1. Know My Name by Chanel Miller (Viking)
The woman previously known as Emily Doe, referred to as the “unconscious intoxicated woman” in the 2015 Stanford sexual assault case, has a name – Chanel Miller – and her eloquent memoir has hit the best-seller lists. From her assault and the aftermath, the trial in which star swimmer Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail (serving only three), to her victim impact statement that was posted on BuzzFeed and went viral and is included in Know My Name, Miller distinguishes herself not only for her resilience and fortitude, but also for her power of expression. She possesses extraordinary gifts as a writer with a keen, perceptive understanding of class stratifications, gender dynamics, and her own psyche, evident in her decision to be known. “For years,” she writes, “the crime of sexual assault depended on our silence.”
2. Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz (Viking)
With force and elegance, New Yorker staff writer Marantz clearly documents social media’s empowerment of bigotry, propaganda, and right-wing extremism. His deeply reported book offers the story of “how a few disruptive entrepreneurs, motivated by naivete and reckless techno-utopianism, built powerful new systems full of unforeseen vulnerabilities, and how a motley cadre of edgelords, motivated by bigotry and bad faith and nihilism, exploited those vulnerabilities to highjack the American conversation.” Marantz’s long view, from mass-printed book to trending hashtags, is robust with stories of tech entrepreneurs, alt-right extremists, misogynists and racists, and gatekeepers like Mark Zuckerberg, arguing for his innocence because Facebook is a “platform,” not a “publisher.”
3. Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It by Richard Stengel (Grove Atlantic)
Stengel, a former Time magazine top editor and a respected journalist who collaborated with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography and oversaw public diplomacy for Barack Obama’s State Department, delivers an engrossing insider report on media manipulation and the spread of bad information. He is tough on anemic attempts to combat misleading and fake content, exhorting media organizations to avoid “sponsored content” and brainless “clickbait,” and to bring vigorous energy to fighting disinformation that amplifies social divisions. Stengel, once head of the National Constitution Center, brings his deep understanding of politics, international relations, and how media works, and writes in his smart book: “By televising hundreds of hours of Trump’s campaign speeches, CNN did a whole lot more to elect him than Russia Today did.”
4. Barack and Joe: The Making of an Extraordinary Partnership by Steven Levingston (Hachette)
Levingston, nonfiction book editor of the Washington Post and author of Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights, has a gift for shedding light on odd couples who forge working relationships in the glare of the public eye. While self-interest forced Obama and Biden together after the veep sweepstakes in 2008, Levington details how the pair evolved from Senate colleagues to an effective president and vice president, with the reserved Obama showing Biden “the path to discipline.” Particularly now, with Biden’s status as a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination challenged, a tinge of nostalgia informs Levingston’s deeply insightful, highly readable narrative.
5. Right after the Weather by Carol Anshaw (Atria)
The 2016 election is just around the corner and life is complicated in Anshaw’s latest wonderfully wry and tender novel, featuring Cate, an underpaid theater set designer who is stuck in a surreptitious relationship with another woman and saddled with her ex-husband, who has moved into her spare bedroom. Anshaw creates a rich assortment of urban characters, and her genius resides in Cate’s evolving impressions and her unspooling of their backstories, enriched by sharp but generous observations of their characters and home décor. With a deft hand, Anshaw builds suspense and a sense of foreboding, and then unleashes a crisis and a set of decisions that fully reveal her marvelous ensemble cast.