5 Hot Books: A Compelling Oral History of the 1960s, the Science of Humans at War, and More

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

1. Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul by Clara Bingham (Random House)

For this oral history of America in the 1960s and early 1970s, former Newsweek White House correspondent Bingham interviewed more 100 people who were part of this brief, tumultuous era.  Bingham focuses on some of the most dramatic episodes of a dramatic time, when hippies, dropouts and anti-war activists united to create a nationwide anti-conformist movement — and faced fervent opposition.  Bingham interviewed prominent leaders — Daniel Ellsberg and Jane Fonda, among others –  and tracked down many more who have long been overlooked. The kaleidoscopic effect of these stories is engrossing and inspiring.

2. Grunt:  The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach (W. W. Norton)

With previous writing like Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Roach has established herself as the world’s leading writer about weird science. In Grunt, she dives into the murky and mucky world of military science, and goes beyond the usual conditions -- panic, exhaustion and heatstroke.  Roach, who has a keen eye for where the banal meets the absurd, weaves spellbinding tales of shark repellents, Kevlar underpants, and how to deal with zippers in awkward situations

3. The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison by Mikita Brottman (Harper)

Brottman ran a reading group for inmates at the maximum-security Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland, where she led discussions on books like Heart of Darkness and Lolita. This memoir’s energy emanates from Brottman’s sharp understanding of group dynamics and her determination to avoid clichés.  She delves into the personal stories of the men she met behind bars, and is clear-eyed both about literature’s powers and its limitations.

4. Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality by Debbie Cenziper & Jim Obergefell

When the State of Ohio refused to recognize the marriage of Obergefell and his partner — who was dying of ALS—Obergefell was determined to see that same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states.  He did just that, with the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges — and made history.  Now, Obergefell has teamed up with Cenziper, a Pulitzer-winning Washington Post investigative journalist, to detail the drama and the players – lawyers, activists, and judges.  Their gripping narrative conveys how the fatal illness of one man and the question for justice of another led to an important expansion of rights for all Americans.

5. Brighton by Michael Harvey (Ecco)

Harvey, who has set his previous crime novels in Chicago (The Fifth Floor, The Governor’s Wife) changes the venue this time to Boston and environs -- and the results are impressive. In Brighton, his hero is a prize-winning investigative reporter compelled to return to the crime-ridden, racially-charged streets of his childhood in the Boston neighborhood of the book's title.  This engrossing page-turner, which has been sold to the movies, brings to mind classics of the genre, like The Departed, which was set in a similar Boston underbelly.