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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Arts & Literature
Morrison portrays the players and reveals all the behind-the-scenes passion, struggle, and drama of Moscow’s historic and profoundly influential Bolshoi Ballet, through the reigns of czars and czarinas, wars and invasions, right up to the present.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. By Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau, $28 (9780399588174).
South African comedian Noah, host of The Daily Show, reveals the full brunt of the terror and diabolical absurdity he endured as a mixed-race child under apartheid in this substantial collection of incisive, funny, and vivid coming-of-age essays.
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This. By Nadja Spiegelman. Riverhead, $27 (9781594631924).
Spiegelman’s artistic rendering of her mother’s, grandmother’s, and her own coming-of-age is a touching, surprising consideration of the unclear inheritances of family and the certain fallibility of memory.
Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. By Ross King. Bloomsbury, $30 (9781632860125).
King, a master at illuminating overlooked facets of art history, tells the full, wondrous, and poignant story of Monet’s three-decade struggle to paint his monumental Water Lilies at Giverny.
Walk through Walls. By Marina Abramović. Crown Archetype, $28 (9781101905043).
Legendary performance artist Abramović brings her wild courage to the page as she frankly recounts her daring, radical, and reverberating artistic adventures and spiritual search.
Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary. By Joe Jackson. Farrar, $30 (9780374253301).
Jackson’s exhaustively researched biography of the Sioux visionary and medicine man details his life and the landmark events that shaped it, evoking awe over Black Elk’s struggle to help his embattled people preserve their culture and traditions.
Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. By Larry Tye. Random, $32 (9780812993349).
Tye presents a probing and perceptive biography of Bobby Kennedy that traces the evolution of a complex man and bold statesman who captured the imagination of a generation and continued to transform society even in the wake of his assassination.
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice. By Patricia Bell-Scott. Knopf, $30 (9780679446521).
Bell-Scott’s involving chronicle of a boundary-breaking friendship offers an unusual and affecting perspective on world-changing Eleanor Roosevelt and a rousing biography of Murray, a fiery writer, civil rights activist, law professor, and Episcopalian priest. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction.)
George Lucas: A Life. By Brian Jay Jones. Little, Brown, $32 (9780316257442).
George Lucas is globally famous as the filmmaker who brought us Star Wars, one of the most iconic Hollywood franchises in history, but as Jones’ in-depth, often gripping exploration reveals, Lucas is also a trailblazing entrepreneur.
Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. By James McBride. Spiegel & Grau, $28 (9780812993509).
Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes. By Paul Staiti. Bloomsbury, $30 (9781632864659).
Staiti zestfully portrays five largely self-taught artists whose paintings helped forge the new American ethos in the midst of war and civic unrest: Charles Willson Peale, Benjamin West, John Trumbull, John Singleton Copley, and Gilbert Stuart.
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. By Ruth Franklin. Norton/Liveright, $35 (9780871403131).
In her engrossing biography of an underappreciated literary master, Franklin illuminates Jackson’s sensibility and the covert ways she paired “the horrific with the mundane” to capture the fears, anxiety, and prejudice of the Cold War era.
Geography & Travel
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. By Joshua Foer and others. Workman, $35 (9780761169086).
A sophisticated adult answer to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, this unusual atlas details wonders of the natural world, architecture, sculptures, museums, festivals, and general curiosities.
Health & Medicine
Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital. By David Oshinsky. Doubleday, $30 (9780385523363.)
Historian Oshinsky splendidly captures the essence of nearly 300-year-old Bellevue Hospital and its commitment to serving those in need, especially immigrants and the poor, infusing his account with the history of American medicine, the growing pains of New York City, and captivating characters.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes within Us and a Grander View of Life. By Ed Yong. Ecco, $27.99 (9780062368591).
Yong casts light on the dazzling and dynamic, pliable and evolving menagerie of microorganisms—known as the microbiome or microbiota—that exists within every human being, keeping us healthy by supporting the immune and digestive systems.
The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. By Peter Cozzens. Knopf, $35 (9780307958044).
Cozzens offers a beautifully written and compassionate account of the violent conquest of the trans-Mississippi West, examining the various Indian tribes and subgroupings, conveying their complexity and political divisions, and portraying significant figures, both iconic and rarely remembered.
Millennium: From Religion to Revolution; How Civilization Has Changed over a Thousand Years. By Ian Mortimer. Pegasus, $28.95 (9781681772431).
On Trails: An Exploration. By Robert Moor. Simon & Schuster, $25 (9781476739212).
Pumpkinflowers. By Matti Friedman. Algonquin, $25.95 (9781616204587).
Friedman’s compelling narrative of what he learned by serving in the late 1990s as an Israeli soldier assigned to a vulnerable hilltop fortress in Lebanon, called the Pumpkin, is freighted with explosive geopolitical implications.
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. By Svetlana Alexievich. Tr. by Bela Shayevich. Random, $30 (9780399588808).
Nobel laureate Alexievich seeks understanding of the nuances of life in Russia under Gorbachev and Putin by gathering a plethora of revealing remarks by onetime Soviet citizens who now must adjust to life in a non-Communist Russian nation.
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World. By Steven Johnson. Riverhead, $30 (9780399184482).
In this “history of what we do for fun,” popular PBS host Johnson goes back in time to examine small moments of curiosity, serendipity, and delight that led to unexpected and groundbreaking innovations.
World War II: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. Ed. by Spencer C. Tucker and Priscilla Roberts. ABC-CLIO, $520 (9781851099689).
Noted war historian Tucker has assembled an outstanding five-volume set of more than 1,700 succinct entries and 241 primary documents selected by Roberts, all covering significant places, battles, key figures, and weapons, while encompassing the cultural, political, and social issues of the era.
George Washington. By Adam Fitzgerald. Norton/Liveright, $25.95 (9781631491009).
With high-spirited virtuosity, Fitzgerald invokes the name of the celebrated war hero, founding father, and first president as emblematic of the kitsch and ephemera of life in the U.S., combining a tallying of cultural artifacts with keen social insights.
Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones. By Lucia Perillo. Copper Canyon, $23 (9781556594731).
In this arresting and resonant collection of new and selected poems, MacArthur fellow Perillo boldly and imaginatively asks how can we meet the demands of life while marveling at the wonders all around us and seeking “sacred knowledge.”
Science & Technology
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. By Dava Sobel. Viking, $30 (9780670016952).
Sobel offers a compelling and witty history of the exceptionally gifted, long-overlooked women who once worked in critical positions at the Harvard Observatory studying glass photographic plates of the stars and cataloging thousands of discoveries.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. By Margot Lee Shetterly. Morrow, $27.99 (9780062363596).
Shetterly tells the incredible story of the Africa American women who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center as “computers”: individuals capable of making mathematical calculations at lightning speed who were essential to the agency’s space projects.
Time Travel. By James Gleick. Pantheon, $27.95 (9780307908797).
Gleick offers impressive evidence of how over the centuries the possibility of time travel has tantalized novelists, philosophers, poets, scientists, moviemakers, and cartoonists.
Roberts and Smith deeply analyze the close connection between two courageous revolutionaries and seekers, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, and its tragic end, presenting both men and their violently transforming world with fresh, stinging clarity and cutting insight.
The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland. By Dan Barry. Harper, $26.99 (9870062372130).
Barry eloquently tells the stories of a group of men with intellectual disabilities who were housed in unimaginably horrid conditions at a turkey plant in Iowa, where they worked between 1974 and 2009, and those who cared for them.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. By Matthew Desmond. Crown, $28 (9780553447439).
Through the stories of two landlords and eight families, Desmond exposes the harrowing stories of people who find themselves in bad situations, shining a light on how eviction sets people up to fail and what role the housing crisis plays in systemic poverty.
The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. By Terry Tempest Williams. Farrar/Sarah Crichton, $27 (9780374280093).
Williams, an ardent and scrupulous witness to the living world, eloquently reports on her visits to a dozen national parks, interweaving vivid history, precise and rhapsodic description, personal stories, and evocative thoughts about the future.
The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. By David Sax. Perseus/Public Affairs, $25.99 (9781610395717).
The digital revolution streamlined our lives, but it also curtailed crucial experiences. Sax looks at things and ideas altered irrevocably by technology and then asks why some people choose the “old ways.”
Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear . . . and Why. By Sady Doyle. Melville, $25.95 (9781612195636).
Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest—a True Story of the Jim Crow South. By Beth Macy. Little, Brown, $28 (9790316337540).
Macy’s exploration of the long-hidden fate of two young African Americans who were abducted and forced into the circus in 1899 exposes the atrocities of the Jim Crow South.
You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. By Jack Lynch. Bloomsbury, $30 (9780802777522).
Lynch entertainingly recounts monumental efforts by overachieving scholars to write and publish 50 influential historical reference titles.
Another Brooklyn. By Jacqueline Woodson. Harper, $22.99 (9780062359988).
In Woodson’s poetic and evocative novel, a woman’s memories of her youth in Brooklyn in the 1970s are stirred after she attends her father’s funeral.
As the characters in Pears’ genre-bending tour de force intermingle in multiple worlds and time frames, we are struck with the improbable ability of human beings to connect with one another, in the flesh and across time.
As Good as Gone. By Larry Watson. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616205713).
Barren Cove. By Ariel S. Winter. Simon & Schuster, $25 (9781476797854).
Before the Wind. By Jim Lynch. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307958983).
Bright, Precious Days. By Jay McInerney. Knopf, $28.95 (9871101948002).
Dodgers. By Bill Beverly. Crown, $26 (9781101903735).
Heat & Light. By Jennifer Haigh. Ecco, $26.99 (9780061763298).
Set in the same Pennsylvania farmland as Haigh’s other books, this novel is a perfectly paced rendering of the intertwined characters’ personal stories as they deal with the effects of fracking on their small town.
How I Became a North Korean. By Krys Lee. Viking, $27 (9780670025688).
In Lee’s unflinching novel of tyranny and survival, Yongju, the scion of a high-class North Korean family, and poor, pregnant, and unmarried Jangmi each flee to China, where their paths converge with Danny’s, a Chinese American teenager on the run.
A Hundred Thousand Worlds. By Bob Proehl. Viking, $26 (9780399562211).
LaRose. By Louise Erdrich. Harper, $27.99 (9780062277022).
The uneasy relationship between two neighboring families in a North Dakota Ojibwe community is infinitely complicated by a tragic accident and a radical attempt at justice in Erdrich’s many-faceted drama.
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047. By Lionel Shriver. Harper, $27.99 (9780062328243).
In this sharp satire, Shriver images a post-post-apocalyptic America in which the country’s financial system goes into free fall and each member of the multigenerational Mandible family struggles to adapt.
Miss Jane. By Brad Watson. Norton, $25.95 (9780393241730).
Jane Chisholm was born in rural Mississippi in 1915 with a unique and puzzling condition—the use of a common channel for all bodily functions—yet she grows up and thrives as a deep observer of life and the natural world.
Mister Monkey. By Francine Prose. Harper, $26.99 (9780062397836).
In Prose’s consummate comedy of errors, the beguiling and beleaguered cast members in a way-off-Broadway children’s musical broach questions about truth and lies, evolution and extinction, and how we care for each other and the world.
Moonglow. By Michael Chabon. Harper, $28.99 (9780062225559).
In Chabon’s insightful, funny, bewitching, and bighearted novel, the narrator’s ailing grandfather reveals his secrets, including various crimes, his WWII experiences tracking down Nazi scientists, and the truth about his Holocaust-survivor wife.
The Mothers. By Brit Bennett. Riverhead, $26 (9780399184512).
Bennett’s debut novel examines the consequences of secret decisions born of pain and fear as they play out in the lives of three young people.
The Nest. By Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Ecco, $26.99 (9780062414212).
In her novel centered on a disappeared inheritance, Sweeney, with a flair for realistic and funny dialogue, vividly portrays each of the four dysfunctional adult Plumb siblings: suave Jack, artsy Bea, playboy Leo, and meek Melody.
News of the World. By Paulette Jiles. 224p. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062409201).
In 1870, facing a 400-mile trip filled with threats of ambush, a rugged captain accompanies a young girl on her journey through Texas. Jiles’ lyrical and minimalist style allows the reader to become immersed in the pair’s journey.
The Nix. By Nathan Hill. Knopf, $27.95 (9781101946619).
Cartwheeling among multiple narrators and located in Norway, Iowa, and Chicago, Hill’s engrossing, skewering, and preternaturally timely debut spins the galvanizing stories of three generations derailed in unexpected ways by WWII, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War.
Perfume River. By Robert Olen Butler. Atlantic Monthly, $25 (9780802125750).
Small Great Things. By Jodi Picoult. Ballantine, $28.99 (9780345544957).
Picoult brings together an African American nurse and two white supremacists who specifically ask that she not handle their child, who suddenly dies, leading to her being charged with murder in a novel that offers a thought-provoking examination of racism.
The Sport of Kings. By C. E. Morgan. Farrar, $27 (9780374281083).
This ambitious epic of Faulknerian dimension tells multiple stories across many generations, as Morgan attempts to throw her arms around the history of southern racism with the same fervor that she tackles the region’s white family dynasties.
Swing Time. By Zadie Smith. Penguin, $27 (9781594203985).
Smith tells the entwined tales of two “brown girls” growing up in London enthralled by dance and taking very different paths to adulthood in a keenly funny, socially astute, emotionally lush novel about the quest for meaning, creativity, and love. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction)
The Translation of Love. By Lynne Kutsukake. Doubleday, $25.95 (9780385540674).
Kutsukake skillfully creates a vivid and memorable account of ordinary people struggling to recover from the devastation of war in her debut novel, set in post-WWII Japan.
The Underground Railroad. By Colson Whitehead. Doubleday, $26.95 (9780385537032).
In Whitehead’s commanding, vividly imagined novel, smart and resourceful Cora flees a Georgia cotton plantation only to discover, on each stop along an actual Underground Railroad running in tunnels beneath Southern soil, yet another horrific variation on racial tyranny.
The Virginity of Famous Men. By Christine Sneed. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781620406953).
Sneed investigates the dynamics of sexual power, the eroticism of fame, and the impossibility of sequestering pain in her marvelously lucid, empathic, and witty short stories.
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