1. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells (Tim Duggan Books/Crown)
In 2017, Wallace-Wells’ essay in New York magazine contending that the threat of climate change was worse than that of the bomb went viral, capturing public attention the way Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring did more than half a century ago. Wallace-Wells, a national fellow at the New America foundation and deputy editor of New York, pinpoints moments of “evolutionary reset” in what he describes as his kaleidoscopic accounting of the human costs of human life. In his eloquent and lucid account, Wallace-Wells quantifies the cascading damages and foresees the future in a way neither abstract nor distant but rather completely harrowing.
2. Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence by Alex Berenson (Simon & Schuster)
In his case against marijuana, Berenson has spurred debate and challenged conventional wisdom as more states are legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. A former New York Times reporter and the author of the Edgar Award-winning John Wells spy thriller series, Berenson argues that the toll of marijuana use has been hidden by well-financed advocates who reject the idea that legalization of the potent drug is linked to psychosis and schizophrenia and is a gateway to further drug use. He has won many admirers for his bold stand, but also inspired a huge backlash from critics who maintain that he cherry-picks evidence and relies on paranoia to make his arguments against legalization.
3. The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America, edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman (Little, Brown)
The title of this essay collection is a response to the idea that immigrants are “bad” until they do something heroic like win an Olympic medal or rescue a child, thereby becoming “good.” The editors published a previous collection by British writers of color and now with the immigration debate in America raging and white supremacy on the rise, they have gathered a brilliant selection of essays on immigration in the United States. Well-known voices like those of Alexander Chee and Porochista Khakpour are welcome reminders of the ferocity and talent in the range of immigrant experiences. But the editors have also drawn work from writers who should be more famous, such as fiction writer Fatima Farheen Mirza, who contributed a heartbreaking and infuriating essay about Donald Trump, Syrian refugees, and Skittles. Open the book to any essay and be dazzled by the dramatic scope of the immigrant experience, sure to inspire the full range of human emotion.
4. Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev (Simon & Schuster)
“Russian sentences begin backward.” So opens Shalmiyev in her intense, engaging memoir. It zigs and zags through her 1980s childhood in Leningrad with her increasingly estranged Russian mother and her Azerbaijani father, who abandoned his wife and escaped to New York with their young daughter. Drawing from her shards of memory, evolving feminism, and passion for art and history, Shalmiyev returns to Russia in a fruitless quest for her mother, and her sharp, poetic asides provide a propulsive intensity that pushes the boundaries of personal history.
5. Trigger by David Swinson (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown)
In the final mystery in his trilogy starring Frank Marr, Swinson continues to situate his drama on the seedy streets of Washington, D.C., with his functioning addict private eye now in recovery. With ripped-from-the-headlines intensity, Swinson has Marr investigating his former partner’s possible involvement in the shooting of an African-American boy, and ratchets up the drama by having Marr enlist the help of a young man he had once victimized. As they travel through the capital city’s drug underworld, Swinson sustains the velocity of the drama and ingeniously gets at the power dynamic of personal relationships with nuance and generosity toward broken people in his messy world of ambiguous boundaries.