It is often difficult to say which books will last, especially before they have been published. This season will be thick with election-year analyses and overgrown think-pieces, and public figures like Alan Greenspan, Madeleine Albright, and Clarence Thomas will weigh in with memoirs and book-length memoranda. For now, however, it is the books that look backward that we anticipate most.
Alex Ross — the New Yorker music critic, not the DC Comics artist — is that rare writer whose individual reviews always seem to be working toward a big, comprehensive take on culture as we know it. He has tried to find a place for classical music in 21st-century life, and in doing so he has redefined the genre. In fact, some of his best pieces have covered rock. In a memorable analogy, Mr. Ross described pop music and classical as two continents separated by a chilly ocean. His role as a critic has been to point out an underused "northern passage" between them, a kind of land-bridge occupied by the avant garde. His first book, "The Rest is Noise," explores this bridge from the classical side, taking up 20th-century composers — Strauss, Bernstein, Shostakovich, Steve Reich — whose contributions reverberate beyond the concert hall. He even gets a blurb from Björk. Written in biographical chunks, not dissimilar to classic New Yorker profiles, the book keeps one eye on the historiography of a term, "classical music," whose time may have passed. "The Rest is Noise" promises to be the crossover hit of the season. October.
France has been widely discussed as the birthplace of "the modern," but much of the country outside Paris remained backwards and even pre-modern prior to the 20th century, as Graham Robb outlines in "The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War." Mr. Robb has written superb biographies of Balzac, Hugo, and Rimbaud, and his account of 19th-century homosexuality, "Strangers" (2003), proved that he was capable of wide-lens cultural history that was both game-changing and factually convincing. In his "Historical Geography," he promises an account of a France where French was a minority language, where pre-Christian beliefs prevailed, and where the Eiffel Tower was well beyond the horizon. October.
The range of American history between 1815 and 1848 does not conjure up any clear narrative to the casual reader, which is precisely why Daniel Walker Howe's "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815–1848" promises to make a splash. An expert in the field, Mr. Howe has skillfully framed a story, between the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, that becomes eloquent once you think about it: The rise of nationalism, the temperance movement, and booming growth all add up to an America much more familiar to us than that of James Madison. Mr. Howe even finds time to discuss now-forgotten literary figures. Lauded by other historians as an important yet accessible landmark, Mr. Howe's study promises odd new angles on America in an election year. October.
Picasso's definitive English-language biographer, John Richardson, will publish the long-awaited third volume of his four-volume series. After completing Volume II (1996), which covered 1907-1917, the great years of cubism and African-inspired work like "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Mr. Richardson produced two lighter works. Bubbling with glamorous gossip, these intermediary books highlighted Mr. Richardson's Capote-like talent for making friends and then serving them up in print — he knew everyone, even Picasso himself, in the 1950s. Sometimes viewed as diversions from his main task, these titles may appear more fitting once the character of Picasso's middle age moves into the spotlight. "A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932" concerns the period that followed Picasso's great work, when he left bohemia for the higher echelons of European society and became an international star. Mr. Richardson has been praised for his middle way, avoiding deification as well as cattiness. But this balance may prove difficult as he begins the downhill half of his project. November.
Originally employed by the Bourbons as policemen and civil servants, the Neapolitan crime organization the Camorra has lately become an international player. To write his reputedly stunning exposé, "Gomorrah," Robert Saviano traveled to China, where he worked with a Camorra-controlled textile manufacturer, passed himself off as a waiter at a Camorra wedding, and rushed, Weegee-like, to crime scenes, hoping to interview Camorra victims before they died. The Camorra took over toxic waste disposal in the region of the Campania in the mid-'90s, vaulting them onto the world stage with deleterious consequences for places as far-flung as Somalia. Mr. Saviano witnessed his first Camorra-related murder at age 14, and here he brings vivid experience to a global story, tracing the opportunities of a regional crime family in an age of globalization. November.
Admirers of Sherlock Holmes are seldom dismayed to hear that Arthur Conan Doyle did not like him. Holmes can take care of himself. But his creator has become a celebrated character in his own right, most notably in Julian Barnes's "Arthur and George." Mr. Barnes made much of Doyle's spiritualism and his probable participation in séances, but the deep animating theme of his novel was Doyle's eccentric, masculine, Victorian character. Now, with "Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters," the author will have a chance to speak for himself. Edited by Doyle experts Daniel Stashower and Jon Lellenberg, the volume presents the unpublished letters of Doyle with thorough annotations. This season will also see a more Sherlock-centric life, "The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes," by Ian Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett. November.
Helen Vendler's reputation as a great critic may lie with her influence, but longtime readers know that it is her skill as a close reader that makes her work indispensable. More than any other American critic in recent decades, Ms. Vendler has drawn convincing connections between the how of poetic form and the why of poetry itself.
"Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form," therefore, looks to be an immensely satisfying study. It promises to be not only one of the best books ever written on Yeats, but a conclusive statement on the subtle vitality of formal poetics. November.