New Nonfiction Books: February 2018

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Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016 by  Steve Coll

directorate sResuming the narrative of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars, bestselling author Steve Coll tells for the first time the epic and enthralling story of America’s intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11.

Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, ostensibly in cooperation, although often in direct opposition, with I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence agency. While the US was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of I.S.I., known as “Directorate S,” was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban, in order to enlarge Pakistan’s sphere of influence. After 9/11, when fifty-nine countries, led by the U. S., deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the U.S. was set on an invisible slow-motion collision course with Pakistan.

Today we know that the war in Afghanistan would falter badly because of military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the drain on resources and provocation in the Muslim world caused by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and corruption. But more than anything, as Coll makes painfully clear, the war in Afghanistan was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of I.S.I.’s “Directorate S”. This was a swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions, which endured over a decade and across both the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of players, including some of the most prominent military and political figures. A sprawling American tragedy, the war was an open clash of arms but also a covert melee of ideas, secrets, and subterranean violence.

Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. With unsurpassed expertise, original research, and attention to detail, he brings to life a narrative at once vast and intricate, local and global, propulsive and painstaking. This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Nothing less than a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shape world history, Directorate S is a complete masterpiece of both investigative and narrative journalism.

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Eat the Apple by  Matt Young

eat the appleEat the Apple is a daring, twisted, and darkly hilarious story of American youth and masculinity in an age of continuous war. Matt Young joined the Marine Corps at age eighteen after a drunken night culminating in wrapping his car around a fire hydrant. The teenage wasteland he fled followed him to the training bases charged with making him a Marine. Matt survived the training and then not one, not two, but three deployments to Iraq, where the testosterone, danger, and stakes for him and his fellow grunts were dialed up a dozen decibels.

With its kaleidoscopic array of literary forms, from interior dialogues to infographics to prose passages that read like poetry, Young’s narrative powerfully mirrors the multifaceted nature of his experience. Visceral, ironic, self-lacerating, and ultimately redemptive, Young’s story drops us unarmed into Marine Corps culture and lays bare the absurdism of 21st-century war, the manned-up vulnerability of those on the front lines, and the true, if often misguided, motivations that drove a young man to a life at war.

Searing in its honesty, tender in its vulnerability, and brilliantly written, Eat the Apple is a modern war classic in the making and a powerful coming-of-age story that maps the insane geography of our times.

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Educated by  Tara Westover

educatedAn unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by  Steven Pinker

enlightenment nowThe follow-up to Pinker’s groundbreaking The Better Angels of Our Nature presents the big picture of human progress: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature—tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking—which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

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Feel Free: Essays by  Zadie Smith

feel freeFrom Zadie Smith, one of the most beloved authors of her generation, a new collection of essays.

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world’s preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.

Arranged into five sections–In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free–this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network–and Facebook itself–really about? “It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.” Why do we love libraries? “Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.” What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? “So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we’d just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes–and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat.”

Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, “Joy,” and, “Find Your Beach,” Feel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith’s own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive–and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.

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Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? by  Mark Hyman

food#1 New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mark Hyman sorts through the conflicting research on food to give us the skinny on what to eat.

Did you know that oatmeal actually isn’t a healthy way to start the day? That milk doesn’t build bones, and eggs aren’t the devil? In Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, Dr. Hyman looks at every food group and explains what we’ve gotten wrong, revealing which foods nurture our health and which pose a threat. He also explains food’s crucial role in functional medicine and how food systems and policies affect our environmental and personal health.

With myth-busting insights, easy-to-understand science, and delicious, wholesome recipes, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? is a no-nonsense guide to achieving optimal weight and lifelong health.

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The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond by  Michio Kaku

future of humanityHuman civilization is on the verge of spreading beyond Earth. More than a possibility, it is becoming a necessity: whether our hand is forced by climate change and resource depletion or whether future catastrophes compel us to abandon Earth, one day we will make our homes among the stars.

World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, accessible detail how humanity might gradually develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. With his trademark storytelling verve, Kaku shows us how science fiction is becoming reality: mind-boggling developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology could enable us to build habitable cities on Mars; nearby stars might be reached by microscopic spaceships sailing through space on laser beams; and technology might one day allow us to transcend our physical bodies entirely.

With irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder, Dr. Kaku takes readers on a fascinating journey to a future in which humanity could finally fullfil its long-awaited destiny among the stars – and perhaps even achieve immortality.

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I’ve Been Thinking…: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life by  Maria Shriver

ive been thinkingA book of meditations and reflections for those seeking direction and empowerment, from Peabody- and Emmy-winning journalist/producer, New York Times bestselling author, and NBC News Special Anchor Maria Shriver.

As a prominent woman juggling many roles, Maria Shriver knows just how hectic and stressful everyday life can be. In this candid and heartfelt book, Shriver offers up the lessons she’s learned along the way, and the meditations she’s kept by her side as a touchstone for the challenges that arise. The quotes, scriptures, prayers, and reflections within are meant to encourage empowerment, accomplishment, and forward mobility in women of all ages.

I’ve Been Thinking . . . is an intimate devotional, ideal for those transitioning into the prime of their lives, who want to slow down, breathe, and take life one day at a time. Whether you’re devoting attention to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, beginning a new career, starting your own business, or something in between, this slender, accessible book is for anyone who needs a reminder that taking a moment (or two!) to center yourself is the first step on that path.

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The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream by  Bryan Mealer

kings of big springA saga of family, fortune, and faith in Texas, where blood is bond and oil is king…

In 1892, Bryan Mealer’s great-grandfather leaves the Georgia mountains and heads west into Texas, looking for wealth and adventure in the raw and open country. But his luck soon runs out. Beset by drought, the family loses their farm just as the dead pastures around them give way to one of the biggest oil booms in American history. They eventually settle in the small town of Big Spring, where fast fortunes are being made from its own reserves of oil. For the next two generations, the Mealers live on the margins of poverty, laboring in the cotton fields and on the drilling rigs that sprout along the flatland, weathering dust and wind, booms and busts, and tragedies that scatter them like tumbleweed. After embracing Pentecostalism during the Great Depression, they rely heavily on their faith to steel them against hardship and despair. But for young Bobby Mealer, the author’s father, religion is only an agent for rebellion.

In the winter of 1981, when the author is seven years old, Bobby receives a call from an old friend with a simple question, “How’d you like to be a millionaire?”

Twenty-six, and with a wife and three kids, Bobby had left his hometown to seek a life removed from the blowing dust and oil fields, and to find spiritual peace. But now Big Spring’s streets are flooded again with roughnecks, money, and sin. Boom chasers pour in from the busted factory towns in the north. Drilling rigs rise like timber along the pastures, and poor men become millionaires overnight.

Grady Cunningham, Bobby’s friend, is one of the newly-minted kings of Big Spring. Loud and flamboyant, with a penchant for floor-length fur coats, Grady pulls Bobby and his young wife into his glamorous orbit. While drilling wells for Grady’s oil company, they fly around on private jets and embrace the honky-tonk high life of Texas oilmen. But beneath the Rolexes and Rolls Royce cars is a reality as dark as the crude itself. As Bobby soon discovers, his return to Big Spring is a backslider’s journey into a spiritual wilderness, and one that could cost him his life.

A masterwork of memoir and narrative history, The Kings of Big Spring is an indelible portrait of fortune and ruin as big as Texas itself. And in telling the story of four generations of his family, Mealer also tells the story of how America came to be.

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Murder Beyond the Grave by  James Patterson

murder beyond the graveTwo true-crime thrillers as seen on Discovery’s Murder is Forever TV series – premiering February 2018.

Murder Beyond The Grave: Stephen Small has it all – a Ferrari, fancy house, loving wife, and three boys. But the only thing he needs right now is enough air to breathe. Kidnapped, buried in a box, and held for ransom, Stephen has forty-eight hours of oxygen. The clock is ticking . . .

Murder in Paradise: High in the Sierra Nevada mountains, developers Jim and Bonnie Hood excitedly tour Camp Nelson Lodge. They intend to buy and modernize this beautiful rustic property, but the locals don’t like rich outsiders changing their way of life. After a grisly shooting, everybody will discover just how you can make a killing in real estate . . . 

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Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by  Amy Chua

political tribesThe bestselling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua offers a bold new prescription for reversing our foreign policy failures and overcoming our destructive political tribalism at home.

Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. In many parts of the world, the group identities that matter most – the ones that people will kill and die for – are ethnic, religious, sectarian, or clan-based. But because America tends to see the world in terms of nation-states engaged in great ideological battles – Capitalism vs. Communism, Democracy vs. Authoritarianism, the “Free World” vs. the “Axis of Evil” – we are often spectacularly blind to the power of tribal politics. Time and again this blindness has undermined American foreign policy.

In the Vietnam War, viewing the conflict through Cold War blinders, we never saw that most of Vietnam’s “capitalists” were members of the hated Chinese minority. Every pro-free-market move we made helped turn the Vietnamese people against us. In Iraq, we were stunningly dismissive of the hatred between that country’s Sunnis and Shias. If we want to get our foreign policy right – so as to not be perpetually caught off guard and fighting unwinnable wars – the United States has to come to grips with political tribalism abroad.

Just as Washington’s foreign policy establishment has been blind to the power of tribal politics outside the country, so too have American political elites been oblivious to the group identities that matter most to ordinary Americans – and that are tearing the United States apart. As the stunning rise of Donald Trump laid bare, identity politics have seized both the American left and right in an especially dangerous, racially inflected way. In America today, every group feels threatened: whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, liberals and conservatives, and so on. There is a pervasive sense of collective persecution and discrimination. On the left, this has given rise to increasingly radical and exclusionary rhetoric of privilege and cultural appropriation. On the right, it has fueled a disturbing rise in xenophobia and white nationalism.

In characteristically persuasive style, Amy Chua argues that America must rediscover a national identity that transcends our political tribes. Enough false slogans of unity, which are just another form of divisiveness. It is time for a more difficult unity that acknowledges the reality of group differences and fights the deep inequities that divide us.

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Wallis in Love: The Untold Life of the Duchess of Windsor by  Andrew Morton

wallis in loveSunday Times bestselling author, Andrew Morton reveals new information and sources that totally transform our perception of Wallis Simpson.

Wallis in Love brings a fascinating new perspective on the 20th century’s most controversial royal scandal. Andrew Morton’s impeccable research and unerring skill for riveting storytelling combine to present a strong case for a new and startling reveal: that the woman who rocked the world with her uncompromising passion for the Prince of Wales may have fooled everyone by keeping the object of her true passion hidden away…

From her relatively lowly beginnings in America – where young Wallis and her mother were dependent on her domineering and powerful Uncle Sol, to her rise through the social ranks and her determination to one day beat men at their own game – to the ultimate conquest of the Prince of Wales. Morton paints a vivid and multi-faceted picture of a compelling, ambitious and often hard-hearted woman, who may have won the jewel in the British crown but very possibly at the expense of her true happiness.

Wallis in Love reveals the men Wallis truly loved, the men who broke her heart – and the hearts she broke in turn. In this vivid, fresh and frankly amazing portrait of the Duchess of Windsor, Morton draws on interviews, secret letters, diaries and never before seen or heard primary sources.

From the day she was born in a ramshackle cottage in the hills to revealing what really happened the night her husband died, Morton paints a fresh and enticing portrait of the Duchess of Windsor.

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When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by  Daniel H. Pink

whenDaniel H. Pink, the #1 bestselling author of Drive and To Sell Is Human, unlocks the scientific secrets to good timing to help you flourish at work, at school, and at home.

Everyone knows that timing is everything. But we don’t know much about timing itself. Our lives are a never-ending stream of “when” decisions: when to start a business, schedule a class, get serious about a person. Yet we make those decisions based on intuition and guesswork.

Timing, it’s often assumed, is an art. In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink shows that timing is really a science.

Drawing on a rich trove of research from psychology, biology, and economics, Pink reveals how best to live, work, and succeed. How can we use the hidden patterns of the day to build the ideal schedule? Why do certain breaks dramatically improve student test scores? How can we turn a stumbling beginning into a fresh start? Why should we avoid going to the hospital in the afternoon? Why is singing in time with other people as good for you as exercise? And what is the ideal time to quit a job, switch careers, or get married?

In When, Pink distills cutting-edge research and data on timing and synthesizes them into a fascinating, readable narrative packed with irresistible stories and practical takeaways that give readers compelling insights into how we can live richer, more engaged lives.

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