1. America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges (Simon & Schuster)
A former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times who was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on global terrorism, Hedges has turned his attention to domestic matters and the greedy moment in history that “vomited up a figure like Trump.” In his fiery new book, Hedges, who now writes a column for Truthdig, delivers a polemic with chapters titled “Decay,” “Heroin,” “Work,” “Sadism,” “Hate,” “Gambling,” and “Freedom,” but he backs up his assertions with deep reporting from across the country. He draws on great thinkers of the past such as Plato, Hannah Arendt, Émile Durkheim, and James Baldwin and his own reports from protests at Standing Rock and Ferguson to argue that “corporate tyranny” has led to the frustration that sent Donald Trump to the White House.
2. Small Fry: A Memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Grove)
Dismiss this book by Steve Jobs’ daughter as a celebrity child’s Daddy Dearest at your peril, because this psychologically insightful, artfully written memoir is a knockout, not a revenge fantasy. From Jobs’ denial of his paternity to his unkind words delivered from his deathbed, this was a fraught father-daughter relationship twisted by his emotional manipulation, yet Brennan-Jobs developed a deep understanding of the dynamic. For him, Lisa was a “blot on a spectacular ascent” that did not fit into his narrative and vision for himself; “my existence ruined his streak,” she writes. But she recognizes that the closer she was to him, “the less I would feel ashamed; he was part of the world, and he would accelerate me into the light.”
3. The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah (Liveright)
As nativist movements rise and nationalist impulses surge, distinguished scholar Appiah explores the question of identity in this shifting world in his fascinating new book. Focusing chapters on the origins of modern identity – creed, country, class, color, and culture – Appiah, who writes the Ethicist column for The New York Times and is a New York University philosophy professor, explores how conflicts have shaped identity over centuries. “There’s no dispensing with identities,” he argues eloquently, “but we need to understand them better if we can hope to refigure them, and free ourselves from mistakes about them that are often a couple of hundred years old.”
4. Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux (W.W. Norton)
Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women, Rioux’s book argues that Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of four sisters coming of age during the Civil War paved the way for a generation of women writers who were inspired by rebellious Jo March, who rejected society’s demands and became a writer. Rioux provides a compelling backstory of how the novel’s influence evolved and motivated so many women to challenge convention. She chronicles the novel’s many iterations in popular culture, from the film starring Katharine Hepburn to its references in TV shows such as Gilmore Girls and HBO’s Girls. Read Rioux’s engrossing book, then look for the latest incarnation of the film, this one to be directed by Greta Gerwig of Ladybird fame.
5. The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles (Riverhead Books)
In this gorgeous novel, an orphaned kitchen servant meets the daughter of a sugar baron on a plantation in Brazil in the 1930s, and they forge a deep relationship through their shared love of music. One evokes the life of Carmen Miranda and becomes a musical star, while the other possesses the talent of lyricism; together they move through Rio de Janeiro and Hollywood engaged in an intense, complicated friendship limned by ambition, deep-seated resentment, and betrayals. Peebles captures the complexity of these two women forever linked by their early bonds, and she vivifies their colorful times and the nuances in their relationship as it evolves over the decades.