1. Siege: Trump Under Fire by Michael Wolff (Henry Holt)
Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House exposed details of shocking chaos, feuds, and incompetence in the administration and was one of the best-selling books of 2018. In this sequel, Wolff admits to a “train-wreck fascination with Trump,” and while Siege may lack the earlier book’s shock value, he still has an eye for scandalous details, and even though they are not new disclosures, he writes with outrageous theatricality. Steve Bannon – or, as Trump refers to him, “Sloppy Steve” – may no longer be in the White House, but he remains a great source for Wolff, who describes him as a “clear-eyed interpreter of the Trump phenomenon” and this energy propels Siege onto the best-seller lists, even if it lacks Fire and Fury’s velocity.
2. Roughhouse Friday: A Memoir by Jaed Coffin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In his beautiful memoir, Coffin focuses on his experience as an amateur boxer in southeastern Alaska and contends with his identity, fractured family, and masculinity. The son of a Thai mother and white American father, a Vietnam veteran, Coffin’s sense of alienation in New England leads him to a solo-kayak journey to Sitka. There, he tutors at-risk students and is drawn to boxing at a local gym, especially the monthly Roughhouse Friday, where men fight three one-minute rounds with finesse and power. Though this Alaskan boxing community, and through the physical and emotional demands of the sport, Coffin comes to terms with his own manhood and relates it with nuance and agility.
3. Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World
by Joseph Menn (PublicAffairs)
In his fascinating book, Reuters technology reporter Menn investigates the collective known as cDc or “Cult of the Dead Cow,” tracing its origins as a group of counter-culture, apolitical, and anonymous teenagers from Lubbock, Texas, that evolved into influential “hacktivists” today. With his deep knowledge and excellent sources, Menn details how the group worked – when they weren’t thwarted by internecine conflicts – to reveal the weakness and porousness of the web. Interested in cybersecurity and the ethics involved with technology, Menn exposes how the cDc emerged from the underground into the highest reaches of international government and commerce to bring their sophisticated understanding to the global frontier.
4. The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung (Ecco)
In Chung’s smart novel, an outsider looks back on her life. As a midcentury mathematics prodigy with an immigrant Chinese mother and a white father in heartland America, Katherine has been discouraged but works her way into a world of geniuses and sets out to solve the seemingly impossible Riemann hypothesis. Chung deftly explores Katherine’s connections with the other women frustrated in their determination to ascend in the hypercompetitive, male-dominated field of mathematics. She also examines Katherine’s voyage of self-discovery, a personal quest that leads her to the mysteries of her identity, which involve the secrets of her parents’ lives, a notebook of equations from Germany, and the ravaging of Europe in World War II.
5. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (Scribner)
A pair of rookie Irish American cops bond in the Bronx, and their families grow enmeshed when they become suburban neighbors in Keane’s wonderfully immersive novel, which spans four decades and is told from multiple perspectives. Alliances form, tensions flare, and estrangements develop over the years as the pressures of police work and family life play out for these families. Keane, whose last novel, Fever, was about Typhoid Mary, is a wonderfully empathic storyteller whose fiction is evocative of J. Courtney Sullivan (Maine, The Engagements), and with Ask Again, Yes just hitting the best-seller lists, she may have found the audience that her generous, perceptive novels deserve.