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Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief

Lawrence Wright (Knopf)

Wright’s prodigiously researched investigation of Scientology does what good reporting ought to do: examine something in search of truth, lay out the findings, and let conclusions be drawn. In this painstaking work, the author bravely confronts the lawyered-up and controversial church in a dramatic encounter woven right into the narrative. New Yorker staff writer and Pulitzer Prize–winner Wright offers a reality test about a set of beliefs and behaviors that constitute this formidable 20th-century religious movement.

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Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield

Jeremy Scahill (Nation)

The Nation’s national security correspondent surgically exposes how the War on Terror is actually conducted: secret prisons, torture, extralegal assassinations, drone surveillance and warfare, gamesmanship with corrupt regimes. Neither the U.S. military nor the Bush and Obama administrations come off looking good here. The government twists the law and the Constitution to serve an ideology that sees the whole world as a potential battlefield, in which we make and remake the rules as we go. Scahill produces a masterwork of investigative journalism that offers a bleak, chilling vision of our militarized future.

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Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury)

With graceful prose and a heavy heart, critically acclaimed novelist Ward bravely enters nonfiction terrain in this starkly honest and deeply tragic account of the deaths of five important men in her life. Through her personal narrative, Ward writes intimately about the pall of blighted opportunity, lack of education, and circular poverty that hangs over the young, vulnerable African-American inhabitants of DeLisle, Miss.

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Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery

Robert Kolker (Harper)

Even hardened true crime readers will be haunted by New York magazine contributing editor Kolker’s provocative tale of five young escorts who became linked by the tragic circumstances of their disappearances, and the discovery of their remains on Long Island’s Oak Beach. Kolker compassionately renders each woman’s descent into a world “that many of their loved ones could not imagine.”

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Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance

Carla Kaplan (Harper)

In this beautifully written, empathetic, and valuable addition to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, scholar Kaplan (Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters) presents the untold story of six notable white women (including Fannie Hurst and Nancy Cunard, members of a larger group known collectively as “Miss Anne”) who embraced black culture—and life—in Harlem in the 1920s and ’30s, serving as hostesses, patrons, activists, comrades, lovers, writers, and editors.

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Provence, 1970

Luke Barr (Clarkson Potter)

Barr, M.F.K. Fisher’s great-nephew and an editor at Travel & Leisure, enlists considerable research skills in re-creating a momentous convergence of preeminent American food writers in Provence, France, in the fall of 1970—a union that determined the development of American food culture for years to come.

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To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care

Cris Beam (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Castaway kids and adult caretakers create fragile bonds in this gut-wrenching panorama of American foster families. Beam’s sharp critique of foster care policies and her searching exploration of the meaning of family make for an important and mesmerizing read.

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Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

Katy Butler (Scribner)

Butler writes affectingly of her émigré parents’ desire to make moral decisions about their deaths, in spite of a medical establishment bent on prolonging life at any cost. Butler usefully weighs the pros and cons of medical lifesaving and argues persuasively for helping elders and their caretakers face death with foresight and bravery.

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Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985

Italo Calvino, Wood, McLaughlin (Princeton Univ.)

The first English translation of 650 letters from the acclaimed Italian author includes his elegant and generous correspondence with Umberto Eco, Gore Vidal, Elsa Morante, and Primo Levi, among others, as well as insights on topics such as the role of the critic and the influence of Roland Barthes.

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Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal

Michael D’Antonio (St. Martin’s/Dunne)

The definitive history of the Catholic Church’s poor handling of its extensive, long-running internal problems with sexual abuse. D’Antonio finds the humanity in abusers, victims, and power players on both sides, making this book both enthralling and disturbing.

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The Riot Grrrl Collection

Lisa Darms (Feminist)

Archivist Darms captures the excitement and angst of the underground feminist punk scene in the early 1990s through a selection of zines, posters, flyers, cassette tape covers, and other artifacts from the Riot Grrrl movement.

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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performances

David Epstein (Penguin/Current)

In this provocative study, Sports Illustrated writer Epstein explores whether some individuals are genetically disposed to excel at certain sports.

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Thank You for Your Service

David Finkel (FSG/Sarah Crichton)

Finkel’s sequel to 2009’s The Good Soldiers reconnects with members of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they attempt to readjust to civilian life and a new set of struggles—fighting against PTSD, economic hardship, and bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Johnny Cash: The Life

Robert Hilburn (Little, Brown)

A spellbinding storyteller, Hilburn traces Cash’s musical journey from his record deal with Sam Phillips and Sun Records to his famous 1957 San Quentin Prison show, which moved Merle Haggard to start playing country music again.

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A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America

Jacqueline Jones (Basic)

Through the stories of six black Americans, Jones forcefully demonstrates how racial ideologies are used to uphold existing power relations and perpetuate injustice, denying some citizens their rightful place in civic life.

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For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison

Liao Yiwu, trans. by Wenguang Huang (New Harvest)

In this vivid and lyrical memoir, exiled Chinese poet Liao recounts his politicization and imprisonment in the wake of the 1989 government crackdown on the democracy movement centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. A consummate insider account of Chinese state terror.

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A House in the Sky

Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett (Scribner)

This is a well-honed, harrowing memoir from a young Canadian journalist kidnapped for ransom, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, by Somali Islamist rebels. Lindhout tells of enduring her 459-day captivity and of finding redemption upon returning to Somalia to form a foundation.

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Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers

Janet Malcolm (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A master class on literary and art criticism, this stunning collection by Malcolm (Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice) gathers a quarter-century’s worth of subtle, sharply observed essays, with topics ranging from the history of the Bloomsbury Group to Ingrid Sischy’s revamp of Artforum.

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Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Michael Moss (Random)

In this eye-popping exposé of the processed-food industry, Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter Moss explains the science of salt, sugar, and fat, which impart luscious mouthfeel and tantalizing tastes that light up the same neural circuits as narcotics.

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Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir (Times)

The struggle for resources—time, money, food, companionship—concentrates the mind, for better or, mostly, worse, according to this revelatory treatise on the psychology of scarcity from Harvard economist Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Shafir.

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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

George Packer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Through the personal histories of an Ohio factory worker, a Washington political operative, a North Carolinian small businessman, and an Internet billionaire, New Yorker staff writer Packer incisively charts the erosion of the social compact that had kept the country stable and middle-class for decades.

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Biennials and Beyond—Exhibitions That Made Art History: 1962–2002

Phaidon Editors and Bruce Altshuler (Phaidon)

This superb companion volume to Altshuler’s 2008 book, Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions That Made Art History: 1863–1959, showcases 25 seminal exhibitions through archival photographs, alongside catalogue statements, exhibition materials, letters, interviews, articles, and previously unpublished materials.

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The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry

Mark Ribowsky (Norton/Liveright)

In this thorough examination of the life of the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Ribowsky reveals how the game of football has changed since Landry’s heyday in the 1960s through the ’80s, while providing an eloquent, honest tribute to a sports genius.

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Mary Roach (Norton)

No one but Roach could make a trip through the human digestive system entertaining. With stops along the way to explain the importance of saliva and the success rate of fecal transplants, this blend of science and humor provides the best account of the gross things your body does every day.

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The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts

Graham Robb (Norton)

Peeling back layers of previously muddled or unexplored European “protohistory,” Robb rediscovers the technologies bequeathed to modern civilization by the long-misunderstood Celts. He throws down a challenge to historians who’ve dismissed the Celts as merely mysterious wizard hermits. Take that, Romans!

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Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City

Russell Shorto (Doubleday)

In a fascinating telling, Shorto charts Amsterdam’s rise from a sleepy marsh town to an economic and intellectual powerhouse, whose greatest export is arguably the modern world itself.

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Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

Jonathan Sperber (Norton/Liveright)

Sperber produces a sympathetic, yet objective account of this eminently difficult man and thinker. Free of ideological or partisan leanings, it elucidates and criticizes as necessary, and is likely to be considered the standard biography for years to come.

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Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me

Patricia Volk (Knopf)

Volk has a talent for unearthing meaning in the seemingly mundane in this wonderful tribute to two ambitious women—fashion designer Schiaparelli, and Volk’s mother—who were ahead of their time.

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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing

Anya von Bremzen (Crown)

Moscow-born food writer von Bremzen immigrated to the U.S. with her mother in 1974 when she was 10 years old, and in this fluid memoir cum Soviet history, she unlocks conflicted memories of her upbringing through reminiscences of certain dishes that have become her very own “poisoned madeleines.”

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Fosse

Sam Wasson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In this luminous biography of Bob Fosse, the legendary Broadway choreographer and director of the trend-setting movie antimusicals Cabaret and All That Jazz, film critic Wasson depicts the master as a glittering, neurotic showbiz soul.

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