5 HOT BOOKS: Fighting a Rare Illness, Muhammad Ali's Legal Woes, and More

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

1. Testimony by Scott Turow (Grand Central Publishing)

It has been 30 years since Turow’s mega-bestseller Presumed Innocent, and in Testimony, his engrossing new page-turner, he leaves Kindle County behind for Bosnia, Washington, D.C., and the Hague. Boom is leading an investigation into a report that a decade earlier, more than 400 Roma (commonly known as gypsies) had been herded into a cave and killed by explosives. Time passed, and while evidence of a mass atrocity seemed thin, the gypsies did disappear.  Like Rusty Sabich in Kindle County, Boom chases clues where they lead, and remains devoted to the ideals of the law, if somewhat sour on the practice. In this shift to an international stage, with its complex web of alliances and deceptions, Turow has created a compelling, all-consuming drama that maintains the themes that thread through his fiction: the contradictions and conflicts of characters with secrets, often from themselves, and how idealism can be shaken when law, politics, and capitalism mix to distort fairness and justice.

2. Sting Like a Bee: Muhammad Ali vs. The United States of America, 1966-1971 by Leigh Montville (Doubleday)

Montville has found one of the most fascinating episodes of the turmoil-filled Vietnam Era: Muhammad Ali’s time as conscientious objector. A former Sports Illustrated senior writer and a biographer of athletes like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, Montville writes vividly about Muhammad Ali’s boxing career, from his start as an amateur in Louisville to his iconic battles with Joe Frazier.  At the same time, Sting Like a Bee delivers a rich social history of the period, tracing Ali’s embrace of Islam, and illuminating how during this brief five-year period, both the boxer and the nation transformed so dramatically. “He was part of an argument about race, religion, politics, war, and peace,” writes Montville. “Not to mention boxing. It was an unmatchable story.”

3. Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford (Ecco)

Ford chose the title of his exquisite memoir, he writes, in part “to suggest that by being born I literally came between my parents, a virtual place where I was sheltered and adored as long as they were alive.” Ford’s parents were married for 15 years before he – their only child – arrived.  His father was a traveling salesman, selling laundry starch for the Faultless Company.  Pulitzer Prize-winner Ford, author of Canada and Let Me Be Frank with You, among other books, divides this memoir into two parts. One is about his mother, written after she died in 1981. The other, about his father, who has been dead for nearly 55 years, he wrote more recently.  The two parts become fully whole, connected by the immense power of Ford’s insights and writerly skills. “Our parents’ lives, even those enfolded in obscurity, offer us our first, strong assurance that human events have consequence,” he writes in the afterword. “Here we are, after all.”

4. The Other Side of Impossible: Ordinary People Who Faced Daunting Medical Challenges and Refused to Give Up by Susannah Meadows (Random House)

In her hugely shared New York Times Magazine story "The Boy with the Thorn in His Joints," Meadows chronicled her son’s diagnosis with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a devastatingly painful condition that can last a lifetime. When the powerful medications with potentially harmful side effects failed, in desperation the family entered a “healthcare underground, women and families supporting each other, offering possible leads and kindness when traditional medicine was not enough.” In this compelling medical travelogue, Meadows describes “a community of the defiant” pursuing unfamiliar ways of healing, determined to solve the unsolvable.  A former senior writer for Newsweek, Meadows goes beyond her own story to connect with others across the country dealing with conditions ranging from MS to ADHD.  She heard their stories about alternative medicine, radical changes in diet, Chinese herbs, and consulted a wide range of medical professionals about what she was learning.  “After all,” Meadows writes, “what the people in this book show is that perseverance, taking control, can work.”

5. He Calls Me by Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty by S. Jonathan Bass (Liveright)

On a deserted highway one night in the summer of 1957, in the gritty city of Bessemer, Alabama, a white police officer named James “Cowboy” Clark stopped 17-year-old Caliph Washington for an alleged infraction. There was a struggle over Clark’s gun, Clark died, and Washington fled for Mississippi, where he was later captured. Historian Bass weaves a fascinating story out of this incident; the racist and legendarily corrupt 1950s Alabama town in which it took place; and the trials with all-white juries and successive appeals that ensued. Washington was on death row, awaiting the fearsome “lightning” of the electric chair, when Gov. George Wallace issued a reprieve – and this complicated, elusive tale of justice and injustice in the Deep South continues until Washington’s death, when he was still in a state of legal limbo.