FDR and the Jews, by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman. (Belknap/Harvard University) What, exactly, did Franklin Roosevelt do during his presidency, from 1933 to 1945, to protect the Jews of Europe from Nazi genocide? This thorough revisiting of the record reveals a concerned leader whose efforts on behalf of Jews were significant, yet whose moral role was tempered by the political realities of Depression and war.
Pow! by Mo Yan. Translated by Howard Gold-blatt. (Seagull) This vibrant, visceral novel, by the Chinese satirist and winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, takes aim at gross materialism and corruption. In a rustic place resembling the author’s native village, Luo Xiaotong has decided to abandon his vagabond life; in a crumbling temple dedicated to a lecherous idol, he tells the story of his depraved, meat-obsessed youth to a wise monk.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. (Picador) In “Field Notes From a Catastrophe” (2006), Kolbert explored the disruptive effects of climate change. “The Sixth Extinction,” one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2014, visits the world’s most remote corners to report on imperiled or vanished species – the fallout of what some scientists call the sixth mass extinction, caused by mankind’s transformation of the ecological landscape.
It's Not Love, It’s Just Paris, by Patricia Engel. (Grove Press) Leaving her Colombian-American family behind, Lita del Cielo, the narrator of Engel’s accomplished first novel, joins a community of would-be expatriates at a decaying Parisian mansion. As her heroine navigates the complexities of independence, friendship and romance, Engel “speaks a profound language of young love and desire,” Benjamin Saenz wrote in the Review.
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Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, by Terry Teachout. (Gotham) As in his last book, “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong,” Teachout uncovers the public and private lives of a jazz legend, placing Duke Ellington (1899-1974) in the context of the Harlem Renaissance and examining his influence on 20th-century art and culture.
Radiance of Tomorrow. by Ishmael Beah. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Beah’s 2007 book, “A Long Way Gone,” told of his harrowing years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. “Radiance of Tomorrow,” a novel of survival and rebirth, follows Benjamin and Bockarie, who have returned to their hometown, in Sierra Leone’s grasslands, after a devastating civil war. Taking up posts as teachers, they try to recover the lost rhythms of town life, but are beset by obstacles old and new.
Writing On the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years, by Tom Standage. (Bloomsbury) Papyrus letters and hand-printed Reformation tracts, early radio and the Internet: The technologies are different, but as Standage shows in this instructive book, people have been sharing information for millenniums, and historical social networks have much in common with modern social media.
New York Times