Reading Lyrics , edited by Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb (Pantheon, $39.50), is about the best anthology of great American popular songs you could hope for, with words to more than a thousand of them from the era between 1900 and 1975, arranged by lyricist. It is a must-have for any admirer of the poetry of Hart, Gershwin, Carmichael, et al. And if you want to know more about those songs and their authors and composers, turn to Easy to Remember: Great American Songwriters and Their Songs , by William Zinsser (Godine, $29.95), an elegantly written and handsomely illustrated appreciation in the form of short essays about individual songwriters and some of their most outstanding masterpieces.
The title of G. I. Brown’s Scientist, Soldier, Statesman, Spy (Sutton, $12.95) aptly sums up the diverse careers of its subject, the American-British-FrenchGerman Count Rumford, originally Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, Massachusetts. Besides betraying his fellow colonists in the Revolution, pioneering the mechanical theory of heat, and making important advances in lighting and stove design, he ingratiated himself with virtually every powerful man or rich woman he met (marrying two of the latter) and used scientific studies to greatly improve the health of Bavaria’s soldiers, despite his erroneous conviction that the chief nutrient in soup was water.
In April 1865: The Month That Saved America (HarperCollins, $30.00), Jay Winik’s well-paced narrative follows Robert E. Lee’s attempt to elude Ulysses S. Grant and join up with Joe Johnston’s troops; the fall of Richmond, the Confederate capital; the pins-and-needles negotiations that finally led to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox; Abraham Lincoln’s struggles in his last days to find a shape for Reconstruction; “the choreographed decapitation of the Union government,” as Winik calls Lincoln’s assassination; and on through to the capture of a fugitive Jefferson Davis and the first stirrings of national reconciliation, the troubled dawn of “a new America, reunited, yes, scarred, certainly, but for the first time, largely whole, looking as much to the future as to the past.”
When Fergus M. Bordewich was 14 years old, he badgered his reluctant mother into going riding with him; she fell from her horse and died beneath the hooves of his own. In My Mother’s Ghost (Doubleday, $23.95), he tells of a lifetime spent coming to terms with this calamity, and since his mother, LaVerne Madigan, was the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs in a crucial time, his beautifully written memoir is not only a lucid statement of the power and complexity of one’s personal past but an absorbing account of an immensely capable woman working to right historic wrongs.