Corruption In America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box To Citizens United by Zephyr Teachout. (Harvard University) The founding fathers were deeply concerned with the threat corruption posed to their emergent government. Teachout, a Fordham law professor, powerfully argues that their commitment to safeguarding against it has been undermined by the Supreme Court since at least the 1970s – especially in the realm of corporations’ financial contributions to politics.
I Refuse by Per Petterson. Translated by Don Bartlett. (Graywolf) The two men at the heart of this story, Tommy and Jim, rediscover each other after decades apart and marvel at the divergent paths their lives took. Petterson, the Norwegian novelist who wrote “Out Stealing Horses,” examines the forces that pulled “the boys in different directions, the small quiet moments that forged their friendship and then pulled it apart,” Harriet Lane wrote in The Times.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. (Penguin) Finnegan, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for autobiography, recalls his shifting relationship to the sport: As an adolescent, he found in surfing a respite from the petty cruelties of middle school in Hawaii; later, it led him to join hordes of young surfers across the world in search of the ideal wave.
The Incarnations by Susan Barker. (Touchstone) In the taxi he drives in contemporary Beijing, Wang Jun finds a series of mysterious letters – signed by writers who claim to be his soul mate – that link him to five key episodes across 1,500 years of Chinese history. Barker’s wildly inventive novel reveals Wang’s previous roles, in the form of his earlier lives, in each of those moments from his country’s past.
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The Brothers: The Road To An American Tragedy by Masha Gessen. (Riverhead) Gessen pieces together the lives of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two Chechen immigrants responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, from their childhoods in Central Asia and Russia to their early days in the United States.
A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. (Ballantine) Tyler’s novel chronicles the multigenerational Whitshanks, who remain anchored to their family home in Baltimore, and the celebrations, secrets and joys that stitch them together. “Tyler has a knack for turning sitcom situations into something far deeper and more moving,” The Times’ reviewer, Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, wrote.
Listening To Stone: The Art And Life Of Isamu Noguchi by Hayden Herrera. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) This illuminating biography of the sculptor (1904-88) traces his early influences – as the son of a distant Japanese father and mercurial American mother, Noguchi rarely felt at home and was shaped by his diverse travels. Herrera’s account is a fitting companion guide to the artist who “sought and found, by making sculpture, a way to embed himself in the earth, in nature, in the world.”
The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight For Justice And Freedom In China by Chen Guangcheng. (Picador/Holt) The author, a human-rights activist whose improbable escape from China in 2012 captured worldwide attention, reflects on his lifetime of overcoming adversity: After teaching himself law and growing into a leading political dissident, he evaded house arrest, making his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. His eventual release to the United States was negotiated by Hillary Clinton.
Career Of Evil by Robert Galbraith. (Mulholland/Little, Brown.) The third novel by J.K. Rowling under her crime-writer pseudonym finds Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner, Robin Ellacott, pondering a mysterious severed leg sent to their office. The story delves deeper into Robin’s history, and “achieves a new candor about the gap between solving crimes and repairing their damages,” Times reviewer Charles Finch wrote.
Becoming Freud: The Making Of A Psychoanalyst by Adam Phillips. (Yale University) Phillips, a pre-eminent scholar of psychoanalysis, guides readers through the beliefs and theories that underpin Sigmund Freud’s contributions to the field. As Phillips puts it, our thirst for knowledge about him “has to be tempered with a certain irony. Because it was precisely the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and about other people’s lives, that Freud put into question, that Freud taught us to read differently.”
Re Jane by Patricia Park. (Penguin) Park’s breezy retelling of “Jane Eyre” features a half-American, half-Korean woman trying to strike out on her own in New York City. The novel’s heroine takes a nanny job with a progressive couple, academics in Brooklyn, and flourishes, until a family obligation calls her back to Seoul.
The Triumph Of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses And Pips Conquered The Plant Kingdom And Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson. (Basic Books) Hanson admires seeds’ tremendous might, and zeros in on their vast capacities: to nourish, to defend, even to fly. Their ubiquity has often meant that their evolutionary solutions are overlooked, but the author appraises them with a keen and appreciative eye.
The Tusk That Did The Damage by Tania James. (Vintage) In James’ novel, set in southern India’s forestlands, the ivory trade is thriving and a rogue elephant has been mauling villagers. The narrative assumes the perspectives of the area’s residents – including the elephant itself. James “offers a captivating rendering of an animal’s point of view, estranging but also legible,” Randy Boyagoda wrote here.
One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History by Peter Manseau. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Manseau uncovers the multiplicity of faiths whose traces can be found in early American society, including Islam, Judaism and Hinduism, and shows how the country’s multicultural identity can be extended to its religious foundations, too.
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