1. Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward (Harper)
Albright, a former secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, draws on her childhood experience in Europe during World War II and later work as a prominent American diplomat to look at the reinvigoration of fascism today. In her bracing, authoritative book, Albright examines 20th-century fascists such as Hitler and Mussolini and discusses how leaders such as Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin are following in their footsteps. Looking to America, she zeros in on a current president who stokes fires of racist and nativist anxiety and disparages democratic solutions and the rule of law, suggesting that fascism at home and abroad is on the ascendance, and a clear and present danger.
2. Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution by Priya Satia (Penguin Press) In her fascinating history of arms manufacturing during Britain’s Industrial Revolution, Satia provides an overlooked link between empire and technologies of violence. Although this book is against militarism and imperialism, Stanford University history professor Satia argues that culture and violence produce one another and that the vast international arms trade of the time was entwined not only with the military but also with government and the economy. Underscoring this, Satia focuses on the story of one of Britain’s most important gunmakers, a Quaker damned by his fellow Friends for violating the spirit of their faith, who contended that arms manufacturing was so essential to modern capitalism that progress would be impossible without it.
3. Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America by Gregory Pardlo (Knopf)
Poets, with their refined ability to shift vantage points and their keen talent for homing in on the quotidian details that distinguish random experiences, seem to have superpowers when it comes to autobiographical prose. Pardlo’s work is in this tradition. Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Pardlo has delivered a shimmering memoir tracking his furtive steps toward manhood as his forceful labor-organizer father spiraled downward after losing his job when President Ronald Reagan broke the 1981 air traffic controllers strike. Economical in style and robust in scope, Air Traffic tells of evolving from destructive rebellion to the pursuit of being a cosmopolitan artist with a “magical blue passport.”
4. Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Morris blends the Spanish Inquisition and the contemporary American Southwest in this glorious novel. The lineage of Luis, a Spanish Jew who publicly is Catholic yet secretly remains Jewish, and who serves as an interpreter for Columbus, provides a spine for the novel as it segues through centuries, with his descendants eventually landing in the impoverished New Mexico desert town of Entrada de la Luna (Gateway to the Moon). One of them, young Miguel, escapes the limits of his town, intersects with a Jewish family, and is fascinated by the moon – which once was used to navigate his ancestor around the world.
5. Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography by Julia Van Haaften (W. W. Norton)
In this handsome biography of 20th-century American photographer Berenice Abbott, which includes more than 90 of her spectacular photographs, Van Haaften traces the arc of the pioneering artist’s life and work and places both within the context of modernism. Van Haaften, who is the founding curator of the New York Public Library’s photography collection, recounts how Abbott, an out-of-the-mold Ohio teenager, flourished artistically in Paris and Greenwich Village, yet as a lesbian targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for her left-wing politics did not receive the remuneration and recognition she deserved. Van Haaften also makes a compelling case for Abbott’s place in the canon as a first-rate creator with an innovative aesthetic.