Book List

30 Most Anticipated Nonfiction Books for Fall

Insightful essays for literary-minded readers.

HUMAN RELATIONS & OTHER DIFFICULTIES

ESSAYS

A collection of essays by the London Review of Books co-founder, who has been its sole editor since 1992.

Throughout, Wilmers (The Eitingons: A Twentieth-Century Story, 2010) provides astute characterizations of exceptional women, especially writers like Jean Rhys and Joan Didion. There are few personal essays from the acclaimed editor, who came of age during the feminist movements of the 1960s and ’70s, but one example is the brief opening piece, “I Was Dilapidated” (1972), about her struggles with motherhood. “I got depressed,” she writes, “because instead of maternal goodness welling up inside me, the situation seemed to open up new areas of badness in my character.” Most of her essays since then—the final piece, about poet Marianne Moore and her relationship with her prickly mother, was published in 2015—demonstrate Wilmers’ occasionally supercilious yet irresistible seduction with the work at hand, plunging readers into long, involved pieces about writers’ lives, motivations, and peccadilloes. As John Lanchester, who first met her as an editorial assistant in 1987, notes in his ginger introduction, Wilmers is a ferocious reviewer, as shown in her more general essays on the art of writing obituaries (“Civis Britannicus Fuit”), Pears, the “venerable English soap” (“Next to Godliness”), or her own writerly craft (“The Language of Novel Reviewing”). Though the daily work of editing the LRB got in the way of the author’s own writing (a fate most editors will understand), it is in her coverage of women that she truly shines—e.g., “Death and the Maiden,” her look at two books on the life of Alice James, sister to William and Henry (“being a James was a complicated business”). Another notable essay is “Hagiography,” Wilmers’ disapproving yet generous take on Rhys’ last years as delineated by the novelist’s friend David Plante. While the author’s subjects are mostly British and of a certain age, others dear to her heart include Patty Hearst and Freud, which should broaden her reading audience.

Insightful essays for literary-minded readers.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-17349-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Well-crafted and thoroughly documented, this is a must-read for parents, teachers, and anyone of either sex who cares for...

GENDER AND OUR BRAINS

HOW NEW NEUROSCIENCE EXPLODES THE MYTHS OF THE MALE AND FEMALE MINDS

An authoritative debunking of the notion of a gendered brain.

In her debut book, Rippon (Cognitive Neuroimaging/Aston Univ., Birmingham) examines sex-difference research and finds a dismaying history of bad science and an abundance of design flaws, inadequate controls, and innumeracy. Neurosexism abounds, she asserts, citing studies and naming names with assurance and a touch of acerbity. She calls misconceptions about gender differences “whac-a-mole” myths: Mistaken assumptions, she writes, have “been variously whacked over the years but can still be found in self-help manuals, how-to guides and even in twenty-first-century arguments about the utility or futility of diversity agendas.” Further, research findings are often misinterpreted by the press, creating in the public imagination an inaccurate picture of the so-called “male” or “female” brain. Rippon notes that the view of a gendered brain, which has a long history, is stubbornly persistent today. She cites both social psychologist Gustave Le Bon’s 1895 declaration that women “represent the most inferior forms of human evolution” and Google engineer James Damore’s 2017 blog about the biological causes for the absence of women in technology. Looking at numerous scientific studies, the author sees surprisingly little evidence for brain sex differences in newborns. Rather, she argues, the differences in behavior and interests between boys and girls, and men and women, can be explained by the impact of a gendered world on the human brain. As she notes, gender clues surround children from birth. Attitudes and unexamined assumptions can be toxic, and toys, sports, clothing, and colors have a powerful impact. Young children, writes Rippon, are social sponges, especially attuned to social rules, and their experiences in a pink-vs.-blue world can change the way their brains form. Ultimately, her message is that a gendered world will produce a gendered brain. The result, unfortunately, is that boys and girls are shaped with different expectations and are often driven down career different paths.

Well-crafted and thoroughly documented, this is a must-read for parents, teachers, and anyone of either sex who cares for children.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4702-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A profoundly moving and relevant work that provides new ways of thinking about the “discovery of America.”

SILVER, SWORD & STONE

THREE CRUCIBLES IN THE LATIN AMERICAN STORY

The Peruvian-born author delves into the tripartite crux of Latin American exploitation by the Western powers.

Arana (Bolívar: American Liberator, 2013, etc.) skillfully moves between the past and the present in this story about age-old “metal hunger” and authoritarian strongmen. She begins with a poignant contemporary description of Leonor Gonzáles, a woman miner aged beyond her 47 years, a mother and grandmother living and toiling in the “highest human habitation in the world,” La Rinconada, in the Peruvian Andes, hunting for the illegal gold that Western mining companies need to keep economies buoyant. This lust for precious metals is a story that has haunted and corrupted this continent for centuries. Arana traces the histories of the first civilizations in Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico that used the metals for religious worship, long before the rumors of their "value" became known to European powers. The early Inca, Maya, and Aztec rulers were enlightened, yet they had begun to fight among themselves; Arana notes that it wasn’t until the 15th century that metal was used for killing—previously, it was the obsidian bludgeon. Not until the conquistadors landed on Latin American shores did the native peoples learn the murderous power of these shiny metals. The first meeting between Hernán Cortés and Montezuma, in 1519, marked the first fateful connection, and everything changed swiftly, according to the ancient prophesy—slaughter, plague, destruction. The numbers are telling: By 1618, Mexico’s Indigenous population of about 25 million people had plunged to less than 2 million. Added to this has been the depressingly enduring legacy of autocratic rulers, and Arana pointedly explores the ways that generational trauma has been passed down to this day in a heritable form of PTSD and constant worry. “A sudden revolt, a foreign intervention, a pigheaded despot, a violent earthquake might bring down the house of cards,” she writes, closing her impressively concise yet comprehensive history.

A profoundly moving and relevant work that provides new ways of thinking about the “discovery of America.”

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0424-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

Despite some repetition, Solnit’s passionate, shrewd, and hopeful critiques are a road map for positive change. Keep these...

WHOSE STORY IS THIS?

OLD CONFLICTS, NEW CHAPTERS

Clarion calls for social and political activism.

Readers familiar with Solnit’s most recent collections of essays, Call Them by Their True Names, the winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, will find more of the same here, laced with even more scathing and harsh assessments of our world today. In a series of sharp pieces, the author dissects a variety of timely topics, especially the sexual harassment and discrimination of women and the #MeToo movement as well as Native American rights, the anti-gun movement, white nationalism, Black Lives Matter, and climate change. Solnit argues that we live in a transformative time: “You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus is.” She wants to build “new cathedrals for new constituencies.” The names may have changed, but for Solnit, the stories remain the same. After recalling being sexually harassed by a cook when she was a busgirl, she goes on to discuss Harvey Weinstein and how some men in power can go to “extraordinary lengths to make somebodies into nobodies,” noting “that truth, like women, can be bullied into behaving.” In “Voter Suppression Begins at Home,” Solnit recounts personally observing how husbands can “bully and silence and control their wives,” even with mail-in ballots. She takes on Brett Kavanaugh and Jian Ghomeshi, formerly with CBC, over the “long, brutal tradition of asserting that men are credible but women are not.” She praises Christine Blasey Ford as a “welcome earthquake” for speaking out at the Kavanaugh hearing. The author also praises Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her Green New Deal and those who helped remove Confederate statues around the country—though she bemoans the fact “that there are only five statues of named women in New York City.” Donald Trump, that “dirtbag dragon,” is often held up for scorn.

Despite some repetition, Solnit’s passionate, shrewd, and hopeful critiques are a road map for positive change. Keep these collections coming.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64259-018-0

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Haymarket

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Highly sobering, exemplary reportage delivered through richly detailed scenarios and diversified perspectives.

FENTANYL, INC.

HOW ROGUE CHEMISTS ARE CREATING THE DEADLIEST WAVE OF THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

How a lethal synthetic opioid and its manufacturer is creating a global drug addiction crisis.

In 2013, investigative journalist Westhoff (Original Gangstas: Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Birth of West Coast Rap, 2016) began researching potently addictive street drugs, and he learned about Fentanyl and other “novel psychoactive substances” while writing about “why so many people were dying at raves.” The author describes Fentanyl and synthetic drugs (including K2 and Spice) as formerly medically sound panaceas whose formulas were hijacked and re-created with unpredictable potencies and physical effects. The staggering statistics he presents tell a much darker tale, as he shows how Fentanyl-laced cocaine and other new psychoactive substances are killing thousands of people. In order to uncover the origin of the epidemic and the epic race to develop effective deterrent systems, the author seamlessly blends past and present in his profiles of Belgian chemist Paul Janssen, who was responsible for Fentanyl’s initial development in 1959; police officers; politicians; LSD drug kingpins, and St. Louis street dealers. While promising, the harm-reduction initiatives remain diluted beneath the shifting weight and influence of political red tape, global capitalism, and the biological and psychological bondage of drug dependency. Perhaps most compelling is Westhoff’s undercover infiltration of several rogue Chinese drug operations. Some operate covertly, while others are blatantly transparent since China offers subsidies to companies manufacturing and distributing Fentanyl components. Also fascinating is the author’s charting of Fentanyl’s circulation from darknet marketplaces to overseas postal stops to regional distribution. While international interceptive efforts like “Operation Denial” have helped in the apprehension of the upper echelon of major distributors, they have failed to collar Fentanyl trafficking network kingpin Jian Zhang, who is believed to be largely responsible for the steady flow of the drug into the global market. Drawing material from official reports, drug databases, scores of interviews, and years of personal research, Westhoff presents an unflinching, illuminating portrait of a festering crisis involving a drug industry that thrives as effectively as it kills.

Highly sobering, exemplary reportage delivered through richly detailed scenarios and diversified perspectives.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2743-3

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

WHEN DEATH TAKES SOMETHING FROM YOU GIVE IT BACK

CARL'S BOOK

A memoir of the author’s struggle to find the words to mourn her son’s death.

On March 16, 2015, Aidt’s son, Carl, died after throwing himself out of a fifth-floor window; he had suffered a psychotic break after consuming psilocybin mushrooms. It takes a long time—nearly halfway through this slim, devastating book—for Danish poet and fiction writer Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors, 2015, etc.) to state those facts so plainly. But her sense of grief is present from the first page, and she deploys multiple rhetorical elements—poetry, literary criticism, journals, all-caps, exclamatory text—to reckon with her loss. She returns over and over to her memory of the phone call delivering the news, adding new details each time, as if bracing herself to express the fullness of the event. Between those moments, Aidt bemoans the impossibility of putting her feelings into words through run-on anger (“I hate writing don’t want to write anymore I’m writing burning hate my anger is useless a howling cry”), unusually structured poetic passages (“Panic like a geyser inside the body / shoots its poison-water / up / from underground / to / the reptilian brain”), and sober contemplation of other grief-struck books such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, and Anne Carson’s Nox. The difficulty of articulating grief is itself a cliché of the grief memoir, but Aidt’s shattering of genre forms both underscores the feeling of speechlessness and gives it a palpable shape. (The book’s orthography bolsters that sense, playing with font sizes, line breaks, and italicization; translator Newman handles these rhetorical shifts with grace and clarity.) Carl’s death thrusted Aidt into a world where “nothing resonates or can be established, where nothing in the entire world is recognizable.” Yet this book is an alchemical feat, giving shape to the most profound sense of absence.

A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56689-560-6

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A unique, deeply thought-out refugee saga perfect for our moment.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

THE UNGRATEFUL REFUGEE

WHAT IMMIGRANTS NEVER TELL YOU

A novelist turns to nonfiction to illuminate the refugee experience, focusing mostly on her Iranian family but also reporting the sagas of many others fleeing poverty and violence.

The word “ungrateful” in the title is intended sarcastically, even bitterly. For Nayeri (Refuge, 2017, etc.), winner of the UNESCO City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, that word signifies the misguided mindset of privileged individuals in stable nations who treat desperate refugees with suspicion, condescension, or even outright cruelty. Those unkind hosts falsely believe that refugees expect something for nothing, that maybe those fleeing to save their lives will somehow displace welfare benefits and jobs in a new land. With inventive, powerful prose, Nayeri demonstrates what should be obvious: that refugees give up everything in their native lands only when absolutely necessary—if they remain, they may face poverty, physical torture, or even death. The author, who was born during the Iranian Revolution and came to the U.S. when she was 10, grew up with her brother in a household run by her physician mother and dentist father. However, their relative privilege could not keep them safe from Muslim extremists involved in the revolution. Nayeri’s father learned to compromise his principles to get along, but her mother rebelled openly, converting to Christianity. The extremists threatened to kill her and take her children, so her mother gathered her children and fled, leaving Iran secretly via a risky route. Nayeri’s father stayed behind, eventually remarrying and starting a new family. The refugees subsisted for 16 months in squalor, mostly in a compound in Italy. Nayeri’s mother, desperately working every angle, used her wits and solid education to gain entry to the U.S. The author uses some time-shifting to unfold the narrative, which she divides into five sections: escape (from Iran), refugee camp, asylum (in the U.S.), assimilation, and cultural repatriation.

A unique, deeply thought-out refugee saga perfect for our moment.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948226-42-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

Teeming with information, this is a must-read for fans of urban history.

BROOKLYN

THE ONCE AND FUTURE CITY

A lively biography of New York’s second borough, “long lost in the thermonuclear glow of Manhattan” but eminently worthy of attention and affection.

One doesn’t often think of New York City as a place where geology matters, buried as it is under all that concrete and steel. Yet, as Campanella (Urban Studies and City Planning/Cornell Univ.; The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World, 2008, etc.) observes, it’s worth remembering that in Walt Whitman’s day, Brooklyn was a place of “ample hills.” Even today, the settlement patterns of the borough speak to the glacial past, with the creative class concentrated north of the ancient line of moraines and the till below the “dominion of immigrant strivers and working-class stiffs,” sans hip boutiques and coffee shops. There was a time when Coney Island was once an island, a time before Robert Moses carved into the western confines of Long Island a new geology of roadbeds and tall bridges. Campanella delights in overturning received wisdom as he moves from place to place: George Washington made a “strategic error” in trying to defend New York “against Britannia’s mighty clenched fist” when, after all, New York was a seaport and Britain the world’s chief naval power, and when Brooklyn was loyalist—all good reasons, he suggests, for the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn to be one of those things not often mentioned in polite company, to say nothing of textbooks. Those who try to navigate the traffic from Brooklyn to anywhere nearby won’t necessarily be cheered to know that people were complaining about “bridge crush” 120 years ago (“Brooklynites needed no trolleys to get to hell—they’d go a faster way”). Of particular interest are Campanella’s concluding remarks on the nature of the gentrification now affecting so much of Brooklyn, which involves a stifling lust for authenticity: “Gentification kills the real McCoy,” he writes, memorably, “to venerate its taxidermal remains.”

Teeming with information, this is a must-read for fans of urban history.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-691-16538-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Not without flaws but unquestionably inspiring.

EYES TO THE WIND

A MEMOIR OF LOVE AND DEATH, HOPE AND RESISTANCE

A noted progressive activist’s account of his twin battles for social justice and against early-onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

When Barkan celebrated his first wedding anniversary in 2016, he counted himself and his wife “the happiest and luckiest people we knew.” Both had jobs they loved, the author as an activist/lawyer for the Center for Popular Democracy and his wife as an English professor. Days later, he learned that what he thought was carpal tunnel syndrome was actually ALS. In this memoir, which he initially wrote to leave behind for both the progressive movement and the infant son he would not see grow to adulthood, Barkan looks back on his life and achievements. He begins with his social conscience awakening at Columbia University, where he became involved in radical political organizations. At Yale Law School, Barkan threw himself into work advocating for immigrant and worker rights. Rather than become a civil rights lawyer, the author did what “got my blood pumping”: argue about public policy and organize protests. At the end of the Occupy movement, he organized the Fed Up campaign, which sought to change Federal Reserve monetary policies to help low-income people. But just as Fed Up began gaining notoriety and traction several years later, Barkan faced increasing physical difficulties. In May 2017, he walked with a leg brace; by early 2018, he was wheelchair-bound and needed a ventilator to breathe. Despite the deep strains his condition produced in his marriage, he continued to fight alongside other progressives, embarking on a summertime “six-week, twenty-state trip, from California to Maine,” to help change the balance of power in Congress. Though sometimes self-congratulatory in tone, Barkan’s book—part of which he wrote with the assistance of a technology that allowed him to use only his eyes—still moves with its portrait of a man driven to act on his beliefs while learning to accept the injustice of early mortality.

Not without flaws but unquestionably inspiring.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982111-54-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Important reading for our current time, especially as the Mueller Report continues to circulate.

DISRUPT, DISCREDIT, AND DIVIDE

HOW THE NEW FBI DAMAGES DEMOCRACY

A well-documented exposé explaining how 9/11 transformed the FBI into an agency “using its enhanced national security powers to silence whistleblowers, suppress minority communities, intimidate dissidents, and undermine democratic controls over its operations.”

When he entered the agency in 1988, German (Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent, 2007) found himself admiring many of his fellow agents. However, he gradually began to realize that the FBI top brass—including Robert Mueller and James Comey—presided over an organization rife with sexism, racism, xenophobia, and resistance to honorable agents who pointed out problems through the chain of command. After 9/11—which many believed could have been avoided if the FBI, CIA, and other entities had performed their jobs better—German watched as Islamophobia infected the FBI from the top down. He departed in 2004 but kept a close watch using his own knowledge and that of the whistleblowers still inside. In an unusual move for a former FBI agent, German joined the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he gained a finely honed appreciation of how the FBI routinely violated the rights of Muslims, African Americans, Native Americans, and many other nonwhite citizens. The author developed an especially acute sense of how FBI leadership downplayed the widespread dangers of heavily armed white nationalists, many of whom took their cues from the domestic terrorists responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In addition to developing his theme of misplaced priorities within federal and local law enforcement, German returns frequently to convincing evidence that foreign terrorists who orchestrated 9/11 would strike again inside the United States through a hidden network of sleeper cells. German bemoans the fact that by successfully spreading fear within a dysfunctional federal government—and ineffective FBI—terrorists ripped the fabric of American democracy, perhaps beyond repair. “The FBI,” he writes, “cannot remain effective without public confidence in its work, and regaining this faith should be its top priority.”

Important reading for our current time, especially as the Mueller Report continues to circulate.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62097-379-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

TALKING TO STRANGERS

WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE DON'T KNOW

The latest intellectually stimulating book from the acclaimed author.

Every few years, journalist Gladwell (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, 2013, etc.) assembles serious scientific research on oddball yet relevant subjects and then writes a bestseller. Readers expecting another everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong page-turner will not be disappointed, but they will also encounter some unsettling truths. The author begins with a few accounts of black Americans who died at the hands of police, using the incidents to show how most of us are incompetent at judging strangers. Countless psychological studies demonstrate that humans are terrible at detecting lying. Experts such as FBI agents don’t perform better. Judges interview suspects to determine if they deserve bail; they believe it helps, but the opposite is true. Computers, using only hard data, do much better. Many people had qualms about Bernie Madoff, but interviewers found him completely open and honest; “he was a sociopath dressed up as a mensch.” This, Gladwell emphasizes, is the transparency problem. We believe that someone’s demeanor reflects their thoughts and emotions, but it often doesn’t. Gladwell’s second bombshell is what he calls “default to truth.” It seems like a university president resigns in disgrace every few months for the same reason: They hear accusations of abusive behavior by an employee—e.g., Larry Nassar at Michigan State, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State—conduct an investigation, but then take no action, often claiming that they did not have enough evidence of deceit. Ultimately, everyone agrees that they were criminally negligent. Another example is CIA official James Angleton, who was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency; his decades of suspicion and search ruined careers and crippled American intelligence. Gladwell emphasizes that society could not function if we did not give everyone the benefit of the doubt. “To assume the best of another is the trait that has created modern society,” he writes. “Those occasions when our trusting nature is violated are tragic. But the alternative—to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception—is worse.”

Another Gladwell tour de force but perhaps his most disturbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-47852-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

A powerful, engrossing look at race and technology.

THINK BLACK

A MEMOIR

A memoir/social history of a trailblazing father, his headstrong son, and their struggles with racism in the tech industry.

In 1971, Ford (Whiskey Gulf, 2009, etc.) followed his pioneering father’s footsteps through the doors of IBM. Nearly three decades earlier, the elder Ford had become the company’s first black systems engineer, handpicked by the president and founder of the company, Thomas J. Watson Sr. But where his father was a conformist, seemingly unwilling to challenge the racism at the ultraconservative company, the rebellious author, then 19, showed up for work with “a ballooned Afro, pork chop sideburns [and] a blue zoot suit with red pinstripes.” Ford chronicles both his and his father’s careers, from the dawn of the digital age that his father's expertise helped usher in. Frequently at odds, the two men disagreed about Clyde’s future, the war in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement. A masterful storyteller, Ford interweaves his personal story with the backdrop of the social movements unfolding at that time, providing a revealing insider’s view of the tech industry. IBM’s storied past is not without blemish. Ford details the company’s involvement with the Nazis during the Holocaust and with the South African government under apartheid. Whether recounting the domestic drama that played out between his parents or how his father taught him to program IBM’s first computer as a kid, Ford provides a simultaneously informative and entertaining narrative. He delves into historical and contemporary intersections of race, history, and technology to show that technical advancements are never completely bias-free because they are driven by humans, who are inherently biased. Ultimately, Ford learned that his father did challenge the system at IBM in covert but lasting ways. He also gives a call to action to readers to challenge the current lack of diversity in tech as well as the racism that technology is used to perpetuate in society at large.

A powerful, engrossing look at race and technology.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-289056-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

A lucid, entertaining account of how creatures of many kinds learn to navigate the complex world that adulthood opens.

WILDHOOD

THE EPIC JOURNEY FROM ADOLESCENCE TO ADULTHOOD IN HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMALS

How adolescents across species learn to become grown-ups.

There’s a time in most parents’ lives when they’re tempted to throw their teenage children into the nearest well. So it is across the animal kingdom when puberty sets in and profound changes shape the adolescent being. Write Harvard evolutionary biologist Natterson-Horowitz and science journalist Bowers (co-authors: Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing, 2012), although puberty is thought of as a sexual transformation, it “exerts its hormonal effects on every organ system in the body,” enlarging the heart, lungs, head, and other features and adding strength and power to the form. This allows a human runner to race at newfound speeds and affords the great white shark the wherewithal to bite something and mean business. Adulthood among all species is not confined to just this transformation but also requires the initiate to become part of the group. The authors focus closely on four quite distinct animals—a king penguin, a spotted hyena, a humpback whale, and a wolf—to examine the changes attendant in becoming an adolescent on the way to adulthood, with all its perils. As those who were once teenagers well know, it’s a time fraught with danger, to which animal species have exhibited similar responses—the phenomenon of shoaling, for instance, a “fundamental, lifesaving skill set” that illustrates the adage of there being strength in numbers and, more to the point, in concerted action, whether for a group of reef fish or a squadron of fighter pilots. Sometimes such actions are automatic or nearly so, but many require an awareness of hierarchy: “Each individual has a place. And the social energy that goes into determining those positions is also what holds together the hierarchy." The authors steer clear of excesses of ethology or anthropomorphism, and they emphasize that maturity is not a goal but a process.

A lucid, entertaining account of how creatures of many kinds learn to navigate the complex world that adulthood opens.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6469-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

On its 25th anniversary, the show’s die-hard fans will love Austerlitz’s detailed, discerning, and sumptuous history.

READ REVIEW

GENERATION FRIENDS

AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE SHOW THAT DEFINED A TELEVISION ERA

The story of “one of the most beloved series on television.”

Austerlitz (Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy With the Rolling Stones at Altamont, 2014, etc.) returns to a subject he’s quite adept at analyzing, the TV sitcom, which he comprehensively covered in his 2014 book, Sitcom. With 236 episodes, Friends ran from 1994 to 2004, garnering one Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. The author conducted numerous interviews with writers, directors, crew members, and actors to tell this story of a show in which “comic minimalism was conjoined to a soap-opera maximalism.” Austerlitz begins with the writers who created it, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, who were there to the end. Their initial pitch to the executives was a show like Cheers but set in a coffee shop, Central Perk. After it received the go-ahead, the casting director’s initial list had African American and Asian American actors, but the producers went with an all-white cast of three men and three women. David Schwimmer’s Ross was selected right away, with Matthew Perry’s Chandler last. James Burrows, of Taxi and Cheers fame, directed. NBC execs were worried it wouldn’t reach a wide enough audience, but they eventually slotted it for Thursdays before Seinfeld. Austerlitz chronicles how Friends evolved: adding additional sets, fine-tuning Courteney Cox’s Monica, and the key decision to include the characters’ past so “stories were often retold instead of depicted.” The lack of diversity was brought up when the cast appeared on Oprah. Ross’ ex-wife was a lesbian, and there was “The One With the Lesbian Wedding,” while other episodes added black and Asian American actors; but Austerlitz calls the show with Chandler’s transgender father (played by Kathleen Turner) “inept.” Friends weathered a hostile work environment lawsuit and Perry’s drug-and-alcohol addiction, and guest actors were common, from Elliott Gould and Charlton Heston to Julia Roberts and George Clooney, helping “provide a jolt to the ratings.”

On its 25th anniversary, the show’s die-hard fans will love Austerlitz’s detailed, discerning, and sumptuous history.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4335-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A convincing but definitely not uplifting account of how Reconstruction drastically changed our Constitution.

THE SECOND FOUNDING

HOW THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION REMADE THE CONSTITUTION

Schoolchildren learn that the Constitution did not solve the slavery question. That required the Civil War and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, which dramatically altered how we are governed. This engrossing scholarly history recounts how it happened.

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Foner (Emeritus, History/Columbia Univ.; Battle for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History, 2017, etc.) reminds readers that the Emancipation Proclamation freed some slaves, and the 1865 surrender of Confederate armies freed none. Abolition required the 13th Amendment. Abraham Lincoln stayed neutral as the 1864 Congress debated it. He was in a tight presidential race, and supporting black rights was not a vote-getter. Initially, the amendment failed, with most Northern Democrats opposed, warning that it would lead to black voting and interracial marriage. After the election, in which Republicans increased their majority, it passed. Soon, it became apparent that Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, a vehement racist, was encouraging white supremacists to form governments in former Confederate states. In December 1865, Congress refused to admit their representatives and proposed what became the 14th and 15th amendments. The 14th, the longest in the Constitution, was meant to “establish the rights of the freed people and all Americans; create a uniform definition of citizenship; outline a way back into the union for seceded states; limit the political influence of leading Confederates; contribute to the nation-building process catalyzed by the Civil War; and serve as a political platform that would enable the Republican Party to retain its hold on power.” The 15th, which prohibited denying voting rights based on race, was controversial even in the North. No congressional Democrat voted for it, and post-Reconstruction Southern governments had no trouble disenfranchising blacks. Foner emphasizes that these revolutionary amendments were poorly drawn, difficult to enforce, and not widely popular among whites. Nearly a century passed before the protection of due process, individual rights, and racial equality won over the courts and many, if not all, whites.

A convincing but definitely not uplifting account of how Reconstruction drastically changed our Constitution.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-65257-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A nuanced, authoritative portrait of a legendary artist.

SONTAG

HER LIFE AND WORK

A sweeping biography reveals personal, political, and cultural turbulence.

Drawing on some 300 interviews, a rich, newly available archive of personal papers, and abundant published sources, biographer, essayist, and translator Moser (Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, 2009) offers a comprehensive, intimate—and surely definitive—biography of writer, provocateur, and celebrity intellectual Susan Sontag (1933-2004). Sympathetic and sharply astute, Moser recounts the astonishing evolution of Susan Rosenblatt, an impressively bright and inquisitive child of the Jewish middle class, into an internationally acclaimed, controversial, and often combative cultural figure. Even as a child, Sontag—she changed her name after her mother’s second marriage—saw herself as exceptional: smarter than her classmates, so widely read and articulate that she astonished her professors. Nevertheless, although certain that she was destined for greatness, she was tormented by an abiding fear of inadequacy. Moser recounts Sontag’s education, friendships, and sexual encounters; her realization that she was bisexual; and her wide-ranging interests in psychoanalysis, politics, and, most enduringly, aesthetics. He offers judicious readings of all of Sontag’s works, from her 1965 “Notes on ‘Camp,’ ” which, according to Nora Ephron, transformed her from a “highbrow critic” to “a midcult commodity”; to the late novels of which she was proudest. Her private life was stormy. At 17, she married her sociology professor, Philip Rieff, after they had known each other for 10 days, and within two years, she was a mother. Neither marriage nor motherhood suited her. Devoid of maternal instinct, she was unable to care about anyone, said Jamaica Kincaid, “unless they were in a book.” Instead, among her many lovers—Richard Goodwin, Warren Beatty, Joseph Brodsky, Lucinda Childs, Annie Leibowitz, to name a few—she sought those who would care for her: publisher Roger Straus, who sustained her “professionally, financially, and sometimes physically”; and women who kept her fed, housed, and clean. Difficulties with basic hygiene, Moser notes, “suggest more than carelessness” but rather a persistent sense of alienation from her body—and exaltation of her mind.

A nuanced, authoritative portrait of a legendary artist.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-289639-1

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A masterfully poetic and intimate work that anchors mothering within the long-standing tradition of black resistance and...

BREATHE

A LETTER TO MY SONS

A distinguished scholar writes to her sons about the joy, possibility, and grace of black life amid ongoing American struggles with race, gender, and class.

Carrying on an iconic legacy of public letters from black writers—think James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Kiese Laymon, among many others—Perry (African American Studies/Princeton Univ.; Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, 2018, etc.) reflects on her family history, tying it together with cultural allegories to impress upon her sons the precious inheritance found within black social life and the pursuit of a livelihood full of “passion, profound human intimacy and connection, beauty and excellence.” A multidisciplinary and acclaimed researcher, Perry uses references throughout the slim volume that range across centuries and the global black diaspora, across folklore, music, and visual arts as well as the influence of numerous faith traditions. “The people with whom you can share the interior illumination,” she writes, “that is the sacramental bond.” She breaks down the structures of violence and marginalization that black children face while uplifting the imaginative and improvisatory space for them to focus on their becoming, to not be trapped in misnarrated stories or “forced into two dimensions when you are in four.” Echoing Baldwin’s distinctive “Letter to My Nephew,” Perry emphasizes the critical life discipline of making choices—not in the shallow sense of choosing success or achievement but rather within the depths of the long, historic freedom struggle to answer important questions—e.g., “How will you treat your word? How will you hold your heart? How will you hold others?” Deeply intergenerational, the book blurs intended audiences to call all of us to face up to legacies of injustice while insisting on the grace and conviviality necessary to imagine just futures.

A masterfully poetic and intimate work that anchors mothering within the long-standing tradition of black resistance and resourcefulness.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8070-7655-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A captivating, redemptive chronicle of a year in which Smith looked intently into the abyss.

YEAR OF THE MONKEY

This chronicle of a chaotic year filled with deep losses and rich epiphanies finds the writer and performer covering a whole lot of ground.

In terms of the calendar, Smith’s latest memoir has a tighter focus than its predecessors, M Train (2015) and Just Kids (2010), which won the National Book Award. The titular year is 2016, a year that would begin just after the author turned 69 and end with her turning 70. That year, Smith endured the death of her beloved friend Sandy Pearlman, the music producer and manager with whom she would “have coffee at Caffé Trieste, peruse the shelves of City Lights Bookstore and drive back and forth across the Golden Gate listening to the Doors and Wagner and the Grateful Dead”; and the decline of her lifelong friend and kindred spirit Sam Shepard. She held vigil for Pearlman at his hospital deathbed, and she helped Shepard revise his final manuscript, taking dictation when he could no longer type. Throughout, the author ponders time and mortality—no surprise considering her milestone birthday and the experience of losing friends who have meant so much to her. She stresses the importance of memory and the timeless nature of a person’s spirit (her late husband remains very much alive in these pages as well). Seeing her own reflection, she thinks, “I noticed I looked young and old simultaneously.” She refers to herself as the “poet detective,” and this particular year set her on a quixotic quest, with a mysterious companion unexpectedly reappearing amid a backdrop of rock touring, lecture touring, vagabond traveling, and a poisonous political landscape. “I was still moving within an atmosphere of artificial brightness with corrosive edges,” she writes, “the hyperreality of a polarizing pre-election mudslide, an avalanche of toxicity infiltrating every outpost.”

A captivating, redemptive chronicle of a year in which Smith looked intently into the abyss.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65768-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Following their previous collaboration, this is another zany book for Jews and those who love them.

A FIELD GUIDE TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE

Three comic writers delve into what it means to be Jewish.

Barry, Mansbach, and Zweibel (For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them, 2017) team up again in an irreverent take on Jewish life, culture, and lore. No topic is off limits for jokes that range from silly to sophomoric: the Holocaust (“there was still, in the end, a positive side of the Holocaust,” the authors declare, before abruptly changing their minds); the Arab-Israeli conflict (Israel has won all wars since 1948 “because militarily the Israeli armed forces are the Harlem Globetrotters of the Middle East”); and anti-Semitism. “Are you an anti-Semite?” the authors ask, providing a quiz to test which of many Jewish stereotypes a responder believes. Are Jews “opinionated, pushy, and prone to butting in?” Or are they “clannish, secretive, and reclusive”? Either answer will brand you as an anti-Semite. More Jewish stereotypes fuel jokes about Jewish customs, holidays, food, attitudes toward interfaith marriage, teachings of the Talmud, and, not least, sex: “Q. What is Jewish foreplay? A. Three hours of begging.” Of the three authors, Barry, a Presbyterian married to a Cuban-Jewish woman, is not “technically Jewish,” but he admits that he has attended many High Holiday services, “some of which lasted longer than the Korean conflict.” The authors found that they had to bone up on the Old Testament and the “incredibly weird shit” in the Torah to make fun of biblical stories, people, and God’s sometimes-incomprehensible commandments, such as the requirement that every male newborn be circumcised. “A surprising amount of research goes into the crafting of every single cheap dick joke we write,” Mansbach reveals. Although some readers might be offended by the repeated characterization of Jews as cheap, argumentative, and opinionated—“two Jews, three opinions” the saying goes—Barry sees self-deprecating Jewish humor as “an important psychological mechanism for coping with misfortune, and Jews have had a LOT of misfortune, especially when you compare them to the Presbyterians.”

Following their previous collaboration, this is another zany book for Jews and those who love them.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-19196-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

An amusing foray into the witchy realms of Burroughs’ life that lacks the depth of previous memoirs.

TOIL & TROUBLE

A MEMOIR

The magical side of the acclaimed author’s colorful life.

Burroughs (Lust & Wonder, 2016, etc.) is well known for his soul-baring, bestselling memoirs, including Running With Scissors, his vivid portrait of his dysfunctional family life, and Dry, his powerful account of alcoholism and getting clean. One might think he has few secrets left to divulge, yet in this latest memoir, he reveals a startling new detail: He’s a witch. In fact, the author, who first realized his “gift” as a young boy, comes from a long line of witches, including his mother and grandmother. The loosely constructed narrative initially revolves around the author’s anecdotal “witchy” incidents that occurred as a child and then later as an adult, especially as related to his relationship with his husband, Christopher. Burroughs chronicles how he convinced Christopher to move from their urban Manhattan life and settle in a historic home in rural Connecticut. The author has always displayed a talent for sharing sometimes-grim personal dramas with a keen whimsical flair. Unfortunately, the balance is never quite achieved here; the dramatic moments are softly conceived while his narrative often swings in a broader comedic direction. Though the author’s witch revelation feels authentic, some elements of the story undermine the gravity of his tale. These include such chapter headings as “Adder’s Tongue,” “Snake’s Blood,” “Fairie’s Finger,” and “Bat’s Wings” as well as frequent mentions of the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, in which Burroughs compares his experiences to those of Samantha Stevens. The author delivers intermittently intriguing depictions of the quirky local characters they have encountered in the countryside, including redneck handymen, a flamboyant has-been opera singer neighbor, and their real estate agent, who also happens to be a witch. Though we see Burroughs and Christopher struggle through potential hardships, including a tornado and illness, these often feel like contrived plot points allowing for further witty indulgences.

An amusing foray into the witchy realms of Burroughs’ life that lacks the depth of previous memoirs.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-01995-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

As good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados.

BIG WONDERFUL THING

A HISTORY OF TEXAS

Austin-based novelist Harrigan (A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, 2016, etc.) serves up a lively history of the nation-sized Lone Star State.

The title comes from the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who marveled at Texas but wound up making her fortune in next-door New Mexico. Of course, Texas has many next-door neighbors, each influencing it and being influenced by it: the plains of Oklahoma, the bayous and deep forests of Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico itself, all where South and West and Midwest meet. Telling its story is a daunting task: If the project of the gigantic centennial Big Tex statue with which Harrigan opens his story was to “Texanize Texans,” it was one in which women, ethnic minorities, the poor, and many other sorts of people were forgotten in the face of stalwarts like Sam Houston, Judge Roy Bean, and Davy Crockett. Not here. The standbys figure, but in interesting lights: Houston was famous and even infamous in his day, but his successor, Mirabeau Lamar, mostly known only for the Austin avenue named for him, was just as much a man of parts, “a poet and classical scholar with a bucolic vision of the empire that his administration aimed to wrest from the hands of its enemies.” Harrigan’s story of the Alamo is also nuanced: It is not true that there were no survivors, but the fact that the survivors were slaves has rendered them invisible—as is the fact that many Mexican officers who served under Santa Anna pleaded with him to show mercy to the rest. The Alamo has given a Texas flair to all sorts of things, including a recent golf tournament, highlighting Texans’ tendency toward "a blend of valor and swagger.” Just so, Harrigan, surveying thousands of years of history that lead to the banh mi restaurants of Houston and the juke joints of Austin, remembering the forgotten as well as the famous, delivers an exhilarating blend of the base and the ignoble, a very human story indeed.

As good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-292-75951-0

Page Count: 944

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

An invigorating polemic against tactics the news media use to manipulate and divide their audiences.

HATE INC.

WHY TODAY'S MEDIA MAKES US DESPISE ONE ANOTHER

Rolling Stone contributing editor Taibbi (I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, 2017, etc.) spares neither right- nor left-leaning pundits as he inveighs against cable TV and other media that treat news as a form of entertainment.

After nearly three decades as a journalist, the author reconsiders the message of one of his earliest professional touchstones, Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, in which Chomsky argued that censorship in the United States wasn’t overt but covert—that news companies simply failed to promote people who opposed their aims. Taibbi saw the self-censorship in newscasts that courted the widest possible audiences with a bland approach he sums up as, “Good evening, I’m Dan Rather, and my frontal lobes have been removed. Today in Libya.…” The explosion of cable news channels helped to change that, but the author argues convincingly that many outlets have traded one sin for another. Media companies now shunt viewers into “demographic silos” and treat news like pro wrestling, fomenting conflict by encouraging people to take sides. Prime examples include the Sean Hannity Show on Fox News and the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. “Maddow defenders will say she’s nowhere near as vicious and deceptive as Hannity and therefore doesn’t belong in the same category,” writes Taibbi. “But she builds her audience the same way,” by fostering an us vs. them mentality. This binary approach narrows debate, discourages the pursuit of complex stories, and leads journalists into blunders such as believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or implying that the Mueller Report might topple the president by the next commercial break. First published in online installments, this book—which ends with a spirited interview with Chomsky—is less polished than recent works by Taibbi that arrived by a more traditional path. But his mordant wit is intact, and his message to journalists is apt and timely: Not everyone has to win a Pulitzer or Edward R. Murrow Award, but, please, have some pride.

An invigorating polemic against tactics the news media use to manipulate and divide their audiences.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-949017-25-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: OR Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Not every piece is a winner, but this anthology of grief, anger, and even hope capably reflects Williams’ wise voice.

EROSION

ESSAYS OF UNDOING

New and previously published essays from the well-known conservationist alternately rage and despair over national policies of land and wildlife conservation.

The election of Donald Trump spelled a dark moment for environmentalists like Williams (Writer-in-Residence/Harvard Divinity School; The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks, 2015, etc.), who increasingly sees a “world torn to pieces.” The erosion of the protection of public lands, most recently that of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, has compelled the author to become increasingly political, sometimes to the detriment of her personal life. When her longtime husband, Brooke, said that she “was too immersed in politics—‘obsessed’ was the word he used—and that it wasn’t healthy,” her response was telling: “We have to keep fighting….It’s not just about our species.” Owls, for which Williams has a particular affinity, would agree, as would countless other species, such as prairie dogs, wolves, and sage grouse, all of which suffer from the erosion of the Endangered Species Act (1973). A “totemic act,” it has “never been more relevant and never more at risk.” These essays—written between 2016 and 2018 and mostly high quality—take readers to extraordinary places, including the Great Salt Lake and surrounding areas; Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she saw “one constant: pronghorns”; the Alaskan Brooks Range (“in the Arctic, global warming is not an abstraction”); the Galápagos Islands, where the author discovered countless wonders on land and at sea; the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, where she observed gorillas amid a war-torn country bleeding itself for charcoal production. Elsewhere, she writes about how she confronted the religious politics of the Latter-day Saint patriarchy in Utah, where she lived, forcing her to leave her professorship for the unknown. She also confronts the traumatic, untimely death of her brother by suicide in 2018. Though the book contains mostly prose, there is also poetry and a long Q-and-A with fellow environmentalist Tim DeChristopher.

Not every piece is a winner, but this anthology of grief, anger, and even hope capably reflects Williams’ wise voice.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-28006-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

A memoir of coming to terms that’s written with masterful control of both style and material.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

READ REVIEW

HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES

A MEMOIR

A coming-of-age memoir marks the emergence of a major literary voice.

A prizewinning poet, Jones (Prelude to Bruise, 2014) tends less toward flights of poetic fancy and more toward understated, matter-of-fact prose, all the more powerful because the style never distracts from the weight of the story: the sexual awakening and struggle for identity of a young black man raised in Texas by a single mother, a Buddhist, who herself was the daughter of an evangelical Christian. He and his mother were both damned to hell, according to his grandmother, who nonetheless loved both of them. There is a lot of subtlety in these familial relations: the son not willing to recognize the implications of his loving mother’s heart condition, the mother struggling with her son’s sexuality. The “fight” in the title is partly about the fight with society at large, but it is mainly about the fight within the author himself. “I made myself a promise,” he writes. “Even if it meant becoming a stranger to my loved ones, even if it meant keeping secrets, I would have a life of my own.” Jones documents the price he paid for those secrets, including the shame that accompanied his discoveries of self and sexuality. “Standing in front of the mirror,” he writes, “my reflection and I were like rival animals, just moments away from tearing each other limb from limb.” One of them was the loving son and accomplished student; the other, a young man drawn toward denigrating and debilitating sexual encounters, devoid of love, with white men who objectified him as black and even with straight men. One almost killed him and made him feel like this is what he deserved. “This is that I thought it meant to be a man fighting for his life,” writes Jones. “If America was going to hate me for being black and gay, then I might as well make a weapon out of myself.”

A memoir of coming to terms that’s written with masterful control of both style and material.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3273-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A pleasing, entertaining sojourn into the realm of what makes us tick.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE BODY

A GUIDE FOR OCCUPANTS

The intrepid explorer and popular travel writer journeys inward—literally—to explore our mortal coil.

A narrative by Bryson (The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, 2016, etc.) rarely involves the unfolding of a grand thesis; instead, it’s a congeries of anecdotes, skillfully strung, always a pleasure to read but seldom earthshakingly significant. So it is here. The author does some on-the-ground digging, talking to scientists and physicians, while plowing through libraries of literature to get at the story of how our bodies work. Early on, he pokes at the old bromide that the human body is an assemblage of a few dollars’ worth of assorted chemicals and minerals. Not so, he writes: We’re made up of 59 elements, including carbon and oxygen. But, he adds, “who would have thought that we would be incomplete without some molybdenum inside us, or vanadium, manganese, tin, and copper?” Bryson employs the example of an “obliging Benedict Cumberbatch,” of medium height and build and good health, to venture that the real cost of a human is “a very precise $151,578.46,” a figure that turns out to wiggle and wobble as we layer on additional costs. As ever, the author collects lovely oddments and presents them as so many glittering marbles: The largest protein in the body is titin, whose “chemical name is 189,819 letters long, which would make it the longest word in the English language except that dictionaries don’t recognize chemical names.” The heart, which, Bryson notes, doesn’t really look like a valentine, does only one thing: It beats, “slightly more than once every second, about 100,000 times a day, up to 2.5 billion times in a lifetime.” Along the way, the author considers whether the old surgical practice of bleeding was really a good thing to do (it wasn’t), how "cytokine storms” work, and what the winning combination is for a long life—one factor is wealth: “Someone who is otherwise identical to you but poor…can expect to die between ten and fifteen years sooner.”

A pleasing, entertaining sojourn into the realm of what makes us tick.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53930-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

A joy and a privilege to read.

A PILGRIMAGE TO ETERNITY

FROM CANTERBURY TO ROME IN SEARCH OF A FAITH

From the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, a pilgrimage to find religion—or truth, or the way—that pleasingly blends memoir, travelogue, and history.

The latest from Egan (The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, 2016, etc.) will make readers want to make a journey of their own. In a fascinating page-turner, the author chronicles his travels, mostly via foot but also via car and train, along the Via Francigena, a 1,200-mile medieval route that runs from Canterbury to Rome, where he sought an audience with “a pope with one working lung who is struggling to hold together the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics through the worst crisis in half a millennium.” Egan traversed this route in search of God or some type of significant spiritual experience. A skeptic by nature and Catholic by baptism, he realized that he needed to decide what he believes or admit what he does not. “I start [the journey] as a father, a husband, an American deeply troubled by the empty drift of our country,” he writes. “And for the next thousand miles or so, I will try to be a pilgrim.” Any pilgrimage is a rough test of faith and one of the most unpredictable and independent adventures on which to embark. Along for the ride on this quest are St. Augustine, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, St. Francis, and Oscar Wilde, among others. Egan’s Jesuit education inevitably crept into his mind during his stays at monasteries and visits to cathedrals to view their relics and learn about the events and myths that comprise their histories. Pope Francis, a man who embraces reason and promotes peer-reviewed science, brings the author a sense of hope after the church’s decades of inflexible leadership. Finding people and places warm and welcoming in each village and city, allowing himself to be amazed, lingering to rest blistered feet, and discovering soul-stirring spots—all this kept him pushing on, and readers will be thankful for his determination.

A joy and a privilege to read.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2523-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Sharp, brazen, and undeniably controversial.

THE PROBLEM WITH EVERYTHING

MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE NEW CULTURE WARS

A sweeping critique of the “wokescenti.”

Award-winning essayist, memoirist, and novelist Daum (The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, 2014, etc.), recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, takes on fourth-wave feminism, victimhood, identity politics, #MeToo, social media, ideological warfare on college campuses, and assorted other irritants in a culture that is “effectively mentally ill.” Social media, asserts the author, creates an echo chamber where people lie to one another and eagerly wait for friends to lie back. “I am convinced,” she writes, “the culture is effectively being held hostage by its own hyperbole. So enthralled with our outrage at the extremes, we’ve forgotten that most of the world exists in the mostly unobjectionable middle.” Examining displays of outrage as public performance, she writes that “the search for grievance has become a kind of political obligation, an activist gesture.” Accusations of sexism, sexual harassment, or assault, she believes, foster women’s image of themselves as victims rather than individuals “capable of making mistakes”; in making such accusations, women “literally hand men their own power.” Rather than see the gender wage gap as evidence of sexism, Daum suggests “that there are biological differences between male and female brains that can influence women’s professional decisions.” She also criticizes “the left-leaning chatterati” who praised Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as engaging in “self-congratulatory reverence,” wondering “if my white friends and colleagues who venerated Coates actually liked his work or just liked the idea of liking it.” This suspicion of other people’s authenticity underlies much of the book: Daum admits that when she was an undergraduate in the midst of student uprisings, she “often felt like I was impersonating a college student…I had a hard time believing other people were actually for real.” Now middle-aged, divorced, childless by choice, and feeling increasingly marginal, the author is dismayed by those whose energetic engagement with social and cultural problems fuels “the exquisite lie of our own relevance.”

Sharp, brazen, and undeniably controversial.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982129-33-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Essential reading for “Peanuts” fans and an appealing collection of personal writing for any reader.

THE PEANUTS PAPERS

CHARLIE BROWN, SNOOPY & THE GANG, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

Top-flight writers contemplate “Peanuts,” a comic strip that’s especially inviting to a wealth of interpretations.

That’s partly because the apparent simplicity of Charles Schulz’s creation was often deceptive: Ivan Brunetti is one of a handful of cartoonists here who note that Schulz rendered a variety of expressions with inimitable ease. “He made comics into a broader language of emotion,” concurs Chris Ware. The emotion most contributors gravitate to is melancholy, which is to say that Charlie Brown gets much of the attention. He embodies a “daily tragedy” (Umberto Eco); an “introduction to adult problems” (Chuck Klosterman); and a “gospel” of “disillusionment” (Jonathan Franzen). Even free-wheeling Snoopy is often seen as an existential figure: As Sarah Boxer writes, he is “shallow in his way, but he’s also deep, and in the end deeply alone, as deeply alone as Charlie Brown is.” Tales of Brown-ian embarrassments and insecurities abound, though often in a spirit of gratitude toward Schulz for ferrying the authors into adulthood. Among the most powerful contributions are Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell’s “Happiness Is Fleeting,” about her insecurity as a young artist, and Jennifer Finley Boylan’s “You’re Weird Sir,” about her identification with Peppermint Patty while growing up “a closeted transgender child.” The bulk of the pieces are personal essays, which can feel tonally repetitive, and there are too few actual comics. However, there’s plenty of entertaining counterprogramming. Jonathan Lethem’s “Grief” is a winning mashup of "Peanuts" quotes and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”; Peter Kramer considers Lucy’s 5-cent psychiatry booth from the perspective of professional psychiatry; and Elissa Schappell stands up for Charlie’s kid sister, Sally, an iconoclast too often dismissed as the strip’s dim bulb. “Sally isn’t innocent, she’s cynical,” Schappell insists; if there’s a running theme to this book, it’s that Schulz masterfully imagined a world filled with children that is also bereft of innocence. Other notable contributors include George Saunders, David Hajdu, Ann Patchett, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Essential reading for “Peanuts” fans and an appealing collection of personal writing for any reader.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-616-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

A well-told story fraught with both mystery and real-life aftershocks that set the psychiatric community on its ear.

THE GREAT PRETENDER

THE UNDERCOVER MISSION THAT CHANGED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF MADNESS

A sharp reexamination of one of the defining moments in the field of psychiatry.

“There are not, as of this writing, any consistent objective measures that can render a definitive psychiatric diagnosis,” writes New York Post journalist Cahalan (Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, 2012) at the beginning of this gripping account of a study that rocked the foundational concepts of how we judge sanity. In the early 1970s, David Rosenhan, a Stanford professor of psychology, sent eight sane people into hospitals for the insane in an experiment involving diagnostics and conditions for the mentally ill. The eight participants told the intake doctors that they were experiencing aural hallucinations, and they were all admitted for varying lengths of time. The resulting article, which appeared in Science, is credited with helping to change both diagnostic and hospitalization procedures. At first, Cahalan approaches the article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places” (1973), with a level of awe and appreciation and treats readers to a tour of the miseries that patients endured—most notably, isolation and dehumanization—as well as a review of her own misdiagnosis of schizophrenia. Eventually, doubts start to creep into the author’s investigation, discrepancies that a purportedly scientific article should not have contained: lying about hospitalization dates, exaggerating medical records, playing with numbers, and more. Cahalan follows all the leads like a bloodhound, in particular trying to uncover the identities of the patients. Her pursuit reads like a well-tempered mystery being picked apart, with tantalizing questions for which many of the answers are just out of reach. While “On Being Sane” may have been partially fabricated, it was also an important force in the deinstitutionalization of care for the mentally ill. Cahalan draws a vivid and critical picture of Rosenhan and the ramifications of his most prominent work.

A well-told story fraught with both mystery and real-life aftershocks that set the psychiatric community on its ear.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1528-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

In championing a critically important part of the natural world, Kurlansky sounds an urgent alarm that commands our...

SALMON

A FISH, THE EARTH, AND THE HISTORY OF A COMMON FATE

Having written about milk, salt, oysters, and frozen food, Kurlansky (Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, 2018, etc.) turns his pen to an iconic fish on the brink of extinction.

“How many species do we lose when we lose a salmon?” asks the author toward the end of this handsomely illustrated work of natural history and environmental advocacy. The answer is that we do not know for certain, but the salmon is part of a chain of life that ranges from tiny insects to large mammals and birds. Every species, then, unlocks the door to many other species, and allowing any species to diminish is to threaten the whole web of life. So it is with the salmon. Kurlansky covers all the bases, from life cycle and reproductive history to the fact that the salmon is particularly vulnerable precisely because it spends part of its life in salt water, part in fresh water. The author observes that ideal salmon habitat includes rivers that run clear and clean and that are undammed, which are increasingly rare except in very remote places such as the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, which may turn out to be where salmon make their last stand. Certainly it won’t be on the Columbia River, where Lewis and Clark saw a horizon of flashing fins two centuries ago, whereas “by 1975, a total of 14 dams were blocking the main Columbia River, 13 were on the Snake [River],” numbers that don’t begin to take into account the thousands of smaller dams along the tributaries. Kurlansky offers a dauntingly long list of things that need to happen if the salmon is to be saved, ranging from dismantling dams to checking climate change, restoring forests and apex predators, ending the use of pesticides, and removing homes and roads from riverbanks in favor of galleries of trees. “If we can save the planet,” he writes, “the salmon will be all right." And if not, we must conclude, not.

In championing a critically important part of the natural world, Kurlansky sounds an urgent alarm that commands our attention.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-938340-86-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Patagonia

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.