Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings. (Vintage) Hastings, who witnessed armed conflicts in Vietnam and the Falkland Islands as a war correspondent, has written extensively about key campaigns and personalities of World War II. This fluent, authoritative survey concentrates on the experiences of the men and women who took part in the war; as the book ranges from Dunkirk to Iwo Jima, Stalingrad to Guadalcanal, there is arresting material from interviews, diaries, letters and memoirs.
Crossbones by Nuruddin Farah. (Penguin) Farah’s timely novel is a sophisticated introduction to the nature of piracy in Somalia. It’s 2006 and Malik, a Somali journalist based in New York, is eager to write about the warfare and poverty that plague the capital, Mogadishu – and desperate to help find his nephew, a Somali-American teenager who has joined a militant Islamic group.
And So It Goes. Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields. (St. Martin’s Griffin) This is a definitive and disturbing biography of Vonnegut (1922-2007): from the horror of being present at the destruction of Dresden (his job as a POW was to stack and burn the corpses) to his mother’s suicide, the early death of a beloved sister, unhappy marriages and literary triumphs and anxieties.
Tides of War by Stella Tillyard. (Picador) Set in Regency England and Spain during the Peninsular War, this entertaining historical novel toggles between the battlefront – where the Duke of Wellington’s army is waging war against the French – and the drawing rooms of London, where women (including Tillyard’s charmingly unconventional heroine) are coping with the absence of their husbands.
At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing edited by George Kimball and John Schulian. (Library of America) A canon of American boxing literature, this book begins with Jack London’s famous report from the 1910 fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, and features essays by A.(euro) J. Liebling, Gay Talese, George Plimpton and others.
Arcadia by Lauren Groff. (Voice/Hyperion) Groff’s lush second novel centers on Bit Stone, a kindhearted only child raised in a rural commune in western New York in the 1970s. Against a backdrop of the commune’s rise and fall, post-9/11 New York City and a dystopian future ravaged by global warming and a deadly pandemic, Bit is forced to find his own way in the world, first as a lovelorn teenager and ultimately as a bruised man who still finds “the possibility of beauty” in life.
Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504 by Laurence Bergreen. (Penguin) Chronicling Columbus’ expeditions to the New World, Bergreen illuminates the complex motivations and historical circumstances that shaped this courageous but less than heroic figure.
Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire. (Morrow/HarperCollins) In Maguire’s fourth and final excursion into the world created by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy returns to a Land of Oz knotted with social unrest: Munchkinland is grinding through a civil war, Glinda is under house arrest and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law.
New York Times