1. The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught in Between by Michael Dobbs (Knopf)
In a sharp reminder that the Holocaust was not inevitable, Dobbs reconstructs life in Kippenheim, a small German village on the edge of the Black Forest where the Jewish residents desperately sought American visas to escape Nazi Germany. Dobbs, a veteran foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and author of an acclaimed history of the Cold War, now with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, zeroes in on how restrictive American immigration policies during the Nazi era prevented many German Jews from fleeing to safety in the United States. Dobbs clearly illuminates horrors on the international stage – like Kristallnacht and the deterrence of the St. Louis and its refugee passengers – and he tenderly, painfully recovers the stories of those who perished because they were unable to secure a visa during that xenophobic time in America.
2. Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home by Megan K. Stack (Doubleday)
A foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Stack recounted her experiences in the post 9/11 Middle East in her National Book Award-finalist Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War. She now turns her penetrating eye to the home front and the “enclosed landscape of working mothers.” With distinctive self-knowledge and insight, Stack digs into the unjust conundrum of hiring domestic help when she lived in Beijing and India, and the sticky compromises involved with employing needy, disadvantaged household servants and nannies who leave their own children to care for hers, perpetuating a cycle of global income inequality that does nothing for the shrinking middle class. With an unusual blend of rigorous empathy, Stack delves into the stories of the three women she employs and raises the issue that ad hoc domestic labor is “a jerry-rigged, flaw-riddled compromise that will never live up to its promise of upward mobility for one woman and personalized childcare for another.”
3. The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation by Mark Bowden (Grove)
His story ran in Baltimore’s now-defunct News-American two days after the young Lyons sisters vanished from a suburban Washington, D.C. shopping mall in 1975 with the headline “100 Searching Woods for 2 Missing Girls.” Then a green, 23-year-old reporter in pursuit of his first front-page story, and now the celebrated author of books of landmark reporting like Black Hawk Down, Bowden returns to that cold case and the detectives who cracked it nearly three decades later. In his riveting, suspenseful true-crime case study, he re-creates the investigation that was stymied by lack of physical evidence but when re-examined led to a pathological liar (and his clannish Appalachian family) who was imprisoned for child molestation and who eventually confessed to the crime.
4. The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business by Wright Thompson (Penguin)
Thompson, repeatedly anthologized in the annual Best American Sports Writing, which he once guest edited, considers the literary magazine sports story a form of uniquely American art – akin not to the symphony of a novel or jazz improv of a poem but rather to “the hard, rough gut-punch of a blues song.” His powerfully insightful stories in this debut collection possess that power of the blues, its distinctive mix of melancholy and rhythm, as he writes about notable athletes like Michael Jordan or coaches like Pat Riley in the twilight of their careers when their performance dwindles and the world’s attention has moved on to the next star. A senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, Wright is a supremely gifted writer who cuts through mythology with a scalpel. His original perspective on the world was developed when he was a child in Clarksdale, Mississippi, relentlessly curious about the simultaneous existence of beauty and inequality.
5. Cape May by Chip Cheek (Celadon)
Cheek’s smoldering debut novel focuses on naïve newlyweds from rural Georgia on their honeymoon in the chilly off-season of historic Cape May, New Jersey in the 1950s, at a moment of fading postwar innocence. When a trio of hedonistic socialites appear on the scene, the gin-infused dynamic of this ensemble drama subverts the couple’s romance and fidelity. In propulsive prose, Cheek provides an eerie, suspenseful thrill, and the callow narrator reflects the world on the brink of change.