11 New Books We Recommend This Week

Crime and punishment make their presence felt in this week’s recommended titles, from Russell Shorto’s family history of his grandfather’s mob ties (“Smalltime”) to Philippe Sands’s account of a Nazi fugitive (“The Ratline”); Maurice Chammah’s study of the death penalty and its decline (“Let the Lord Sort Them”) to Reuben Jonathan Miller’s look at the life that awaits ex-inmates (“Halfway Home”).

Also on our night stands this week: Ethan Zuckerman’s new book about the collapse of institutional authority (“Mistrust”), Emily Rapp Black’s memoir of motherhood and grief (“Sanctuary”), Jeremy Atherton Lin’s personal and cultural history (“Gay Bar”) and Avi Loeb’s argument that aliens visited the neighborhood in 2017 (“Extraterrestrial”). Finally, there’s Thomas Healy’s “Soul City,” about one man’s attempt to create a Black-run city in the 1970s; Charles Wheelan’s “We Came, We Saw, We Left,” about his family’s round-the-world trip; and, in fiction, Chang-rae Lee’s picaresque new novel, “My Year Abroad.”

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

GAY BAR: Why We Went Out, by Jeremy Atherton Lin. (Little, Brown, $28.) In this restless and intelligent cultural history, Atherton Lin writes about how gay bars have disappointed him — as well as welcomed, astonished, exasperated and intimidated him. The bars both affirmed and challenged his sense of identity. The book is broken into sections, each devoted to a particular bar and city. “Atherton Lin is a skilled reader of the signifiers of clothes and architecture,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes, but he is “even more talented at seeing what no longer remains, of deciphering places as palimpsests of a kind, with their traces of fragile, fugitive queer history.”

HALFWAY HOME: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, by Reuben Jonathan Miller. (Little, Brown, $29.) Miller wants us to understand incarceration’s “afterlife” — how prison follows people “like a ghost,” a permanent specter in the lives of the 19.6 million Americans who have a felony record. These people have done their time, but they’re still constrained by what Miller describes as “an alternate form of citizenship.” Our critic Jennifer Szalai says that the book’s title is “both literal and ironic. A halfway home can refer to an actual place where formerly incarcerated people are supposed to gain skills for re-entering society. For many of them, though, halfway is just about as far as they’re allowed to get.”

MY YEAR ABROAD, by Chang-rae Lee. (Riverhead, $28.) Part study of suburbia, part globe-trotting adventure, Lee’s latest novel follows a young man from a transformative trip in Asia to a low-key life in a New Jersey town. Reflective, precise writing and a steady churn of pleasures and perils make for a winning combination. “Lee’s real subject here is a global economy made from desires and appetites that don’t transcend race and national borders as much as they exploit them,” Alexander Chee writes in his review, “appetites that can be fulfilled because of, and not in spite of, stunning inequities.”

EXTRATERRESTRIAL: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, by Avi Loeb. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.) You may not buy Loeb’s argument that the cigar-shaped object that streaked through our solar system in 2017 was alien technology. But his search for intelligent life, couched in a moving account of his path to the top of Harvard’s astronomy department, is fascinating and persuasive. “It is fair to say that Loeb, who was raised with a philosophical bent on a farm in Israel, the son of refugees from the Holocaust and war-torn Europe, is one of the more imaginative and articulate scientists around,” Dennis Overbye writes in his review. “Modern academic science, he complains, has overvalued topics such as multiple dimensions and multiple universes, for which there is no evidence, and undervalued the search for life out there.”

THE RATLINE: The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive, by Philippe Sands. (Knopf, $30.) Using a trove of archival and personal documents, Sands tells the gripping story of a Nazi mass murderer responsible for the deaths of thousands who managed to elude his pursuers until his death in Rome in 1949. “‘The Ratline’ is a Nazi love story, but a fascinating and important one, told in vivid detail,” Rachel Donadio writes in her review. “It’s a reminder that Europe to this day is populated by survivors and perpetrators of World War II — a place of tangled family histories and selective denial, but also intermittent lucidity.”

LET THE LORD SORT THEM: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty, by Maurice Chammah. (Crown. $28.) The number of inmates on death row has been declining for years, and Chammah’s thoroughly reported, essential history, which includes interviews with inmates, wardens, activists, prosecutors and politicians, delivers a surprising account of how and why the death penalty is dying. “As it tells that focused tale, it becomes — almost unwittingly — a case study that speaks more broadly to our current moment, about building monumental change brick by brick,” Anand Giridharadas writes in his review. “In a season of American life when so many want to get big things done and few seem to get anywhere, this story of the slow slaying of the death penalty — one that flies against many of my own intuitions — serves as a vaccine against the virus of fatalism.”

SANCTUARY: A Memoir, by Emily Rapp Black. (Random House, $27.) In her third memoir, Emily Rapp Black writes of tentatively, painfully regaining her footing after losing her son to Tay-Sachs disease. With brutal honesty, she ushers readers into the mourner’s sanctuary, where life and death, love and loss, rage and happiness, pleasure and pain can tolerably intermingle. “She relearns how to live in a world that keeps on turning,” Judith Warner writes in her review. “She transitions — jerkily, messily — from the torturous present tense of watching a child slowly die to living in a future of possibility. … Black’s power as a writer means she can take us with her to places that normally our minds would refuse to go.”

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE LEFT: A Family Gap Year, by Charles Wheelan. (Norton, $27.95.) Two parents and three teenagers set out on a nine-month trip around the world. This travel memoir is the father’s story of how it went — including buses, airplanes, skin rashes, misunderstandings and domestic sniping. “Wheelan wisely focuses his book on the way the family navigates meltdowns, hurt feelings and all the high-stakes transactions of life on the go,” Amity Gaige writes in her review. “I loved this family. Wheelan is a lucid and likable storyteller, and his antic family dialogues are spot-on. … What I liked best about the book was watching two people parent their teenagers well.”

SOUL CITY: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia, by Thomas Healy. (Metropolitan, $29.99.) In the 1970s, Floyd McKissick, a civil rights activist, set out to create a Black-run city in rural North Carolina. Healy’s account is a parable of America’s tragic racial past and its insidious legacy. “McKissick’s dream, struggle and, ultimately, failure to build an American city on behalf of Black citizens is one of the greatest least-told stories in American history,” Chris Lebron writes in his review. “Healy’s greatest strength is his eye for the procedural details — the who, what, when and where of the Soul City story.”

MISTRUST: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them, by Ethan Zuckerman. (Norton, $26.95.) Zuckerman, the former director of the M.I.T. Center for Civic Media, sees the dark side of a society in which all trust is lost, but he lauds activists who work around institutions and those trying to fix them or create new ones. “It’s clear Zuckerman hasn’t abandoned his insurrectionist sympathies for those trying to work outside a system they see as irreparably broken,” Matthew Yglesias writes in his review. “Zuckerman’s heroes have what he calls strong ‘internal efficacy’ (they believe they can do things) but low ‘external efficacy’ (they think political leaders don’t care about them). So they operate outside the system, pressuring retailers to change their approach to selling firearms, decentralizing institutions or shifting media coverage.”

SMALLTIME: A Story of My Family and the Mob, by Russell Shorto. (Norton, $26.95.) A master of historical nonfiction applies his methods to his grandfather, a mobster in Johnstown, Pa., illuminating the Mafia’s network in small-town America and, affectingly, the dysfunction in his family’s past. “In the end, this is not a mob story,” Helene Stapinski writes in her review. “It’s a story of family dynamics. Of love and loss and betrayal. Of Shorto’s hometown. Of his own relationship with his father and his father’s relationship with his father. In other words, it’s a family memoir. … Once Shorto’s on the highway, steering us along with his usual humor and eye for quirky detail, settling an hour from his hometown for easy access, we are with him. All the way.”

Source: Read Full Article