operatives of the Canadian Mounted Police travel their separate routes in the same maelstrom. Sides' Memphis roots give a fresh context to the story, and his own great literary gifts bring urgency and intrigue to his narrative, even as the end is known.
480 pages, $15.95, Anchor Books
Ill Fares The Land
by Tony Judt
Based on a lecture that historian Tony Judt gave at New York University, where he taught until his death last year, Ill Fares the Land critiques what Judt calls the "deteriorating social contract" in the U.S. and Europe. "The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition," Judt writes. Much of what appears "natural" today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities between rich and poor. Judt says he wrote the book to help young people make sense of the many changes in the world. "It's about not forgetting the past. About having the courage to look at the present and see its faults without walking away in disgust or skepticism. ... I do think we're on the edge of a terrifying world, and that many young people know that but don't know how to talk about it."
256 pages, $15, Penguin Books
Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Ever Seen
by Christopher McDougall
The simple question of why most American runners suffer injuries despite expensive sneakers brings Christopher McDougall to the unforgiving terrain of Mexico's Copper Canyons, home to an indigenous population of ultra-runners, the Tarahumara Indians. Eating a diet of ground corn, mouse meat and homemade alcohol — and sleeping no regular hours — the Tarahumara men and woman suffer illness and somehow find the endurance to run cliffside races topping 100 miles and sometimes lasting two days. Pulling the reader with him through sun-crisped canyons and crushing our faith in Nike, McDougall recounts his quest to understand these near superhuman ultra-runners with adrenaline-pumped writing, humor and a distinct voice, never letting go from his impassioned mantra that humans were born to run.
304 pages, $15.95, Vintage Books
The Secret Life Of The Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents Of The Middle-Aged Mind
by Barbara Strauch
As the health and medical science editor at The New York Times, Barbara Strauch can spot good research and new ideas. The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain is full of both. No depressing documentation of memory loss here. Strauch focuses on what middle-aged brains can do better than younger brains — most important, synthesize and use information, and see things more broadly. She tells her story in a very accessible way, through anecdotes of discovery and profiles of brain scientists. At the end of the book, there's advice — but no guarantees — on how to keep your brain in good shape. And for any people (including teenagers) who doubt the middle-aged brain is all that great, Strauch includes 20 pages of scientific citations at the end.
256 pages, $16, Penguin Books
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag .
Roddy Doyle writes about Ireland, but not an Ireland of green fields and picturesque country pubs. Doyle's first book, The Commitments, was about young people in a gritty part of Dublin who form a soul band. His new novel, The Dead Republic, is the final book in a trilogy about the fictional Henry Smart, who, over the course of three books, has been both a foot soldier in the Irish war for independence and the manager of a young Louis Armstrong in New York City. In The Dead Republic, Henry is working for the famous American movie director John Ford. Though Ford is known for his Westerns, after World War II he decides to make a movie about Ireland.
Ford promises Henry that the movie, The Quiet Man, will tell the story of Henry's life with the Irish Republican Army. But much to Henry's disgust, the film becomes a love letter to rural Ireland.
"John Ford created one of the great myths of American history and American culture, and he did the same with The Quiet Man for Ireland, a place that he loved," Doyle tells NPR's Lynn Neary. Ireland was "a place that [Ford] didn't know all that well, but like a lot of Irish Americans, [he] absolutely adored the place.
Doyle says that in that relationship — between the feelings of nostalgia and love from Irish Americans to a homeland they did not know and in which they did not live — was a key to the development of culture and history in Ireland in the 20th century. "In the '50s, '60s, '70s — when Ireland was kind of an economic backwater," Doyle says, "we had to kowtow to a notion of what Ireland was in the hopes that tourists would arrive."
That deferential quality, embodied in Ford's realization of Ireland in The Quiet Man, causes Henry to call the film "the emigrant's dream." But Doyle says he has visited the spot in Ireland where the film was made. "The beauty of the landscape is there," he says, and the people who live there don't share Henry Smart's sense of outrage.
"Actually, it's very easy to slip into conversation that wouldn't be altogether different from some of the conversations in The Quiet Man. I don't think people would feel anger. It'd be more at this point amusement as much as anything else."
Henry gets so angry that he wants to kill the filmmaker for sullying his vision of Ireland, a vision that Doyle says is tied to Henry's sense of himself and the decisions he's made.
"Henry feels, I suppose, that he's wasted his life somehow," Doyle says. "It's a life full of drama and escape, but really he's been running away from things most of his life. And I suppose he sees the film as stopping and turning around and assessing his life; the ugliness of a lot of the things that he did, he thinks, is going to be an important part of the story.
"But what happens is that basically in the compromises, his life — the reason why he was involved in this thing — keeps slipping off the page, and the whole tone of the thing [changes] from being a story which exposes the ultimate stupidity of the Irish war of independence from his point of view, and the grimness of the violence and the reality of shooting someone in the head, [and] actually becomes a celebration of the rural Irish way of life and a wonderful comedy that had nothing in common."
Eventually, Henry himself decides that what he wants is to lead a quiet life. But the past catches up with him. As the book stretches forward into the 1970s, he becomes involved again in the IRA. It's an era Doyle knows well, the one where Henry's life finally begins to overlap with the author's experience — of the Dublin he knew as a young man. But at first, as Doyle points out, Henry doesn't notice the trouble brewing, until he witnesses a bombing on Talbot Street.
"Throughout the troubles, very few bombs went off in Dublin, but I have vivid memories of this particular day because I actually heard the bomb," Doyle says. "I was at home at a place where my parents still live called Kilbarrack. Myself and my mother were in the kitchen — I think I was literally just pouring myself a glass of water — and we heard this explosion. It was distant, but we knew immediately it was an explosion.
"But the bombing, the reprisals, the counter-reprisals, the kneecappings, all the ugliness — the horribleness — was a daily part of the news, really. You could get on with your life, you could fall in love, you could get a job, you could do all the things that everybody does everywhere, but if you were Irish, you had to live with either trying to ignore the violence and feel guilty about it or to confront it and feel guilty about it."
Much of The Dead Republic, as Henry is working on John Ford's pastoral vision of the countryside and later becomes involved in the IRA uprising more than 20 years later, is about clashing visions of Ireland. Late in the book, an IRA man tells Henry that the war was always about who got to hold the copyright on what it means to be Irish.
Doyle says the diffusion of culture in Ireland — results of the link to Irish Americans and the fact that the Irish speak English, he says — have made the country a "very self-conscious place."
"We seem to punch beyond our weight, so to speak," Doyle says. He worries about history repeating itself, if not in physical violence, then in the selling of Irish culture. "It's happening again because the economy, as you're probably aware, has hit, if not rock bottom, pretty close. And I suppose while the bankers and politicians have let us down, culture really hasn't, and suddenly the power of books and literature — and to a lesser extent, I suppose, film — has come to the fore again."
Of vital importance now, Doyle says, is just who will decide what it is to be Irish.
"Will it be us, the citizens of Ireland that actually live there? Or will it be some kind of marketing department of the Civil Service who will try to define what Irish culture is in the hopes of enticing people to arrive and spend their money?" he asks. "When I was a kid, if you didn't speak Irish, you really wanted to. And you played Gaelic games and you didn't pay any attention to what was happening in the outside world, because really, Ireland was the center of the universe. And I don't think that's the case anymore. Although, admittedly, it is the center of the universe."