James Morone is a professor of political science at Brown University and the author of Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History (Yale University Press, $35).
Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Du Bois (Simon & Schuster, $20). My candidate for the great American epic. Toss aside your Tocqueville, this is the real deal: A fiery poem wrapped in a sermon and served with sociology. Its about the South after the Civil War; its about the soul of black folks; its about poor white people clinging to their whiteness at all costs. Open any page and feel the heat.
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling (North Point Press, $13). Heres a balance to all those nasty advice books about healthy living. A lyrical recollection of food, wine, art, talk, and whoresthe way they were in 1926.
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (Putnam, $26). Gibson has managed the first iconic book about the media-saturated, buzz-obsessed, hyper-caffeinated, 21st-century grid. The plot spins around terrorists, international hustlers, and enigmatic video clips that start popping up on the Web.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (Henry Holt, $13). Taking a series of low-wage jobs, Ehrenreich pours coffee, cleans houses, and hangs blouses at Wal-Mart. In the process she discovers the hard world of random drug tests, petty authorities, nasty customers, and the fear of falling (no health insurance). Not funny at all.
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (Penguin, $8). A novel about Oxford dons, murder, and England in 1663. As soon as a Venetian medical student explains who poured the arsenic, another character seizes the narrative and reassigns guilt and innocence. If getting lost in a maze appeals to you, youll love this.
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America