5 HOT BOOKS: Putin and Trump, Justice Scalia as Change Agent, and More


1. Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (Twelve)

Even for those who have been carefully following Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, this book provides invaluable perspective on the ongoing investigation. Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo! News, and Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, skillfully detail how the Trump administration’s back channels to Russia developed and how the Putin-Trump “bromance” evolved. Full of juicy details involving everything from the Miss Universe pageant and the Steele dossier to the Seychelles meeting, Russian Roulette offers a behind-the-scenes look at the dark figures, shady financial transactions, and espionage -- and a scorecard for the unfolding scandal.

2. Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World by Andrea Barnet (Ecco)

Barnet examines a quartet of trailblazing, progressive female outsiders, not linked by friendship, age, or issue, and artfully argues that they catalyzed shifts in consciousness that transformed the culture. Through their influential books – Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and Jane Goodall’s My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees – and a restaurant, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, these idealistic women ignited powerful social movements that may have seemed quite different from each other but were actually aligned. These four women shared a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of the living world, and Barnet captures their vitality and passion. She also reminds us that the power of one voice can be transformative, because change begins “with the local, the particular, and the passionately observed.”

3. The Justice of Contradictions: Antonin Scalia and the Politics of Disruption by Richard L. Hasen (Yale University Press)

In his fascinating new book, Hasen contends with the legacy of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, and argues that Scalia’s conservative libertarian ideology continues through his acolytes, such as Justice Neil Gorsuch, who are filling – and polarizing – the judiciary. Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor, argues that despite Scalia’s personal charm, his cutting and often sarcastic writings, in which he attacked the intelligence and motives of his colleagues, undermined civil discourse between judges and lawyers. Scalia, Hasen convincingly argues, disrupted the court in the same way Donald Trump is disrupting the presidency, and he reshaped the judiciary with straight-talking, anti-elitist populism that is not intellectually consistent but rather a reflection of his own ideological preferences.

4. Twentieth-Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies by Duncan Hannah (Knopf)

From his boyhood in suburban Minneapolis to New York’s underground art and punk scene of the 1970s, Hannah wrote in black-bound, unlined journals. The painter’s debut book is not a memoir, but rather like raw footage or a collage of images that capture the ravenous creative spirit of an artist who climbed his way – between wild partying and intersecting with luminaries like Keith Haring, David Bowie, and Jenny Holzer – to his big hit, his first one-man show in 1981. This elegantly produced book’s journal entries punctuated by lists of movies and books make this reading experience feel like the discovery of a wonderful time capsule of a bygone era.

5. Paris Metro by Wendell Steavenson (W.W. Norton)

So many novels by journalists tend toward paint-by-number portraits, so it is especially rewarding to read this fully imagined work of fiction, which is informed but not confined by Steavenson’s reporting in the Middle East. Her narrator, a seasoned foreign correspondent who has recently covered the Syrian refugee crisis,  faces drama closer to home when a friend is killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack and she finds herself enmeshed in a tangle of explosive relationships dealing with her friends, lovers, allies, and adopted son. Steavenson, most recently the author of Circling the Square: Stories from the Egyptian Revolution, has written a nuanced, engrossing novel about conviction and terrorism in a cosmopolitan, complicated world.