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This Just In

Interesting new titles in February

Groucho Marx by Lee Siegel

Yale University Press
Groucho Marx by Lee Siegel

Born Julius Marx in 1890, the brilliant comic actor who would later be known as Groucho was the most verbal of the famed comedy team, the Marx Brothers, his broad slapstick portrayals elevated by ingenious wordplay and double entendre. In his spirited biography of this beloved American iconoclast, Lee Siegel views the life of Groucho through the lens of his work on stage, screen, and television. The author uncovers the roots of the performer’s outrageous intellectual acuity and hilarious insolence toward convention and authority in Groucho’s early upbringing and Marx family dynamics.

The first critical biography of Groucho Marx to approach his work analytically, this fascinating study draws unique connections between Groucho’s comedy and his life, concentrating primarily on the brothers’ classic films as a means of understanding and appreciating Julius the man. Unlike previous uncritical and mostly reverential biographies, Lee Siegel’s “bio-commentary” makes a distinctive contribution to the field of Groucho studies by attempting to tell the story of his life in terms of his work, and vice versa.

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America's Dreyfus by Joan Brady

Skyscraper
America

Every American schoolchild knows of the crimes of Alger Hiss, a man whose very name rings with villainy. Communist, spy, perjurer – all of these accusations were bandied around in public and led to Hiss’s downfall. Outside the US, Alger Hiss is less well-known, but the man who caused Hiss’s downfall, Richard Nixon, became notorious because of his own crimes.

Now, prize-winning thriller-writer Joan Brady has written a powerful book which demolishes the evidence against Hiss and shows how Nixon manipulated the press and public by forging evidence and riding roughshod over Hiss’s rights. Research for her book followed a long friendship with Hiss after his release from prison, and her curiosity turned to outrage when she discovered how he had been treated. But why would Nixon rig such a case?

Brady explains that Nixon needed to establish anti-communist credentials while standing as a right-wing candidate. Hiss was his scapegoat, just as Alfred Dreyfus in France in 1894 was convicted of espionage on a wave of anti-semitism. Dreyfus was eventually cleared of his crimes; Hiss never has been.

Brady draws strong parallels with today's war on terrorism, sometimes being used to silence or threaten critics of government policies in the US and the UK. Written in a vivid and personal style, America’s Dreyfus reads like one of Brady’s thrillers, although every word is true.

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The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

Penguin Press
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that’s as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now. A young couple on the brink of marriage—the charming Veblen and her fiancé Paul, a brilliant neurologist—find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other’s dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel.

Veblen (named after the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term “conspicuous consumption”) is one of the most refreshing heroines in recent fiction. Not quite liberated from the burdens of her hypochondriac, narcissistic mother and her institutionalized father, Veblen is an amateur translator and “freelance self”; in other words, she’s adrift. Meanwhile, Paul—the product of good hippies who were bad parents—finds his ambition soaring. His medical research has led to the development of a device to help minimize battlefield brain trauma—an invention that gets him swept up in a high-stakes deal with the Department of Defense, a Bizarro World that McKenzie satirizes with granular specificity.

As Paul is swept up by the promise of fame and fortune, Veblen heroically keeps the peace between all the damaged parties involved in their upcoming wedding, until she finds herself falling for someone—or something—else. Throughout, Elizabeth McKenzie asks: Where do our families end and we begin? How do we stay true to our ideals? And what is that squirrel really thinking? Replete with deadpan photos and sly appendices, The Portable Veblen is at once an honest inquiry into what we look for in love and an electrifying reading experience.

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The Only Game in Town by Mohamed A. El-Erian

Random House
The Only Game in Town by Mohamed A. El-Erian

Dr. Mohamed A. El-Erian, one of the world’s most influential economic thinkers and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of When Markets Collide, has written a roadmap to what lies ahead and the decisions we must make now to stave off the next global economic and financial crisis. Our current economic path is coming to an end. The signposts are all around us: sluggish growth, rising inequality, stubbornly high pockets of unemployment, and jittery financial markets, to name a few. Soon we will reach a fork in the road: One path leads to renewed growth, prosperity, and financial stability, the other to recession and market disorder.

In The Only Game in Town, El-Erian casts his gaze toward the future of the global economy and markets, outlining the choices we face both individually and collectively in an era of economic uncertainty and financial insecurity. Beginning with their response to the 2008 global crisis, El-Erian explains how and why our central banks became the critical policy actors—and, most important, why they cannot continue is this role alone. They saved the financial system from collapse in 2008 and a multiyear economic depression, but lack the tools to enable a return to high inclusive growth and durable financial stability. The time has come for a policy handoff, from a prolonged period of monetary policy experimentation to a strategy that better targets what ails economies and distorts the financial sector—before we stumble into another crisis.

The future, critically, is not predestined. It is up to us to decide where we will go from here as households, investors, companies, and governments. Using a mix of insights from economics, finance, and behavioral science, this book gives us the tools we need to properly understand this turning point, prepare for it, and come out of it stronger. A comprehensive, controversial look at the realities of our global economy and markets, The Only Game in Town is required reading for investors, policymakers, and anyone interested in the future.

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