Fall Books

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Writing about Crazy Horse, who led the infamous attack on Gen. George A. Custer atthe LittleBig Horn, remains difficult largely because the Oglala war chief was intensely private and taciturn. Unlike other famous Sioux leaders such as Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, for instance, he never sat for a photograph. Powers goes a long way toward unraveling the knot of vendetta and misunderstanding that led to Crazy Horse’s tragic murder in federal custody at the Red Cloud Agency in 1877. The author details the intricacies of Sioux culture and the challenges posed to the great chiefs who were forced to leave it behind, balancing them against the lives of Gen. George Crook, who ordered Crazy Horse’s arrest, and scout Frank Grouard, whose alleged mistranslation of the chief’s words stirred the general’s suspicion. (Knopf, 608 pages, $30)
 
Louisa May Alcott 
A Personal Biography
By Susan Cheever
 
When in 1868 Louisa May Alcott’s publisher Thomas Niles suggested she write a book for girls, she balked and delayed, but at last composed her masterpiece, Little Women, which endures as one of the most beloved children’s works of the English language. Modern women identify with Jo March, the book’s spirited, literary heroine, as she struggles for recognition in a man’s world. Cheever, author of American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau (Simon & Schuster 2006), presents a concise and readable portrait of the woman behind the March girls, emphasizing the contrast between the author’s life and the idyll she created: Alcott’s difficult childhood, constantly on the move after the failure of yet another of her father’s schools; her formative friendships with (and girlish crushes on) transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; and her nursing service in the Union hospital following the Battle of Fredericksburg, which lent maturity to her writing, transforming her from an author of lurid melodrama into a keen observer of truth and human nature. (Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $26)
 
The Man Who Sold America
The Amazing (But True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation 
of the Advertising Century
By Jeffrey L. Cruikshank and Arthur W. Schultz
 
Born at the right time (1880), possessing the right genes, driven by the right choices, Albert Lasker became the grand vizier of mercantile America, then a prince of glitz and, surprisingly, a pioneer of philanthropy. He launched himself in Chicago on the cusp of an era when industry, transportation, consumerism, and mass media swarmed like vines up Jack’s magic beanstalk. A consummate salesman, marketing genius, and alchemist of popular trends, Lasker masterminded advertising per se, the matrix that bound the new world order. While his achievements (and ad campaigns) sound like Guinness Book of Records stuff, a different kind of genius makes this book an engrossing page-turner. Composed like a mosaic and paced like a decathlon, the lucid narrative projects a titan with clay feet up to the hips (Lasker tilted with booze, cards, and depression). This is a model biography, relating a notable 
life, evoking an age, and narrating a history of the tide of commercialism during America’s maelstrom century. (Harvard Business Review Press, 435 pages, $27.95)
 
Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad
By Derek Hayes
 
The latest in the UC Press series of historical atlases, this handsome volume delivers nearly 400 railroad maps along with a veritable feast of vintage ads, posters, and photographs, providing an experience for the railroad buff that’s second only to running a hand over a real fire-tube boiler or hearing a train whistle. Hayes’s informative text covers the growth of famed rail lines such as the Baltimore & Ohio, the Mohawk & Hudson, and the Atlantic & Pacific; the triumph of the transcontinental railroad; and rail transit’s indispensable contribution to military mobilization during World War II. Although, as the book points out, government-sponsored passenger train service has not retained its once-great popularity, this atlas reveals how deeply the railroad 
has figured in the growth of the United States and Canada. 
(University of California Press, $39.95, 224 pages)