- At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
By Sarah Bakewell
The author of the Montaigne biography “How to Live” has written another impressively lucid book, one that offers a joint portrait of the giants of existentialism and phenomenology: Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Jaspers, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger and a half-dozen other European writers and philosophers. Around the early 1930s, the story divides between the characters who eventually come out more or less right, like Beauvoir, and the ones who come out wrong, like Heidegger. Some of Bakewell’s most exciting pages present engaged accounts of complex philosophies, even ones that finally repel her. And the biographical nuggets are irresistible; we learn, for example, that for months after trying mescaline, Sartre thought he was being followed by “lobster-like beings.”
Read our review of “At the Existentialist Café”
- Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
By Jane Mayer
In 1980 Charles and David Koch decided they would spend vast amounts of their fortune to elect conservatives to all levels of government, and the world of American politics has never been the same. Mayer spent five years looking into the Koch brothers’ activities, and the result is this thoroughly investigated, well-documented book. It cannot have been easy to uncover the workings of so secretive an operation, but Mayer has come as close to doing it as anyone is likely to anytime soon.
Read our review of “Dark Money”
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
By Matthew Desmond
In May 2008, Desmond moved into a Milwaukee trailer park and then to a rooming house on the poverty-stricken North Side. A graduate student in sociology at the time, he diligently took notes on the lives of people on the brink of eviction: those who pay 70 to 80 percent of their incomes in rent, often for homes that are, objectively speaking, unfit for human habitation. Desmond’s empathetic and scrupulously researched book reintroduces the concept of “exploitation” into the poverty debate, showing how eviction, like incarceration, can brand a person for life.
Read our review of “Evicted”
- In the Darkroom
By Susan Faludi
When Faludi learned that her estranged and elderly father had undergone gender reassignment surgery, in 2004, it marked the resumption of a difficult relationship. Her father was violent and full of contradictions: a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and Leni Riefenstahl fanatic, he stabbed a man her mother was seeing and used the incident to avoid paying alimony. In this rich, arresting and ultimately generous memoir, Faludi — long known for her feminist journalism — tries to reconcile Steven, the overbearing patriarch her father once was, with Stefánie, the old woman she became.
Read our review of “In the Darkroom”
- The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
By Hisham Matar
Matar’s father, Jaballa Matar — a prominent critic of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s dictatorship — was abducted in exile, in 1990, and turned over to the Libyan regime. Whether Jaballa was among those killed in a prison massacre six years later is impossible to know; he simply disappeared. Hisham Matar returned to Libya in the spring of 2012, in the brief honeymoon after Qaddafi had been overthrown and before the current civil war, and his extraordinary memoir of that time is so much more besides: a reflection on the consolations of art, an analysis of authoritarianism, and an impassioned work of mourning.
Read our review of “The Return”