5 HOT BOOKS: Bob Dylan's Lyrics, the Moral Injuries of War, and More

Here are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. The Lyrics: 1961-2012 by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster)

This handsome and well-timed collection of Dylan’s lyrics, which arrives in the wake of Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, affirms his genius for what the Nobel Committee described as “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  In its sprawling 679 pages, there are marked-up drafts in Dylan’s own hand, understated black-and-white photographs, and a great deal more that will be of interest to both aficionados and more casual fans.  The scope is sweeping, ranging from immortal early classics, like “The Times They Are A-Changin’” to songs like “Narrow Way” on Tempest, Dylan’s most recent album.

2. A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars 1830-1910 by Steven Hahn (Viking)

In this latest volume in the eminent Eric Foner’s Penguin History of the United States series, Hahn tilts the traditional lens on the past and reframes 19th Century America — with an eye on “the tensions and contradictions between nation and empire” and the ascendancy of capitalism. This is a big, ambitious work of history, but as he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, Hahn writes at length and vividly about those excluded from privilege.

3. Writing to Save a Live: The Emmett Till File by John Edgar Wideman (Scribner)

Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi, became a civil rights martyr after his mother in Chicago insisted that his dead body be displayed in an open casket so the world could witness the atrocity. In this powerful and eloquent book Wideman, a MacArthur Fellow known for works like Brothers and Keepers and Philadelphia Fire, uncovers another dimension to the tragedy: the story of Emmett’s father, Louis Till, a serviceman executed for rape and murder in World War II-era Italy.  In this artfully constructed book, whose narrative voices segue between well-documented history and imagined conversations, Wideman illuminates a long history of injustice.

4. What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars by David Wood (Little, Brown)

Wood’s series in the Huffington Post on severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, and he brings the deeply humane sensibility of those articles to this book about the “moral injury” caused by war.  Not to be confused with the well-known phenomenon of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, moral injuries transpire, in Wood’s account, when one feels that killing another human being is a violation of the social order. Wood, who has been reporting on conflict around the world for more than three decades, delves into the feelings of those who feel ethically conflicted by orders they have followed, and how those in military combat try to recover from their experiences, especially when resources to help them are so scant.

5. Valiant Gentlemen by Sabina Murray (Grove Press)

From the Belgian Congo to Paris, Murray’s sweeping novel spans four continents and forty years leading up to World War I. PEN/Faulkner winner Murray ingeniously links two young friends, one who marries an Argentine-American heiress, and the other involved in Irish politics, who is determined to free Ireland from British rule.  Real historical characters like writers W. B. Yeats and Joseph Conrad, as well as whiskey heir James Jameson, root the story in history, but ultimately the novel is an imaginative exploration of the tragedy of lost friendship.