Books

American Rust

“American Rust” by Philipp Meyer is a novel version of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Meyer writes with compassion and insight about the disappearing and desperate Rust Belt blue-collar life. “American Rust” came out in 2008, so here are a few lines to …Read More

A World in Disarray

Richard Haass presents a pessimistic view of the world order in his new book “A World in Disarray.” Just as power is shifting from West to East, American leadership is breaking down and historic alliances are weakening. Kissinger can’t be …Read More

An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy

In “An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy,” Mark Levinson argues that the post WWII boom ended in 1973 and will not return. This is an interesting book, although I disagree …Read More

Unforbidden Pleasures

“Unforbidden Pleasures” was one of my favorite nonfiction books from ’16, which I did not have time to review. Adam Phillips is a great writer and is definitely my favorite psychoanalyst writer. Although this is far from his best (“On …Read More

His Bloody Project

Set circa 1869 in a rural Scottish village, “His Bloody Project” imagines the homicides committed by a 17-year-old crofter, Roderick Macrae. The author, Graeme Macrae Burnet deftly structures his novel with testimonials of Roddy’s character; eyewitness accounts; his own memoir; medical …Read More

Best Non-Fiction ’16

Amazingly Wonderful Nonfiction: “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis – Review posted earlier “The Hidden Life …Read More

Places of my Infancy: A Memory

I am sure most of you have read the great Italian novel “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa (and seen the great film with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale). This little book is Lampedusa’s remembrances of the house in …Read More

Strangers in Their Own Land

Add “Strangers in Their Own Land” to the list of great books that document our current political divide, such as Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” Isenberg’s “White Trash,” Anderson’s “White Rage” and Packer’s “The Unwinding.” Arlie Russell Hochschild, a Berkley sociologist, spent …Read More

At the Existentialist Cafe

“At the Existentialist Cafe” by Sarah Bakewell is a wonderful biography-focused book about existentialism. “Ideas are interesting,” Bakewell writes, “but people are vastly more so.” She presents an entertaining cast of characters such as Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger, Husserl, …Read More

Best Fiction ’16

It makes me sad that most of the “best of” lists are so awful, because I imagine a potential fiction lover taking the NYT 10 best list, for example, and reading all five novels only to ask is that all …Read More

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

How do we make decisions? Michael Lewis explores the process in “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.” Two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, spent their careers examining how the human mind works. We all make …Read More

Swing Time

Zadie Smith amazes me. Her most recent novel “Swing Time” reminds me a lot of its predecessor. Like “NW,” “Swing Time” is set in northwest London where the narrator meets Tracey at young age at a dance class. This story …Read More

Hot Milk

“Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy is probably the best novel I’ve read this year after “Hystopia” by David Means. The language is poetic and hypnotic. The plot centers around a mother-daughter relationship. Sophia has spent her life caring for her …Read More

Hillbilly Elegy

I picked up the book after reading Joan Williams’s excellent article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” in the Harvard Business Review. J.D. Vance was born into a Scots Irish dysfunctional hillbilly family and spent …Read More

Thank You for Being Late

This is the usual amazingly astute but corny Friedmanesque analysis of the world right now. How can one man have such a brilliant, yet simultaneously annoying, penchant for putting his finger on the global pulse and simplifying complexity? The premise …Read More

A Hero of France

Alan Furst has written suspenseful WWII spy novels. Sadly, this is not one of them. Mathieu, the hero of the title, a Parisian member of the French Resistance in 1941, has organized a small network of daring sympathizers who help …Read More

The Association of Small Bombs

This novel dissects a 1996 terrorist attack at a market in Delhi– from the disappointment in the blast by the terrorist, to his mild-mannered friend who is arrested for the crime; to the devastation and grief of the parents of …Read More

The Rise and Fall of American Growth

The adoption of the smartphone since 2003 has been extremely rapid, and same for the tablet since 2010. The spread of the television was even faster, and fastest of any device (or appliance) in history. When WWII ended there were …Read More

Hystopia

“Hystopia” by David Means is the most impressive novel published this year that I have read so far. If you liked Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” please read this book. Means appears to be the inspired result of …Read More

The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe

I have never understood how the euro is supposed to work and how the EU can have an economic union without a political one. In “The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe,” Stiglitz explains that the …Read More

Heroes of the Frontier

I have been an Eggers fan since “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” In his wonderful new novel, “Heroes of the Frontier,” Josie drives around Alaska in a rented RV with her two kids after fleeing her problems in Ohio …Read More

Nicotine

I love Nell Zink’s novels and “Nicotine” is her latest wonder. Protagonist Penny is the daughter of a Jewish shaman and indigenous Columbian runaway. Trying to recover from her father’s death and failing to navigate incipient adult life, she finds …Read More

The Fix

Subtitled “How Nations Survive in a World in Decline,” this is a collection of uplifting stories of how mostly modestly talented politicians led mostly dysfunctional societies to extraordinary success in diminishing, if not eliminating, the scourge of corruption, inequality and …Read More

The Sellout

Paul Beatty is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize. I included his excellent novel “The Sellout” on my favorite fiction of ’15 (as it was published 3/15) list, but am mentioning it again because I’m excited it …Read More

Another Brooklyn

“Another Brooklyn” is a fantastic novel. Both this and “News of The World” are poetic, but I’m a total sucker for Woodson’s type of James Agee lyricism. Throw in an exploration of how memory works and I’m an instant fan. …Read More

News of The World

Although Alexis de Tocqueville made some amazingly perceptive and prescient observations, I consider his predictions regarding American literature to be completely lame (despite the the Nobel Prize committee’s prejudiced adherence to them for the last few decades). De Tocqueville predicted, …Read More

The Kingdom of Speech

Tom Wolfe’s new book is a short (170-page) tour de force. The writing, as always, erupts off the page with vitality. This time, Wolfe aims his barbs at the unlikely target of linguistics, and the revered (in some circles) Noam …Read More

Into the Lion’s Mouth

Dusko Popov, the subject of this well-documented story, was one of the most successful and daring spies during World War II, and is believed to be Ian Fleming’s model for James Bond. Son of a prominent Serbian banker, he studied …Read More

A World For Julius

Peruvians like to argue whether this great novel is superior to the ones of Mario Vargas Llosa, who is considered worldwide as the finest Peruvian writer. I belong to the camp who thinks Bryce Echenique’s novel, “A World For Julius,” …Read More

Play All

“Play All” by Clive James is a very funny and great review of television. After being diagnosed with leukemia, James began to binge watch TV series box sets. He chronicles his experience and is a wonderful critic. Although I don’t agree …Read More

Here I Am

I was impressed by Jonathan Safran Foer’s new novel, “Here I Am.” While I have always liked Foer’s fiction, I have never been amazed by it. He has always been a facile writer and here as usual, he constructs dexterous …Read More

Sometimes a Great Notion

I read “Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey in college in 1968, four years after it was published, and I loved it. I decided to re-read it again this summer, just to see if it stood up after 50+ …Read More

The Fire This Time

I don’t understand why some people don’t get it. Just the other day, Surowiecki summarized it here, echoing Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Anderson’s “White Rage,” Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Baptist’s “The Half Has Never Been Told,“ …Read More

The Sympathizer

Hard to think of a book to recommend after the long break, but here’s one to consider. “The Sympathizer,” by the Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen, might be a good start. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the novel, which is …Read More

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

The sciences can be a challenge for me, so when important tomes are written, and include personal storylines, I find the information offered up all the more compelling. Autism, quite frankly, is a subject I never imagined would be of …Read More