5 Hot Books: Single Women as a Political Force, an Irish-American Hero, and More

Books people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (Simon & Schuster)

Following the success of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women (about the 2008 presidential contest), Traister has written an equally important work of cultural criticism. Considering the expanding number of unmarried women in America, she agues that women who have delayed or abstained from marriage are reshaping both domestic life and the political landscape. Weaving historical analysis and social science, and drawing on interviews with women making their way in the world, Traister considers race, sexual orientation and class, and makes the case that unmarried women are today’s true engine of social change.

2. The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Civil War buffs may know Thomas Francis Meager as the general of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade, but this biography dramatically captures the full sweep of this heroic Irish revolutionary, who was arrested for speaking out during the Great Potato Famine and then sentenced to forced labor in Tasmania before landing on American shores. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Egan won a National Book Award for The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, and was featured prominently in the Ken Burns film on the subject.  In his new work, he impressively charts a remarkable life, which ended when Meagher, serving as lieutenant governor of the Montana Territory, was assassinated by frontier vigilantes.

3. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Following up on her well-received book on malaria, Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, prize-winning science journalist Shah is now bringing attention to the claim by epidemiologists that sometime in the next two generations, a pandemic will sicken a billion people and kill millions. She focuses in part on the journey of cholera from its emergence in South Asia to its arrival in Haiti, and explains, somewhat alarmingly, how international air travel and human encroachment into animal habitats increases the risk of widespread global disease.

4. Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux

With this new biography, Rioux rescues late 19th century “lady novelist”
(and James Fenimore Cooper grand-niece)  Woolson from obscurity, explaining why her fiction faded in popularity and arguing why it should not have. Rioux make a compelling case for the best-selling Woolson, who was part of Henry James’s intellectual circle and was compared to writers like Jane Austen and Sarah Orne Jewett. Delving deeply into Woolson’s novels and stories, and into the archives, Rioux ably champions a woman who led a complicated and ultimately tragic life.

5. Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka (Graywolf Press and A Public Space)

This debut collection of stories narrated by a young New England woman reeling after a divorce is spare and intense. Majka’s stories are set in Maine, Grand Central Station, and most of all on the emotionally complex margins of life –  literary territory familiar to readers of Raymond Carver, and one that Majka is now impressively making her own.