Plotted: A Literary Atlas (Pulp, $24.99) is two gifts in one: Andrew DeGraff’s colorful, elegant, and often ingenious illustrations—a visual and literary treat in themselves—and Daniel Harmon’s lively and informative essays, which spark the memory or the imagination—or both, depending on your reading history. The nineteen maps included here chart the timeless adventures recounted in Homer’s Odyssey, delineate the routes to love and/or social standing in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and retrace Frederick Douglass’s escape from slavery into his prominent role in shaping the national dialogue on race. Each of the volume’s nineteen chapters engages—or re-engages—readers with a canonical text—Hamlet, Moby-Dick, stories by O’Connor, L’Engle, and Le Guin—works that richly deserve and reward reading, whether for the first or the fifth time. Like the featured texts themselves, this unique Atlas will inspire different experiences in different readers, and it is a great gift for anyone who likes to get lost in printed pages.
A Pulitzer Prize-winner for her biography Véra, the story of Nabokov’s wife, Stacy Schiff also wrote a bestselling life of Cleopatra and the Pulitzer-nominated Saint-Exupéry. Her study of Franklin and the early years of the nation made her a respected American historian, and in her new book she unravels the madness of The Witches: Salem 1692 (Little, Brown, $32). Schiff’s fastidious research into the notorious witch trials animates the motivations and actions of all involved, making what happened seem simultaneously bizarre and believable. Schiff’s description of how a few young women could start a movement that spread throughout the Massachusetts colony and that eventually led to the execution of twenty people is part history lesson, part thriller, and part Kafka. The Witches shows how blind faith, fear, jealousy, power, and repression combined to create a pathological environment in which no one’s life was safe from the subversive power of a fainting girl.
In 1879, a team of over thirty men sailed to the North Pole in an attempt to discover and document that frigid terra incognita. Sponsored and funded by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of The New York Herald (who had also sent Stanley on his quest for Livingstone), the mission was motivated by a combination of curiosity, greed, and hubris. When the ship had gotten as far as the 72nd parallel, near Wrangel Island, it was trapped in ice; it stayed stuck for two years, briefly floated, then sank, leaving the explorers stranded and desperately trying to save their own lives. In the Kingdom of Ice, (Doubleday, $28.95), by Hampton Sides, is the story of the U.S.S. Jeannette’s crew; Sides recreates how these intrepid individuals walked across a frozen sea and faced death, bringing their expedition to life in the most brutal and vivid ways. This is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is a book that you can’t put down.