1. Grant by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press)
His biography of Alexander Hamilton was the basis for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage phenomenon, and now Chernow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Washington: A Life, has turned to redeeming the reputation of Ulysses S. Grant. Chernow rejects the common view that Grant was an incompetent philistine and drunkard. Instead, in this sprawling and brilliant work, he seeks to reestablish our 18th President’s place in history, arguing that beyond his instrumental role in the Union victory, Grant was the “single most important figure behind Reconstruction,” whose his hard work to gain freedom and justice for black Americans has been woefully overlooked.
2. Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife by Pamela Bannos (University of Chicago Press)
Vivian Maier worked as a suburban nanny and was posthumously discovered as a remarkably talented photographer after boxes of pictures, negatives, slides, albums and more than 1000 roles of undeveloped film were found in her abandoned storage lockers. In her engrossing new book, Bannos, a Northwestern University professor, takes issue with Maier’s reputation as a lucky savant, a myth cultivated after her death by those who profited off exhibitions and sales of her work. Bannos traces Maier’s complicated family lineage to France, and depicts her as a serious photographer who walked New York and Chicago with a Rolleiflex around her neck and developed her own unique aesthetic.
3. The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway (Portolio/Penguin)
Galloway, one of the most provocative thinkers about the digital economy, has written an insightful book based on his acclaimed YouTube talk “The Four Horseman,” in which he explained how four tech giants – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – exert staggering influence over our personal lives and the economy. A serial entrepreneur and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he teaches brand strategy and digital marketing, Galloway contends that this quartet of companies appeals to particular and specific human needs: Amazon (hunting and gathering), Apple (procreation), Facebook (love), and Google (a knowing God). He explains each company’s origin and success in digital competition, and analyzes their influence over public policy and the economy, not all of it to the good.
4. The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost by Peter Manseau (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
A century before “fake news,” there was spirit photography. In his fascinating new book, Manseau, curator of religion at the Smithsonian, explores the origins of the ghostly images and manipulated documents that resonated with a grief-stricken nation after the Civil War. At the center of Manseau’s narrative is photographer William H. Mumler, who sold portraits of the living with shadows resembling their dead loved ones, creations for which he was prosecuted for fraud but acquitted. Manseau draws provocative connections between Mumler and the story of photography’s infancy and the troubled media landscape of our own time.
5. Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haimes (Henry Holt)
Long-time Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, has won attention for her criticism of the “helicopter parenting” phenomenon. Now, Lythcott-Haimes turns the lens on herself, the child of a black father and white mother, and grapples with her own identity. Written in short, impressionistic, elegant chapters, Real American focuses on the evolution of Lythcott-Haims’s own consciousness, from her grappling with slavery to her thoughts about the Charleston church slayings – and, most interestingly, her own identity.