All posts by George Cooper

Nevertheless: A Memoir – Alec Baldwin

One of the most accomplished and outspoken actors today chronicles the highs and lows of his life in this beautifully written, candid memoir.

Over the past three decades, Alec Baldwin has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most gifted, hilarious, and controversial leading men. From his work in popular movies, including Beetlejuice, Working Girl, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Cooler, and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to his role as Jack Donaghy on Tina Fey’s irreverent series 30 Rock–for which he won two Emmys, three Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards–and as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, he’s both a household name and a deeply respected actor.

In Nevertheless, Baldwin transcends his public persona, making public facets of his life he has long kept private. In this honest, affecting memoir, he introduces us to the Long Island child who felt burdened by his family’s financial strains and his parents’ unhappy marriage; the Washington, DC, college student gearing up for a career in politics; the self-named “Love Taxi” who helped friends solve their romantic problems while neglecting his own; the young soap actor learning from giants of the theatre; the addict drawn to drugs and alcohol who struggles with sobriety; the husband and father who acknowledges his failings and battles to overcome them; and the consummate professional for whom the work is everything. Throughout Nevertheless, one constant emerges: the fearlessness that defines and drives Baldwin’s life.

Told with his signature candor, astute observational savvy, and devastating wit, Nevertheless reveals an Alec Baldwin we have never fully seen before.

Notes on a Banana – David Leite

The stunning and long-awaited memoir from the beloved founder of the James Beard Award-winning website Leite’s Culinaria–a candid, courageous, and at times laugh-out-loud funny story of family, food, mental illness, and sexual identity.

Born into a family of Azorean immigrants, David Leite grew up in the 1960s in a devoutly Catholic, blue-collar, food-crazed Portuguese home in Fall River, Massachusetts. A clever and determined dreamer with a vivid imagination and a flair for the dramatic, “Banana” as his mother endearingly called him, yearned to live in a middle-class house with a swinging kitchen door just like the ones on television, and fell in love with everything French, thanks to his Portuguese and French-Canadian godmother. But David also struggled with the emotional devastation of manic depression. Until he was diagnosed in his mid-thirties, David found relief from his wild mood swings in learning about food, watching Julia Child, and cooking for others.

Notes on a Banana is his heartfelt, unflinchingly honest, yet tender memoir of growing up, accepting himself, and turning his love of food into an award-winning career. Reminiscing about the people and events that shaped him, David looks back at the highs and lows of his life: from his rejection of being gay and his attempt to “turn straight” through Aesthetic Realism, a cult in downtown Manhattan, to becoming a writer, cookbook author, and web publisher, to his twenty-four-year relationship with Alan, known to millions of David’s readers as “The One,” which began with (what else?) food. Throughout the journey, David returns to his stoves and tables, and those of his family, as a way of grounding himself.

A blend of Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, the food memoirs by Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain, and Gabrielle Hamilton, and the character-rich storytelling of Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris, and Jenny Lawson, Notes on a Banana is a feast that dazzles, delights, and, ultimately, heals.

Ill Will – Dan Chaon

Two sensational unsolved crimes–one in the past, another in the present–are linked by one man’s memory and self-deception in this chilling novel of literary suspense from National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon.
-We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves.- This is one of the little mantras Dustin Tillman likes to share with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?
A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to epitomize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.
Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients has been plying him with stories of the drowning deaths of a string of drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses his patient’s suggestions that a serial killer is at work as paranoid thinking, but as the two embark on an amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries–and putting his own family in harm’s way.
From one of today’s most renowned practitioners of literary suspense, Ill Will is an intimate thriller about the failures of memory and the perils of self-deception. In Dan Chaon’s nimble, chilling prose, the past looms over the present, turning each into a haunted place.
Advance praise for Ill Will
-Dan Chaon’s new novel is subtly, steadily unnerving–like a scalpel slipping under your skin and prying it, ever so slowly, from the muscle beneath. Ill Will is a dark Mobius strip of a thriller that will leave you questioning what’s perceived and what’s imagined, and whether the reverberations of tragedy ever truly come to an end.-–Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You
Ill Will not only confirms Chaon as among our country’s finest writers but makes clear that he is one of our bravest and most inventive. He embraces risks that would have most novelists turning pale and making the sign of the cross. It’s stunning. Read it right now.-–Peter Straub, author of The Throat
-Dan Chaon’s darkly stunning Ill Will ensnares you from its very first pages. It’s both a bone-chilling literary thriller and a complicated tale of family secrets and the strange and dangerous paths grief and guilt can take us on–and it is not to be missed.-–Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me
-‘I believe in bad places, ‘ one narrator of Ill Will confesses, and he’s right. Dan Chaon’s damaged characters stalk the elusive truth and what may be a serial killer through a nightmarish Cleveland populated by drug addicts and sexual predators. Intimate and unsparing, this is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read.-–Stewart O’Nan, author of Songs for the Missing
-With impressive skill, across multiple narratives that twine, fracture, and reset, Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread.-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich – Norman Ohler

A fast-paced narrative that discovers a surprising perspective on World War II: Nazi Germany’s all-consuming reliance on drugs

The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. But as Norman Ohler reveals in this gripping new history, the Third Reich was saturated with drugs. On the eve of World War II, Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse, and companies such as Merck and Bayer cooked up cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, to be consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to millions of German soldiers. In fact, troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth–the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to explain certain German military victories. Drugs seeped all the way up to the Nazi high command and, especially, to Hitler himself. Over the course of the war, Hitler became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs–including a form of heroin–administered by his personal doctor. While drugs alone cannot explain the Nazis’ toxic racial theories or the events of World War II, Ohler’s investigation makes an overwhelming case that, if drugs are not taken into account, our understanding of the Third Reich is fundamentally incomplete. Carefully researched and rivetingly readable, Blitzed throws surprising light on a history that, until now, has remained in the shadows.

Resurrecting the Shark – Susan Ewing

In 1993, Alaskan artist and paleo-shark enthusiast Ray Troll stumbled upon the weirdest fossil he had ever seen–a platter-sized spiral of tightly wound shark teeth. This chance encounter in the basement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sparked Troll’s obsession with Helicoprion, a mysterious monster from deep time.

In 2010, tattooed undergraduate student and returning Iraq War veteran Jesse Pruitt became seriously smitten with a Helicoprion fossil in a museum basement in Idaho. These two bizarre-shark disciples found each other, and an unconventional band of collaborators grew serendipitously around them, determined to solve the puzzle of the mysterious tooth whorl once and for all.

Helicoprion was a Paleozoic chondrichthyan about the size of a modern great white shark, with a circular saw of teeth centered in its lower jaw–a feature unseen in the shark world before or since. For some ten million years, long before the Age of Dinosaurs, Helicoprion patrolled the shallow seas around the supercontinent Pangaea as the apex predator of its time.

Just a few tumultuous years after Pruitt and Troll met, imagination, passion, scientific process, and state-of-the-art technology merged into an unstoppable force that reanimated the remarkable creature–and made important new discoveries.

In this groundbreaking book, Susan Ewing reveals these revolutionary insights into what Helicoprion looked like and how the tooth whorl functioned–pushing this dazzling and awe-inspiring beast into the spotlight of modern science.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley – Hannah Tinti

A coming-of-age novel and a literary thrill ride about the price we pay to protect the people we love most.

Samuel Hawley isn’t like the other fathers in Olympus, Massachusetts. A loner who spent years living on the run, he raised his beloved daughter, Loo, on the road, moving from motel to motel, always watching his back. Now that Loo’s a teenager, Hawley wants only to give her a normal life. In his late wife’s hometown, he finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at the local high school.
Growing more and more curious about the mother she never knew, Loo begins to investigate. Soon, everywhere she turns, she encounters the mysteries of her parents’ lives before she was born. This hidden past is made all the more real by the twelve scars her father carries on his body. Each scar is from a bullet Hawley took over the course of his criminal career. Each is a memory: of another place on the map, another thrilling close call, another moment of love lost and found. As Loo uncovers a history that’s darker than she could have known, the demons of her father’s past spill over into the present–and together both Hawley and Loo must face a reckoning yet to come.

-A father-daughter road trip you won’t soon forget.—Richard Russo
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild innovation. Hannah Tinti proves herself to be an old-fashioned storyteller of the highest order.—Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth

The River of Kings – Taylor Brown

The Altamaha River, Georgia’s Little Amazon, has been named one of the 75 Last Great Places in the World. Crossed by roads only five times in its 137-mile length, the blackwater river is home to thousand-year-old virgin cypress, descendants of 18th-century Highland warriors, and a motley cast of rare and endangered species. The Altamaha has even been rumored to harbor its own river monster, as well as traces of the most ancient European fort in North America.

Brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins set off to kayak the river, bearing their father’s ashes toward the sea. Hunter is a college student, Lawton a Navy SEAL on leave; both young men were raised by an angry, enigmatic shrimper who loved the river, and whose death remains a mystery that his sons hope to resolve. As the brothers proceed downriver, their story is interwoven with that of Jacques Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied the 1564 expedition to found a French settlement at the river’s mouth, which began as a search for riches and ended in a bloody confrontation with Spanish conquistadors and native tribes. In The River of Kings, SIBA-bestselling author Taylor Brown artfully weaves three narrative strands the brothers journey, their father’s past, and the dramatic history of the river’s earliest people to evoke a legendary place and its powerful hold on the human imagination.

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition – Paul Watson

Spanning nearly 200 years, Ice Ghosts is a fast-paced detective story about Western science, indigenous beliefs, and the irrepressible spirit of exploration and discovery. It weaves together an epic account of the legendary Franklin Expedition of 1845–whose two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, and their crew of 129 were lost to the Arctic ice–with the modern tale of the scientists, researchers, divers, and local Inuit behind the recent discoveries of the two ships, which made news around the world.

The journalist Paul Watson was on the icebreaker that led the expedition that discovered the HMS Erebus in 2014, and he broke the news of the discovery of the HMS Terror in 2016. In a masterful work of history and contemporary reporting, he tells the full story of the Franklin Expedition: Sir John Franklin and his crew setting off from England in search of the fabled Northwest Passage; the hazards they encountered and the reasons they were forced to abandon ship after getting stuck in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization; and the dozens of search expeditions over more than 160 years, which collectively have been called -the most extensive, expensive, perverse, and ill-starred . . . manhunt in history.-

All that searching turned up a legendary trail of sailors’ relics, a fabled note, a lifeboat with skeletons lying next to loaded rifles, and rumors of cannibalism . . . but no sign of the ships until, finally, the discoveries in our own time. As Watson reveals, the epic hunt for the lost Franklin Expedition found success only when searchers combined the latest marine science with faith in Inuit lore that had been passed down orally for generations.

Ice Ghosts is narrative nonfiction of the highest order, full of drama and rich in characters: Lady Jane Franklin, who almost single-handedly kept the search alive for decades; an Inuit historian who worked for decades gathering elders’ accounts; an American software billionaire who launched his own hunt; and underwater archaeologists honing their skills to help find the ships. Watson also shows how the hunt for the Franklin Expedition was connected to such technological advances as SCUBA gear and sonar technology, and how it ignited debates over how to preserve the relics discovered with the ships.

A modern adventure story that arcs back through history, Ice Ghosts tells the complete and incredible story of the Franklin Expedition–the greatest of Arctic mysteries–for the ages.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House – Alyssa Mastromonaco

If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this…
Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.
But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren’t nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.
Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a -White House official- is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).
Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.

Celine – Peter Heller

From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars and The Painter, a luminous, masterful novel of suspense–the story of Celine, an elegant, aristocratic private eye who specializes in reuniting families, trying to make amends for a loss in her own past.
Working out of her jewel box of an apartment at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Celine has made a career of tracking down missing persons, and she has a better record at it than the FBI. But when a young woman, Gabriela, asks for her help, a world of mystery and sorrow opens up. Gabriela’s father was a photographer who went missing on the border of Montana and Wyoming. He was assumed to have died from a grizzly mauling, but his body was never found. Now, as Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, investigating a trail gone cold, it becomes clear that they are being followed–that this is a case someone desperately wants to keep closed. Inspired by the life of Heller’s own remarkable mother, a chic and iconoclastic private eye, Celine is a deeply personal novel, a wildly engrossing story of family, privilege, and childhood loss. Combining the exquisite plotting and gorgeous evocation of nature that have become his hallmarks, Peter Heller gives us his finest work to date.