Here are five books people are talking about this week — or should be:
1. Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency by James Andrew Miller (Custom House/William Morrow)
Part company history, part Entertainment Weekly feature on steroids, this sprawling, insider-y oral history is a primer on Hollywood, ego, and rivalry. Miller, who won acclaim for Live From New York (about “Saturday Night Live”) and Those Guys Have All the Fun (about ESPN), estimates that he conducted some 500 interviews for this book about CAA’s evolution from a television representation business into the behemoth it is today, extending to movies, music, sports, and straight-up advertising. The result is a book that’s fun to read both for the boldface names — including agency founders Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer, and clients like Magic Johnson and Ali McGraw — and for a glimpse into a largely unseen world of cultural influencers.
2. The Rest We Will Kill: William Tillman and the Unforgettable Story of How a Free Black Man Refused to Become a Black Slave by Brian McGinty (Liveright/W.W. Norton)
On the high seas, at the outbreak of the Civil War, a group of Confederate privateers took over a schooner bound for Uruguay, intending to claim the ship, cargo, and crew as their own property. They failed to anticipate, however, that the cook – a free black man – would kill them rather than forfeit his freedom and be sold into slavery. After more than two weeks at sea, he navigated the ship to harbor and was heralded as a brave hero who proved that freedmen could support the Union cause. McGinty, author of Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America, has a gift for dramatizing overlooked moments in American history and showing why they matter.
3. I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt)
A photograph by Dorothea Lange graces the cover of I Will Send Rain, Meadows’ deeply affecting novel set in the Oklahoma panhandle during the Great Depression. While much has been made of the Depression-era Okies who traveled west, Meadows focuses on those who stayed behind, and in particular on the Bells, a farming family that struggles against drought, dust storms, and other assorted hardships. In this novel of tough people in tough times, the characters manage to endure while being both unmoored and stuck.
4. Rise the Dark by Michael Kortya (Little, Brown and Company)
Stylishly written, with nuanced characters and a keen sense of place, Kortya’s Rise the Dark richly rewards readers suspicious of mysteries, thrillers, and other sorts of genre fiction. In this novel, the investigator-protagonist works for defense lawyers who take on death penalty cases pro bono. After his wife is killed, he revisits the strange, swampy Florida scene of the crime, and is led west to Montana and Wyoming and the world of cults. Kortya digs deep into the American psyche, subtly connecting 19th century Spiritualism with contemporary preoccupations about terrorism, and exploring such questions as the cost of blind faith in technologic progress and the persistent lure and power of cults. The result is a provocative page-turner.
5. All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
In this taut and heartbreaking memoir, Guardian columnist Aitkenhead relates the story of how her partner drowned while trying to save their four-year-old son. The power of the story resides not in the tragedy itself, but in Aitkenheads tides of despair and her understanding of grief as a public spectacle. It is dramatically enhanced by Aitkenhead's meditations on her relationship, and on how her and her partner's differences – she was a high-profile, mainstream journalist, he a dreadlocked man with a criminal record for drugs and violence – enriched them both.