By Greg Grandin, Metropolitan, $27.50
In 1927, Henry Ford was the world’s richest man, with a company so strong it tried to do something only countries usually manage: It became a colonial power. Seeking a source for tires and gaskets, Ford exacted a concession from the Brazilian government for a piece of Amazon jungle the size of Connecticut and set out to build a rubber plantation. Moreover, he decreed the town of Fordlandia would be an all-American place, never mind the habits of the locals (bandstands and ice-cream shops were built; Prohibition was enforced). From page one, it’s clear Fordlandia was doomed. Two things keep you reading: curiosity over how long this harebrained scheme could go on, and Ford himself, who, in his later years, was less a visionary than a wack job, full of crackpot ideas about diet, sociology, and (as everyone knows by now) Jews. –C.B.
By Leonard Levitt, Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s press, $25.99
Leonard Levitt has been covering the politics and personal relationships of One Police Plaza since 1983, giving him access to the city’s governing elite—connections he puts to excellent use here. The book examines New York’s heralded drop in crime in the nineties (with an egomaniacal Rudy Giuliani center stage), and it’s fascinating to see how toxic the atmosphere at NYPD headquarters became despite—or because of—that success. Levitt addresses the big issues via an engaging, character-driven narrative and wisely never resorts to the macho melodrama that poisons so much of tabloid police reporting. –B.M.L.
Bury Me Deep
By Megan Abbott, Simon & Schuster, $15
In 1931, a young wife, Marion Seeley, is deposited by her husband on the steps of a TB ward in Phoenix. Eager to escape her job as a medical secretary among the “lungers,” as patients are known, Marion quickly falls in with the wrong crowd: fading flappers with marcelled bobs and blank eyes. Enter Gentleman Joe, a married “wet druggist” who is all about the “business of ruin.” He unlocks a dark obsession in Marion, and, true to noir style, desperate passions lead to despicable actions. In this novel based on the true-life case of the “Trunk Murderess,” Abbott turns the stuff of sensational confession magazines into a rich meditation on the unclouded depths of the soul. –C.R.