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History stars in must-reads for March

By Christian DuChateau, CNN
March 9, 2012 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
New releases for March shine a spotlight on history.
New releases for March shine a spotlight on history.
  • History figures prominently in some outstanding new releases at book stores
  • Two of the offerings present a classic myth reimagined
  • Also out this month is a collection of short stories that hopscotches through time

(CNN) -- Oscar Wilde once wrote, "Any fool can make history, but it takes a great man to write it" -- or a great woman, he should have added.

Nevertheless, history figures prominently in some outstanding new releases at bookstores, including a classic myth reimagined, a biography for tech lovers and a collection of short stories that hopscotches through time.

So with that extra hour of evening daylight we get after setting the clocks forward this weekend, why not use the time to dive into the pages of these must reads for March:

Madeline Miller\'s novel revisits Greek mythology.
Madeline Miller's novel revisits Greek mythology.

In her debut novel, "The Song of Achilles," Madeline Miller gives her own fresh take on the Greek age of heroes, specifically the events leading up to and including the Trojan War. But Miller's novel is much more than an homage to "The Iliad."

She goes beyond Homer's epic version of events to focus on the relationship between Achilles, a golden-haired hero and the son of a savage sea goddess, and Patroclus, a young prince in exile, an awkward, ordinary everyman who is out of his depth in very non-ordinary world.

Despite their differences, the boys become best friends and eventually much more. When Helen of Troy is kidnapped, the two are drawn into the bloody battle to reclaim her, where they are both tested by fate and sacrifice.

Miller, who teaches Latin, Greek and Shakespeare in high school, breathes new life into an ancient story.

Read an excerpt from "The Song of Achilles"

In "Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe," renowned historian George Dyson tells the relatively unknown story surrounding the invention of one of the world's first computers. This breakthrough came at the end of World War II, around the same time the hydrogen bomb was developed.

George Dyson explores the invention of one of the first computers.
George Dyson explores the invention of one of the first computers.

Dyson argues it's no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at the same time.

While most of us know the story behind the "Manhattan Project," Dyson introduces readers to the small group of men and women at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Think of them as the first computer hackers. The group, led by Alan Turing and John von Neumann, showed how numbers not only meant things, but could do things as well.

Turing's group used just five kilobytes of memory, about the same amount of memory as your computer desktop cursor, to achieve unprecedented success in fields such as weather prediction, nuclear weapons design and the evolution of things from viruses to stars. Dyson not only recounts this fascinating chapter from our history but also has some provocative insight into where the digital universe might be heading.

Read an excerpt from "Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe"

Los Alamos, New Mexico, scene of the Manhattan Project, also serves as the backdrop for one of the short stories in award-winning author Jim Shepard's "You Think That's Bad." His fourth and latest collection, just released in paperback, demonstrates again that no one writes such wildly diverse historical short fiction with this kind of astonishing originality.

Author Jim Shepard\'s book hopscotches across time.
Author Jim Shepard's book hopscotches across time.

In his pessimistically titled tome, Shepard crisscrosses time and place to find unique and lonely characters who exist on life's bizarre fringes.

In Shepard's stories, each of these characters face crises, both personal and professional, sometimes reaching catastrophic proportions, often with devastating results. Among them, a British woman exploring Iran in the 1930s, a 15th-century French serial killer who preys on children, a Japanese special-effects genius responsible for creating Godzilla and a Dutch engineer battling rising sea levels in Rotterdam in 2030.

All of these stories are extremely imaginative, infused with meticulous research. Most of all, they're insightful. While Shepard's writing may be classified as fiction, his stories feel absolutely authentic and true.

Read more about Jim Shepard on his website

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