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Hot New Nonfiction From the First Half of March
Each week, hundreds of new books are released by publishers, and each week I dutifully go through the list. Here are some nonfiction highlights from March 1st through 16th.
As an indie bookstore guy, I’ll start out with Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis. This isn’t a business book about that one trillion dollar behemoth Amazon per se. Rather, it is a journalistic survey of how America has been reshaped by the lure and the success of the one-click. ProPublica writer MacGillis looks at the regional disparities between where Amazon locates and where it doesn’t, the toll on small businesses, and other social wreckage we still are learning to cope with and fight against.
Several new releases examine different facets of economic life in modern America. The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town by Brian Alexander, takes at look at our medical system through the prism of a money-losing hospital in Bryan, Ohio, population 8500, and the health crises of its patients. In Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America, essayist Kate Washington uses a memoir of caring for her gravely ill husband to take a wider look at the crisis of the millions of family caregivers who struggle without support. In The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die, journalist Katie Engelhart, delves into the current state of the Right to Die movement, and offers much to ponder about the quality of the end of life.
First out of the gate on Biden’s victory last November is Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, but quite frankly, I’m still recovering from actually living through the election, and not quite ready to relive it. Does this mean I’m a failed political junkie?
But here are a couple of political books that aren’t election-related. We Are Bellingcat: Global Crime, Online Sleuths, and the Bold Future of News is sure to please. Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins writes about the successes and challenges of this open-sourced collective of citizen journalists who have broken open some of the biggest stories of the day. And in How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart, Columbia Law School professor Jamal Greene argues that since the early 20th Century, fundamental rights have become disproportionately tied to the individual, to the detriment of balancing the diverse interests of our society. His argument in favor of ‘proportionality’ as a judicial approach is sure to stir debate.
Some titles for Women’s History Month: Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am by Julia Cooke, is full of the usual jaw-dropping sexist attitudes and advertising around stewardesses of the 1960s and 70s, but it digs much deeper into the bravery, drive, unconventional lives and determination of these women seeking a way out of the social strictures of the day. A fun read. There is also Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America, by Julie DiCaro, a timely look at women in sports, dealing with the misogyny, exploitation and sexism they must deal with and overcome.
Walter Isaacson brings his great storytelling powers to The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. The book details the development of CRISPR gene editing technology through the story of Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna (who was told by her high school counselor that girls didn’t become scientists.) And Julia Sweig gives overdue credit to the contributions of a First Lady in Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight, in terms of both her political acumen and her policy initiatives in environmentalism and women’s empowerment.
On the international front, Bring Back Our Girls: The Untold Story of the Global Search for Nigeria's Missing Schoolgirls, recounts the story of the 2014 abduction or 236 schoolgirls in Nigeria, and the international #BringBackOurGirls campaign around it. As we see from recent headlines, these abductions continue. Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s, by Raphael Cormack, tells the fascinating and often surprising story of women in the entertainment industry of Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s, not just as performers on stage and screen, but as promoters and entrepreneurs. You can watch an hour-long Zoom talk with the author about his research HERE.
On the science front, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred is in a class of its own. It has plenty about cutting-edge particle physics, but author Chanda Prescod-Weinstein—one of the fewer than one hundred Black American women to hold a PhD in physics, as well as being Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, queer, and also on the core faculty of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire—brings the entirety of her personal experience into this book. Equal parts science and social justice.
The nature of life gets the treatment in two new books. Life's Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive, by Carl Zimmer, seeks to find the dividing line between what we call alive and what we don’t. Where does a picked apple or a coronavirus fit in. (An interesting sneak peek at the book can be found in Zimmer’s New York Times piece from a couple weeks ago.) And in The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens--and Ourselves, Arik Kershenbaum looks at the same question of defining life, but from the angle of how alien life may present itself. Are we prepared to communicate with entities who ‘speak’ via smells or electrical impulses?
If a bit of cultural escapism is what you’re craving, relive 80s rock with Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion, by Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock, where you can read about Twisted Sister creating We’re Not Gonna Take It before Trump stole it for his rallies; or 1960s film with Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic, by Glenn Frankel. Reminisce about Jon Voight before he became a right-wing nutjob.
Finally, two graphics-heavy books, one for adults and one a picture book for children. Elegy for Mary Turner: An Illustrated Account of a Lynching, artist Rachel Marie-Crane Williams uses text, artwork and collage to tell the story of a 1918 lynching of ten Black men and eight-month pregnant Mary Turner in Valdosta, Georgia. And award-winning illustrator George Butler, known for his reportage from hotspots around the world, brings us Drawn Across Borders: True Stories of Human Migration, geared towards ages 10 and up. It features twelve stories of migration from around the world.
So many books, so little time…