Gordon H. Chang’s Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad is a phenomenal work of historical research, giving readers an unprecedented look at the daily lives of the Chinese workers whose ingenuity and perseverance led to the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Chang dives into the workers’ lives both in China and in the U.S., providing insight into what motivated the workers to move across the ocean as well as the unimaginable working conditions they faced once in the States. Critics have heaped praise on Chang, with The Wall Street Journal stating that “he has written a remarkably rich, human and compelling story of the railroad Chinese” and Publisher’s Weekly calling his work “vibrating and passionate.”
Books & More
Jason Barron combined entrepreneurial skills with artistic panache to create The Visual MBA: Two Years of Business School Packed into One Priceless Book of Pure Awesomeness. Barron used sketchnotes, a visual note-taking process, to retain information in his MBA program at Brigham Young University. The result turned to be so popular with professors and students alike that Barron turned the notes into a book, first through an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign and then through a publisher. The book is designed for anyone with a passing interest in the business world, and Barron’s lively illustrations make the most complex principle accessible to the lay person.
In How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, Esther Wojcicki distills the techniques she’s developed for over fifty years as an educator and parent to help readers raise self-reliant children. Combining research and reflection, Wojcicki’s outlines how her method, TRICK (for Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness), empowers children to develop skills to be resilient members of society. Wojcicki is the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School as well as the CEO of Global Moonshots in Education, a non-profit which aims to instruct teachers and business leaders in the TRICK methodology.
Perhaps you know Lori Gottlieb from her popular “Ask a Therapist” column in The Atlantic, or her previous bestsellers Marry Him and Stick Figure. In her compassionate and emotionally generous new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Gottlieb reveals a new side of herself when she pulls back the curtain of a therapist’s world. Part memoir and part case study, the book shifts between Gottlieb’s sessions with five different patients as well as her own work with her therapist, prompted by an unexpected crisis that upended her life. The result is a humane and empathetic exploration of six disparate characters struggling to take control of their lives as they journey back to happiness.
Alex Kotlowitz on Underestimating the Effects of Violence and the Stories that Knocked Him Off Balance
Alex Kotlowitz’s An American Summer focuses on the effects of gun violence on the lives of different Chicago residents in the summer of 2013. Kotlowitz spent four years following various inhabitants of the city’s South Side, using his prodigious research skills to examine the insidious and long-lasting reach that violence has on these people’s lives. The result is an unblinking look at the trauma enacted by gun violence, as well as a testament to the tenacity and courage of the Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. An American Summer adds to Kotlowitz’s already impressive roster of works of journalism, including The Other Side of the River and There Are No Children Here, which was listed by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. The New York Times Book Review called An American Summer “a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents,” while NPR.org hailed it as “a painful chronicle about an extremely violent city based on the narratives of those who managed to survive its streets.”
Doris, the vibrant nonagenarian at the heart of Sofia Lundberg’s The Red Address Book, lives by herself in her Stockholm apartment, sustained by the weekly Skype sessions with her beloved grand-niece Jenny. Her thick address book stands as a testament to her rollercoaster life, which include stints as a housekeeper for a famous artist in Sweden and a fashion model in 1930’s Paris. Filled with the names of people long passed away, the address book soon becomes a vehicle for Doris to tell Jenny not only the stories of her daring past but also to fill in the gaps of their family’s painful history. What follows is a beautifully rendered love story between great aunt and grand-niece that stretches across continents. The Red Address Book was a hit in its native Sweden, and now readers in the States can fall in love with the book that The New York Times calls “the sort of easy-reading tale that will inspire readers to pull up a comfy chair to the fire, grab a mug of cocoa and a box of tissues and get hygge with it.”
In Cherokee America, Margaret Verble crafts a thrilling saga of threatened familial bonds, all centered around an unforgettable character, Cherokee America Singer, also known as “Check.” Ten years after the Civil War has wrecked havoc on the Cherokee Nation West, Check struggles to care for a dying husband while running her family farm. Tensions in her community escalate when a fabled stash of gold goes missing, and Check soon finds herself forced to make nearly impossible decisions to keep her splintering family together. Margaret Verble’s first novel, Maud’s Line, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Cherokee America seems poised to reap similar acclaim, with Publisher’s Weekly hailing it as a “rich, propulsive novel.”
Eugenia Kim’s The Kinship of Secrets chronicles the complex and moving story of the Chos, a South Korean family who emigrate to the United States in 1948. Deeming their infant daughter too young for journey, they leave her in the care of family members. Yet when the Korean War breaks out, what was supposed to be a temporary separation unexpectedly stretches into one of many years. Kim traces the journey of the two Cho sisters—Miran in the United States and Inja in South Korea—through the years, gracefully exploring the intricate ties of family and culture. The Kinship of Secrets has been widely praised by critics, with the The Washington Post hailing the book as one that “beautifully illuminate[s] Korea’s past in ways that inform our present.”
Elizabeth Emens’ Life Admin exposes the hidden administrative tasks that consume our daily lives and offers strategies to complete them effectively. Emens interviewed hundreds of people and conducted strategy sessions to probe our relationship to these tasks: who does (or doesn’t) do them, why we rarely talk about them, and how they affect our lives. Her resulting book is a lively exploration on this often stressful topic, providing insight into how we handle these tasks and how best to implement them into our lives.
Sy Montgomery’s books crack open the interior lives of animals and provoke readers to look at their world from a new perspective, whether it’s The Good, Good Pig, a loving tribute to her pet pig Christopher Harwood, or The Soul of an Octopus, where she immersed herself into the world of octopi to explore their emotional intelligence. With her latest book, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, she turns that remarkable focus onto herself. In wide-ranging essays marked by her matter-of-fact candor, she examines her relationship with thirteen very different animals and the myriad lessons they taught her. Publishers Weekly praised the book, stating, “Montgomery’s lyrical storytelling and resonant lessons on how animals can enhance our humanity result in a tender, intelligent literary memoir,” while Nick Jans raved that it “stands as a vivid reminder of the deep and necessary connection we share with all living things.”
Lynne Truss on Not Giving Everything Away, Big Characters, and Being the Cleverest Person in the Room
Lynne Truss is perhaps best known in the U.S. for her lauded book on grammar, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, but with A Shot in the Dark she establishes herself as a gifted comic mystery writer, mixing equal parts Christie with Wodehouse. Based on characters Truss originally created for a series of successful radio dramas, A Shot in the Dark takes place in the seemingly idyllic resort town of Brighton. When a fatuous theater critic is murdered on opening night of a touring theatrical troupe’s play, the idealistic Constable Twitten finds himself embroiled in a crime that stretches back to an infamous bank robbery decades prior. Joined by his lovestruck colleague, Sergeant Brunswick, and the station’s sagacious charlady, Mrs. Groynes, Twitten uses his wits to solve not only the murder, but also ferret out a criminal mastermind who has been hiding in plain sight for years. A darkly comic romp, A Shot in the Dark has been widely met with praise. The Guardian raved, “with plenty of brightly coloured bucket-and-spadery, including ghost trains and Punch and Judy and variety acts, this clever, tongue-in-cheek escapade is a perfect summer read.”
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black is sure to be one of 2018’s most significant books. This stunning collection of short stories thrusts the reader into bizarre and frightening territories, from an all-too-real theme park that commercializes racism to a big box superstore in the throes of Black Friday madness. In each story, Adjei-Brenyah compassionately examines his characters’ plights, fully exploring their humanity with wit and precision. Friday Black has already been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Fiction, and The New York Times Book Review hailed it as “an unbelievable debut, one that announces a new and necessary American voice.”
Candace Chen is a dedicated office drone in the publicity department of a big-time publishing house, deftly negotiating contracts for the novelty Bibles her company churns out year after year. Only when a society-erasing plague, a mysterious fever that rends its victims into a zombie-like existence, wipes out most of her co-workers does Candace reluctantly […]
Neal Bascomb brings the harrowing escape from Holzminden prison to thrilling life in The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. Holzminden prison was Gemany’s seemingly inescapable POW prison, run by the tyrannical commandant Karl Niemeyer. Yet through meticulous planning and ingenious subterfuge, nearly a dozen […]
Andrea Kleine on Epic Quests, Coping Strategies, and Dismantling the Traditional Narrative of the Artist
When Hope and Eden’s father forgets to pick them up for one of their weekend custody visits, the two teenagers accept a ride from a stranger who soon proves to be far more dangerous than he appears. Twenty years later, Hope is an adrift playwright in New York when she finds out that her abductor is up for parole. Hope sets off to find the now estranged Eden in hopes of convincing her to testify against him, and the resulting quest not only exposes painful truths from her past, but also uncovers insights into her present. Andrea Kleine’s Eden is a riveting character study that has been met with rave reviews. Vanity Fair stated “the mystery of Eden unfolds across America with humor and some clever detective work, combining a page-turner with a moving meditation on the limitations of family amidst trauma” and NYLON hailed it as “a devastating, revelatory examination of trauma, memory, creation, and the ways in which we define ourselves according to our experiences.”