Subscriber-Only Content. You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, the latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access to over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: PWHelp@omeda.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (outside US/Canada, call +1-847-513-6135) 8:00 am - 4:30 pm, Monday-Friday (Central).

Nomads: The Wanderers Who Shaped Our World

Anthony Sattin. Norton, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-324-03545-9

Journalist and travel writer Sattin (Young Lawrence) delivers an insightful examination of the role nomadic cultures played in the development of modern civilization. Contending that nomadic groups were essential to the cyclical rise, development, breakdown, and regeneration of settled societies across the Middle East and Eurasian steppe, Sattin details confrontations and collaborations between “the mobile and the settled” in the early empires of Egypt, Greece, Persia, and Rome; chronicles the rise of Islam among Persian tribesmen and the expansion of the Mongol Empire across Central Asia; and explores the impact of colonialism and industrialization on nomadic societies around the world. Throughout, Sattin lucidly explains recent archaeological, linguistic, and genealogical research; draws vivid profiles of 14th-century Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun, Yuan dynasty founder Kubilai Khan, and others; and illuminates the impact of pandemic diseases, climate change, and environmental degradation on world history. He also makes a convincing case that the brutality of nomadic cultures has been overstated and that their virtues, including adaptability, inclusion, and respect for nature, offer valuable lessons for today. Enriched by Sattin’s evocative prose and tangible enthusiasm for the subject, this sweeping survey informs and entertains. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Coffee with Hitler: The Story of the Amateur Spies Who Tried to Civilize the Nazis

Charles Spicer. Pegasus, $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-63936-226-4

Historian Spicer debuts with a detailed yet unpersuasive attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of the Anglo-German Fellowship, an “exclusive friendship society” comprising British aristocrats, politicians, businessmen, and military leaders who “wined, dined and charmed the leading National Socialists in Germany in the 1930s.” Classifying the group’s members as “amateur intelligence agents,” Spicer draws a somewhat murky distinction between their attempts to “civilize” the Nazi regime in order to avert war and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. Focusing on Fellowship members Philip Conwell-Evans, a Welsh political secretary and historian; Grahame Christie, a WWI pilot; and businessman Ernest Tennant, Spicer meticulously details his subjects’ many meetings with Nazi leaders including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hermann Göring, and Rudolf Hess. While Spicer reveals that Fellowship members passed valuable information on the inner workings of the Nazi government to British and U.S. officials, coordinated with anti-Nazi resistance leaders in Germany, and earnestly believed that improved trade relations and cultural exchanges could decrease the likelihood of war, he overstates how much “the socially gauche National Socialists... admired and aped the British elites” and underplays the “naivety and gullibility” of the Fellowship. This revisionist history feels like a bit too much of a reach. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America

Dahlia Lithwick. Penguin Press, $29 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-56138-5

Slate legal correspondent Lithwick (coauthor, Me v. Everybody) takes an incisive if uneven look at women who responded to Donald Trump’s election by “upending their lives and their careers and their families to organize a new kind of resistance movement.” Theorizing that women have a “special relationship” with the law because it is “the most conventional way with which to effect radical change,” Lithwick profiles, among others, former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who was fired for refusing to defend Trump’s executive order targeting Muslim travelers, and Robbie Kaplan, a “Jewish, gay, brash commercial litigator from New York City” who won a $26 million lawsuit against the organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Though the profiles are full of sharp observations and astute analyses of legal matters, Lithwick’s focus on individual attorneys and activists inadvertently echoes the “Great Man” theory of social change she thinks Americans are “too apt to succumb to.” Much stronger, if more depressing, are the sections she devotes to her own story of sexual harassment by a federal judge and her sense of complicity in upholding “the culture of silence in the legal profession.” Despite its flaws, this evocative study captures the power and fragility of the rule of law. Agent: Tina Bennett, Bennett Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Still No Word from You: Notes in the Margin

Peter Orner. Catapult, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64622-136-3

Pushcart Prize–winning fiction writer Orner (Maggie Brown & Others) brings his lyrical, mosaic style to the story of his own life in this gorgeous and contemplative memoir. Blending photographs, family lore, speculation, and literary musings, Orner’s nonlinear narrative weaves through elliptical reflections and faint memories from his 1970s childhood to the sorrows and delights of his adulthood. The poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa, for instance, becomes a salve in the aftermath of his stepfather’s death, loitering in Orner’s mind as he reflects on his mother’s grief: “We all go where love takes us, whether closer or farther.” Elsewhere, seeking solace from some unnamed grievance, Orner spends a day marveling at the crowded prose of Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day: “[Her thoughts] connect like they do in our actual brains. Meaning: they don’t.” A similar stream of consciousness logic pervades his loosely connected vignettes, with certain recurring figures and dreamlike appearances of half-forgotten acquaintances. As Orner observes, “There’s no greater fantasy on the face of the earth than the linearity of time. Time only circles.” Likewise, when his fragmented ruminations loop back to a powerful impression or image or favorite book, the effect is like turning over a prism in one’s hands, catching vivid flashes of light at each angle. Evocative and erudite, this meditation on impermanence and its ephemeral joys is a gem. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto, and the War for Our Wallets

Brett Scott. Harper Business, $29.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-293631-8

Journalist Scott (The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance) sounds the alarm on a world without cash in this trenchant if uneven account. The cashless movement is gaining momentum, he writes, thanks in part to the pandemic, when paper money was seen as a disease vector (in 2020 the use of notes plummeted by almost 50% in the United Kingdom alone). Scott considers the virtues of hard currency—including its tactile nature and the fact it doesn’t track data—and portends a cash-free future wherein government and the finance-tech industry monitor transactions and extract fees. Scott’s depiction of the invisible web that facilitates digital transactions is sobering: “Cash is a bug, jamming the emerging fusion between finance and tech, and given that those are the biggest players in our economic network, they are jointly pulling away from it.” Unfortunately, in explaining financial concepts, he often relies upon clumsy analogies that muddy things more than clarify them (global monetary systems are a “nervous system,” central banks are a “Giant in the Mountain,” and bad posture is a metaphor for “the passive element” of digital payments). And while he makes a solid case for concern, he comes up short on solutions. This one’s likely to leave readers wanting. (July)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Sinkable: Obsession, the Deep Sea, and the Shipwreck of the Titanic

Daniel Stone. Dutton, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-32937-5

Journalist Stone (The Food Explorer) examines in this incisive and entertaining history how the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 has captured the public’s imagination. Though Stone dives deep into technical matters, including how icebergs form, the “downblast effect” that occurs when a sinking ship pulls a column of water behind it, the limitations of sonar technology, and the survival rates of men, women, and children in maritime disasters, the book’s most intriguing sections spotlight obsessives who have devoted their lives to the subject. Massachusetts jeweler Edward Kamuda formed the first Titanic fan club in 1960, convincing 75 of the ship’s 87 living survivors to join. Oklahoma oilman Jack Grimm spent most of the 1970s and much of his fortune in an ill-fated attempt to find the wreck, while Doug Woolley, a former pantyhose factory worker whose great-aunts allegedly had tickets to sail on the Titanic but backed out when they “had the same dream about disaster striking the ship,” has claimed ownership of what’s left of the passenger liner since the 1960s. Colorful personalities, astute cultural analysis, and fascinating details about the science of shipwrecks and the mechanics of salvage operations make this a must-read for Titanic buffs. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Stolen Year: How Covid Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now

Anya Kamenetz. PublicAffairs, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5417-0098-7

Journalist Kamenetz (Generation Debt) delivers a compassionate study of how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted schoolchildren and their families. Drawing on interviews with children and parents across the U.S. and her own experiences as the mother of two young daughters, Kamenetz documents “high levels of chronic absence and disengagement from school” following the shift to remote learning in 2020, and reports that former secretary of education Betsy DeVos “diverted a disproportionate share of federal relief funds to private schools” during the pandemic, while resisting calls for the Department of Education to take the lead in directing schools how to safely reopen. Noting that U.S. public schools were closed for more than twice as long as those in the U.K. and China, Kamenetz cites evidence that the absence of America’s “most broadly accessible welfare institutions” caused food insecurity to double, even as many children gained weight due to a lack of exercise. She also claims that student-organized protests over the murder of George Floyd by police provided “catharsis, after a season of confinement and monotony,” and sketches how parents and teachers can foster children’s “posttraumatic growth.” Striking an expert balance between the big picture and intimate profiles of students, teachers, parents, and school officials, this is an astute and vital first draft of history. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners

Margaret A. Burnham. Norton, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-86785-5

Burnham, founding director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University, debuts with a searing study of the “chronic, unpredictable violence that loomed over everyday Black life” in the Jim Crow South. The threat, Burnham contends, was not limited to the mob lynchings of African American boys and men accused of raping or sexually harassing white women, but also included such “quotidian violence” as the beating death of an “elderly Negro woman”—as a contemporaneous letter sent to the NAACP described her—by a white storekeeper in a small Georgia town in 1944. That murder, like many others recounted in the book, was not prosecuted and not reported on by local journalists. According to Burnham, these and other acts of racialized terror lie at the heart of the Jim Crow regime, which was a system of racial segregation as well as a statement about who could, and who could not, claim the privileges of American citizenship. Drawing upon a database created by Northeastern and MIT researchers that catalogues “racially motivated homicides” in the South between 1920 and 1960, Burnham illuminates the role that white terror played in controlling Black life, resistance efforts mounted by Black communities in the face of indifference and hostility from federal and local governments, and the legacy of Jim Crow in the modern-day judicial system. The result is an essential reckoning with America’s history of racial violence. Photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Mothercare: On Obligation, Love, Death, and Ambivalence

Lynne Tillman. Soft Skull, $23 (160p) ISBN 978-1-59376-717-4

In this discerning if uneven work, novelist and critic Tillman (Men and Apparitions) reckons with the equivocations and guilt she weathered while caring for her ailing mother at the end of her life. Recalling the 11 years she and her sisters spent tending to their mother (referred to as “Mother” here) after she was diagnosed in 1994 with a rare condition that caused memory loss, Tillman suggests that “keeping her alive was done generously, but not selflessly, and also as a grueling obligation.” As she traces Mother’s decline, Tillman details her frustrations with a medical community unable to properly handle her mother’s unusual case, including an “arrogant neurologist” and a “lunatic” caregiver who’s later fired for being “utterly ineffective.” Though the intellectual rigor and analysis that mark Tillman’s criticism are evident, they often lend a dispassionate distance to her observations, even as intimate details are shared. Two recurring themes lend propulsive force to the book: Mother’s love for an abandoned cat, and a late-in-life declaration to her daughter that “if I had wanted to be, I would have been a better writer than you.” It’s this “unvarnished truth” that gives the work its emotional texture, underscoring the complicated binds that make up families. Despite being something of a mixed bag, Tillman’s frank insights on love and loss are cannily original. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
Stay True: A Memoir

Hua Hsu. Doubleday, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-385-54777-2

New Yorker staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. As a second-generation Taiwanese American coming of age in 1990s Cupertino, Calif., Hsu traversed an evolving cultural climate with rebellious gusto, finding creative expression in zines and developing, as he writes, a “worldview defined by music.” At Berkeley College Hsu met Ken, an extroverted, “mainstream” frat-brother whose only similarity to Hsu was that he was Asian American. Yet despite their differences, an unlikely friendship bloomed. In lyrical prose punctuated with photos, Hsu recalls smoke-filled conversations—from the philosophy of Heidegger to the failures of past relationships—trolling chat rooms and writing a movie script with Ken as they navigated a world teeming with politics and art, and basked in the uncertainty of a future both fearsome and enthralling. That future came to a harrowing end when Ken was murdered, leaving Hsu to fend for himself while unraveling the tragedy. As he recounts sinking into songs “of heartbreak and resurrection,” Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/03/2022 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Forgot Password

Premium online access is only available to PW subscribers. If you have an active subscription and need to set up or change your password, please click here.

New to PW? To set up immediate access, click here.

NOTE: If you had a previous PW subscription, click here to reactivate your immediate access. PW site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. If working at an office location and you are not "logged in", simply close and relaunch your preferred browser. For off-site access, click here. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options, please email Mike Popalardo at: mike@nextstepsmarketing.com.

To subscribe: click here.