Politics, Memoir, Essays | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Feb. 2018

Amis, Martin. The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1986–2017. Knopf. Feb. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9781400044535. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525520252. LITERARY ESSAYS
Smartly acidulous in his nonfiction as in his fiction, celebrated British author Amis (now based in Brooklyn) collects 30 years’ worth of essays ranging from Trump and terrorism to the depredations of aging to his greatest literary influences, Bellow and Nabokov. Expect off-the-book-page coverage.

Cantú, Francisco. The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border. Riverhead. Feb. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9780735217713. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735217720. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. MEMOIR/POLITICAL SCIENCE
An agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, third-generation Mexican American Cantú wearied of tracking humans through heat and cold and delivering them to detention and sometimes the morgue. An immigrant friend’s disappearance after returning to Mexico to visit family prompted him to consider what happens during immigration on both sides of the border. Since he claims Fulbright, Whiting, and Pushcart honors, Cantú can’t just tell us about it—he can tell us well. With a national tour.

Chua, Amy. Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. Penguin Pr. Feb. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780399562853. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780399562860. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Tiger mother Chua is a Yale Law School professor specializing in ethnic conflict and globalization. As such, she can back up her arguments that humans are instinctively tribal and that overlooking such group identification in favor of ideological rhetoric has led to numerous U.S. foreign policy disasters (think Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East and the hated Chinese-minority capitalists in Vietnam). With privilege worries on the Left and white nationalism on the Right, everyone feels threatened, and we need to get over our tribalism and forge a new national identity. With a national tour.

Coll, Steve. Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001–2016. Penguin Pr. Feb. 2018. 784p. ISBN 9781594204586. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780525557302. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Following 2004’s Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times best-selling Ghost Wars, which focused on America’s involvement in Afghanistan prior to 9/11, this book concentrates on our efforts in Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda post-9/11. Even as we (sometimes) worked with I.S.I., Pakistan’s intelligence agency, to achieve that goal, I.S.I. created the secret Directorate S to support the Taliban and thus further Pakistan’s own influence. As Coll’s fresh reporting reveals, this situation endured throughout the Bush and the Obama administrations to tragic effect. With a national tour.

Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. Doubleday. Feb. 2018. 416p. ISBN 9780385542760. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385542777. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. SCIENCE
Having debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best sellers list with 2014’s The Future of the Mind, celebrated CUNY physicist Kaku goes back to the future with this study of how humans might eventually move away from Earth and built a sustainable civilization out there somewhere. Robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology: these are the tools we’ll use, elegantly explained here. Kaku’s three million Facebook fans and 600,000 Twitter followers will be thrilled. With a national tour.

Khan, Daisy. Born with Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman. Spiegel & Grau. Feb. 2018. 224p. ISBN 9780812995268. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812995275. Downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR/ISLAMIC STUDIES
Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality (WISE), Khan sets out to explain her faith to others—and she’s the right person to do it. Raised in a progressive Muslim household in Kashmir, she immigrated to America at age 15 and came to cherish her independence and education. Then she fell in love with and married a leading imam, which led to an in-depth revisiting of her faith. With a national tour.

Klarsfeld, Beate & Serge Klarsfeld. Hunting the Truth: Memoirs of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld. Farrar. Feb. 2018. 464p. tr. from French by Sam Taylor. ISBN 9780374279820. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374714703. MEMOIR/HISTORY
Beate grew up in devastated post–World War I Germany, French-born Serge hid as his father was marched off to Auschwitz, and after meeting on the Paris Métro, they married and spent a half-century hunting down Nazis and their collaborators, e.g., SS official Kurt Lischka, Gestapo captain Klaus Barbie, and Paris police chief Maurice Papon. They also lend their support to contemporary victims of violence, having recently been named UNESCO ambassadors of genocide prevention. Told in alternating voices, and it’s some story.

O’Farrell, Maggie. I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. Knopf. Feb. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780525520221. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525520238. Downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
Winner of the Betty Trask, Somerset Maugham, and Costa Novel awards, British novelist O’Farrell is a force to be reckoned with; her previous title, This Must Be the Place, got rave-reviewed everywhere (as LJ said, “even the cameo roles are compelling”). So expect this memoir to grip you down to your fingertips, and that’s not just a guess; the Guardian calls it extraordinary. The brushes with death referenced in the subtitle include battling childhood encephalitis, taking a dare to jump into a roiling sea, and encountering a dangerous man on a mountain path. Yet as the title clarifies, O’Farrell keeps going, sweepingly. With a 40,000-copy first printing.

Pinker, Steven. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Viking. Feb. 2018. 558p. ISBN 9780525427575. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780698177888. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. PSYCHOLOGY
In 2011’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, surging back as a best seller after Bill Gates recommended it as a graduation present in May, Harvard cognitive scientist and two-time Pulitzer finalist Pinker presented evidence, however counterintuitive, that over millennia our world has grown less violent. Here he expands his purview, offering 75 graphs showing that key factors like health, happiness, prosperity, safety, educational rights, environmental quality, and quality of life are on the upswing worldwide. At the same time, arguing for a humanist, science-smart approach to the world, he shows how our prejudices make us misuse facts and statistics. With a ten-city tour.

Robinson, Marilynne. What Are We Doing Here?: Essays. Farrar. Feb. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780374282219. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374717780. ESSAYS
Renowned for plumbing spiritual and intellectual depths in both her nonfiction and her fiction (which includes Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Gilead), Robinson not unexpectedly addresses our current political climate and the interweaving complexities of faith. And not unexpectedly, she does so by considering how writers like Emerson and Tocqueville have shaped our political thought, encouraging us to continue their tradition and play a role in “a great theater of heroic generosity, which, despite all, is sometimes palpable still.”

Seierstad, Åsne, Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad. Farrar. Feb. 2018. 352p. tr. from Norwegian by Seán Kinsella. ISBN 9780374279677. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374716288. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Norwegian war correspondent Seierstad gives us insight into escalating Islamist-West tensions by chronicling the story of Sadiq and Sara, Somali immigrants raising a family in Norway. When their teenage daughters disappear, heading to Syria to aid the Islamic State, Sadiq goes after them and remains determined to pull them back even after they marry ISIS fighters. A story of family and extremism that reportedly reads like a thriller.

Sital, Krystal A. Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad. Norton. Feb. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780393609264. $25.95. MEMOIR
Sital, who came to the attention of many readers with a New York Times essay about her family’s experience as undocumented immigrants, uses her first memoir—a finalist for the PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize—to explore a history of abuse she discovered within her landowning Hindu family in Trinidad. Surprised by her grandmother’s dismissive response to her grandfather’s final illness, she learned that the man she had worshipped had terrorized both her mother and her grandmother for decades.

Sleigh, Tom. The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees. Graywolf. Feb. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9781555977962. pap. $16. ESSAYS
What happens when a leading poet puts on a flak jacket to work as a journalist inside militarized war zones and refugee camps throughout Africa and the Middle East (specifically the area once called Mesopotamia, “the land between two rivers”)? You get this book, which reports on the displaced of Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and more as they struggle under awful conditions yet remain hopeful, even humorous. Sleigh also reflects on how to avoid ideology when presenting the emotional urgency of such people, touching on the works of writers from Anna Akhmatova to Mahmoud Darwish. From a terrific Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award winner; I can’t wait to read.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America: Essays. Farrar. Feb. 2018. 304p. tr. from Spanish by Anna Kushner. ISBN 9780374253738. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374708917. ESSAYS/LATIN AMERICAN
Nobel Laureate Vargas Llosa doesn’t do just fiction (although see “Fiction Picks” for his latest novel). In this collection, featuring never-before-translated essays, he takes a levelheaded look at Latin America, considering its image worldwide compared with its realities, its political complexities, and the dangers its many constituent nations face. In the process, he tracks his embrace and rejection of revolution and blasts nationalism, populism, indigenism, and corruption. Required reading if you’re worried about politics today.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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