5 Hot Books: A Big, Juicy Sinatra Biography and the Real-Life Tragedy Behind Moby Dick

Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be.

1. Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan (Doubleday)

This is Frank Sinatra’s centennial year, an appropriate time for Kaplan to deliver the second and final volume of his engaging, and likely definitive, biography of Ole Blue Eyes.  Picking up where volume one, Frank: The Voice, left off five years ago, Kaplan traces Sinatra’s life from his supporting role in From Here to Eternity through his years as friend of John F. Kennedy, husband of Mia Farrow, and occasional mafia fellow traveler – a riveting only-in-America life that cut a glittering and sometimes cruel swath through the second half of the 20th century.

2. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin)

Philbrick’s spellbinding 2000 bestseller told the story of the 1820 sinking of the Essex by a sperm whale, a tragedy that is said to have inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Now, In The Heart of the Sea has inspired a film, directed by Ron Howard, which hits the theaters this month – and will almost certainly land Philbrick on the bestseller lists once again.

3. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor paperback)

More than 2 million people have watched Nigerian-born literary star Adichie deliver her 2012 TED talk, a manifesto for feminism as a basic human right. Adichie’s smart, funny polemic was sampled by Beyonce in her single “Flawless,” and now it has been adapted into a short book – one that every 16-year-old in Sweden will receive a copy of, thanks to the efforts of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, which hopes it will be a “stepping stone for a discussion about gender equality and feminism.”

4. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (Liveright)

The great Cambridge classics professor Beard is having her moment. The subject of a profile-raising profile by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker last year, Beard has now published an engaging, at times myth-busting new history of Rome (the title is the acronym for the Latin Senatus Populusque Romanus, or the senate and people of Rome).  The book has inched onto The New York Times best-seller list at #16, showing that there is a sizeable market for insightful, well-told ancient history in the New World.

5. First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson (Basic Books)

British food journalist Wilson takes a psychological and anthropological approach to consumption, and traces it all back to the rituals, habits, and rhythms of our earliest days.  Wilson has an optimistic message: even though our food preferences trace back to what and how we ate as children, it is never too late to break the cycle, readjust our habits and desires and – what many will consider the best part – toss out the diet books.