Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise


Like many industries, the ­publishing world has been stuck in a state of ­suspended animation. Major ­literary releases have been put on hold, author tours are delayed or canceled outright, and large book-­signing events have become emblematic of a bygone era. And yet a sterling lineup of titles this fall proves you can’t keep a good book down­­—especially these 10 tomes, which have a newfound ­relevance for our most pressing current affairs.

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

In 1791, the same year France’s doomed Louis XVI bowed to the revolution by ­accepting the French constitution, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, a former Haitian slave, led a rebellion that brought about the abolition of slavery in what was then known as Saint-Domingue. Louverture has received a mixed reception over the centuries; that he personally owned slaves ­himself, for instance, has clouded his reputation as a freedom fighter. Hazareesingh, an associate professor at Oxford’s Balliol College, deftly works Louverture’s contradictions into a detailed, ­bracing ­character study of an amazing life wrapped up in the ­intellectual ­currents of the time. Available now

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

Hitler: Downfall 1939-1945 by Volker Ullrich, translated by Jefferson Chase (Alfred A. Knopf)

When Ullrich, a journalist and historian, published the first of his two-part biography of Hitler in 2016, he reframed the Nazis’ rise not as an inevitability, but as a series of lucky breaks and spectacularly incompetent fumbles on the part of the Weimar Republic. The first volume was an agonizingly gradual drumbeat toward disaster (so many opportunities for the Nazis to have failed!), but the second, detailing the Fuehrer’s fall, doesn’t leave ­readers in suspense. Ullrich argues that Hitler’s defeat was a near-certainty in 1941 after his invasion of Russia faltered. Even as his advisers warned him against disaster, Ullrich writes, Hitler doubled down on global carnage and sealed his own doom. But that’s hardly satisfying. The author’s conclusion doesn’t do much to soften his rigorous retelling of the next four years of death, destruction, and more than 10 million people ­murdered. Available now

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

How to Lead: Wisdom From the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers by David M. Rubenstein (Simon & Schuster)

Rubenstein, who co-founded the private equity firm Carlyle Group, has hosted a talk show on Bloomberg News and PBS since 2016. Now, he’s compiled his notable interviews into a book on leadership. Some of the wisdom has been heard before­—Jeff Bezos recommends getting eight hours of sleep a night; Oprah Winfrey says listening is the key to her success—but the real ­pleasure comes from reading the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Jack Nicklaus, and Lorne Michaels opening up to someone they consider a peer. The best might be David Petraeus, who recalls the time he was skydiving when his parachute failed to open completely. Available now

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

Eat a Peach: A Memoir by David Chang and Gabe Ulla (Penguin Random House)

David Chang came out of nowhere to jump-start New York’s—and then the country’s—­obsession with ramen. Momofuku Noodle Bar, his first restaurant, opened in 2004. Now he’s a poster boy for how to redefine an industry (goodbye, white tablecloths; hello, tattooed servers) and actually make a profit. Don’t expect a ­scandalous Kitchen Confidential: This is a meditation on building a business while fighting depression, among other demons. “My name has come to be ­synonymous with rage,” he writes. “I’ve never been proud of it.” Available now

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster That Launched the War on Cancer by Jennet Conant (W.W. Norton & Co.)

In 1943, it wasn’t exactly confidential that mustard gas was a poisonous killer, having been outlawed well before World War II. What was a secret was that the Allies had stockpiles of the chemical weapon in ships off the coast of Bari, Italy, on the off chance that a desperate Nazi Germany would start to use it, too. When the Luftwaffe bombed one of the ships that carried the gas, Dr. Stewart Alexander, a clear-eyed U.S. lieutenant colonel, took ­tissue samples from exposed soldiers and sent them back to the U.S. for testing. Those samples, Conant writes in this fast-paced history-cum-­detective story, became critical to our understanding of modern chemo­therapy. Available now

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War by Jonathan Daniel Wells (Bold Type Books)

It’s comforting to think of the Civil War as a struggle between an abolitionist North and a slave-owning South, but the reality is that antebellum New York City profited materially from the slave trade. Wells, a prolific historian, digs into the corruption of the so-called Kidnapping Club, a consortium of players from the judiciary, Wall Street, and law enforcement who helped kidnap Black people and sell them into Southern and Caribbean slavery. Wells highlights David Ruggles, a pioneering Black ­journalist, who used every tool at his disposal to bring the kidnappers to light. Available Oct. 20

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman (Little Brown & Co.)

In the distant future, when historians recall the geyser of cash that banks and venture capitalists directed to Silicon Valley, they will almost certainly use the catastrophic collapse of WeWork as a cautionary tale. Wiedeman, a contributing editor at New York magazine, isn’t the first to entertainingly chronicle Neumann’s ­subsequent downfall, and he certainly won’t be the last. Available Oct. 20

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era by Carlos Lozada (Simon & Schuster)

In an earnest attempt to capture and clarify the intellectual moment, Lozada, the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, assigned himself the unenviable task of reading 150 books on Donald Trump that have been published since 2016. He dutifully slogs through James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, as well as Donald Trump Jr.’s Triggered, and gives Everything Trump Touches Dies, by Rick Wilson, equal time with Jeanine Pirro’s Liars, Leakers, and Liberals. The most important, he concludes, are “the books that enable and ennoble a national reexamination,” but books of this caliber are rare. It turns out that the same people responsible for this political moment are, often as not, incapable of analyzing it. Available Oct. 6

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

Wine Economics by Stefano Castriota (MIT Press)

Forget terroir; it’s time to focus on tariffs. Castriota, a professor of economics at the University of Pisa, breaks down the expenses of wine production, from grape to bottle to distributor to store to table. When it was published in Italian in 2015, the book made waves for its detailed comparisons of the cost of wine production with the often stratospheric wine tariffs and regulations around the world. It’s ­making its English debut with revised and updated statistics. Available Nov. 3

Ten New Books That Connect the Past to Our Present-Day Malaise

Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime by Jennifer Taub (Viking Books)

Anyone arguing that white-collar crime is victimless will have to reckon with this new examination by Taub, a law professor at Western New England University: She estimates it costs as much as $800 billion per year. Taub touches on subjects such as Purdue Pharma LLC’s OxyContin scandal, but she’s much more interested in the systemic components that allow ­perpetrators—among others, she names former Wells Fargo & Co. Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf—to walk away, often without ­repercussions. Available Sept. 29

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