1. Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Linda Hirshman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
It may seem that #MeToo movement began with the shocking revelations from The New Yorker and The New York Times about Harvey Weinstein’s behavior, but in Reckoning, Hirshman traces how resistance to sexual harassment built over decades. Hirshman, a lawyer and cultural historian, looks back to Catharine MacKinnon and her 1979 book Sexual Harassment of Working Women, which argued that this aggression and manipulation violated the Civil Rights Act, and analyzes the Supreme Court confirmations from the Clarence Thomas hearing and the treatment of Anita Hill to the explosive Brett Kavanaugh proceedings. Hirshman vividly recounts the twisted road toward collective agreement on the meaning of “consent” and highlights women who fought for their empowerment and the hashtag activism that galvanized the movement against sexual harassment.
2. The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington by Martha Saxton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Mary Ball Washington, mother of George Washington, has been deemed crude, shrewish, and unloving, but in this excellent book, Saxton rescues her from this unfair stereotype and places her in Colonial history. Saxton, emerita professor at Amherst College, doggedly and creatively uncovers evidence that establishes Mary Washington as a resilient and resourceful woman who was a widowed mother of five, had lost her own parents when she was an adolescent, and had few resources upon which to draw. Saxton does not sugarcoat Washington, however, recognizing that as a slaveholder she was often cruel, and with sophisticated understanding of the era, she grounds Washington very much in the morality of the day and the powerful influence of religious beliefs.
3. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 by Dorian Lynskey (Doubleday)
The election of Donald Trump propelled George Orwell’s 1984 onto the best-seller lists. On its 70th anniversary, 1984 resonates with readers who find the ethos and phraselogy, such as “Big Brother,” “doublethink,” and the “Thought Police,” eerily familiar today, at a moment that Lynskey regards as a “dark time for liberal democracy.” Lynskey, a British writer focusing on politics, music, and film, illuminates the development of Orwell’s ideas and his experience fighting against Franco in Spain and also extends his fascinating book to consider the cultural evolution of 1984 within the context of dystopian fiction and explains why it is so resonant today.
4. The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century by Clay Risen (Scribner)
In his fascinating account of future President Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders,” the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, Risen spotlights a great moment of American expansionism beginning with the annexation of Hawaii. Risen, deputy op-ed editor of The New York Times, recounts more than military maneuvers, highlighting the idealism of the volunteers committed to the idea of American superiority which propelled Roosevelt to the White House. Risen extends his narrative beyond Cuba, San Juan Hill, and Puerto Rico, and through his imaginative use of firsthand accounts he conveys the idea of American exceptionalism and the growing perception that the U.S. had an obligation, and self-interest, to extend its values beyond its borders.
5. Donna Has Left the Building by Susan Jane Gilman (Grand Central Press)
Gilman made her name with a trio of memoirs, including Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless and Kiss My Tiara, which established her as a writer who grew up on New York’s Upper West Side with agnostic Jewish parents, a wry wit, and a sense that she didn’t fit in. Her first novel, the very smart The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, tracks the Russian immigrant world from Ellis Island to the 1980s. In her new equally generous, hilarious work of fiction, a 45-year-old “bad Jewish girl,” recovering alcoholic, and flamed-out punk rocker leaves her dentist husband and his dominatrix and narrates her road trip, and a final sharp twist in the novel provides it with a special meaning.