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The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Wealth, Race and Power

Deirdre Mask (St. Martin’s)

Mask’s enthusiastic debut explores the stories and histories behind street names and how they often have the power to determine who matters, and who doesn’t. The research is impressive, covering thousands of years of history from the ancient Romans to the present day while also revealing remarkable truths about power, class, race, and history.

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Bluebeard’s First Wife

Ha Seong-nan, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong (Open Letter)

Ha’s nitro-fueled collection captures the dark side of South Korean society in mischievous, unapologetic feminist stories. Shocking violence occurs between a new married couple, a dog is stolen, and neighbors are suspiciously noisy among other disturbances in this wonderfully weird book. Each story stands out, and together they form a nightmare impossible to turn away from.

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

Wilkerson’s deeply researched, exquisitely written, and exceptionally timely investigation into America’s “shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based” caste system is as must-read as it gets. Drawing incisive parallels to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson debunks widespread myths about U.S. history and reveals the steep price American society pays for limiting the potential of Black Americans.

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The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir

Wayétu Moore (Graywolf)

With the lyrical precision of a folktale, Moore’s memoir details her traumatic flight from her home in war-torn Liberia in 1990, her childhood in Texas, and the racially fraught romances of her postgraduate years in Brooklyn. In the book’s final chapters, Moore accomplishes one of the year’s most moving and eye-opening feats of imagination, shifting perspective to recount her mother’s nerve-jangling journey from New York to Africa to rescue her family.

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Homeland Elegies

Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown)

This year’s Great American Novel, a masterpiece of autofiction, confronts a series of contradictions, reversals, and enigmas among the author-protagonist’s family members, friends, and lovers. The most affecting—and occasionally the funniest—is the story of Ayad’s complicated relationship with his father, an immigrant from Pakistan who once served as Donald Trump’s doctor, leading him to support Trump in 2016.

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The Last Great Road Bum

Hector Tobar (MCD)

Tobar follows up Deep Down Dark, his celebrated work of narrative nonfiction, with a stunning novel based on the life of failed Hemingwayesque writer Joe Sanderson, who died fighting with the guerillas in El Salvador. Tobar keeps up fascinating tension between his critiques of innocent globetrotter Joe’s desire to remake the world in his own image and a genuinely exciting chronicle of Joe’s adventures.

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The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

Zachary D. Carter (Random House)

Journalist Carter untangles the personal and professional contradictions of economic theorist John Maynard Keynes in this magisterial biography. From Keynes’s late-in-life love affair with a Russian ballerina to his abandonment of the Paris Peace Conference over German war reparations and influence on FDR’s New Deal, Carter renders his subject’s brilliant mind and “spirit of radical optimism” accessible to lay readers.

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A Saint from Texas

Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

The spiritual and the profane get equal airtime in White’s wickedly funny tale of a Texas oil heiress who trades on her wealth to become a French baroness while her sister devotes herself to a convent in Colombia, as each explores her own sexuality. Manners of the French aristocracy and American nouveau riche are wonderfully, lovingly skewered by White’s perfect touch.

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Sisters

Daisy Johnson (Riverhead)

Horror motifs set the stage for a beguiling psychological nightmare in a North York Moors cottage, where a mother deals with depression and a teenage girl struggles to put the pieces back together after being bullied. Phenomenal prose and unforgettable images immerse the reader completely in the idyllic-turned-fearsome setting, and a staggering twist makes this worth reading a second time.

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Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

Claudio Saunt (Norton)

Historian Saunt argues that the Trail of Tears was not an inescapable American tragedy but a deliberate political choice in this meticulous account. Detailing the links between Indian removal and slavery, and the brutal oppression of Native American resisters by law enforcement, Saunt’s gut-wrenching history speaks powerfully to today’s moment of reckoning over racial injustice.

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