"The Public School Advantage" by Sarah Lubienski. Poor public schools are a problem in many places. But the good public schools, this book contends, do a better job than any private school at any price. Lubienski thrusts up a mountain of data to show that a good public school is the ideal choice for most young people: both in educational quality and in exposing students to the cross-section of society missing from the snobby prep schools.
"Denial" by Jonathan Rauch. The Jason Collins story seemed hard to believe. What do you mean the woman engaged to marry him didn't know he was gay? Read this book in which a very smart, accomplished intellectual shows it took him 25 years to accept his own gayness.
"The Sea and Civilization" by Lincoln Paine. With a historical sweep going back 10,000 years, this book seeks to show that the seas -- in use for commerce, exploration, battle and migration -- have played a far greater role in human affairs than commonly understood.
"Brainwashed" by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld. An all-guns broadside against the notions the neuroscience can explain human behavior, and the trendy argument that brain science can prove there is no free will. Satel, a practicing psychiatrist and frequent commentator on health care policy, is one of the nation's most provocative public intellectuals.
"Our Common Wealth" by Jonathan Rowe. Rowe, a fine journalist and a better person, died in 2011. This volume collects his writing on how to reconcile free-market principles with society's common needs. Among other things, he argues for replacing the GDP -- "car crashes and lawsuits contribute to the GDP," Rowe wrote -- with measures of overall well-being.
"A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper" by John Paulos. Amusing, snarky analysis.
"For Discrimination" by Randall Kennedy. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race," Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declared in a 2007 case. In this book Kennedy, a Harvard law professor, argues that affirmative action is a social good even though it is also inarguably a form of racial discrimination. Really takes the bull by the horns on a topic most commentators dance around.
"Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric" by Ward Farnsworth. If you'd like to sound better educated than you are, this volume shows the way.
"Churchill's Bomb" by Graham Farmelo. It may seem hard to believe there is more to say on World War II. But 2013 produced a well-written bestseller, "The Guns at Last Light" by Rick Atkinson. This important volume details the little-known story of how Churchill agreed to trust England's fission research to FDR, even knowing The Bomb would make the United States king of the postwar world.
"Toms River" by Dan Fagin. Carefully researched, calmly written book about the impact of a chemical production plant on a New Jersey community.