Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy (Little, Brown & Co.)
The “power pose” is more than just standing up straight. Posture is power, according to social psychologist Cuddy, whose TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are" is among the most viewed of all time. Cuddy, who teaches at Harvard Business School, argues that body language does more than impress others -- it can change how we view ourselves, which is key to success. She tells stories of how even small shifts and tweaks in posture affect testosterone and cortisone levels in the brain, which decrease anxiety, and allow once-bashful people to shine.
2. When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain: History’s Unknown Chapters By Giles Milton (Picador)
Historical detail is critically important to reconstructing the past, and Milton has an eye for overlooked and ignored episodes. This collection reaches from Hitler, pumped up with opiates, sedatives and laxatives, to the mystery of Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance, which sparked a massive search, enlisting both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers to the cause. It’s also a tale of survivors, from the man who lived through two atomic bombings (Nagasaki and Hiroshima), to the World War I hero brindle canine Stubby, promoted to the rank of sergeant for his combat service.
3. The Blue Touch Paper by David Hare (W.W. Norton & Company)
From the great playwright, screenwriter, and director, a book about his university days at Oxford and his lifelong engagement with film and theater. Hare’s memoir of post-war England is full of fascinating people (Lynn Redgrave, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams). And it is animated by the political passion and sharp insights that have distinguished his plays, from Plenty to Skylight, and perhaps less markedly, his screenplays for The Hours and The Reader which won him Academy Awards.
4. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In a follow-up to The Invention of Everything Else, a finalist for the Orange Prize, Hunt’s genre bending new novel is a contemporary gothic that begins with two teenagers at “The Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm, and Mission” in upstate New York who channel the dead through mediums, not unlike the 19th century Fox sisters. The natural and supernatural quickly blur, as characters like Captain Ahab and Huck Finn pop up in this suspenseful, wryly witty novel. As one character announces: “We’re the Society for Confusing Literature and the Real Lies.”
5. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press)
The Center for Fiction recently awarded its First Novel prize to The Sympathizer, Vguyen’s impressive debut novel about a captain who is a double-agent, a conflicted Communist sympathizer. Nguyen was born in Vietnam, and raised in America, and embedded in this tightly twisted story of subterfuge is a sly, sophisticated and imaginative approach to understanding the Vietnam War and its aftermath.