5 HOT BOOKS: Lawrence Wright on Islamic Terrorism, Hitler's Favorite Horses, and More

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

1. The Nix by Nathan Hill (Alfred A. Knopf)

Any debut novel lauded as being in the tradition of Pynchon and Dickens invites skepticism.  But in the case of Hill’s The Fix, the praise is warranted – although a more appropriate comparison might be with the late, great E. L.  Doctorow.  Hill’s novel is deeply rooted in history and segues between decades, from 1968 to the present, in a helix of comedy, satire, and drama, from cross-cutting points of view.  Add to this: what seems to be a mother-son relationship at the core of the novel that deftly morphs toward a father-daughter story.  The Nix is infused with Hill’s far-ranging curiosity, on subjects from cognitive science and paleo diets to higher education, publishing, and the 24-hour news cycle — and the Norwegian myth that inspired the title.

2. The Perfect Horse: The Daring American Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis by Elizabeth Letts (Ballantine)

The 1963 Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions dramatized (and sanitized) the story of how a group of Lipizzaners were saved during in the final days of World War II. Letts, whose last book, The Eighty-Dollar Champion, concerned a famous Cold War-era horse, brings her love of horses to this story and pairs it with deep research.  She explains how American forces learned that these beautiful white-grey stallions had been hidden behind enemy lines in Czechoslovakia and rescued them before they would have been slaughtered by the Russians.  Letts also explains how Hitler called not only for a perfect human race, but an equine master race, in the form of these highly pedigreed stallions.

3. The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State by Lawrence Wright (Alfred A. Knopf)

With this collection of his updated New Yorker stories, one-man stage plays, and an epilogue, Wright has constructed a cohesive book that demonstrates his remarkable prescience regarding the rising tides of terrorism in the Middle East and shows how great journalism endures as history. Wright won a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, an historical investigation of Al-Qaeda and how the attacks were investigated.  As the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, this latest work provides an incisive look at both modern terrorism and the growing security state it has inspired.

4. Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich (Random House)

The patient had a name – Henry Molaison. In 1953, a neurosurgeon removed part of H.M.’s brain, allegedly to eliminate epilepsy. The physician’s grandson is the author of this thoroughly disturbing book, partly about the tragic case of H.M., whose lobotomy left him severely diminished.  But Dittrich digs even more deeply into his own family history: it turns out that the doctor may also have been involved in the lobotomy of his own wife – the author’s grandmother. This is a fascinating work of cultural history and medical ethics that continues to resonate today: an excerpt from the book appeared in The New York Times and inspired a backlash from a group of neuroscientists who challenged some of the author’s characterizations.

5. The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood (W. W. Norton)

The library book club’s plan was for its members to present the book that most influenced them, and on the second Monday of every month, they gathered to discuss classics like The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina. At the center of this novel is a newcomer to the group, a rather cranky woman whose book selection is a more obscure title from her childhood, and her troubled daughter living abroad. Hood, author of the best-sellers The Knitting Circle and The Obituary Writer, celebrates the pleasures of books and reading, but ultimately the rewards of this novel are to be found in the aches, and possibilities for healing, in the bonds between mothers and daughters.