1. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Penguin Press)
Kantor and Twohey’s She Said should sit on a bookshelf with All the President’s Men, and not just because it is written by a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporters. Kantor and Twohey’s new book, destined to be a classic like Bernstein and Woodward’s, tells the engrossing story behind their 2017 bombshell New York Times story about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and harassment in Hollywood which helped launch the #MeToo movement. Like revelations by Bernstein and Woodward on Watergate or the film Spotlight on the Catholic Church, Kantor and Twohey crack the code on power in Hollywood and reveal the painstaking, relentless, and suspenseful process of challenging the social structures and institutions that protect the powerful.
2. Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser (Ecco)
Susan Sontag was, as Moser writes in his big, absorbing biography, “America’s last great literary star, a flashback to a time when writers could be, more than simply respected or well-regarded, famous.” In Sontag, a cultural study of intellectual celebrity, he renders the arc of her life in a dramatic period of cultural change. Making the most of his extraordinary access to Sontag’s family and friends as well as her personal archive, Moser adroitly captures the contradictory, compelling intellectual and provocateur who engaged in a constant process of self-transformation. He recounts her entanglements with a huge cast of famous figures, including her lovers Warren Beatty and Joseph Brodsky, and portrays her last relationship, with photographer Annie Leibovitz, in wrenching detail.
3. The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg by Eleanor Randolph (Simon & Schuster)
Randolph, a member of the New York Times editorial board until 2016, has covered billionaire Bloomberg, particularly his tenure as mayor of New York City, and draws from her deep experience to deliver an excellent chronicle of the work of this non-ideological but progressive, data-driven tycoon. Randolph traces Bloomberg’s rise from the Wall Street trader who developed terminals for instant data and analysis which transformed the industry to his technocratic mayoralty that improved bike lanes and plazas, introduced Citi Bike and the High Line, extended school choice, and banned smoking in much of New York. Although Randolph has not delivered a hagiography – she points to the police’s stop-and-frisk program and the failed West Side Stadium – she makes clear that the pragmatic Bloomberg was appreciated by New Yorkers who may not have been emotionally engaged by his style but voted him in three times .
4. Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS by Azadeh Moaveni (Random House)
In an effort to explore the phenomenon of why women join ISIS, Iranian American journalist Moaveni zeroes in on 13 Muslim Tunisian, British, Syrian, and German women and girls who become radicalized and get themselves to Syria in support of jihad. Moaveni finds an unlikely set of women, many educated and apparently Westernized, motivated to jihad by disparate reasons, including the romance of violence. With nuance and sensitivity, Moaveni gets into the hearts and minds of these women and illuminates their deep yearnings, fears, and enthusiasm, shedding light on those vulnerable to the extremist message exploited by ISIS.
5. On Division by Goldie Goldbloom (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Goldbloom’s richly imagined novel is set in the constrictive life of the Chassidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the ground shifts as Surie, the married matriarch of a very traditional family with 10 children and 32 grandchildren, finds herself pregnant – with twins – at 57. She fears that because of this humiliation she will be shunned by her community and that her younger children’s marriage prospects and school choices will be limited. Goldbloom captures the full scale of human emotion in this family in a contemporary ultra-Orthodox community as Surie contends with this news, and somehow taps into the particular demands of Chassidic life, as well as the universality of shifting generational boundaries.