9 New Books We Recommend This Week

History anchors many of this week’s recommended titles — whether it’s the literary history behind the making of “Crime and Punishment” and Patricia Highsmith’s diaries, or the constitutional history of Abraham Lincoln’s approach to ending slavery, or the living history of monuments to the past and how we deal with them as attitudes and societies change over time. There’s family history, in Kevin Young’s poetry collection “Stones,” and historical fiction, in Abir Mukherjee’s crime novel “The Shadows of Men,” set in Raj-era Calcutta. In more contemporary matters, we also recommend John McWhorter’s take on “woke” culture, Farah Stockman’s look at the human costs of industrial decline and the conclusion to Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series, about a family of witches.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

PATRICIA HIGHSMITH: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995, edited by Anna von Planta. (Liveright, $39.95.) In these personal writings, the author of “Strangers on a Train,” the Ripley series and many other novels mediates between her intense appetite for work and her need to lose herself in art, gin, music and warm bodies. “The whole book is excellent,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “Highsmith is pointed and dry about herself and everything else. But the early chapters are special. They comprise one of the most observant and ecstatic accounts I’ve read — and it’s a crowded field! — about being young and alive in New York City.”

THE SINNER AND THE SAINT: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece, by Kevin Birmingham. (Penguin Press, $30.) This book tells the story behind “Crime and Punishment,” a work of literary innovation whose publication marked a turning point for both Dostoyevsky and the history of the novel. Part of Birmingham’s project is to give proper due to the inspiration provided by the 1835 trial of the “poet-murderer” Pierre-François Lacenaire, which Dostoyevsky learned about in 1861. “But where Lacenaire was cool, unflappable and languid,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov is “feverish, tormented and confused, torn between ideas and impulses.”

Explore the New York Times Book Review

Want to keep up with the latest and greatest in books? This is a good place to start.

    • Learn what you should be reading this fall: Our collection of reviews on books coming out this season includes biographies, novels, memoirs and more.
    • See what’s new in October: Among this month’s new titles are novels by Jonathan Franzen, a history of Black cinema and a biography by Katie Couric.
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    • Listen to our podcast: Featuring conversations with leading figures in the literary world, from Colson Whitehead to Leila Slimani, the Book Review Podcast helps you delve deeper into your favorite books.

    THE SHADOWS OF MEN, by Abir Mukherjee. (Pegasus Crime, $25.95.) Throughout Mukherjee’s erudite detective series set in Raj-era Calcutta, Sgt. Surendranath Banerjee has endured many trials — but when he is accused of murder in this latest installment, not even his British supervisor may be able to save him. “Mukherjee, as he has in previous series installments, paces this story with sure-footed ease,” Sarah Weinman writes in her latest crime column. “But there is a bitter aftertaste that lingers even more strongly, because the root of Banerjee’s discontent is the scourge of colonialist attitudes, and that cannot be washed away in a tidy resolution.”

    THE BROKEN CONSTITUTION: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America, by Noah Feldman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) Abraham Lincoln, Feldman contends, embraced a new, “moral Constitution” by purging the country’s original sin of slavery and re-establishing the nation on a more noble foundation. A professor at Harvard Law School, Feldman is “a lucid, provocative stylist” as well as “a prolific scholar and commentator on current affairs … well equipped to assess Lincoln’s constitutional record,” Sean Wilentz writes in his review. “‘The Broken Constitution’ displays its author’s usual brilliance and boldness in his contrarianism, and a passionate engagement with the past.”

    FALLEN IDOLS: Twelve Statues That Made History, by Alex von Tunzelmann. (Harper/HarperCollins, $26.99.) Von Tunzelmann’s goal in recounting the fates of 12 controversial statues (from King George V in Raj-era India to Robert E. Lee in the American South) is to link recent movements for social justice to the larger question of how we distort, correct and ultimately understand the past. “Many of these stories are fascinating,” James Fallows writes in his review, noting that von Tunzelmann’s experience as a screenwriter lends the book a characteristically “breezy tone” that “suggests rather than belabors its points, and calls on imagination and the other senses to fill in the blanks.”

    STONES: Poems, by Kevin Young. (Knopf, $27.) Young’s lyrical new collection is about family, about death and about how families absorb and repurpose loss; the stones here bear names and life spans. Young is an expansive, almost relaxed writer — blistering intensity isn’t his signature. But he can throw salt in the pot when it’s needed. “Young writes in an almost harmonic register,” David Orr writes in his review. “His work can be quirky and brainy, but it’s never alienating. … He’s attentive to sound and wordplay, yet he largely sticks to the approachable free verse model that has dominated American writing for 60 years. His writing is warm, often elegiac and confidently temperate. There’s a lot to like.”

    AMERICAN MADE: What Happens to People When Work Disappears, by Farah Stockman. (Random House, $28.) Stockman, a member of The New York Times’s editorial board, brings detailed, empathetic reporting to this study of industrial decline, tracing the impact on three blue-collar workers when their Indianapolis factory relocates to Mexico. Richard Davies, reviewing it, calls the book “a gripping portrait of the human costs incurred,” as well as “a stark warning to towns and countries facing similar trends, and a lesson in how much economists can miss.”

    WOKE RACISM: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, by John McWhorter. (Portfolio, $28.) McWhorter, a Black liberal who dissents from much of the left’s views on race, argues against the position that racism and white supremacy are “baked into” the structure of American society. “As in his previous books, McWhorter views it as a mistake to forge one’s identity around victimhood,” Zaid Jilani writes in his review. “He characterizes the woke racial worldview as harmful not for normalizing antiwhite prejudices or treating the social categories of race as something concrete, but because it deprives Black people of their humanity by infantilizing them.”

    THE BOOK OF MAGIC, by Alice Hoffman. (Simon & Schuster, $27.99.) In the finale to her Practical Magic series, Hoffman returns to the delightfully witchy Owens family as it tries to end a love curse that has endured for centuries. Alluring on its own, the book is also a satisfying end to a timeless saga. “Hoffman is not afraid to use a healthy dollop of deus ex machina to keep her complicated story moving,” Joanne Ramos writes in her review. “And, like the witches who populate her stories, Hoffman certainly knows how to enchant.”

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