5 HOT BOOKS: Bobby Kennedy's Evolution, Why Popularity Matters, and More

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

1. The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest after JFK by John R. Bohrer (Bloomsbury Press)

In The Revolution of Robert Kennedy, historian and MSNBC news producer Bohrer focuses on the years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, when brass-knuckled younger brother Bobby Kennedy transformed himself into a national leader and the voice of a new generation. Bohrer chronicles Kennedy’s evolution from his brother’s campaign manager and Attorney General into an idealistic United States Senator from New York who questioned the Johnson Administration’s Vietnam policy, advocated for important social welfare programs, and became an international human rights activist.

2. Swell by Jill Eisenstadt (Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown)

After a three-decade break, Eisenstadt -- author of From Rockaway and Kiss Out -- returns to fiction with Swell, a sharp comedy about a family’s desperate escape from its tiny Tribeca apartment to a house in Queens.  The Glassmans can only afford the house if expectant wife Sue converts to Judaism, the condition her father-in-law has set for providing financial help. Before long, her father-in-law moves into the house, followed soon thereafter by the 90-year-old previous owner who fled her assisted living facility. Chaos ensues in this charming novel.

3. The Answers by Catherine Lacy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Lacey, one of Granta’s 2017 “Best of Young American Novelists,” has written a fast-paced, raw, and highly imagined work of fiction. With a mysterious treatment-defying disease, Mary finds relief in “Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia,” an expensive New Age holistic treatment. To pay for it, she signs on to be part of the “Girlfriend Experiment,” a lavishly funded biotech project, in which different women are assigned distinct “girlfriend” functions that together will purportedly make the perfect girlfriend. Mary is assigned “Emotional Girlfriend,” but there are also angry and maternal girlfriends, all monitored by the “Intimacy Team” – inventive components of a novel bubbling over with heart and social commentary.

4. We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman (CustomHouse/William Morrow)

In interviews over a span of four years, Pearlman spoke with hundreds of Syrian refugees, and through their voices tries to explain the Syrian uprising, the civil war, and the crisis that has unfolded. In this poignant collection, Pearlman, a professor of Comparative Politics at Northwestern University who speaks Arabic and has studied the Arab World for more than two decades, curates stories from a wide swath of Syrians. She interviews Christians and Muslims, die-hard activist rebels and peace activists, housewives and teenagers, and businessmen trying to make a buck. Out of this chorus of disparate voices, Pearlman creates a compelling narrative of displacement and resilience.

 5. Popular: The Power of Likeability in a Status-Obsessed World by Mitch Prinstein (Viking Books)

In this fascinating scientific study, Prinstein argues that popularity in the early years is more predictive of adult success and happiness than natural intelligence or family background. The hitch is that there are two kinds of popularity. Those who pursue popularity based on status rather than likeability, argues Prinstein, end up unhappy. Those who are actually likeable – who work well with others, and are kind and generous -- enjoy the most success. Prinstein, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, argues that as society becomes increasingly fixated on fame, power and wealth, it is important to understand the dynamics of how they are achieved – and how they aren’t.