Madison Smartt Bell
Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore (Crow)
Bell follows his acclaimed, sprawling Haiti series (three historical novels and last year's biography of Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture) with something closer to home. This slim, entertaining volume, part of a series that includes Ishmael Reed walking through Oakland and Roy Blount Jr. touring New Orleans—finds Bell strolling through his adopted hometown in the company of a few friends. He basically covers four areas and/or arteries: Greenmount Avenue, Dickeyville, Fells Point, and Charles Street. As a tour guide and local historian, Bell gets high marks for including the obvious stuff (Mencken, Poe, the Orioles, the Baltimore Fire, John Waters, etc.) but never at the expense of the obscure nooks and crannies that make the city truly interesting. Bell power-walks past tourist magnets like the Inner Harbor, ambles through high-rent districts like Roland Park, meanders through neighborhoods such as Dickeyville (with Laura Lippman in tow) and Highlandtown (with Glenn Moomau), and cools his heels at local watering holes like Wozi's and the Cat's Eye Pub. When Bell slows to a (pub) crawl, the narrative pace quickens as he takes in more of his immediate surroundings and interacts with the characters in his midst. It's that level of detail that makes Charm City a good read for out-of-towners and locals alike.
Reviel Netz & William Noel
The Archimedes Codex (Da Cap)
In 1998, an anonymous bidder paid $2 million for a battered book that dated back to the 13th century. Although no one could be certain—because the ravages of mold, fire, and time had conspired to make the book practically illegible—it was thought to possibly contain lost writings by Archimedes, the mathematician credited with discovering specific gravity and pi's value among other breakthroughs. The book's new owner, who remains anonymous, then donated the book to the Walters Museum, so it could be decoded and studied by scholars. Co-authored by a Walters curator (Noel) and a Stanford professor (Netz), The Archimedes Codex details that process. Although the geekspeak occasionally gets a little thick for the lay reader, Noel and Netz's account should appeal to history buffs, math profs, antiquarian book lovers, and anyone who enjoys a good mystery.