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Most Page-Turning Nonfiction of 2017

An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

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THE GULF

THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN SEA

A sweeping environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico that duly considers the ravages of nature and man.

In light of the 2010 devastation of the BP oil spill, environmental historian Davis (History and Sustainability Studies/Univ. of Florida; An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century, 2009, etc.) presents an engaging, truly relevant new study of the Gulf as a powerful agent in the American story, one that has become “lost in the pages of American history.” Once the habitat of the highly developed, self-sustaining Calusa indigenous people, the rich estuary of the Gulf is the 10th largest body of water in the world, and it forms the sheltered basin that creates the warm, powerful Gulf Stream, which allowed the first explorers, such as Ponce de León, to make their ways back to the Old World. Davis meanders through the early history of this fascinating sea, which became a kind of graveyard to many early marooned explorers due to shipwrecks and run-ins with natives. Yet the conquistadors took little note of the abundant marine life inhabiting the waters and, unaccountably, starved. A more familiar economy was established at the delta of the muddy, sediment-rich Mississippi River, discovered by the French. The author focuses on the 19th century as the era when the Gulf finally asserted its place in the great move toward Manifest Destiny; it would “significantly enlarge the water communication of national commerce and shift the boundary of the country from vulnerable land to protective sea.” The Gulf states would also become a mecca of tourism and fishing and, with the discovery of oil, enter a dire period of the “commercialization of national endowments.” The story of this magnificent body of water and its wildlife grows tragic at this point—e.g., the “killing juggernaut” of Gulf wading birds to obtain fashionable feathers. Still, it remains an improbable, valiant survival tale in the face of the BP oil spill and ongoing climate change.

An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-866-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

A linguistically dexterous, eloquently satisfying narrative debut.

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PRIESTDADDY

A MEMOIR

A noted young poet unexpectedly boomerangs back into her parents’ home and transforms the return into a richly textured story of an unconventional family and life.

After Lockwood (Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, 2014, etc.) discovered that her journalist husband, Jason, needed lens replacements in both his eyes, the pair “[threw themselves] on the mercy of the church.” This meant going to Kansas City to live with her mother and eccentric father, an ex-Navy man and former Lutheran minister–turned–deer-hunting, guitar-wielding Catholic priest. For the next eight months, Lockwood and Jason, who had met online when both were 19 and begun their peripatetic married life not long afterward, found they were like “babies in limbo”: dependent on parents after 10 years of living on their own. Throughout, Lockwood interweaves a narrative of those eight months with memories of her childhood and adolescence. Though not always occupying center stage, her father is always at the heart of the book. The author describes her “priestdaddy’s” penchant for creating “armageddon” with the guitar, which he treated like some illicit lover by practicing it “behind half-closed doors.” At the same time, she confesses her own uncomfortable proximity to church pedophile scandals and clerics that had been forced to resign. Lockwood treats other figures—like the mother who wanted to call the police after discovering semen on a Nashville hotel bed and the virgin seminarian “haunted by the concept [of milfs]”—with a wickedly hilarious mix of love and scorn. Yet belying the unapologetically raunchy humor is a profound seriousness. Episodes that trace the darker parts of Lockwood’s life—such as a Tylenol-fueled teenage suicide attempt; her father’s arrest at an abortion clinic sit-in; and origins of the disease and sterility that would become her family’s “crosses” to bear—are especially moving. Funny, tender, and profane, Lockwood’s complex story moves with lyrical ease between comedy and tragedy as it explores issues of identity, religion, belonging, and love.

A linguistically dexterous, eloquently satisfying narrative debut.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59463-373-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

Powerfully illustrated and incisively written—a subtle dazzler of a debut.

IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS

Insights and images combine in a meditation on loss, grief, and the illusions of permanence.

Sarabande Books managing editor Radtke isn’t an artist who also writes a little or a writer who scrawls but a master of both prose narrative and visual art. Like memory, the narrative loosens the binds of chronology, playing hopscotch through the author’s girlhood, college, formative years as an artist, and apocalyptic fantasy of her current home in New York. A strain of heart failure seems to run in Radtke’s family, and the key to this memoir is the death of her favorite uncle, who was recovering from the surgery that ultimately killed him and whose death made the author and her family all the more concerned with the family medical history. The event also planted the seed for this book and its larger thematic focus, as Radtke became “consumed by the question of how something that is can become, very suddenly, something that isn’t.” On her return home for the funeral, the author discovered an abandoned mining town that she would later revisit. During art school, she became fascinated by Gary, Indiana, a city in ruins, where she discovered the photos of someone whose attempts to document the city led to his death. She left a fiance and what she imagined to be a “stagnant future” for vagabond travels taking her from the ruins of Italy to the ravages of Southeast Asia, while her own heart condition gave notions of impermanence and loss a personal emphasis. “I couldn’t comprehend why the dead couldn’t be made undead,” she writes. “Why a heart that caved couldn’t be filled out again.” In a way, what she has done in this impressive book is to revive the dead and recover the lost while illuminating a world in flux, in which change is the only constant.

Powerfully illustrated and incisively written—a subtle dazzler of a debut.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87083-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

This illuminating book serves as homage to a brilliant naturalist and extraordinary birds. If you loved H Is for Hawk, put...

RAPTOR

A JOURNEY THROUGH BIRDS

Fifteen birds of prey lead the author on an enthralling journey across the British Isles.

When William MacGillivray (1796-1852) published his History of British Birds in 1845, a fellow ornithologist was lavish with praise: “There is a peculiar mountain freshness about Mr. MacGillivray’s writings, combined with fidelity and truths in delineation, rarely possessed by Naturalists, and hitherto not surpassed.” Literary agent Lockhart’s elegant, engrossing literary debut deserves equal acclaim. Buoyed by MacGillivray’s journals and books, particularly his first, on rapacious birds, Lockhart evokes in precise, vibrant detail every aspect of the fascinating predators and their habitats. Although their behaviors vary, all raptors share startlingly acute vision. Humans have about 200,000 photoreceptor cells; birds, 1 million. Like binoculars, their eyes magnify images by around 30 percent. “Birds of prey,” writes the author, “see the whole twitching world in infinite, immaculate detail.” And their world is vast. Ospreys, for example, spend winters in the mangrove swamps of West Africa, flying thousands of miles across the Sahara to arrive in Britain to breed. Peregrine falcons, “specialist” predators that prefer “medium-sized avian prey,” return to the same nest sites each year, guided by droppings left from the previous year’s young. In the mid-1950s, agricultural pesticides reduced the supply of calcium carbonate in the peregrine’s tissues, leading to thin, fragile eggshells; thankfully, a ban on the pesticide reversed the plummeting population. As their numbers increased, some relocated, bringing wildness into cities. Lockhart admires the power of the soaring golden eagle; the devious pursuit of sea eagles, who badger other birds to make them “spill their catch”; and the mesmerizing aerial acrobatics of the red kite, which “can suddenly turn on a sixpence.” The author admires the determined, prickly MacGillivray, as well, now forgotten in favor of his collaborator and friend James John Audubon. They formed, Lockhart writes, “an ornithological dream team.”

This illuminating book serves as homage to a brilliant naturalist and extraordinary birds. If you loved H Is for Hawk, put this next on your reading list.

Pub Date: April 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-226-47058-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

Sure to be a fixture on any reading list or curriculum regarding the woeful state of the American criminal justice system.

I CAN'T BREATHE

A KILLING ON BAY STREET

Rolling Stone contributing editor Taibbi (Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus, 2017, etc.) goes behind the scenes of an infamous police killing of an unarmed black man to explore a tragic national phenomenon.

When Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014, on a street in the New York City borough of Staten Island, much of the available information suggested police officers fatally choked him because he was resisting arrest for illegally selling untaxed cigarettes. The coverage also demonized Garner as a physically huge, threatening black man with an extensive criminal history. In the first 100 pages of this searing exposé, the author paints a portrait of Garner as a mostly well-liked street hustler trying to provide for his wife and children, a former talented athlete who eventually weighed more than 350 pounds due to lack of adequate self-care and proper health care. After deeply exploring Garner’s life from a variety of perspectives, Taibbi offers detailed reporting about the out-of-control Staten Island police officers present at the death scene, especially Daniel Pantaleo, an officer prone to excessive force who had already faced at least two civil rights lawsuits. In the second half of the book, the author explores the futile efforts of the Garner family to achieve posthumous justice and also to remove Pantaleo from the NYPD. Taibbi clearly shows how numerous police personnel, as well as the Staten Island district attorney and judge, frustrated the search for truth in every way they could. What emerges from the author’s superb reporting and vivid writing is a tragically revealing look at a broken criminal justice system geared to serve white citizens while often overlooking or ignoring the rights of others. “Garner’s death,” writes Taibbi, “and the great distances that were traveled to protect his killer, now stand as testaments to America’s pathological desire to avoid equal treatment under the law for its black population.”

Sure to be a fixture on any reading list or curriculum regarding the woeful state of the American criminal justice system.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8884-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

An inspiring, graphic, and funny memoir from an entrepreneur unafraid to tell it like it is.

I HEAR SHE'S A REAL BITCH

One of Canada’s most famous and successful restaurateurs chronicles the ups and downs of being a successful woman in a famously sexist industry.

Restaurant memoirs are notoriously salacious, from the escapades of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential to the rash of waiter memoirs of recent years. Here, one of Canada’s most well-known restaurateurs offers something different: a confessional, observational autobiography that is as unapologetic as it is instructive. Agg may not be a household name in the United States, but her charcuterie-based restaurant empire—including The Black Hoof in Toronto and Agrikol in Montreal—is legendary north of the border. The narrative opens on a busy night as the author observes the rhythms and swells of her restaurant. She also drops observations that seem casual but can be mapped back to give clues to her success. “Having the front and back function as a team rather than opponents begrudging each other at every opportunity isn’t just important, it’s essential,” she writes, “but it’s a new model, completely opposed to how it’s always been done.” Agg also offers a raw chronicle of her trials and tribulations, from burning out a starter marriage and suffering bankruptcy after her first venture to meeting her husband Roland Jean and launching The Black Hoof. To the delight of Toronto’s gossip circles, she also pulls back the curtain on her split with former partner and now celebrity chef Grant van Gameren. The book showcases a wealth of dichotomies, as the author is able to spin carnal anecdotes about sex and food but follow them up with an artful declaration of independence for every woman who suffers from sexism in the kitchen. Whimsical illustrations by friends and family of everything from a charcuterie board to a nude portrait of the author add to the book’s unique charms.

An inspiring, graphic, and funny memoir from an entrepreneur unafraid to tell it like it is.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-14-313264-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

A delight for New York aficionados. Every city needs a version of this artist and her book.

TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH

AN UNCONVENTIONAL ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY

In busy cartoons and archly entertaining prose, New Yorker artist Wertz (Museum of Mistakes, 2014, etc.) serves up a grandly alternative history of Gotham.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Times Square was a locus of hookers and nude dance shows rather than Disney-fied tourist traps. More pointedly, writes the author, it was “a garbage covered shithole full of strip clubs, porn theaters and seedy characters”—which, naturally, she characterizes as representing “the good old days.” As Wertz cautions, the sordidness hasn’t entirely disappeared; you just have to know what to look for, and then look. This graphic book, rendered in a style that seems a distant cousin to that of Roz Chast, is all about looking. Wertz is a transplant from the Bay Area who came to New York, found her nirvana, and began exploring the history and actuality of the place. It’s a tragic note that, evicted from her studio in an up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood, she couldn’t find affordable digs anywhere in the city and returned to California, where she discovered that “it was an absolute fucking torture drawing and writing about a city I no longer lived in but desperately loved.” It’s easy to gauge that affection from her pages, which recount long walks through the city fueled by a steady diet of histories and trivia (“Pinball was banned in NYC until 1978! It was a ‘pinball prohibition,’ and officials would smash the machines with sledgehammers, and dump them in the river”) that she recounts in ever salty prose. Wertz, for instance, revisits the history of the many instances of Ray’s Pizza, a synecdoche of a kind: founded by mobsters as a money-laundering site, the operation became legit in the hands of immigrants who worked there, quit, and opened their own versions of the place, name and all, so that there are now somewhere between 20 and 40 unrelated Ray’s outlets in the city.

A delight for New York aficionados. Every city needs a version of this artist and her book.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-50121-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

If the Joads were tanked up on Bud Light and Haldol and Steinbeck were under Hunter S. Thompson’s influence, this might be...

GORILLA AND THE BIRD

A MEMOIR

“I am a bipolar gorilla”: a tale of madness, self-destruction, and the stalwart presence of a family that, while not exactly the Waltons, is always there.

You’ve got to like a book that opens with a Granny who prays the rosary, digs the Stones, and calls the police “pigs,” as in, “Zachariah, look out the window. Is that the pigs?” If Granny is a person not to mess with, Grandpa is a whiskey-soaked philosopher, and Bird—well, that would be Zachariah’s mom, who is the toughest and most reliable of them all, a rock on whom whole cities could be founded. McDermott’s memoir is decidedly offbeat, unfolding like a country song. There’s the law, some good jokes, substance abuse, and love lost and found, but there’s also a keenly felt sense of justice for the people who can’t catch a break in this world, “the dregs, the castoffs, the addicts, and the Uncle Eddies,” the latter a relative who pioneered the author’s path into the mental health system all those years ago. It’s a system that McDermott describes from two vantage points, one as a public defender who represents emotionally disturbed persons and one as someone who has spent time on the other side of the door, committed for clearly valid reasons even as we come to understand that mental health is not likely to be encountered in mental health institutions—or, as he writes, “regaining sanity at a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave.” That makes sense, for who could be healed in a place, as he writes, where the air is a fetid assault, inasmuch as “90 percent of our prescribed medications came with rancid and constant dog farts as side effects”?

If the Joads were tanked up on Bud Light and Haldol and Steinbeck were under Hunter S. Thompson’s influence, this might be the result—rueful, funny, and utterly authentic.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-31514-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

Cleareyed, lyrical, observant, and compassionate—reportage at its finest.

A MOONLESS, STARLESS SKY

ORDINARY WOMEN AND MEN FIGHTING EXTREMISM IN AFRICA

Examining conflicts in four African countries through the eyes of those experiencing and trying to fight them.

In this remarkable debut, New Yorker staff writer Okeowo, whose Nigerian parents moved to the United States, where she was born, explores significant conflicts in four African countries through the stories of individuals who have been victims of, but have also worked to combat, various forms of extremism. She delves into the lives of a couple who were victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. She tells of a young woman kidnapped by Boko Haram who managed to escape and of a man who joined in a vigilante organization confronting that terrorist group directly. She pursues the story of a man fighting against pernicious (and putatively illegal) slavery in Mauritania. She shows the struggle for young women in Somalia just to do something as seemingly innocent as play basketball. The author focuses her unflinching gaze on only a handful of people in each case study, which allows her a level of depth and nuance that a wider cast of characters would render impossible. Each of her tales, based on five years of on-the-ground reporting, gets two chapters: one in Part 1, “The Beginning,” and the other in Part 2, “The Aftermath.” These latter chapters, however, do not necessarily reach a conclusion; rather, they reveal a middle in which anything, including tragedy, could surely still happen. Throughout, Okeowo writes with beauty and grace, and her subjects are compelling. Refreshingly, she does not give in to easy answers. In the cases where the extremists are radical Islamists, she makes it clear that oftentimes the victims of their radicalism are devout Muslims, that Christian leaders and politicians are often equally culpable in local problems, and that complexity—not simplistic good-guy/bad-guy narratives—is a dominant theme throughout the region.

Cleareyed, lyrical, observant, and compassionate—reportage at its finest.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-38293-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

Engaging, highly relevant immersion journalism.

NOMADLAND

SURVIVING AMERICA IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Journalist Bruder (Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man, 2007) expands her remarkable cover story for Harper’s into a book about low-income Americans eking out a living while driving from locale to locale for seasonal employment.

From the beginning of her immersion into a mostly invisible subculture, the author makes it clear that the nomads—many of them senior citizens—refuse to think of themselves as “homeless.” Rather, they refer to themselves as “houseless,” as in no longer burdened by mortgage payments, repairs, and other drawbacks, and they discuss “wheel estate” instead of real estate. Most of them did not lose their houses willingly, having fallen victim to mortgage fraud, job loss, health care debt, divorce, alcoholism, or some combination of those and additional factors. As a result, they sleep in their cars or trucks or cheaply purchased campers and try to make the best of the situation. At a distance, the nomads might be mistaken for RV owners traveling the country for pleasure, but that is not the case. Bruder traveled with some of the houseless for years while researching and writing her book. She builds the narrative around one especially accommodating nomad, senior citizen Linda May, who is fully fleshed on the page thanks to the author’s deep reporting. May and her fellow travelers tend to find physically demanding, low-wage jobs at Amazon.com warehouses that aggressively seek seasonal workers or at campgrounds, sugar beet harvest sites, and the like. The often desperate nomads build communities wherever they land, offering tips for overcoming common troubles, sharing food, repairing vehicles, counseling each other through bouts of depression, and establishing a grapevine about potential employers. Though very little about Bruder’s excellent journalistic account offers hope for the future, an ersatz hope radiates from within Nomadland: that hard work and persistence will lead to more stable situations.

Engaging, highly relevant immersion journalism.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24931-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

A dreamlike account that subtly draws readers into the author’s ambivalent experience of a homeland that has changed almost...

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BORDER

A JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF EUROPE

A writer who has lived in Scotland for many years chronicles her return to her birthplace to explore the idea and reality of boundaries between nations.

Poet and memoirist Kassabova (Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story, 2013, etc.) left Bulgaria with her family when she was a child, eventually settling in the U.K. She returned to the Balkans, where “Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey converge and diverge,” to explore tiny, almost-abandoned mountain villages and border points where, in the communist era of her childhood, those who attempted to cross in either direction might be killed. She found a new group of immigrants, from Syria, in the region, trying to get to Greece or Bulgaria but stuck either in camps or trying to make a living as individuals in Turkey. This is far from a conventional travel narrative. The book is as much about Kassabova’s emotions and misgivings as the world of the senses, with digressions about dragons, magical springs, ghosts, and the evil eye. A woman traveling by herself in a part of the world where doing so opens her to being perceived as a prostitute, the author met and talked to men while the women stayed hidden. These men, whose real names she alters, are shepherds, ex-spies, Eastern Orthodox priests, smugglers, and former border guards. They told her long, complicated, and possibly true stories. She suspected two, probably drug dealers, of kidnapping her and fled in terror to the safety of three strangers living in “a paradise of lemon balm and fig trees.” Telling her story, she includes bits of the layered history of the region, not so systematically that an outsider can piece it all into a coherent narrative but nonetheless studded with flashes of insight.

A dreamlike account that subtly draws readers into the author’s ambivalent experience of a homeland that has changed almost beyond recognition.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-786-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

A powerful call to action and to empathy.

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TELL ME HOW IT ENDS

AN ESSAY IN 40 QUESTIONS

A heartfelt plea to change the dialogue on Latin American children fleeing violence in their homelands to seek refuge in America.

A Mexican-born novelist, Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth, 2015, etc.) began the inquiry that informs her book-length essay as a Mexican-born writer, living in America, awaiting her green card. Her sense of mission intensified when she began working as a translator for those seeking pro bono legal assistance in their attempts to avoid deportation. She found that their stories could not match neatly with the 40 questions on the immigration questionnaire. Some of the children lacked fluency in Spanish as well as English, and some of their memories were vague or evasive. Yet the dangers they had encountered were real, as was the threat of returning to their countries of origin. Luiselli effectively humanizes the plights of those who have been demonized or who have been reduced to faceless numbers, the ones caught in the web of gang violence fueled by drug wars and the American arms trade. She writes with matter-of-fact horror in response to question No. 7, “did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared you or hurt you?,” that “eighty percent of the women and girls who cross Mexico to get to the U.S. border are raped on the way.” Yet the victims are often criminalized in the American debates over immigration: “In the media and much of the official political discourse, the word ‘illegal’ prevails over ‘undocumented’ and the term ‘immigrant’ over ‘refugee.’ ” The author also explains how the immigrant crisis predated the triumph of Trump and how policies of the Obama and Bush administrations were heartless in treating such refugees as some other country’s problem. Though Luiselli may not convince those adamantly opposed to loosening regulations, she hopes that those who have been willfully blind to the injustices will recognize how they “haunt and shame us…being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable.”

A powerful call to action and to empathy.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-495-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2017

The best sort of science history, explaining not only how great men made great discoveries, but why equally great men,...

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THE SEEDS OF LIFE

FROM ARISTOTLE TO DA VINCI, FROM SHARKS' TEETH TO FROGS' PANTS, THE LONG AND STRANGE QUEST TO DISCOVER WHERE BABIES COME FROM

A history of the “search for the solution to the sex and conception mystery,” focused on the period between 1650 and 1900.

As former Boston Globe chief science writer Dolnick (The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853, 2014, etc.) notes at the beginning of his latest book, “not everyone has wondered why the stars shine or why the earth spins,” but “every person who has ever lived has asked where babies come from.” Thoughtful scientists have confidently delivered the wrong answer, and the author provides a delightful history of what happened until they got it right. Everyone knew that an egg was involved, although brilliant anatomists (Vesalius, William Harvey) searched humans in vain. Semen was essential and—as men were considered the superior sex—the most important factor, but its role remained mysterious. When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek turned his microscope on his semen in the 1670s, he believed that each of the innumerable wiggling creatures contained a tiny human. Most scientists disagreed, insisting that the tiny human resided inside the still-unobserved human egg. This was “preformism.” To early scientists, making an embryo from nothing was absurd. More refined experiments and the discovery that cells make up all living things produced impressive advances, but it was not until 1875 that a German biologist who remains mostly unknown (Oscar Hertwig) first saw a single sperm penetrate an egg (of a sea urchin) and fuse with the nucleus, after which the cell began to divide. Researchers then turned their attention to what happens afterward, but, having effectively answered the big question, Dolnick stops there.

The best sort of science history, explaining not only how great men made great discoveries, but why equally great men, trapped by prejudices and what seemed to be plain common sense, missed what was in front of their noses.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-08295-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

Despite some repetition, this is a powerful, brutally honest memoir about a mother and the son who loved her.

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YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME

A MEMOIR

The story of the popular Native American author’s difficult upbringing.

Alexie (Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, 2012, etc.) won the National Book Award for his semiautobiographical young-adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007). Readers of that book will recognize some of those stories in this hardscrabble memoir about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. In 142 chapters that combine poetry and prose, he goes back and forth in time as he riffs on his early years and his often verbally cruel and emotionally unpredictable mother and the conflicted relationship they had. In the early 1970s, Alexie’s parents and six children moved into a one-bedroom reservation house that lacked indoor plumbing or electricity. Later they moved to a “shoddily constructed” HUD house. Both parents were alcoholics; his mother quit drinking a few years later. Born hydrocephalic, Alexie had brain surgery at 5 months and again when he was 2. He suffered epileptic seizures until he was 7. Four soft burr holes in his skull remain, as well as a “Frankenstein mess of head scars.” He had “epically crooked teeth” and would “stutter and lisp.” He was constantly ridiculed. Always poor, his mother quilted to make money. His father did odd jobs, spent time in jail, and had numerous car accidents when drunk. When Alexie was 17, his father disappeared on a drinking binge. After seven days, he had to go look for him: “It was a family rule.” On the reservation, “violence is a clock, / ordinary and relentless. Even stopped, it doesn’t stop.” Alexie is related to “men who hit women, and to men and women who hit children.” Written in his familiar breezy, conversational, and aphoristic style, the book makes even the darkest personal experiences uplifting and bearable with the author’s wit, sarcasm, and humor.

Despite some repetition, this is a powerful, brutally honest memoir about a mother and the son who loved her.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-39677-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

A provocative, moving, and darkly funny book that seems almost worth the crises that it chronicles.

EVERYTHING IS FLAMMABLE

The latest from one of the finest contemporary graphic artists.

Few cartoonists can match Bell’s (Truth Is Fragmentary: Travelogues & Diaries, 2014, etc.) eye for evocative details, but the words of her narrative fill practically every available space, an outpouring from the artist who confesses, “sometimes the anxiety creeps up and suddenly starts to strangle me.” If her life at the subsistence level of artistic renown seems a little dysfunctional, that of her mother seems even more so—especially after a fire destroyed her mother’s home, leaving her living in a tent on the lawn, and Bell had to travel across the country to help her put her life back together. There’s ambivalence about the visit from both sides: “It’s hard to be there in normal times, and I’m prone to cruelty under duress.” Bell also worries that she exploits her mother for material, which she does, of course, like she does everyone and everything else in her life. The trip to the Pacific Northwest introduced a whole range of challenges—packs of dogs and cats and bears—and a mission to get her mother a house built and stocked. The author also conducted a series of interviews with the characters who fill this volume, most of whom have murky motives and histories. This certainly includes her mother, with whom she discusses the troubled home life and the pregnancy that spawned the author: “It’s a paradox,” the author replies to her mother, after discussing the considered abortion. “On the one hand, I wish you’d had access to a safe, legal abortion. On the other hand, I’m glad to exist!” Eventually, Bell’s mother got her home and life back, and the artist returned to her own apartment—but then the cycle began again, as the title of the memoir underscores.

A provocative, moving, and darkly funny book that seems almost worth the crises that it chronicles.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941250-18-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

Written with dramatic flair (Ohler has published several novels in Germany), this book adds significantly to our...

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BLITZED

DRUGS IN THE THIRD REICH

An intense chronicle of “systematic drug abuse” in Nazi Germany.

Although the use of opiates and other drugs was pervasive in the Weimar Republic of the 1920s, the Nazis ostensibly opposed them, offering “ideological salvation” instead, writes German journalist Ohler in this nonfiction debut. In fact, the Third Reich depended heavily on drugs, notably cocaine, heroin, morphine, and methamphetamines, to sustain the fearless blitzkrieg attacks of its advancing armies and to keep Adolf Hitler in a euphoric, delusional state. Drawing on archival research in Germany and the United States, the author crafts a vivid, highly readable account of drug use run amok. He describes systematized drug tests conducted by Dr. Otto F. Ranke, a defense physiologist, who waged war on exhaustion with Pervitin, an early version of crystal meth. The fierce Nazi invasion of France, lasting three days and nights without sleep, was made possible by use of Pervitin: “It kept you awake, mercilessly,” recalls a former Nazi medical officer. Relying heavily on the diaries of Dr. Theodor Morell, Hitler’s personal physician (Hermann Göring called him the “Reich Injection Master”), Ohler writes at length about Hitler’s drug use throughout the war, which began with a “power injection” of glucose and vitamins before big speeches, then escalated to cocktails of hormones, steroids, and vitamins, and finally, in his last year, to the use of both cocaine and Eukodal, a designer opioid that even infamous heroin addict William Burroughs called “some truly awful shit.” With Morell treating him daily, Hitler spent his last weeks in a fog of artificial euphoria and “stable in his delusion,” and his veins had a junkie’s track marks. Because of Allied bombing of manufacturing plants, supplies of the drugs favored by Hitler dried up, his health deteriorated, and he entered withdrawal. He would fire his doctor before committing suicide in 1945.

Written with dramatic flair (Ohler has published several novels in Germany), this book adds significantly to our understanding of the Third Reich.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-328-66379-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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