This week: why we're wrong about nearly everything, plus Bohumil Hrabal's meditations on living with cats.

The Girl in the Photograph: The True Story of a Native American Child, Lost and Found in America

Byron L. Dorgan. Thomas Dunne, $27.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-250-17364-5

In this poignant account, former senator Dorgan connects the tale of an abused girl on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to the larger story of the U.S. government’s mistreatment of Native Americans. Dorgan first encountered five-year-old Tamara (no last name is given) in 1990, when her photograph appeared in a Bismarck Tribune story about the beating she endured in a reservation foster home. The next weekend, Dorgan writes, he traveled from Washington, D.C., to Standing Rock to meet Tamara. But he soon lost track of her. Twenty-seven years later, she reached out to him on social media. Dorgan uses the harrowing details of Tamara’s life story—which includes sexual abuse, homelessness, untreated PTSD, and attempted suicide—to put a human face on the plight of indigenous Americans in general. Among many shocking statistics, he notes that the federal government allocates less healthcare funding per Native person than per incarcerated person. On a more positive note, Dorgan profiles young Native American leaders, such as Mariah Gladstone, whose Indigikitchen project promotes traditional foodways as a means to improving Native Americans’ health. Dorgan’s plea for change serves as an informative and moving introduction to a great injustice.

Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding

Bobby Duffy. Basic, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1808-4

Duffy, Policy Institute director at King’s College London, puts his 20 years of research into opinion formation to good use in this illuminating first book. Through cogent analysis, made accessible through charts and anecdotes, he thoroughly examines “general and widespread delusions about individual, social, and political realities.” The book divides misperceptions into two categories: mistakes people make in their own thinking, and mistakes originating in what they are told by others, both by authority figures and the media, and by friends, family, and colleagues. Within these categories, Duffy’s examples of things people often get wrong range from the trivial, such as whether the Great Wall of China is visible from space (it isn’t), to the consequential, such as whether violent crime is on the rise (a single high-profile case can make people think it is, even when crime rates are actually declining). While addressing such well-known conceptual pitfalls as the inherent “bias toward information that confirms what we already believe,” Duffy avoids pessimism. He focuses on the things everyone can do to change how they process information, such as learning not to focus on extreme examples, or improving critical reading abilities. The result is a well-informed breath of intellectual fresh air about how best to avoid misunderstanding the world.

Jay-Z: Made in America

Michael Eric Dyson. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-23096-6

In this astute cultural biography, Dyson (Tears We Cannot Stop) analyzes the impact of Jay-Z through his music—from his hard-knock life as a drug dealer from Brooklyn, to his becoming a billionaire rapper and husband of megastar Beyoncé. “The more I pore over his lyrics,” writes Dyson, who teaches a course on Jay-Z at Georgetown University, “the more I realize that I am dealing with an extremely intelligent poet whose work matches the poets I’ve admired since childhood... Tennyson, Hughes, Brooks and Yeats.” With lyrics including “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man! Let me handle my business, damn,” Dyson cites Jay-Z’s “use of braggadocio and allusion, signifying and double entendre, metaphor and homophones.” Dyson explores how Jay-Z created profound, meaningful art out of bleak urban decay. “When we hear JAY-Z,” Dyson writes, “we listen to the incomparable tongue of American democracy expressed by a people too long held underfoot.” Dyson compares Jay-Z to Barack Obama (“both tremendously charismatic men... married to strong and brilliant women”), and recalls Jay-Z’s campaign ads for Obama and a tongue-in-cheek song he performed on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, featuring the line “My president is black/ In fact he’s half white/ So even in a racist mind/ He’s half right”. Dyson’s excellent study serves as a succinct blueprint of Jay-Z’s artistry and legacy.

All My Cats

Bohumil Hrabal, trans. from the Czech by Paul Wilson. New Directions, $18.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2895-4

This slender volume from novelist Hrabal (1914–1997), originally published in 1983, is an affecting meditation on the joys and occasional griefs of sharing his life with a large group of cats. While working in Prague during the week, Hrabal constantly worries about the animals that inhabit—and which he’s allowed to completely overrun—his country cottage, and only upon returning there for the weekend can he feel relieved. Should anything happen to him or his wife, he frets, “Who would feed the cats?” So when a new litter brings the cottage’s feline population over capacity, and Hrabal rashly decides to kill several kittens, readers will be shocked. That he can keep them on his side afterward—by persuasively showing himself as appalled at what he’s done—is a testament to his storytelling skills. These include an ability to balance brutal moments with tender ones, as when relating how even his feline-averse wife “always looked forward to mornings, when we’d wake up and I’d open the door and five grown cats would come charging into the kitchen and lap up two full bowls of milk.” Hrabal’s involving and moving story will prod his audience to look more closely at their own relationships with other creatures.

The Depositions: New and Selected Essays on Being and Ceasing to Be

Thomas Lynch. Norton, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-324-00397-7

This meditative, often emotionally affecting collection from funeral director, poet, and essayist Lynch (Whence and Whither) explores, with personal honesty and philosophical curiosity, the intersection of faith, death, family, and vocation. It features selections from Lynch’s four previous collections, along with five new pieces. It begins with “The Undertaking,” an introduction to his trade that is moving and humorous in turns—the latter, particularly, as Lynch considers people’s frequent discomfort with his profession, noting, “I am no more attracted to the dead than the dentist is to your bad gums.” Despite this flippant remark, Lynch explores his work as a spiritual one. In “How We Come to Be the Ones We Are,” he recalls how learning Catholicism’s language and rituals in childhood informed his work. In “Y2Kat,” one of the standout pieces, Lynch views his first marriage’s collapse through the metaphor of the ancient, seemingly immortal family cat that hates him, again expertly straddling the line between comedy and tragedy. In the new essays, Lynch contemplates the potential collapse of his second marriage and the challenge of maintaining sobriety during dark days, among other topics. Providing an excellent entry point for newcomers to Lynch’s work, this assemblage is an erudite but unpretentious discussion of life and mortality by a master craftsman of language.

Vanishing Girls

Lisa Regan. Grand Central, $12.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3411-7

This exciting series launch from Regan (Kill for You) finds Det. Josie Quinn suspended from the Denton, Pa., police force for using excessive force and impatiently waiting for her police sergeant husband, Ray Quinn, to sign divorce papers so she can marry the man she loves, someone she knows Ray hates. When 17-year-old high school student Isabelle Coleman vanishes, Josie fears Isabelle’s disappearance may be linked to other cases of missing girls in nearby areas. The sudden appearance of a mute and obviously traumatized girl, who has been missing for close to a year and is wearing Isabelle’s tongue barbell, confirms Josie’s suspicions. Frustrated and baffled as she watches her colleagues fail to follow crucial leads, she suspects a conspiracy among Denton’s law enforcement community to protect those responsible for these crimes. At great personal peril, Josie leaves the sidelines to pursue the truth. Regan keeps the dramatic reveals coming. Readers will look forward to Josie’s further adventures.