1. Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism by Bhu Srinivasan (Penguin Press)
India-born media entrepreneur Srinivasan brings an exuberant lens to his panoramic story of American capitalism as a series of “Next Big Things.” Beginning with Chapter 1, “Venture,” in which Srinivasan depicts the Mayflower as a venture capital project, he progresses through four centuries in 35 highly readable, thematic chapters like “Steam,” “Retail,” “Banking” and “Television,” to “Mobile.” He argues that America resembles a “perpetual construction zone,” and that conflicts over it are inherent in the ongoing blend of capitalism and democracy.
2. Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory by Michael Korda (Liveright Publishing)
Christopher Nolan’s rousing film Dunkirk may have sparked new interest in the battle itself, but Korda’s Alone goes beyond it in his richly rewarding and nuanced account of World War II’s dawn in Europe, the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat toward the English Channel and the German blitz of France and Belgium. Korda, former editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster and author of best-sellers like Clouds of Glory, was a little boy in London listening to BBC at the war’s outset and was eventually evacuated. His experience enriches this engaging, multifaceted history. Korda’s “Defeat into Victory” theme is resonant and inspiring, particularly in today’s troubled times.
3. What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man by Art Garfunkel (Knopf)
In this handsome little book of musings, reflections and stories, Garfunkel has assembled charming pieces that provide the arc of his life, beginning as a Jewish boy from Queens. His vocal chords “vibrated with the love of sound since I was five and began to sing with the sense of God’s gift running through me,” he writes. In his sixth-grade graduation play (Alice in Wonderland), he met Paul Simon, and what began as demo of “Hey, Schoolgirl” led to the national charts and the birth of Simon & Garfunkel, one of the most successful duos ever. A digitized version of Garfunkel’s handwriting was created especially for this book, and the text of poetry bits, book lists, notes and mini-essays, with photographs throughout, are a delightful embodiment of this creative and enduring musician.
4. The Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This fascinating memoir originated in Mirvis’s New York Times essay on her Orthodox Jewish divorce ceremony, but she enriches it beyond the details of that ancient ritual. Here, Mirvis steps back and grapples with questions about her upbringing, and what it meant to leave her insular, scripted world to rediscover and reinvent herself as an independent woman, a mother with shared custody of her children, and a writer. The author of three previous novels, including the best-selling The Ladies Auxiliary, Mirvis brings a light touch to her story of starting life anew and coming into her own.
5. Sisters by Lily Tuck (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Written with the elegance of a prose poem, Tuck’s novel focuses on an unnamed narrator, the second wife of a man with two teenage children. Tuck, winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction for The News from Paraguay, writes with a pristine clarity absent in so much fiction today. What seems to be a novel of domestic life and marriage features an increasingly dislocated, status-conscious narrator, but the haunting conclusion of Sisters reveals it actually to be about the destructive power of self-delusion, insecurity and obsession. This delicately structured novel can be read in an afternoon, and it packs a powerful punch.