Shelf Awareness for Thursday, October 29, 2020

William Morrow & Company: The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley

Shadow Mountain: The Witch in the Woods: Volume 1 (Grimmworld) by Michaelbrent Collings

Hell's Hundred: Blood Like Mine by Stuart Neville

Delacorte Press: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy

Margaret Ferguson Books: Not a Smiley Guy by Polly Horvath, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Indiana University Press: The Grim Reader: A Pharmacist's Guide to Putting Your Characters in Peril by Miffie Seideman

St. Martin's Press: Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder by Kerryn Mayne

Quotation of the Day

'Amazon, the Preexisting Condition'

"If there are businesses that do go under because of this, the pandemic will be the cause, but the preexisting condition was Amazon... I understand this is capitalism, but our mission is building community one book at a time. That's our purpose. Conversely, you could say Amazon's mission statement is destroying community one click at a time."

--Paul Hanson, co-owner of Village Books, Bellingham and Lynden, Wash., in a King5 story about the bookstore and the #BoxedOut campaign.

Harper: Our Kind of Game by Johanna Copeland


New Owner for Wyoming's Valley Bookstore

Steve Ashley, longtime owner of Valley Bookstore, Jackson Hole, Wyo., is selling the store to Wendy Dodson, who will close Valley Bookstore for the month of November, then reopen in a new location, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Dodson called Valley Bookstore "an incredible institution in our community" and Ashley "the beating heart of reading here in the valley, and I'm so grateful for his mentorship." She added that "a great bookstore is not just a place to buy a book, it should be part of the fabric of the community."

The owner of Valley Bookstore for 45 years, Ashley put the store up for sale a year ago. "Thoughts of slowing down were sped up when he developed heart problems," the paper wrote.

Dodson's most recent work in fundraising "took a big hit from Covid-19," which led her "to act on a longtime dream of being a bookseller." Her husband is Dave Dodson, an entrepreneur and faculty member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business who ran for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary in Wyoming in 2018.

Dodson aims to reopen Valley Bookstore in early December in a space of about 2,000 square feet, which is almost the same size as the bookstore's current location. She plans more emphasis on "local authors and regional books, and also an expanded kids' books offering, along with some toys and games," the newspaper wrote. "She hopes to bring in authors from outside the area for signings and other events."

Chronicle Books: Life Wants You Dead: A Calm, Rational, and Totally Legit Guide to Scaring Yourself Safe by Evan Waite, Illustrated by Paula Searing

Writers Against Trump Organizing November 5 Bookstore Events

Writers Against Trump, an association of American authors and writers working together to oppose Donald Trump and to encourage voter turnout, is planning a series of post-election events on November 5, in partnership with several independent bookstores around the country.

Writer, bookseller and Writers Against Trump member Shuchi Saraswat explained that the bookstore events will happen during the day, followed by a national event that evening that will bring together Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie, Rebecca Solnit and Natasha Trethewey for a roundtable discussion on what just happened, what's happening now, and what must happen next.

Eight indie bookstores have signed up to host virtual events so far, includng Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., Books & Books in Miami, Fla., Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Tex., City Lights Books in San Francisco, Calif., and Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago, Ill.

Saraswat, who works at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., pointed out that these events won't exactly be readings. Instead, the idea is that writers will offer perspective and guidance, and the events will give people a chance to just "pause and look around."

She reported that the organization began to form toward the end of August, with about 30 writers on board; even from the beginning, the organization "wanted to do something the week of the election," knowing that it may not be decided right on election night. And even if it is, she added, there may be some "post-election chaos," and the hope is that these events will help people navigate that, no matter the outcome.

Over the past few months, Writers Against Trump has asked participating writers to write op-eds in their local newspapers, film personal statements about how and why they're taking action, discuss their voting plans on social media and much more. The organization also put together five virtual sessions centered on swing states, with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and North Carolina featured. These swing state sessions were an hour long and featured writers speaking with activists about what writers can do, what readers can do, and what people from outside those states can do to help. 

A full list of the November 5 plans can be found here, and booksellers interested in getting involved contact Writers Against Trump via e-mail.

GLOW: Tundra Books: We Are Definitely Human by X. Fang

International Update: BA Surveys U.K. Consumers, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris Seeks Help

A recent consumer survey conducted by the Booksellers Association of the U.K. and Ireland found strong public support for shopping locally and early this holiday season. The Bookseller reported that 96% of those surveyed said they intend to shop in stores, rather than online, to "bolster local businesses," while almost 60% plan to start shopping earlier than usual this year.

Survey respondents also said the pandemic and lockdown "had a positive impact on their reading, with three quarters of responses confirming that they have been reading more books than normal during the past six months," the Bookseller wrote. More than 95% felt their local bookshop provided a safe shopping environment.

BA managing director Meryl Halls commented: "There is no denying that it has been a difficult year for booksellers and the high street more widely, but it is heartening to see the responses from our consumer survey pointing to ongoing public support for local bookshops going into the crucial festive period. With many booksellers impacted by regional restrictions, and others still recovering from the national lockdown, it is more important than ever that people continue to choose bookshops and allow booksellers to continue the vital work they do in their communities."


Legendary Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company is appealing to customers for help to counter losses incurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. In a letter to friends of the bookshop, the bookseller expressed appreciation to supporters who have already reached out, but added that "we are struggling, trying to see a way forward during this time when we've been operating at a loss, with our sales down almost 80% since March. With this in mind, we would be especially grateful for new website orders from those of you with the means and interest to do so....

"Today, each morning, taking down the wooden shutters, opening those same doors, and welcoming readers and writers--whether travelers from across the world or the Parisians who are still able to visit us--always feels like an immense privilege. Because, as well as being a bookshop, Shakespeare and Company is a community, a commune (often literally), of which you are all a part. We are here today, almost seventy years after that first morning, because of you. We send our best wishes for your health and safety. May we all thrive together soon."

Proprietor Sylvia Whitman told the Guardian: "We're not closing our doors, but we've gone through all of our savings... which we were lucky to build up, and we have also been making use of the support from the government, and especially the furlough scheme. But it doesn't cover everything, and we've delayed quite a lot of rent that we have.... Right now our cafe and bookshop is open, but it's looking like we will have to close both because bookshops are considered non-essential. The one big difference is that we're adamant this time we're going to be ready to keep the website open."

Since the letter went out, Whitman said the shop had been deluged with offers of support as well as online orders: "I think it's going to give us a real boost in getting through this next chapter. We haven't said anything publicly before because we just feel so aware everyone is in difficult situations. We just want to ask people to help us do what we do, which is sell books."


Canadian poet and bookseller Alice Burdick, former co-owner of Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, has won a seat on the city council in Mahone Bay, Quill & Quire reported, adding that she recently published the cookbook Grandma's Cookies, Cakes, Pies and Sweets: The Best of Canada's East Coast. --Robert Gray

Harper: Sandwich by Catherine Newman

How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Reinventing the Wheel'; Proactive Ordering

In Los Angeles, Calif., Skylight Books recently reopened its art annex to browsing, though the back third of the space is still being used for website order fulfillment, and the store has expanded both its weekday and weekend hours. General manager Mary Williams reported that even with these changes, "we don't feel much closer to normal." Each day, about half of the store's staff is focused on web orders, and the store has had to hire additional booksellers to accommodate the increased hours and reopened annex. Sales are still down significantly for the year, added Williams, but there's "more work than ever to be done and much of that work is happening online."

Skylight's Arts Annex

One silver lining during this difficult time has been rethinking a lot of the store's systems and "reinventing the wheel in a few places," particularly for Skylight's online order processing. Williams remarked that it was a lot of work, so it didn't exactly feel like a silver lining at the time, but the store is "much better off now" for having done it. She noted that during the summer, when the store saw a huge surge in online orders for antiracist titles, she and the team had to contend with all of the "slow spots, inconsistencies and opportunities for mistakes" in its existing workflow. After a complete rethink, Skylight now has a much smoother and more streamlined system. And whenever things do return to normal, Williams expects online orders to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

About ordering for the holidays, Williams said the store has been a bit conservative this year, but is also wary of popular titles selling out early and becoming impossible to get back in stock. After a spring and summer of low inventory levels, the store has been stocking up, and shelves are "looking full heading into the holidays." She wished she could say the store was following a "magic formula," but with so much uncertainty surrounding the holidays, it is taking educated guesses.

When asked if Skylight is encouraging customers to shop early, Williams admitted that the store is running about two weeks behind on its holiday marketing, partly because it had to squeeze in a full inventory two weeks ago. The store's holiday catalog went to the printer this week, and once a "clickable version" is on the website, it will start marketing in full force. Encouraging early shopping is a big part of that marketing plan, and Williams pointed out that in normal years, serious holiday shopping doesn't begin until about two weeks before Christmas. The team also plans to encourage customers to choose in-store pick-up over shipping whenever possible.


Eleanor Thorn, owner of Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Ill., reported that her store was able to reopen in late May, when Governor J.B. Pritzker allowed most businesses to resume operations. Customers are required to wear masks and sanitize their hands, and the store enforces a limited capacity. Aside from those precautions, Thorn added, things are "as close to normal operations as they've been since earlier this year."

Thorn's customers have been "immensely understanding" about the precautions that she and her team are taking, and there have been no problems with shoppers refusing to wear masks or follow safety protocols. She said she's been very fortunate to have a great staff as well as "supportive and loyal customers" who have kept the store going during difficult times.

One of the surprising aspects of the pandemic, Thorn continued, was that it forced the team to rethink and invest further in the store's website. While both customers and staff are glad that the store has been open to browsing since May, the team intends to continue making improvements to the website, and to further boost the store's social media presence. They've also noticed that since reopening in May, the store's window displays have been a bigger draw for foot traffic than they have in the past.

As for holiday ordering, Thorn said she is being "quite proactive" due to concerns about availability in the coming months, and is ordering large quantities up front. Customers have already started shopping for the holidays earlier than normal, and she noted that the pandemic has reinforced the need "to shop local and independent more than ever." --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Randy Kessler

Randy Kessler

Randy Kessler, national sales manager at Scholastic, died unexpectedly on October 22. He was 50.

Based in his hometown of Kenosha, Wis., Kessler began working at Scholastic in 2004 as national account manager, overseeing trade sales to Readerlink and Target. He also worked with mass market accounts Kmart, BJ's Wholesale Club, the military, Kohl's, Meijer, Kroger, Shopko, Fred Meyer and more. Kessler and Scholastic were awarded Readerlink's Vendor of the Year many times during his 16-year tenure with Scholastic. The publisher noted that he "truly exemplified the Scholastic mission and was incredibly passionate about getting books into the hands of children." Before joining Scholastic, Kessler worked at Golden Books, HiT Entertainment and Dalmatian Press.

Elizabeth Whiting, director of national accounts for Scholastic Trade, said, "Everyone at Scholastic who knew Randy felt a special connection to him--including each and every person he met in the office. He was friends with every assistant, every manager, anyone who crossed his path--all the way up to Scholastic president & CEO Dick Robinson. Randy loved working for Scholastic. His infectious smile and generous spirit inspired all who spent time with him, and his competitive nature made us all better. We deeply mourn the loss of such a great man, friend, and role model, and our hearts are with his family at this unimaginably difficult time."

To help support his family, who include his wife, Arianne, and two daughters, Scholastic colleagues have started a fundraiser that can be found here.

Shelf Awareness Delivers Indie Pre-Order E-Blast

Yesterday, Shelf Awareness sent our monthly pre-order e-blast to nearly two-thirds of a million of the country's best book readers. The e-blast went to 655,928 customers of 138 participating independent bookstores.

The mailing features eight upcoming titles selected by Shelf Awareness editors and a sponsored title. Customers can buy these books via "pre-order" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on each sending store's website. A key feature is that bookstore partners can easily change title selections to best reflect the tastes of their customers and can customize the mailing with links, images and promotional copy of their own.

The pre-order e-blasts are sent the last Wednesday of each month; the next will go out on Wednesday, November 25. Stores interested in learning more can visit our program registration page or contact our partner program team via e-mail.

For a sample of yesterday's pre-order e-blast, see this one from Warwick's, La Jolla, Calif.


Happy 40th Birthday, Unabridged Bookstore!

Congratulations to Unabridged Bookstore, Chicago, Ill., which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this coming weekend. Although there will not be the normal celebrating with food and drinks in the store because of Covid-19, the store will offer 10% discounts on all online and in-store purchases Saturday, October 31, and Sunday, November 1. Unabridged is also offering a new 40th anniversary tote bag and two anniversary bookmarks designed by local Chicago artist David Lee Csicsko.

The store said, "We cannot thank our customers enough for the amazing support they have given us over the last 40 years, and especially these last six trying months. We are so grateful to our customers, our community, and our amazing staff. Here's to another 40 years at Unabridged! Our celebration also includes a display of over 100+ vintage store photos from the last 40 years!" (See the photos here.)

'Christmas in October': Afterwords Books

"Christmas in October??" Afterwords Books, Edwardsville, Ill., posed the question on Facebook yesterday. "We're offering a limited number of these holiday advent book bundles; just $100 for 24 books, one to unwrap each day leading up to Christmas! This is a beloved tradition that our family has enjoyed over the past 30 years and we've put together an assortment of titles that everyone in the family can enjoy. For just $10 more, we'll even gift wrap each book in some lovely festive paper! Just like everything else 2020, the holidays promise to be topsy-turvy and we're anticipating shipping delays of new books and gifts. Plan to shop early to assure all your holiday goodies arrive in time for your celebration!"


Cartoon: 'How Your Local Indie Bookstore Compares to Amazon'

Posted by River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, Conn.: "Thank you to everyone who chose to shop small today, and every day! How you spend, and where, shapes the community you live in. Thank you for investing in Glastonbury. And an extra huge thank you to River Bend bookseller, and New Yorker cartoonist, Ernio for these amazing images. I appreciate how he always makes me look better than IRL. Shout out to Nancy and Deb for also making appearances!"

Personnel Changes at Algonquin Books; Sourcebooks Fire

At Algonquin Books:

Travis Smith, who joined Algonquin Books in the Chapel Hill office full-time in 2018, has been promoted to marketing manager from assistant marketing manager. He was previously a part-time publishing coordinator while also working as a frontline bookseller at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Amanda Dissinger has joined Algonquin Books in the New York office as a senior publicist. She formerly was a publicity manager at the Ace Hotel Group and earlier was a publicist at Oxford University Press.


Beth Oleniczak has been promoted to associate director of marketing and publishing strategy for Sourcebooks Fire.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Nicholas Christakis on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Nicholas Christakis, author of Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live (Little, Brown Spark, $29, 9780316628211).

This Weekend on Book TV: Ali Soufan

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, October 31
9:45 a.m. Adam Cox and Cristina Rodriguez, authors of The President and Immigration Law (Oxford University Press, $34.95, 9780190694364). (Re-airs Monday at 6 a.m.)

2 p.m. H.R. McMaster, author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World (Harper, $35, 9780062899460). (Re-airs Sunday at 4:55 a.m.)

3:25 p.m. James P. Steyer, author of Which Side of History?: How Technology Is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives (Chronicle Prism, $17.95, 9781797205168).

4:30 p.m. Connie Mack, author of Citizen Mack: Politics, an Honorable Calling (Brown Books Publishing, $27.95, 9781612544366). (Re-airs Monday at 7 a.m.)

5:30 p.m. John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, authors of Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers (Melville House, $29.99, 9781612199054), at the Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio. (Re-airs Monday at 3 a.m.)

6:30 p.m. Maria Bartiromo, co-author of The Cost: Trump, China, and American Revival (Threshold Editions, $28, 9781982163983). (Re-airs Monday at 2 a.m.)

7:30 p.m. James Lang, author of Distracted: Why Students Can't Focus and What You Can Do About It (Basic Books, $30, 9781541699809).

9 p.m. Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 9780358315070), at BookPeople in Austin, Tex.

10 p.m. Gerald Seib, author of We Should Have Seen It Coming: From Reagan to Trump--A Front-Row Seat to a Political Revolution (Random House, $28, 9780593135150). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 1 a.m.)

11 p.m.  Ali Soufan, author of The Black Banners (Declassified): How Torture Derailed the War on Terror after 9/11 (Norton, $17.95, 9780393343496).

Sunday, November 1
6 p.m. Ian W. Toll, author of Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (Norton, $40, 9780393080650).

7 p.m. Shennette Garrett-Scott, author of Banking on Freedom: Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal (Columbia University Press, $35, 9780231183918).

8 p.m. David Michaelis, author of Eleanor (Simon & Schuster, $35, 9781439192016), at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass.

Books & Authors

Awards: Baillie Gifford Shortlist

A shortlist has been released for the £50,000 (about $65,435) Baillie Gifford Prize, which "rewards excellence in nonfiction writing, bringing the best in intelligent reflection on the world to new readers." The winner will be announced November 24 in a live virtual celebration. This year's shortlisted titles are:

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown
The Idea of the Brain: A History by Matthew Cobb
Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh
Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women by Christina Lamb
Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Woman's Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan by Amy Stanley
The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, November 3:

Hidden in Plain Sight by Jeffrey Archer (St. Martin's Press, $28.99, 9781250200785) is the second mystery featuring Detective William Warwick.

The Best of Me by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, $30, 9780316628242) contains Sedaris's selection of his best work.

The Patriots: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the Making of America by Winston Groom (National Geographic, $30, 9781426221491) chronicles three of the founding fathers.

White Ivy: A Novel by Susie Yang (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781982100599) follows a child of immigrants obsessed with a privileged classmate.

Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish (Quercus, $26.99, 9781529342000) is a road trip around Scotland by two stars of the show Outlander.

The Couch Potato by Jory John, illus. by Pete Oswald (HarperCollins, $18.99, 9780062954534), is the fourth picture book in the duo's series that features a Bad Seed, a Good Egg, a Cool Bean and, now, a Couch Potato.

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel and Friends, $17.99, 9781250618818) is a YA love-to-hate romance in which a teen is suddenly gifted the power to "cast instant karma" on those around her.

The Complete One Pot: 400 Meals for Your Skillet, Sheet Pan, Instant Pot, Dutch Oven, and More by America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $34.99, 9781948703345).

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover: An Indies Introduce Title
Dear Child: A Novel by Romy Hausmann (Flatiron, $26.99, 9781250768537). "We've all heard the horror stories of women kept captive in basements, bearing children to madmen, only to escape after years of torture into a world they no longer remember and a public filled with fascination at their stories. Dear Child features two such women, both victims of the same abductor, but who suffer two very different fates. It is also the story of men who love too hard, in both the right ways and the wrong ways. At its heart it is the story of family, of what we will do to find those we've lost, how we love and show that love, and how we survive and come to peace with grief and guilt." --Deborah Magness, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash.

Cuyahoga: A Novel by Pete Beatty (Scribner, $27, 9781982155551). "Pete Beatty's Cuyahoga is difficult to categorize: a slapstick epic, an upside-down creation story, a postmodern American myth. Whatever you call it, know that it's a ribald, shaggy delight. Protagonist Big Son is what they call a 'spirit' in 1837 Ohio: more legend than man, a doer of larger-than-life feats. Narrator Medium Son, Big Son's kind of jealous little brother, chronicles those feats, which seem to be tied to the falling fortunes of their home in Ohio City as neighboring Cleveland looms across the river. Told in lively, poetic language, Cuyahoga feels at once brand new and as old as its namesake river." --Danny Caine, Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan.

Imaginary Friend: A Novel by Stephen Chbosky (Grand Central, $32, 9781538731338). "Imaginary Friend has, in my humble opinion, already earned its spot on the top shelf of classic horror novels. Reminiscent of Stephen King's It and Neil Gaiman's Coraline, it is one of the most compulsively terrifying, eerily uncanny novels of our time. Once you pick up this book, you won't put it down until you've devoured it whole (or, should I say, it has devoured you), and once finished, you will feel the dangerous urge to turn to the first page and start all over again. It is an utterly original masterpiece of fear. Thank you, Stephen Chbosky, for the lost sleep and the goosebumps! Signed, a hard-to-scare horror fanatic." --Tianna Moxley, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

For Ages 4 to 8
Thesaurus Has a Secret by Anya Glazer (Katherine Tegen, $17.99, 9780062916051). "An adorable, delightful, and magnificent picture book! A great read-aloud about reading combining dinosaurs and books. Love the nods to great literature in the illustrations (Jurassic Mansfield Park?!?!). This is a book for kids and adults alike." --Lauren Brown, The Story Shop, Monroe, Ga.

For Ages 9 to 12
A Cat Story by Ursula Murray Husted (Quill Tree Books, $12.99, 9780062932044). "Teachers and parents of middle grade students will want this book so they can capture the animal lovers and travelers in the room. It reminded me of the weird and whimsical cat tale told by T.S. Eliot, though set in beautiful Malta. My favorite part is the incorporation of famous historical artwork into the world of the two cats, who dart in and out of everything from Botticelli to Munch."  --Kim Ralph, Lark and Owl Booksellers, Georgetown, Tex.

For Teen Readers
Hush by Dylan Farrow (Wednesday Books, $18.99, 9781250235909). "Dylan Farrow shows potential to be the next big name in YA fantasy with her stunning debut, Hush, about a world full of secrets and the girl willing to speak them all. With a deeply layered magic system reminiscent of Alison Croggan's Pellinor series and fierce characters on par with Tamora Pierce's Tortall, Farrow blends classic high fantasy with a strong feminist message of self-belief and courage. You don't want to miss this one." --Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, Miss.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest

The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest by Ed Caesar (Avid Reader Press, $28 hardcover, 288p., 9781501143373, November 17, 2020)

To call the quest that journalist Ed Caesar recounts in The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest quixotic might be an affront to the protagonist of Miguel de Cervantes's classic novel. But readers in the mood for an eccentric adventure story will be captivated by this fast-moving account of Englishman Maurice Wilson's doomed quest to scale the world's highest peak in 1934.

Considering Wilson's size in relation to the scale of his audacious project, the moth of Caesar's book title could have referred to the man himself, but instead it describes a Gipsy Moth biplane manufactured by the de Havilland Aircraft Company. While visiting Germany in 1932, Wilson--a World War I veteran who received one of Britain's highest awards for valor after he was seriously wounded fighting in Belgium in 1918--hatched his improbable plan to fly that aircraft some 5,000 miles from England to India, crash land the tiny plane at an elevation of 10,000 feet and then become the first man to ascend to the summit--alone.

Wilson's scheme would have been wildly ambitious for a seasoned aviator and skilled mountaineer, but considering that he had completed his flight training only a short time before he took off from England and hadn't climbed anything higher than some mountains in the country's Lake District and Wales, it bordered on the suicidal. As Caesar reveals, in a vivid account of the journey, even after Wilson executed the long, perilous flight in the plane he named Ever-Wrest--"flying by compass and church steeple" only to find his aerial access to the mountain barred by hostile governments--he trekked 300 miles disguised as a Tibetan priest, in the company of three Sherpas, to the base camp from which he launched his doomed climb.

Confessing to a near obsession with Wilson's story, and aided by the discovery of a cache of documents in the possession of his subject's septuagenarian great-nephew, Caesar is a deeply sympathetic biographer. He's ferreted out provocative tidbits about Wilson's personal life (including a profound curiosity about mysticism, a fascination with unusual dietary regimens and an unrequited love for a married woman) and reflects on the toll Wilson's brief service in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Great War took on the second half of that life. Whether viewed as an inspiring tribute to one brave man's indomitable spirit, or a chronicle of sheer madness, what Caesar calls the "whole sorry, beautiful, melancholy, crazy tale" is one of truth that often seems far stranger than fiction. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: This is a vivid account of one early attempt to climb Mount Everest, a tale of adventure and madness.

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