Chabon, Comey, Gay, Hurston, Russo, Winchester, & More | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, May 2018

Alinejad, Masih. The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran. Little, Brown. May 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780316548915. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316549073. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. MEMOIR
Award-winning Iranian journalist Alinejad was arrested for her activism as a teenager; went to Tehran with a young husband who, later, shamefully divorced her; fought nine years for custody of her son; and finds herself separated from him again owing to Trump’s immigration ban. She’s also founder of the viral My Stealthy Freedom movement, which started as a Facebook page where Iranian women posted their photos without the requisite headscarves.

Chabon, Michael. Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces. Harper. May 2018. 144p. ISBN 9780062834621. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062834638. lrg. prnt. LITERATURE
At the heart of this essay collection from Pulitzer Prize–winning Chabon is the September 2016 GQ piece “My Son, The Prince of Fashion,” wherein the rumpled author accompanies 13-year-old son Abraham to Paris Men’s Fashion Week and comes to appreciate Abe’s singular passion. That piece went viral, and the accompanying essays further plumb the meaning of fatherhood. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy. Holt: Metropolitan. May 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781250125149. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781250125156. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Detroit-based Clark, a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan, chronicles how the waters of Flint, MI, were poisoned after the state government switched the city’s water source to the Flint River while failing to assure that chemicals would be added to block the corrosion of past-their-prime lead pipes. The water smelled awful, but it still took 18 months of activism to get officials to address the problem, by which time thousands of children in this mostly poor, African American city had been exposed to life-damaging lead and 12 people had died.

Comey, James. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Flatiron: Macmillan. May 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781250192455. $32.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250192462. CD: Macmillan Audio. POLITICAL/MEMOIR
On November 11, President Donald Trump called former FBI director James Comey a political hack “proven now to be a liar and…a leaker.” Comey responded with two tweets, one quoting from an 1855 sermon by the Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon: “If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is light as a feather and a breath will carry it.” The title of this memoir about Comey’s contentious times with Trump offers another response.

Gay, Roxane, ed. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. Harper Perennial. May 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780062851468. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9780062413512. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062413505. SOCIAL SCIENCE/GENDER STUDIES
Ever a straight razor getting to the heart of things, preeminent cultural critic Gay collects original and previously published pieces on what it’s like for women to live in a world where they must unceasingly negotiate sexual harassment and violence, then get “second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” when they object. With contributions from veteran and rising-star writers, performers, and critics ranging from Ally Sheedy to Gabrielle Union to Bob Shacochis. A 75,000-copy paperback and 25,000-copy hardcover first printing.

Hawes, Jennifer Berry. Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness. St. Martin’s. May 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781250117762. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250163004.CD: Macmillan Audio. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Winner of Pulitzer Prize and George Polk honors, among other awards, Hawes lives in Charleston, home to the historically black Emanuel AME Church where Dylann Roof slaughtered 9 people on June 17, 2015, in hopes of starting a race war. She shows us what happened after the violence, as relatives of the dead rose at Roof’s hearing to say “I forgive you” and, with survivors, struggled to make sense of their lives. Tensions developed within the church, too, and the city as a whole had to acknowledge its racist past. Substantive promotion.

Holt, Jim. When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780374146702. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374717841. SCIENCE
You’ve gotta love it that Holt managed to turn his philosophizing Why Does the World Exist? into a New York Times best seller; fans include Bruce Springsteen, who appreciated the existential buzz. Here, Holt ranges from Einsteinian relativity to string theory, from questions on infinity to why mirrors reverse left to right but not up and down, and he gets us up to date on the deepest scientific and mathematical problems—and personalities—of recent times.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave. Amistad. May 2018. 208p. ISBN 9780062748201. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062748225. AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES
In 1927, iconic African American writer Hurston went to Plateau, AL, to interview 95-year-old Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade, having been illegally smuggled from Africa on the final slave ship to arrive in the United States. During their conversations, he recalled his childhood in Africa, capture and selection by slavers while being held in a barracoon, the awful Middle Passage with 100 other souls, and his life as a slave until emancipation. Astonishingly, Hurston’s final account has never before been published. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

Knausgaard, Karl Ove. Spring. Penguin Pr. May 2018. 240p. ISBN 9780399563362. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399563379. MEMOIR
In this work, third in an autobiographical quartet grounded in the four seasons and exploring the close relationship between parent and child, Knausgaard moves beyond meditation to face having to explain to his newborn daughter why, after incidents during her mother’s pregnancy, he must now attend appointments with child services for his daughter’s safety. Fans of Knausgaard’s monumental “My Struggle” series, which brought him New York Times bestsellerdom and international fame,  know that this will be brutally honest and detailed.

Kneale, Matthew. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings. S. & S. May 2018. 432p. ISBN 9781501191091. $30. HISTORY
Novelist Kneale, whose English Passengers won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, studied modern history at Magdalen College, Oxford, and has lived in Rome for 15 years. All of which suggests that he will offer an informed but more personal approach to the history of the Eternal City. Indeed, Kneale organizes his telling by the various invasions the city has suffered from ancient times until 1943, describing what the city looked and felt like before and after each assault. The Sunday Times (London) called it “a masterpiece of pacing and suspense.”

Kurlansky, Mark. Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas. Bloomsbury USA. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9781632863829. $29. HISTORY
Cod, salt, paper, oysters, 1968, and Havana—Kurlansky always picks a singular subject, then runs with it as he provides historical and cultural context. Here he examines our relationship to milk since the domestication of animals more than 10,000 years ago. That relationship shifted with the Industrial Revolution, which meant out with the family cow and in with pasteurization and, eventually, food fights over industrial farming, animal rights, and GMOs. Pour a glass and get out the cookies before reading.

Pollan, Michael. How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Penguin Pr. May 2018. 480p. ISBN 9781594204227. $28; ebk. 9780525558941. CD/downloadable: PSYCHOLOGY
Before Timothy Leary encouraged Sixties counterculturalists to turn on, tune in, and drop out, scientists and doctors saw LSD and the related psilocybin (that is, magic mushrooms) as tremendous new tools for understanding consciousness and affording relief to the addicted and mentally ill. Back-burnered in the post-Sixties backlash, these drugs have been brought back by researchers and have proved effective in treating such disorders as PTSD and depression. New York Times best-selling author Pollan even put himself forth as guinea pig.

Rhodes, Richard. Energy: A Human History. S. & S. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9781501105357. $30. HISTORY
From animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from the internal combustion engine and the electric motor to nuclear power and renewable alternatives today, energy doesn’t just make the world go ’round. In fact, as shown here by Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning author Rhodes, history has been shaped by energy issues. The narrative moves from Queen Elizabeth I to Benjamin Franklin to Henry Ford and looks toward a globally warmed future.

Russo, Richard. The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life. Knopf. May 2018. 224p. ISBN 9781524733513. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524733520. Downloadable: Random Audio & Books on Tape. LITERATURE
Russo has won big praise, big sales, and big awards for his fiction, short stories, and memoirs, but he hasn’t turned out an essay collection until now. These personal takes range widely, from the understanding he gleaned about the function of humor in art and life from seeing an out-of-place toilet to his efforts to help a friend through gender-reassignment surgery. Plus insights on the creative process; hard to beat.

Theroux, Paul. Figures in a Landscape: People and Places. Houghton Harcourt. May 2018. 400p. ISBN 9780544870307. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544866669. LITERATURE
Care to visit Ecuador, Zimbabwe, and Hawaii? Ride in a helicopter with Elizabeth Taylor, tour New York with Robin Williams, and go surfing with Oliver Sacks? Bone up on the works of Henry David Thoreau, Joseph Conrad, and Hunter Thompson? You can do it all with this single volume, a collection of essays from the shape-shifting author probably still best known for The Great Railway Bazaar.

Varoufakis, Yanis. Talking to My Daughter About the Economy; Or, How Capitalism Works—and How It Fails. Farrar. May 2018. 224p. tr. from Greek by Yanis Varoufakis & Jacob Moe. ISBN 9780374272364. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780374718435. CD: Macmillan Audio. ECONOMICS
An internationally best-selling author and founder of the worldwide grassroots movement DiEM25, Greece’s former finance minister explains economics to the most important audience of all: his daughter (and all the rest of us who could benefit from a clear explanation, with examples, of a fraught topic). It’s all here: how the economy originated, how it works, how inequality among nations and individuals developed, and how strictly market-driven policies can’t solve some of the problems we are facing today. Sign up for your lessons now.

Winchester, Simon. The Perfectionists: A Brief History of Precision. Harper. May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780062652553. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062652577. lrg. prnt. CD: Harper Audio. HISTORY
Plenty of authors have charted the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age, but New York Times best-selling Winchester does so with an eye to clarifying the importance of a single factor in that long history: precision. Standards of measurement, machines that made machines, microchips and the Hadron Collider—all have required and engendered greater and greater precision. But Winchester also wonders whether we’re missing the importance of craft and art and a clear view of the messy way the world really is. With a 150,000-copy first printing; an eight-city tour to Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @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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