This week: Gillian Flynn's highly anticipated Gone Girl, a legless girl causes a bizarre military impasse, and an exploration of morality. Plus, both James Joyce and World War II each get comprehensive accounts.

The Second World War by Antony Beevor (Little, Brown) - Somehow distilling the 20th century’s most important event into a single, 863-page volume, The Second World War tells its story through a series of individual experiences, from heads of state to front-line riflemen, and from field marshals to teenaged girls. Beevor makes this comprehensive capstone a page-turner. See Beevor's essay on "faction" for Tip Sheet.

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur) - The follow-up to 2011’s Now You See Me, Dead Scared begins with Det. Constable Lacey Flint going undercover as a psychology undergraduate at Cambridge’s St. John’s, staying in the same room as a student who lit herself on fire—one incident in a string of suicides and suicide attempts. This is the jumping-off point for Bolton’s tightly coiled plot that never eases up. See our interview with Bolton.

James Joyce: A New Biography by Gordon Bowker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) - This new biography of James Joyce can never supplant the achievement of Richard Ellmann’s classic of 1959, but Bowker does add to it, taking advantage of new resources. Bowker visits anew the fascinating connections between the facts of Joyce’s life and the details worked into his magnificent four major works. Check out an excerpt, detailing Joyce's sexual awakening.

The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy by William J. Dobson (Doubleday) - Using Russia, China, and Venezuela as examples, this deft book examines how rulers “have gone to great lengths to turn disinterest in political life into a public virtue” by promoting economic prosperity and relying on widespread political apathy. Dobson explores methods used by dictators to hang on to power, and the pervasive paranoia that comes along with an authoritarian regime.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown) - A tale of marriage gone toxically wrong. Amy and Nick, the two unreliable narrators at the center of Flynn’s creepily unforgettable book, eventually uncover their layers of deceit for the reader. A must read for any fan of bad girls and good writing. See our Q&A with Flynn.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen (Crown) - This haunting narrative nonfiction book details America’s willfully blinkered relationship to the nuclear weapons industry, specifically in relation to Bridledale, Colo., the site of America’s single worst industrial accident—a plutonium fire in 1969 that was largely covered up. Following the disaster, residents became sick and animals grew sterile. A powerful work full of suspense and masterful control.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne (Feiwel & Friends) - What could’ve been just another postapocalyptic YA novel is instead a tense, claustrophobic thriller. Fourteen Colorado students take refuge in a superstore during a massive environmental cataclysm, cut off from the previously ubiquitous Network. The varied cast of characters becomes clear and memorable by book’s end.

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore (Knopf) - New Yorker writer Lepore explores the stages of life, beginning before birth and ending after death, to show how cultural responses to the questions of life and death have evolved over time. Topics covered include cryogenics as a form of resurrection and the ethics of breast pumps. An inspired commentary on our shared social history, The Mansion of Happiness offers a fresh approach to our changing views of life and death. See our Q&A with Lepore.

The Good Life: The Moral Individual in an Antimoral World by Cheryl Mendelson (Bloomsbury) - Mendelson, a philosophy professor at Barnard, corrects the oversimplification of the term “morality,” distinguishing permoral, antimoral, and immoral, as well as discussing torture and abortion under the “pseudomoral” categorization. The book cites Shakespeare, the Brontës, Nietzsche, Dickens, and Hume, among many others. Mendelson’s sharp, clear style makes this powerful book go down easy.

The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya (Hogarth) - The arrival of a legless Pashtun girl, requesting to bury her slain brother in Kandahar, sets off a bizarre, poignant two-day impasse between the girl and the U.S. military, during which the Americans begin to doubt their purpose in Afghanistan. The book resonates with the echoes of Joseph Heller, Tim O’Brien, and Robert Stone.