“Calling out around the world/ Are you ready for a brand new beat?” The answer in 1964 was a resounding “yes!” to Martha & the Vandellas’s “Dancing in the Street,” a song that both captured an era and remains a timeless classic. Ready for a Brand New Beat (Riverhead, $16) relives the heady sixties while it documents how the Motown hit rocketed up the charts with its sharp 4/4 beat and lyrics about taking it to the streets. Like so many tracks recorded at the “Hitsville, USA” studio in Detroit, this was a song targeted at everyone and was as much at home in the suburbs as it was at SNCC meetings or urban riots. As he did with works like Salt and Cod, Mark Kurlansky finds the perfect lens to put a whole period into perspective, and his prose is as vibrant as the song he analyzes and celebrates. This book will fascinate music lovers and cultural historians alike.
In Catastrophe 1914 (Vintage, $17.95), Max Hastings once again proves why he is such a lauded historian. In his latest military-political study, the author of Inferno, Winston’s War, and many others, looks at the opening events of the First World War through the strange dichotomy of great human folly coupled with noble intentions. Far from seeing the conflict as a waste, Hastings paints a picture of Europe struggling on the very edge of losing its identity and freedom; his vivid evocations of battle on both the Western and Eastern fronts follow the many generals, soldiers, and politicians maneuvering both on and behind the scenes. This book details just one year of the war and yet illuminates more about Europe in the first part of the twentieth century than tomes twice its size. Whether or not Hastings convinces you that the war was absolutely necessary, you can’t help but be engaged by his argument, his evidence, and his narrative; this stimulating book will broaden your understanding of the Great War.
American Innovations (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24), Rivka Galchen’s astonishing debut short-story collection, is smart, slyly funny, and usually at least a bit off-kilter. In the opening story, “The Lost Order,” a woman answers her phone and, rather than tell the caller that he’s dialed the wrong number, takes the man’s order for Chinese food delivery. The title story is an homage to Gogol’s “The Nose”; in this version, a woman comes home from abroad to discover that she’s grown a breast on her back. In “Wild Berry Blue,” a girl having breakfast with her dad at McDonald’s encounters her first love, a heavily tattooed, recovering drug addict working behind the counter. Galchen’s stories can be strange and mysterious, but it’s difficult to read them without grinning and marveling at her charm, imagination, and command of language.
(This book cannot be returned.)