Whether you're seeking adrenaline-fueled adventure, gossipy fun, historical intrigue or pure inspiration, these summer literary excursions will transport you:
"The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance," by David V. Herlihy (Houghton Mifflin, 326 pages, $26, on sale June 18)
In this gripping tale of two-wheeled adventure, readers accompany 19th-century accountant and pioneer bicyclist Frank Lenz as he sets out to pedal 20,000 miles across three continents. Bicycle historian Herlihy winningly recounts the mustachioed Lenz's perilous 1892-3 transcontinental journey aboard a revolutionary new bicycle with inflatable tires and equal-sized wheels (not the famed high wheelers that were then popular but difficult to maneuver). Lenz's quest would end tragically with his mysterious disappearance in Turkey, and a massive international search for the missing cyclist. Ideal reading for global-minded adventure lovers.
"The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired 'Chicago,'" by Douglas Perry (Viking, 320 pages, $25.95, Aug. 9)
Award-winning journalist Perry entertainingly takes us inside the glittering underworld of Jazz Age Chicago, where Al Capone sold bootleg liquor to millions and a booming 1920s media eagerly covered celebrities and sensational scandals. In this freewheeling world of daring, glamorous flappers and unrestrained organized crime, no story was bigger than the seemingly made-for-Hollywood murder trials of "Beautiful Beulah" Annan and "Stylish Belva" Gaertner, both accused of killing the male leads in their lives. For true crime buffs, history fans or anyone interested in the roaring 1920s, this one's a sure-fire hit.
"The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting From the New Yorker," edited by David Remnick (Random House, 492 pages, $30)
An absolute grand slam for sports fans or anyone who loves great nonfiction storytelling. In these 32 magazine pieces collected from the archives of the New Yorker, there are literary and athletic Olympians everywhere. When Ring Lardner writes about baseball, A.J. Liebling covers boxing or Martin Amis looks at tennis, readers are in the hands of masters whose prose transcends sport. The late novelist John Updike masterfully describes Ted Williams' final baseball game, but he's also exploring universal themes of loss and nostalgia. John McPhee unforgettably profiles Princeton basketball legend (and future senator) Bill Bradley, but he's also examining one talented, idealistic young man's epic quest to become completely human.
"The Great Silence: Britain From the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age," by Juliet Nicolson (Grove/Atlantic, 320 pages, $25)
This is social history at its very best, as Nicolson fascinatingly describes the fast-changing lives of everyday men and women in Britain from 1918 to 1920. World War I, which ended in November 1918, scarred Britain forever, devastating families and leaving the nation's previously confident self-image in tatters. In the wake of such trauma, the mourning nation sought forgetfulness in its embrace of jazz, celebrities and dance crazes. Colorful characters abound (including Lawrence of Arabia, Virginia Woolf and Charlie Chaplin) in Nicolson's historically insightful and utterly absorbing narrative.
"The Black Nile: One Man's Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World's Longest River," by Dan Morrison (Viking, 320 pages, $26.95, Aug. 16)
Part travelogue, part crazy adventure tale, part political reportage: Veteran foreign correspondent Morrison and a buddy build a boat and paddle up the Nile River through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. Morrison's African river journey is a paradoxical mixture of awe-inspiring discoveries, eye-opening human interactions and perilous escapes.
"The Fall of the House of Walworth: A Tale of Murder and Madness in Saratoga's Gilded Age," by Geoffrey O'Brien (Holt, 384 pages, $30, July 20)
Cultural historian O'Brien describes the rise and fall of a famously wealthy 19th-century American family against the backdrop of Gilded Age New York. At the dramatic center of this Gothic saga is an 1873 crime (son Frank Walworth murdering his father) that would shock a nation and haunt a renowned family forever.
"Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth," by James M. Tabor (Random House, 286 pages, $26, June 15)
U.S. and Russian teams of cave explorers compete to be first to discover the world's deepest cave, in an adventure story filled with more subterranean danger than any rational reader could imagine. This adrenaline-filled tale of man vs. man, and man vs. nature, will have your pulse racing in the middle of the night.
"Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War," by James Mauro (Ballantine, 432 pages, $28, June 22)
The 1939 New York World's Fair was the last vision of global optimism before the horrors of World War II changed everything. Mauro engagingly recounts the fair's many ups and downs, as 45 million people visited amid rainstorms, power outages and political infighting among legendary organizers such as Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.
"Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic," by David Howard (Houghton Mifflin, 368 pages, $26, July 2)
Journalist Howard follows the amazing historical journey of an original copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights over the course of 138 years, as it's looted during the Civil War and later seized by the FBI during an undercover sting operation. Howard takes us on a twisted, sometimes madcap journey exploring what people will do to get and keep a sacred national treasure.
"The Price of Stones: Building a School for My Village," by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri (Viking, 271 pages, $25.95)
The author grew up in Uganda and moved to the United States, where he became a human rights advocate. Returning to his Ugandan village with his American wife, he's shocked by the plight of orphaned children with AIDS and decides to do something about it, proving that one determined person can make a big difference.
Chuck Leddy is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and reviews books regularly for the Boston Globe and B&N Review.