1. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Viking)
The science of unconscious racial bias is the focus of pathbreaking Stanford University psychology professor and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Eberhardt in her fascinating new book. She illuminates the far reaches of cognitive biases and stereotypes by entwining her own experiences, moving from her predominantly black neighborhood to a white suburb, with cutting-edge research about the human brain as a categorization machine. Eberhardt analyzes police department data to develop a deep understanding of the criminal justice system and writes with lucidity and insight that should propel her ideas and Biased into the national conversation.
2. Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian by Sato Moughalian (Redwood Press/Stanford University Press)
In her extraordinary book, flutist Moughalian chronicles the vivid life of her grandfather, the Armenian ceramicist and tile-maker whose distinctive color and design survived him and continue to enrich Jerusalem. Moughalian draws from her own artistic sensibilities to capture her grandfather’s passion for his craft, from his beginnings in a remote Anatolian mountain village through surviving the Armenian Genocide to his creation of the magical ceramics that abounds in and enriches the city of Jerusalem. More than merely a tribute to the talents of her grandfather, Moughalian’s book is a work of alchemy – combining the personal, tragic history writ large, and the somehow uplifting power of enduring art.
3. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence edited by Michele Filgate (Simon & Schuster)
It’s the season for flowery Hallmark cards and Facebook celebrations of loving mothers, and this sharp, smart collection offers solace, inspiration, and insight to those for whom the bond may be more nuanced and vexed. Filgate includes her powerful 2017 Longreads essay about the sexual abuse inflicted by her stepfather that fractured her relationship with her mother. While these essays span the relationship spectrum, they are most moving when they home in on revelatory flashes, such as when Dylan Landis learns of her mother’s connection with painter Haywood “Bill” Rivers, Kiese Laymon grasps the influence of sexual abuse by his baby-sitter, and Cathi Hanauer comes to terms with why her mother won’t stand up for herself.
4. Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear by Bryce Andrews (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Such a sad story of humans encroaching on the natural world, leading to tragic consequences. Andrews, a Montana-based writer and conservationist, tells without sentimentality the story of “Millie,” a grizzly bear mother who is killed by poachers, leaving her two cubs helpless. At the same time, she follows those who try to catch the poachers, and others whose priority is to keep the cubs safe. A gorgeous writer, Andrews fully grasps the delicate balance in an ecosystem where the land necessary for bears to survive is dwindling, and human coexistence with wild animals seems increasingly imperiled.
5. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Take a bit of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (repressed suburban tension, immigration, parenting), add the deft suspense of Scott Turow’s courtroom thrillers and the high-interest issue of autism, and the result is Kim’s engrossing debut novel. Kim, who like Turow graduated from Harvard Law School and was a high-powered litigator before turning to fiction, centers her story on the trial following a deadly fire at a Korean-owned alternative health facility that provides HBOT (hyperbaric oxygenation therapy) intended to treat both autism and male infertility. Kim’s keen insights into the pressures and the often competitive dynamics of parenting special needs children infuse this tense legal drama.