The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins

Marc Aronson and Lee R. Berger (National Geographic, 2012)

Skull-In-The-Rocks_CoverFrom Kirkus Reviews:

A fascinating account of an Indiana Jones–style fossil hunter and how his discoveries have changed the way we see human evolution.

School Library Journal:

… a fine pairing of an impassioned personality and scientific achievement.

Bookends, a Booklist Blog:


“Slim, enticing and totally accessible, this is a book that will open eyes to the world around us and, perhaps, inspire a whole new generation of “Indies.”

A Book and a Hug:

The co-authors have given this photo- and imagined paintings-filled volume a fun, hands-on flavor by providing a number of series of captioned photos that demonstrate scientific processes utilized in the searching and evaluating of these new fossils.

Niagara Falls Review:


The fossils Berger discovered reveal what may be one of humankind’s oldest ancestors. The find has been hailed as one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history.

A CCBC Book of Choice, 2013

The discovery of astralopithecus sediba made the cover of Scientific American and Science, and is slated to be the subject of a TV special. But the first bone that led to many finds still taking place at a site near Johannesburg, South Africa was found by Matthew Berger, then nine-years-old. Here is the story of that discovery and the many doors it opened into understanding our human ancestry. Dr. Lee R. Berger, Matthew’s father, is leading the investigation of the fossil finds and shared all aspects of the process with Marc Aronson and his own son when they visited the site. Lee updates students on the latest discoveries at

The Skull in the Rock is available as a print book or as an enhanced ibook which includes videos and photos not in the printed edition.

Posted in Middle/High School.

Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies

“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

Dr. Martin Luther King received this demand in an anonymous letter in 1964. He believed that the letter was telling him to commit suicide. Who wrote this anonymous letter? The FBI. And the man behind it all was J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director.

In this unsparing exploration of one of the most powerful Americans of the twentieth century, accomplished historian Marc Aronson unmasks the man behind the Bureau- his tangled family history and personal relationships; his own need for secrecy, deceit, and control; and the broad trends in American society that shaped his world.


Hoover may have given America the security it wanted, but the secrets he knew gave him – and the Bureau – all the power he wanted. Using photographs, cartoons, movie posters, and FBI transcripts, Master of Deceit gives readers the necessary evidence to make their own conclusions. Here is a book about the twentieth century that blazes with questions and insights about our choices in the twenty-first.

From a Kirus Starred Review:

In fascinating detail, Aronson tells the story of America during J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as head of the FBI and “the nearly fifty years of criminal activity that was his legacy.”
For today’s students, Communism and anti-Communism are “just terms that appear on tests, like the Whig, Greenback, or Know-Nothing parties,” but this volume brings alive the drama of the Cold War period and demonstrates its significance for readers now. Taking his title from Hoover’s 1958 work on the dangers of Communism, Aronson writes about the dangers of a “security at all costs” mentality during the Cold War and, by extension, our post-9/11 world. He covers a large slice of history—the Palmer raids of 1919, the gangster era, the Scottsboro case, World War II, the Rosenbergs, Joseph McCarthy, the civil rights movement and Watergate—but this is no mere recitation of the facts; it’s a masterpiece of historical narrative, with the momentum of a thrilling novel and the historical detail of the best nonfiction. With references as far-flung as Karl Marx, Stalin, Wordsworth, American Idol, The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings, this is as much about how history is written as it is about Hoover and his times. Extensive backmatter includes fascinating comments on the research, thorough source notes that are actually interesting to read and a lengthy bibliography.
Written with the authority of a fine writer with an inquiring mind, this dramatic story is history writing at its best. (Nonfiction. 14 & up)

From School Library Journal Starred Review:

Gr 9 Up–We hear a great deal in the media about the loss or watering down of American values. If Master of Deceit makes nothing else clear, it shows plainly that these issues are far from new, and that powerful people have always attempted to shape events and trends in ways that benefited them. It begins with a prologue discussing a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964, a letter that threatened him with exposure of being a Communist pawn unless he committed suicide. It was penned by an FBI official in an attempt to impress his boss, J. Edgar Hoover.

The text moves on to give a lucid account of the rise of the Communist Party in both Russia and the United States. It parallels the lives of John Reed and J. Edgar Hoover, showing the varying impacts of two strong personalities, and then moves on chronologically to cover the main events of Hoover’s life. Relying on wide reading and vast research, Aronson paints a nuanced and evenhanded portrait of a man who was complicated, almost certainly neurotic, and who had an iron will to control–both himself and others. Thoroughly discussing the FBI’s role in law enforcement, the McCarthy witch hunts and HUAC, campaigns against Dr. King and civil rights, and comparing the egregious violations of individual rights and due process committed by the agency to the conduct of post-9/11 containment and treatment of Arab Americans, this book is a must for high school students. Extensive use of black-and-white photos and period cartoons greatly enhances the text. The author’s closing note on “How I Researched and Wrote This Book” is both revelatory and engaging. This groundbreaking volume will encourage dialogue on tough issues of integrity, security, individual rights, and the shifting sands of American values.

–Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA

From Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Starred Review:

[T]his book is not and should not be just about Hoover,” Aronson (Trapped) tells readers in the epilogue to this wide-ranging, extensively researched, and detailed biography of the controversial 20th-century FBI director. He’s not kidding: Hoover’s story unfolds against the tumultuous immigrant history of the U.S. and the growth of the FBI, which Hoover molded for more than 40 years. Hoover emerges as a magnified example of abusive governmental power, portrayed as a controlling conformist who was organized, intelligent, sexually suppressed, and manipulative. Aronson’s stimulating questions (“[W]ho is the bigger liar: the capitalist who teases the poor with images of goods they cannot afford or the Communist who hypnotizes the masses with empty slogans and false ideals?”), and his occasional use of first- and second-person, will wake up readers accustomed to less in-your-face historical narratives. The book does an excellent job of creating parallels between America’s anticommunist efforts and the current fight against terrorism as it questions the price of security and the media’s roles in keeping secrets. Period photographs, movie posters, cartoons, and FBI documents supplement a biography abounding in historical context.

Award-winning author Marc Aronson available as guest expert on J. Edgar Hoover.

Planning a segment on the new Hoover biopic starring DiCaprio?

Movie buzz is heating up and there will be lots of controversy about how this powerful figure in American history is depicted.
Aronson’s upcoming book, Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies is scheduled to release in early 2012.

Master of Deceit brings readers up on the latest insights into J. Edgar Hoover, including never before published photos that help answer key questions:

What were Hoover’s secrets?

* Was he a closeted gay? Aronson says probably not

* Did he cross-dress? Aronson says no

* What was his relationship with Clyde Tolson? Aronson says, really interesting–including that they dressed identically for a decade

* Why does Hoover matter? Aronson says because he was in power for 48 years — half of the 20th Century, and his example is a key warning for us now

* Why was he so prejudiced against African-Americans? Aronson says possibly due to secrets in his own family

* Who gave Hoover the OK to pursue “subversives” without congressional approval? Aronson says FDR

About the author: Marc Aronson has a doctorate in American history and is a member of the graduate faculty in the library school at Rutgers. He is an editor and author of many award-winning books including War Is . . . Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk about War, which he co-edited with Patty Campbell; Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert; and Sir Walter Raleigh and the Quest for El Dorado, the first Sibert Medal winner. Marc Aronson lives in New Jersey.

“In researching and writing this book I learned to trust myself — to speak out even when everyone else seems to share a different view. Hoover silenced dissent both within the FBI and in American society. But so too did the Communist Party. The evil was never on one side — it was in silence.” — Marc Aronson

Posted in Middle/High School.

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert

trapped_marc_aronson-thumbPublishers Weekly, June 13, 2011, Starred Review

Aronson marks the one-year anniversary of the collapse of a Chilean copper mine that entombed miners for more than two months with a riveting, in-depth recounting of the events that held the world rapt… Twelve short chapters with photos and diagrams keep the story well-paced as it alternates between above- and below-ground scenes, detailing the heroic efforts of the trapped men, their waiting families, and their rescuers, sometimes on an hour-by-hour basis. Extensive author and source notes, a bibliography, and suggested reading leave plenty for readers to explore.

School Library Journal, August 2011, Starred Review

Masterful storytelling brings to life a story that most think they already know; the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean copper mine for 69 days in 2010…. It was a gripping story then, and Aronson manages to make it even more exciting, more inspirational, and more personal, all by gathering pieces of the puzzle and showing how they fit together. Explanations of how the Earth’s formation and plate tectonics created the copper lines that are so valuable to the world today are a critical beginning. Filling them in with a brief history of metalworking and mining leads readers to the small, out-of-the-way mine in the Atacama Desert region. From there the story becomes as intriguing and suspenseful as any work of fiction; the miners’ struggle to survive below ground is juxtaposed with the frenzy of the work above ground by the mine officials, the government, and many others working to save the men. Detailed descriptions of the conditions that the miners endured and how they coped paint a vivid picture of just what an ordeal it was. The global response to the disaster was enormous, with organizations, governments, and individuals from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Japan offering resources and expertise to find a solution. Ample source notes, black-and-white photographs, websites, and a brief explanation of research methodology round out this must-have for any library.

The Horn Book Magazine, August 1, 2011, Starred Review

Much more than just a chronicle of the Chilean mining disaster of 2010, Aronson’s well-researched and riveting book gives readers the sense that they’re in the San Jose copper mine… Peppered with engaging quotes, the text is fluid and attention-grabbing.

Posted in Elementary/Middle.

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Spice, Magic, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

Layout 1Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos (Clarion) See the website:

Sugar is a common supermarket item today, but Marc and his wife the novelist Marina Budhos argue in this book that it was a prime mover of world history – and that following the trail of sugar entirely changes how you understand everything from the medieval hunger for spices to the story of the African slave trade, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution., and even the odyssey of overseas Indians that led directly to Gandhi and the idea of Satyagraha.

Dr. Franklin Odo, Former Dir. of the Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Program

Sugar did indeed change the world. It is such an important, necessary, and controversial part of our contemporary lives that we take it for granted. But in this extremely valuable book, Marc and Marina give us an extraordinary gift – a long, historical, look at the development of sugar and the monumental changes it brought to the globe. The writing is fluid and engaging; the stories of enslavement, brutality, freedom and self-determination are fascinating. Younger audiences will be encouraged to view history and culture as adventure. Those of us a bit older, in all parts of the world, will find that our past and our destinies are much more closely intertwined. This is a marvelous accomplishment.

Sidney W. Mintz, author of Sweetness and Power: The The Place of Sugar in Modern History and Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and Variations

That a single food — sucrose, or sugar — could have played so great a part in such important changes in world history makes for a nearly incredible story. But the authors of this book make it believable and immediate. They provide a touching element to sugar’s story by bringing their own life stories into convincing alignment with their global account. This is good writing that will make good reading — for young, and even for old– readers.”

Deborah Warner, a Curator in the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

This book, at once serious and engaging, traces the complex history of sugar over vast expanses of time and space, exploring ways in which this one commodity influenced the formation of empires, the enslavement and migrations of peoples, the development of ideas about liberty, and so much more.

Posted in Elementary/Middle, Middle/High School.

For Boys Only: The Biggest Baddest Book Ever

for_boys_onlyAmazon’s #1 ranked book of nonfiction fun for boys! 160 pages of pure fun — puzzles to solve, how to fly an airplane, beat a shark, who would win if Romans battled Mongols, and every other brain-bending challenge HP and I could think of.

Want to have some fun? Maybe learn how to land an airplane in an emergency? Or fight off an alligator? Escape from being tied up? How about taking a ride on one of America’s scariest roller coasters? Learn how to make fake blood or turn a real bone into a pretzel. What if you could find out how to identify some of the world’s most horrifying creatures? Or learn the secret of making a blockbuster movie? What about guessing the top 11 greatest moments in sports history? Find buried treasure? And once you’ve found the treasure, find out just how much it would cost you to buy one of the world’s most expensive cars.

You’ll find all this – and much more – over 250 pages of the biggest, baddest, and best information on just about everything. Plus we’ve placed a special, mind-bending, solve-the-code puzzle on random pages throughout the book that will lead you to a really cool solution! Now, that’s fun!

Publishers Weekly

Filled with facts, puzzles, stats, stories and more, For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever by Marc Aronson and HP Newquist offers up information on favorite subjects . . . Printed with black and red text and illustrated throughout, this graphically fresh and topically diverse collection should capture the imagination of its target audience.


In a tone both light and humorous, Newquist and Aronson aim to please by assembling a tantalizing assortment of codes, puzzles, best lists, brief history and science facts, instructions for fake blood and the ultimate Frisbee, and even advice about facing up to a shark (try not to bleed too much?) . . . this offers lots of good fun, and with so much chick lit available, it’s nice to see special attention being paid to boys. In fact, there’s nothing here to keep girls away but the title.

Posted in Elementary/Middle.

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge


What are the secrets of the ancient stone circle? Were the carefully placed stones a burial site, an ancient calendar, a place of Druid worship…or even a site of sacrifice? World-renowned archaeologist Mike Parker-Pearson has spent the last seven years on a quest to answer these and many other questions. In If Stones Could Speak, award-winning author Marc Aronson joins the research crew and records their efforts to crack Stonehenge’s secrets. National Geographic helped sponsor the Riverside archeological team’s mission, and now young readers can journey behind the scenes to experience this groundbreaking story first-hand, through the eyes of the experts. This book includes photos of Bluestonehenge.

Posted in Elementary/Middle.

Unsettled: The Problem Of Loving Israel


From the Starred Kirkus review:

A deeply personal investigation of an extremely complex moral, political and religious issue by an author whose love for and attachment to the state of Israel is tempered by his commitment to justice for all. Israel was born out of the guilt and shame of a world that did little to rescue the six million Jews annihilated in Europe. Both a soul-searching personal essay and a fact-filled history, this slim volume is as even-handed an explanation of the Gordian knot that is Israel/Palestine as one is likely to find. (notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)


Posted in Middle/High School.

Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry

aint_nothing_but_a_manScott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson (National Geographic)

Booklist “starred” review:

“Not many history books are written in first person, but this is no ordinary history book. It traces a historian’s quest for the man behind the legend of John Henry. Nelson’s research involved listening to hundreds of variants of the song “John Henry,” learning about post–Civil War railway construction projects, visiting possible sites for the legendary contest between man and steam drill, and in one groundbreaking moment, glancing at the 1910 postcard on his desktop, hearing the lyrics of a version of “John Henry” in his mind, and making a connection that no other modern historian had considered.”

Posted in Elementary/Middle.

Race: A History Beyond Black and White

by Marc Aronson
Ginee Seo Books


Race: You know it at a glance: he’s black, she’s white. They’re Asian; we’re Latino. Racism: I’m better; she’s worse. Those people do those kinds of things.We all know it’s wrong to make these judgments, but they come faster than thought.


Where did those feelings come from?

Why are they so powerful?

Race: A History Beyond Black and White explores these questions and more, as it traces the history of race and race prejudice in the West back to ancient Sumer and beyond. Today we all say “race is only skin deep” and yet experience racial prejudice every day. Here is one book that helps us to understand why.

Download the free teacher’s guide for Race: A History Beyond Black and White

To see sample chapters click here.

Posted in Middle/High School.

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World (Timelines of American History)

twmnby Marc Aronson (Author), John W. Glenn (Author)
National Geographic Children’s Books

This splendid, exciting, beautifully illustrated account of the Age of Exploration relates events so dramatic that they would have been dismissed as implausible fiction if they hadn’t actually happened. Don’t think of this as `just’ a book for kids: children’s parents will find it equally gripping and informative.

– Jared Diamond professor of Geography at UCLA, and author of the best-selling Pulitzer-Prize-winner Guns, Germs, and Steel

Posted in Elementary/Middle.