REVIEW: How Will Humanity Survive the 21st Century?, Being Fat, and More


1. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (Spiegel & Grau) 

In his best-sellers Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, Harari explained the past through history and biology and looked to the future in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow anticipating technology’s dramatic reset of civilization. His new book turns to the present and just hit the New York Times best-seller list, confirming the status of the history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a brilliant writer and thinker who has found an audience. Harari lucidly explains everything from Trump, Brexit, terrorism, immigration and religion to artificial intelligence, and makes a clarion call for mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance to allow for what is unknown.

2. Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called "Alien" by Jeremy N. Smith (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Through a rebellious female undergraduate student at MIT in the mid-1990s with the codename “Alien” who ends up becoming CEO of a computer security company, Smith provides a fascinating perspective into the secretive world of hacking and “hacktivism.” Entwining the story of “Alien” and the development of the skills she developed while hacking with the emerging world of Big Data, Smith explores why and how hackers do their work. After a stint at Los Alamos National Laboratory after college, “Alien” landed at a major cybersecurity firm and Smith gets behind the hacking mystique by detailing how she hacked her own employers, bringing readers into a unique world and revealing the impossibility of real cyber-security.

3. The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America by Tommy Tomlinson (Simon & Schuster)

Obesity is one of our most persistent social stigmas, and in his thoughtful, beautifully written memoir Tomlinson explains how it feels to grow up dramatically overweight in America. A gifted writer who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in Commentary for his work in the Charlotte Observer, Tomlinson recounts in detail his lifetime addiction to food, and his constant craving for highly-caloric food like Krispy Kremes, greasy cheese burgers and bags of Ruffles potato chips that led him to a severely obese 460 pounds. Tomlinson, host of podcast SouthBound in partnership with WFAE, Charlotte’s NPR station, must now vigilantly monitor his caloric intake and lifestyle in a constant battle to lose weight, suffering not only with shame but also with the uncomfortable and dangerous effects of his condition. In a nation where obesity is so widespread, Tomlinson’s journey of self-determination and discovery is one that millions of Americans can find inspiration.

4. Annelies by David R. Gillham (Viking)

In his well-researched and imaginative novel, Gillham envisions that Anne Frank survived Bergen-Belsen, was liberated to British-occupied Germany and reunited with her father in Amsterdam. Illuminating the period in which she wrote Diary of a Young Girl while hiding with her family in "Het Achterhuis" (The House Behind), Gillum then creates an alternative reality, one that resonates with the stories of so many survivors of the Holocaust who are plagued by survivor guilt, grief and anger. Much of the turmoil in this engrossing novel is generated by the conflict between Anne and her father over the diary, and while Gillham portrays Anne as a complex, and understandably bitter woman, he gives her the gift of living to see that her diary did good in the world.

5. Talk to Me by John Kenney (Putnam)

Because New Yorker contributor Kenney’s Truth in Advertising, a witty send up of corporate culture and the advertising business, won the Thurber Prize for American Humor and his wit appeared in Disquiet, Please!, a collection of the magazine’s humor writing, one might anticipate his sophomore novel as another smart satire. This wit is evident in Talk to Me, but this is also a ferocious and damning social novel, aiming at the absence of nuance in today’s ‘news’ and social media’s gyration between adulation and derision. At the center of Kenney’s funny and generous story is a national beloved TV anchor, adored by all but his estranged wife and daughter who works for an internet gossip site, who disgraces himself, but gets himself together and eventually finds himself trending on Twitter.