Empire Of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert. (Vintage) With gathering force in the 19th century, as plantations proliferated across the American South, the production of cotton linked millions of people to the slave trade, fueled the Industrial Revolution and shaped the modern economy. Beckert illuminates this commodity’s violent history in his study, one of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2015.
All The Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer. (Picador/Minotaur) Still brooding over a terrorist attack that occurred six years earlier, Henry Pelham, a Vienna-based CIA operative, comes to California to visit a former agent (who’s also a former lover). Both were working in Austria at the time of the attack, which some believe was executed with the help of someone inside the agency. Steinhauer presents all the action of this taut espionage thriller through their intimate dinner conversation.
My Life As A Foreign Country by Brian Turner. (Norton) Turner has written about his years in the Army, including deployments to Bosnia and Iraq, in two earlier poetry collections. In this lyrical and empathetic memoir, composed as a series of brief vignettes, he pairs his own wartime recollections with the imagined experiences of other veterans.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Nouschka and Nicolas are the twin children of a French Canadian singer celebrated for his quirky lyrics and heralded as an emblem of Québécois identity but who is an inept father. O'Neill’s novel unfolds in gritty, bohemian corners of Montreal as the twins meet an eager filmmaker making a documentary about their family and attempt to escape their fame.
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The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science by Armand Marie Leroi. (Penguin) Before heading his own school in Athens, the philosopher, whose contributions to science are often overlooked, lived on Lesbos, off the coast of modern Turkey, and was enthralled by the natural world. In this travelogue cum history, Leroi returns to the Aegean island and shows that a great deal of modern zoology and biology can be traced to Aristotle’s observations and writing on the subjects.
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions And Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $16.99.) Drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources (including Sherlock Holmes and tweets from his fans), Gaiman lovingly steeps his tales “in established fictional worlds while artfully nudging them into unexplored territory,” reviewer Andrew O'Hehir wrote.
Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making And Breaking Habits – To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, And Generally Build A Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin. (Broadway) A greater awareness of habits – those powerful, unconscious behaviors that Rubin calls the “invisible architecture of daily life” – can change lives in profound ways.
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