Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Random House, $30) is Salman Rushdie’s extraordinary tale of his life before and during the nine years he lived under threat of death after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 urging Muslims worldwide to kill Rushdie over his authorship of The Satanic Verses. While much of the story reads like a thriller (secret hideaways, clandestine meetings, close calls), it is also a profound and cautionary tale about the inviolability of freedom of expression. There are many heroes and villains in Rushdie’s story—he pulls no punches in excoriating those willing to sacrifice principle for self-interest—and plenty of juicy tidbits about famous literary figures, politicians, and other notable celebrities. Perhaps most touching is how he copes as a father during weeks and months of separation from his young son.
The fourth volume of Robert Caro’s majestic biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power (Knopf, $35), finally arrived in May after a tenyear wait. Caro’s exhaustive research amply fills the 700-plus pages with enough juicy anecdotes to keep Washington politicos happy for years. Beginning with the 1960 presidential primaries and ending shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, this tightly focused volume allows Caro to dissect the Johnson-Kennedy rivalry in detail, adding Johnson’s bitter feud with Bobby to the mix. Today’s political technocrats, with their data- driven analytics, pale in comparison to the Boston Irishman and the Texas dirt farmer, and this fiveyear period in which the two moved from combat to arms-length collaboration gives an unparalleled view of each one’s political arsenal. When he’s imprisoned in the vice-presidency, Johnson’s misery is palpable, but when he moves into the Oval Office, he reveals his unmatched skills in persuading, cajoling, manipulating, and threatening—whatever it took to get his civil rights bill through Congress. And Caro is with him every step of the way.
Paul Elie’s spirited contribution to the ongoing project of Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30) is an ingenious three-part invention of a book. Intertwining the stories of Bach, his 20th- and 21st-century interpreters, and technology, Elie explores not just music history but the history of a particular kind of creativity. A lot has changed between Bach’s time, when you had to go to a church to hear an organ toccata, and today, when you can carry whole orchestras around on an iPod. Elie recounts the stages of this shift from the “pre-recorded era” to the digital age, examining what it has meant for music and for specific musicians. Focusing on Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski, Glenn Gould, and Yo-Yo Ma, Elie (a practiced hand at group biography, as his acclaimed The Life You Save May Be Your Own attests) shows how each of these Bach devotees brought out new facets of the music even as they—and technology—opened yet more avenues for playing, recording, and listening to the inexhaustible wonder that is Bach.