I’m not a big consumer of technology, on the whole — I mean, I work in the Books department of a newspaper that started in 1851 — but I told a friend recently that I’ve become fond of the little smart speaker on my kitchen countertop, mainly because it lets me tune into old-fashioned local radio stations from all over the place. I live in Connecticut, but these days when I do the dishes you’re as likely to find me listening to the latest news and music out of Philadelphia or Austin or Minneapolis as you are out of New York. The greater metro area has grown a lot greater.
Of course, books always did have the ability to draw other places near — and without eavesdropping on your conversations, either. This week our recommended titles include close-up looks at New Orleans (“The Yellow House”) and Lebanon (“Beirut Hellfire Society”), India under the Raj (“The Patient Assassin”) and the American West (both “Grinnell” and “Escalante’s Dream”). We also have a biography of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a novel about white supremacy and another based on a real-life art forgery, and an immigrant’s study of the forces driving global migration today.
Senior Editor, Books
THE YELLOW HOUSE, by Sarah M. Broom. (Grove, $26.) Part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life, Broom’s extraordinary debut is a full indictment of the greed, discrimination and poor city planning that led her family’s New Orleans home to be wiped off the map. “This book is dense with characters and stories. It’s a big, simmering pot that comes to a boil at the right times,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “This is a major book that I suspect will come to be considered among the essential memoirs of this vexing decade.”
BEIRUT HELLFIRE SOCIETY, by Rawi Hage. (Norton, $26.95.) Set in 1978, in the early years of the Lebanese Civil War, Rawi Hage’s fourth novel draws on the author’s antic, many-voiced gifts to make a chronicle of war and unrelenting death into an irreverent entertainment. The approach is burlesque, but “there is no mistaking the real heartbreak and waste that are Hage’s material,” our reviewer John Williams writes, “or his outrage at the most costly, terrible and seemingly inexpugnable qualities of humanity.”
GRINNELL: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West, by John Taliaferro. (Liveright, $35.) This biography restores fascinating life to one of the least remembered but most important 19th-century conservationists, George Bird Grinnell, who was a key figure behind the creation of the Audubon Society, some of the world’s most iconic national parks and several encyclopedic studies of Native Americans. Taliaferro illustrates how “Grinnell’s attitude evolved from the romantic to the pragmatic,” Timothy Egan writes in his review. “His fighting words kept the timber, mining and grazing interests from getting total control over our public lands. Grinnell’s memory lives on in the wild. And with this book, he is given the fresh look that he deserves.”
THE PATIENT ASSASSIN: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge, and India’s Quest for Independence, by Anita Anand. (Scribner, $30.) An account of the life of a peripatetic Indian laborer, Udham Singh, who waited decades for a chance to kill the Raj official Michael O’Dwyer in retaliation for the 1919 massacre of Indian protesters. “Anand does a stellar job of sketching Singh’s trajectory from orphanage to hangman’s noose, and from obscurity into the pantheon of Indian heroes,” Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes in his review. The book also “offers a crisp portrait of O’Dwyer, … reconstructing its key events in compelling, vivid prose.”
ESCALANTE’S DREAM: On the Trail of the Spanish Discovery of the Southwest, by David Roberts. (Norton, $26.95.) The author and his wife retrace the 1,700-mile journey of an expedition led by two Spanish friars in the 18th-century Southwest. The trip is a wistful one, partly because the friars are less well known than they should be, and partly because Roberts (a legendary adventure writer) is facing the ailments of age. “The book that results,” Philip Connors writes in his review, “is an amiably discursive, often beguiling entry in what has become a venerable literary form: the expedition in pursuit of an expedition. Roberts knows his Southwestern history, and he knows how to craft an artful sentence.”
THIS LAND IS OUR LAND: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, by Suketu Mehta. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) This is a meticulously researched and deeply felt corrective to the public narrative of who today’s migrants are, why they are coming and what economic and historical forces have propelled them from their homes. The book “reads like an impassioned survey course on migration, laying bare the origins of mass migration in searing clarity,” our reviewer, Lauren Markham, writes. “The book makes a convincing argument that contemporary migration is a direct descendant of colonialism. Europeans and Americans stole gold, silver, cash crops and human beings from the places people are now fleeing en masse. … Put another way, ‘They are here because you were there.’”
COPPERHEAD, by Alexi Zentner. (Viking, $26.) With visceral prose as taut as his teenage linebacker protagonist, Zentner has written a novel about white supremacy that invites us to see how bigotry operates in real life. “The chapters pop in expert jabs, two or three pages at a time,” Smith Henderson writes in his review. “As complications mount, Zentner remains true to his generous depiction of Jessup and his world, the forces that presumably engender racism. … The deplorables cling to their God and their guns, and we’re made to see how and why.”
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas, by Stephen Budiansky. (Norton, $29.95.) This biography of the second most important Supreme Court justice, after Chief Justice John Marshall, is a lively, accessible account of a contradictory figure whose influence on the nation and the law has extended well beyond his death in 1935. “Budiansky goes through the mass of Holmes’s state court opinions and tells previously untold tales of Holmes’s several years of experience as a trial judge riding circuit through the state,” Noah Feldman writes in his review. “Budiansky also does a fine job of telling the story of Holmes’s gradual move to embracing free speech.”
IN THE FULL LIGHT OF THE SUN, by Clare Clark. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.) A novel inspired by a notorious forgery case that ensnared a famous German art critic, an expert on the work of van Gogh. Our reviewer, Jean Zimmerman, admires Clark’s skill at “rendering the atmospheric setting precisely and the psychology of her characters with deftness, strength and subtlety. She artfully balances her twin subjects: a painter’s meteoric life and the fiery trail of controversy left behind by a shooting star.”
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