1. The Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom) by Adam Fisher (Twelve)
In the Silicon Valley where Fisher is from, the story isn’t about business or money, but rather, he explains, the “resistance, heroism, and struggle, yarns about the creation of something out of nothing – and the derring-do required to pull such a feat off.” In short, he writes, “dragon slaying.” Fisher’s riveting book, an oral history of Silicon Valley, is based on more than 200 interviews, and with great skill and discipline, he has created a narrative that reflects the conflicting and contradictory reports and priorities, from Atari to artificial intelligence. There are some juicy tidbits – for example that Steve Wozniak hated Steve Jobs so much that he did not attend Jobs’ funeral – but for the most part Fisher’s book is free of score-settling and self-aggrandizement. His focus is on something altogether larger: the story of America’s greatest transformation since the Industrial Revolution.
2. The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age by David E. Sanger (Crown)
This book by a New York Times national security correspondent is a forceful wakeup call about the threat of cyberattacks in the modern world. Going well beyond news of Russian election hacking, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sanger describes the range and forms these attacks can take, and raises an alarm for Americans – for instance, on the vulnerability of electric grids and nuclear plants, and on a crippling “cyber Pearl Harbor.” In his smart and prescient analysis, Sanger articulates how the current federal focus on massive cyberattacks, plus bureaucracy and inattention, can overlook more subtle operations that can undermine institutions and governments without actually declaring war or dropping a bomb.
3. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
With her fourth work of fiction, the wildly and subversively brilliant My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh may finally be having her moment, winning rave reviews and a New Yorker profile. Eileen, her last novel, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was a dark portrayal of a damaged, ironically resilient misfit of a woman. At the center of this book is an unnamed narrator who decides to spend a year in “hibernation,” to create a world in which consumption and relationships are unnecessary. The world’s worst psychiatrist stocks her with random pill samples and another drug that produces three-day blackouts, and the result is a novel that shines a bright light on the absurdity of life.
4. The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur (Random House)
As in British country house novels, stories involving weddings and funerals provide ideal spaces for all the action and emotional turmoil to happen under one roof. Mazur’s enchanting new novel does just that. A Brookline, Mass., prenuptial rehearsal dinner for 25 guests spanning three generations of two vastly different families – one consisting of slightly bohemian activists and professors, the other a set of stiff lawyers – to be united by marriage the next day, sets off a set of fireworks. Sharp but generous, Mazur fully imagines the players in this ensemble drama down to the table seating plan, including the bride (veterinarian) and groom (poet), other assorted self-involved adults, an array of offspring, and even an empty chair for Prophet Elijah, or as the hostess puts it, “in case I’ve forgotten anybody.”
5. From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir by Beck Dorey-Stein (Spiegel & Grau)
New to Washington, D.C., Dorey-Stein responded to a Craigslist ad for a stenographer. To her surprise, the 25-year-old got the job and traveled with President Barack Obama in Air Force One to 45 countries around the globe, responsible for recording and transcribing his conversations with world leaders. Unlike the recent memoirs by so many ex-Obama staffers that focus on politics and policy, Dorey-Stein takes more of a Bridget Jones approach as she recounts protocol and wardrobe mishaps, office politics, romantic entanglements, the awkwardness of running on a treadmill with POTUS, and the enormity of daily joys and tragedies on the world stage.