Noteworthy paperbacks

The New York TimesMay 18, 2013 

The Price of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz. (Norton) The top 1 percent of Americans control some 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. This disparity, Stiglitz argues, isn’t the result of uncontrollable technological and social change; it stems from the unrestrained power of well-heeled interests. In this comprehensive counterargument to both neoliberalism and laissez-faire theories, the author, a Nobel laureate and economics professor at Columbia, examines the effects of inequality on the economy, democracy and globalization.

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. (Vintage Contemporaries) The contentious family of a war correspondent killed in Iraq gathers a year after his death in Henkin’s character-driven novel. Over the course of three days in the Berkshires, the story moves elegantly from one perspective to another.

American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama by Rachel L. Swarns. (Amistad/HarperCollins) This is a deeply researched chronicle, by a New York Times reporter, of several generations of Obama’s family, fascinating in many details: from the men who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars to the mothers and fathers who endured the horrors of slavery and the indignities of Reconstruction and segregation to build a better future for their children.

Absolution by Patrick Flanery. (Riverhead) The history of apartheid torments the South Africans in Flanery’s insightful first novel. Sam Leroux has returned from New York to his native Cape Town to interview the irascible aging author Clare Wald. As Clare assembles the sordid details of her revolutionary daughter’s disappearance, the complicated bonds between Sam and Clare are slowly revealed.

City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist. (Broadway) Filled with cameos and lengthy profiles of Chicagoans famous and infamous, this is a lavishly intricate account of the volatile summer of 1919, when an aviation disaster, a race riot, a transit strike and a sensational child murder roiled the city.

Dirt by David Vann. (Harper Perennial) Set in a desolate stretch of California’s Central Valley in the 1980s, Vann’s unsettling yet sharply funny novel follows the self-destruction of its 22-year-old anti-hero, Galen. A New Age believer who fasts and rereads “Siddhartha,” Galen is burdened by his overbearing mother, his spiteful aunt and her oversexed teenage daughter. Pushed to the brink, he discovers how far he will go to attain the transcendence he craves.

Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them by Frank Langella. (Harper Perennial) The 65 chapters in this satisfyingly scandalous memoir paint Broadway and Hollywood as teeming with vulgar, neurotic and irresistible company, and Langella as relentlessly affable in the face of nonstop groping by celebrities in far-flung locations.

The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead. (Algonquin) To escape the wrath of his girlfriend’s father, the protagonist of Olmstead’s powerful novel joins the Marines in 1950 at age 17, arriving in Korea on the eve of the brutal battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

New York Times

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