By James Srodes (Counterpoint, 279 pages, $26)

In the early 20th century, Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood was home (or hangout) to a high concentration of young, privileged, ambitious idealists who went on to sculpt a good chunk of American history.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, writers Walter Lippman and William Bullitt and the Dulles siblings -- CIA founder Allen, future Secretary of State John Foster and economist Eleanor -- began as a sort of Algonquin Round Table of political progressives. These crusaders partied and carried on affairs in between debating foreign policy and advancing their careers, with their crowning achievement being the formation of the United Nations in 1945.

The group's agenda didn't entirely match what we consider progressive today, particularly regarding race. But their long-term goal of "a government that imposed a nationwide standard of fairness and equality into all corners of American life" was then "a novel idea that overturned the traditional notion that government's prime responsibility was to foster conditions for the benefit of the major corporations and banks and otherwise stand out of the way of prosperity." Sound familiar?

With a readable style that greases the skids on some of the denser material, James Srodes offers an enlightening look at an action-packed period that should leave readers with a better understanding of how then influenced now.



By Susannah Fullerton (Voyageur Press, 240 pages, $25.99)

We can't get enough of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, oh, no, we cannot. And this attractive volume by Susannah Fullerton, president of Australia's Jane Austen Society, helps get at the many reasons why that is. Fullerton gives the history behind Jane Austen's "beloved child," as she called her novel, and looks for the qualities that gave it its "particular brand of magic." She examines that famous opening line ("It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife") and the personalities of Elizabeth and Darcy; she summarizes reaction to the book (Richard Brinsley Sheridan, she reports, couldn't stop talking about it, and Lord Byron's fiancée adored it). The illustrations in this book are as much fun as the text -- steel engravings, paintings, and pen-and-ink drawings from many editions of the book, as well as photographs of the Korean, Dutch and Italian editions of the book, stills from various movie versions, including the Bollywood "Bride and Prejudice" (and, yes, several nice pictures of Colin Firth), and a roundup of any number of bizarre sequels. You all know about "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," but what about "Pride and Promiscuity"? "The Phantom of Pemberley"? And the ever-optimistic "Me and Mr. Darcy"?