5 HOT BOOKS: A New John Grisham Thriller, Is Chinese Education Better?, and More


1. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham (Doubleday)

Grisham delves into the shady world of for-profit law schools in his latest, ingenious thriller.  A trio of debt-saddled students at the disreputable Foggy Bottom School of Law come to realize that they have been ensnared in a scam involving the school’s owner, a Wall Street hedge fund specializing in the student loans on which they will soon default.  Grisham masterfully ratchets up the suspense as these students drop out of law school, assume new identities as bona fide lawyers, and set out to expose the conspiracy of corruption that lay behind their fraudulent legal educations.

2. An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan (Random House)

After Khan brandished his pocket-sized Constitution at the 2016 Democratic Convention and offered to lend it to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, orders for the little booklet soared.  Now Kahn tells his own story, from his rural childhood in politically chaotic Pakistan to Texas, Harvard Law School, and finally to the death of his son, killed by a car bomb in Iraq, and posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.  In this passionate but understated -- and apolitical – memoir, Khan traces his journey toward American citizenship and details how he wrote, rehearsed, and delivered a speech for the history books.

3. 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Pantheon)

When Joel Augustus Rogers, columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier, a prominent African-American newspaper, published 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof in 1957, it was regarded as “A Negro ‘Believe It or Not’ in the Ripley tradition. “For African-Americans of the Jim Crow era, Rogers was their first black history teacher,” writes Gates, in this engaging compendium of 100 brief essays, which is an homage to Rogers -- and destined to be a classic. Written in an open, conversational style, Gates (and as he explains in the acknowledgments, his research team at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard) answers queries as thought-provoking and varied as: “Who was the first black person to see baby Jesus?” “Was a black slave to blame for the Salem witch trials?” “What was the original color of the mythical beauty Andromeda?” and “Did Lincoln really free the slaves?”

4. I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street by Matt Taibbi (Spiegel & Grau)

While in a chokehold applied by a New York Police Department officer, Eric Garner uttered dying words – “I can’t breathe” – that became a battle cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and opponents of police violence everywhere.  In this fascinating study of the case, Rolling Stone contributing editor Taibbi, known for his national political reporting and books like Insane Clown President, depicts Garner as a flawed but sympathetic, non-violent street hustler caught up in a tangled web of poverty and corruption.  Taibbi argues that Garner was brought down by policing policies that were part of what he dubs a “Perpetual Injustice Machine.”  

5. Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu (Harper/HarperCollins)

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chu was raised in Texas and educated in the American system, but when she and her journalist husband moved to Shanghai, they enrolled their three-year-old son in a Chinese school. She writes with verve about the hyper-competitive and conformist education that led her son to praise Chairman Mao in song and endure being force-fed food he disliked, and yet she acknowledges the little boy’s growing confidence and ingenuity. This fascinating duality led Chu to investigate Chinese education, interviewing international education experts and a wide range of students – those who flourished as well as those who floundered -- and ultimately grapple with the universal parental question of what it means to raise a successful child.