Top Picks: A book on the history of Columbia Records, a PBS special that studies the life of Henry Ford, and more

Writer Deon Meyer spin a fascinating South African mystery in 'Seven Days,' PBS honors the astronauts on board the Columbia, and more top picks.

Henry Ford on PBS
360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story by Sean Wilentz
The Story of Math Collection

Surround sound

What do Al Jolson, Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Barbra Streisand, Dave Brubeck, Bruce Springsteen, The Byrds, Johnny Cash, and Adele have in common? They've all recorded for the oldest record label in the world, Columbia Records. To celebrate its 125th anniversary, music historian Sean Wilentz has written 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story, a lavishly illustrated history of the label, its groundbreaking sound innovations, and – most important – its peerless cavalcade of artists.

Free App Alert

Some clever iPhone programmers figured out there's a lot of money to be made in giving away applications free of charge. Temporarily dropping an app's price to $0 can boost interest and word of mouth, potentially creating new customers once the app goes back to its normal price. Apps Gone Free tracks these lightning deals and lists the apps that are worth checking out – if you act fast. This iPhone and iPad app is, of course, free of charge.

The art of numbers

The Story of Math Collection is a delightful, award-winning array of films that bring that most arcane and challenging of disciplines to hilarious but meaningful life. Through the title film as well as "The Code," plus "The Music of the Primes," the set explores the colorful history of numbers, the music of prime numbers, and hidden patterns inside nature. Out on DVD from Acorn Media.

A shuttle tribute

PBS takes us back to that fateful day, Feb. 1, 2003, when seven Columbia shuttle astronauts died. Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope is an hour-long documentary that tells the story about crewmember Ilan Ramon's "mission within a mission." Israel's first man in space, the son of Holocaust survivors, took a Torah scroll with him on his journey – the fulfilling of the nation's dream. Actor and space enthusiast Tom Hanks produced the documentary, which airs Jan. 31.

Pop fiction

South Africa's answer to Michael Connelly is author Deon Meyer, who returns with a thriller that hopscotches from Cape Town to Johannesburg as a sniper shoots policemen at random in Seven Days. Grizzled detective Benny Griessel takes charge of the investigation. Mr. Meyer spins a taut tale, but it is the pressure and desperation faced by Benny and his fellow special forces colleagues that resonates. This is popular fiction at its hard-boiled best.

Assembly-line titan

Just because Henry Ford was a titan of industry and an icon of American history does not mean he was likable. But the story of this Michigan farmer's son and how he emerged from the American landscape is fascinating. He hated the wealthy and yet became one of the US's wealthiest. He aspired to the simple life and yet helped launch mass industrialization. Tune in to PBS on Jan. 29 for a two-hour look at this mercurial, troubled-though-brilliant man on the 150th anniversary of his birth.

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