Pick a Pocket Or Two: A History of British Musical Theatre by Ethan Mordden

Few write as engagingly and knowledgeably about the American musical theater as Ethan Mordden, so it makes sense that he would turn his talents to the British musical theater. Mordden is skilled both at pronouncing major themes (for example, broadly speaking, the American musical is about ambition and the British musical is about social order) and showering the reader with detail, whether it be how much Andrew Lloyd Webber loathed the New York production of Jesus Christ Superstar or how Paul Scofield, not yet acclaimed for playing King Lear or winning an Oscar for his performance as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, stole the show in Expresso Bongo, a 1958 musical in which he played the manager to a pop idol named Bongo Herbert. Mordden is especially good on Noël Coward and at digging into why Coward’s musicals were never quite as good as his plays.

The book concludes with a wonderful discography that shows Mordden at his obsessive best. Who knew, for instance, that there is a cast album of the Canadian production of Sunset Boulevard featuring Diahann Carroll? Well, now you know!

Once More to the Sky: The Rebuilding of the World Trade Center by Scott Raab and Joe Woolhead

When Scott Raab set out to chronicle the construction of One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, for Esquire, nothing was certain about the project. After 10 years, $4 billion, and enough setbacks to deter Odysseus, the project was finished, but not before Raab and photographer Joe Woolhead had managed to tell the extraordinary and moving tale of what it took to build what is, after all, an office building over a graveyard. The book and its photos are a singular kind of time capsule, and revelatory to those who now see One World Trade Center as the place where Condé Nast, its poshest tenant, is trying to cut back its lease.

The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean, and the Looming Threat That Imperils It by Helen Scales

Unlike some books, this one has a subtitle that accurately describes what is between its covers. A marine biologist, Scales writes beautifully of the ocean floor (they are “not simply endless, flat tracts of mud. They are intersected by undulating hills and winding valleys, burping mud volcanoes and fizzing Jacuzzis of methane bubbles … ”) while at the same time instilling rage for the damage wrought by deep-sea fishing and mining. If we do not take action now, Scales argues, we will destroy our waters just as surely as we are destroying our air. It is the author’s gift to leave us both enthralled and angry, but angered to action and not to despair.