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Paperback Picks

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The Player
Michael Tolkin
You may like Tolkin’s tense, economical little novel a lot more than the Robert Altman film based on it. Tolkin can’t rely on curiosity about who’s going to show up in the next celebrity cameo. He offers real suspense instead — and a darker picture of L.A.’s sprawl of ambition and disappointment. A

A Mother in History
Jean Stafford
A reissue of the late novelist jean stafford’s portrait of marguerite oswald (mother of Lee Harvey), A Mother in History is eerie and brilliant. As refracted through Stafford’s shrewd, perceptive gaze, mrs. Oswald is horrifying (”You find killing in some very fine homes for one reason or another”) and heartbreaking, the perfect exemplar of the disturbing nation that stafford suggests lies just beyond the Oswald living room. A+

The Polk Conspiracy: Murder And Cover-Up In The Case Of CBS News Correspondent George Polk George Polk
Kati Marton
Forty years have passed since Polk was murdered in Salonika, Greece. But as Marton shows in her compelling new account of the Polk case, the life and death of this young CBS correspondent still epitomize the struggle between journalists committed to discovering the truth and governments determined to hide it. A-

Motown
Loren D. Estleman
The second novel in Estleman’s ambitious crime-in-detroit series. Politically shrewd and dryly cynical, Motown seems closer to the novels of George V. Higgins or Jimmy Breslin than it does to the fanciful extravaganzas of Elmore Leonard. B

The Theory of Everything
Lisa Grunwald
There’s an Anne Tyler-ish eccentricity to Grunwald’s Simon, a thirtysomething physicist who knows his equations but can’t make the quantum leap into real life until the arrival of his loony, long-lost mom. Wild invention may not flow through these pages, but Grunwald spins a good story with plenty of wit. B+

The Power and The Glitter: The Hollywood Connection
Ronald Brownstein
As Brownstein shows, the line between politics and show business is hard to draw — and Hollywood’s clout is hard to ignore. A-

The Commanders
Bob Woodward
A fascinating look inside the military decision-making process of the Persian Gulf war. As Woodward shows, with a hyperthyroid, bellicose President plunging ahead, sanctions never had a chance. But the real surprise is that the actual decision to go to war was never made. It was simply just drifted into. B+

Aurora 7
Thomas Mallon
May 24, 1962: as Scott Carpenter orbits the earth, drinking Tang, 11-year-old Gregory Noonan is drawn to New York’s Grand Central terminal, where thousands of commuters watch Walter Cronkite report from Cape Canaveral. Gregory is convinced his own fate is linked with Carpenter’s, and Mallon — in one of the novel’s many miracles — convinces us that this is the case, that, in fact, everyone’s fates are inseparably linked. A

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