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America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy

Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar (Basic)

In an artfully told and richly detailed narrative, Ogbar complicates African American history by highlighting Atlanta’s early emergence as a powerhouse of Black economic and political life despite its location in the heart of a neo-Confederate stronghold. Subject to relentless persecution, Black Atlantans developed a philosophy of self-reliance that, Ogbar shows, interacted in dynamic ways with later civil rights activism.


The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession

Michael Finkel (Knopf)

French art thief Stéphane Breitwieser pilfered more than 200 artworks from museums across Europe between 1994 and 2001. Finkel recounts those exploits in an account that’s part perceptive psychological exploration (what’s behind the desire to possess beauty?) and part pure fun: a rollicking ride through Breitwieser’s unbelievable stunts, broad-daylight heists, and the cat-and-mouse game with police that culminated in his 2001 arrest.


August Wilson: A Life

Patti Hartigan (Simon & Schuster)

Hartigan’s magisterial biography is at once a nuanced portrait of a flawed man and an ode to a one-of-a-kind chronicler of Black working-class American life in such works as 1979’s Jitney! and 1987’s Fences. Enriched by scrupulous detail and extensive research, this gives welcome due to one of 20th-century America’s most influential playwrights.


The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths

Brad Fox (Astra House)

Bizarre creatures of the deep populate Fox’s history of the expeditions undertaken by engineer Otis Barton, ecologist William Beebe, and scientist Gloria Hollister, who plunged thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface in a submersible steel observation tank dubbed the “bathysphere.” Electrified by the awe and excitement of scientific discovery, this astounds.


Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA

Theresa Runstedtler (Bold Type)

Runstedtler’s fleet-footed chronicle examines how Black athletes transformed the NBA in the 1970s, covering Cornelius Hawkins and Spencer Haywood’s policy-changing antitrust suits against the league and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s political activism. Scrupulous research illuminates the contributions of superstars and overlooked game-changers alike, making for a history as nimble as the players profiled.


Everything/Nothing/Someone: A Memoir

Alice Carrière (Spiegel & Grau)

In this shattering memoir, Carrière catalogs the forces—namely her erratic Manhattan childhood—that contributed to her struggles with dissociative disorder and then charts her path to personal wellness. Her brilliant and illuminating account of neglect, illness, and eventual reconciliation reads like a contemporary Girl, Interrupted.


Gray Areas: How the Way We Work Perpetuates Racism and What We Can Do to Fix It

Adia Harvey Wingfield (Amistad)

Wingfield takes a transfixing deep dive into the workplace experiences of seven Black workers in a range of American industries, who give detailed accountings of their feelings and activities across more than a decade. Fascinating in its own right, this meticulous fieldwork is marshalled into a trenchant study of how workplace culture perpetuates racism.


The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race

Farah Karim-Cooper (Viking)

There are no easy answers in Karim-Cooper’s razor-sharp appraisal of Shakespeare’s treatment of race. Whether taking the Bard to task for racist characters and rhetoric in Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet, crediting him for more nuanced depictions in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, or tracing how racist scholars have distorted his work, Karim-Cooper is never less than riveting.


How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our World

Deb Chachra (Riverhead)

In a deceptively easygoing style, Chachra constructs a complex treatise on the fundamental necessity of infrastructure to human flourishing. These grand systems not only provide the stuff of life, she poignantly observes, but expand our individual abilities. She ruminates on intricacies of design that allow infrastructure to align with natural forces like gravity, speculating with buoyant confidence that this is how humankind will unleash its potential.


How to Say Babylon: A Memoir

Safiya Sinclair (Simon & Schuster)

Poet Sinclair’s bruising account of her restrictive upbringing in Jamaica details how writing provided an escape from her militant Rastafarian father, who was determined to shield the women in their family from “Western influence.” Told with startling complexity and breathtaking prose, it’s a tour de force.


Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope

Sarah Bakewell (Penguin Press)

Capturing seven centuries of intellectual history is no small feat, but Bakewell makes it look easy in this surprisingly witty inquiry into humanism’s central questions—Can life be understood without God? What does it mean to be human, anyway?—and the pathbreaking thinkers who tackled them, including Erasmus, Voltaire, and Zora Neale Hurston.


In Levittown’s Shadow: Poverty in America’s Wealthiest Postwar Suburb

Tim Keogh (Univ. of Chicago)

Keogh’s landmark study detonates the myth of mid-century suburban prosperity. Drawing from a deep well of municipal records, he conjures an original and disturbing vision of suburban exploitation and poverty, mostly endured by Black and brown residents, which allowed affluent middle-class whites to achieve their American dream.


An Inconvenient Cop: My Fight to Change Policing in America

Edwin Raymond, with Jon Sternfeld (Viking)

Raymond, a 14-year NYPD veteran, argues in this searing memoir that New York City is “the red-hot-center of the problem” of racially motivated police brutality. From his early life as the child of Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn to his experiences with racism on the force, Raymond delivers a gutting insider’s take on a hot-button issue.


King: A Life

Jonathan Eig (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In a propulsive narrative rich with emotion, Eig draws on new material to give a full and definitive portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. as a courageous and radical political luminary with a troubled and complex personal life. It’s an electrifying new perspective on an iconic figure.


The Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry and the Race to Save Russia’s Jews on the Eve of World War I

Steven Ujifusa (Harper)

Ujifusa profiles the industrialists who built the shipping lines that allowed millions of Jewish refugees to emigrate from Europe to America at the turn of the 20th century. This impressively constructed narrative utilizes deep dives into business deals, personal beefs, and engineering networks as a window onto sociopolitics and human geography, demonstrating the interconnectedness of often disparately studied events.


Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives

Amelia Possanza (Catapult)

Possanza plunders forgotten queer histories for this dazzling debut, in which she seeks to rescue herself from romantic cynicism by “collecting” hopeful stories from her lesbian forebears. Seamlessly combining literary scholarship and intimate self-portrait, it’s a virtuosic volume.


Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

Claire Dederer (Knopf)

Readers might be forgiven for thinking the issue of whether one can, or should, separate the art from the artist has been discussed to the point of exhaustion. Dederer proves there’s still profound insights to be had as she skillfully interrogates the complicated ways audiences relate to art while probing her own feelings about Roman Polanski, Pablo Picasso, and other problematic artists.


The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial

David Lipsky (Norton)

Lipsky’s talent for identifying overlooked angles in well-covered stories serves him well in this unique account of the climate crisis, which puts an enlightening study of how Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison brought about a world beholden to fossil fuels in conversation with a spry investigation of how corporate propaganda has contributed to climate denialism.


A Rome of One’s Own: The Forgotten Women of the Roman Empire

Emma Southon (Abrams)

By turning the spotlight on women who lived in the imperial hinterlands, this witty romp offers an entirely new vision of Roman life. Southon reveals how bias in historiography can result in fundamental misunderstandings of the past while providing an entertaining glimpse of unsung lives.


Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System

Ryan J. Reilly (PublicAffairs)

Embedding himself in the digital world of online sleuths who took it upon themselves to identify participants in the January 6 Capitol attack, Reilly paints a vivid and urgent portrait of a justice system and a country in disarray. His relationships with his subjects become a riveting window onto the Justice department investigation as well as an insightful look at the lives of the rioters.


Thin Skin: Essays

Jenn Shapland (Pantheon)

This searching collection takes Shapland’s diagnosis of “thin skin” (she’s missing a layer of epidermis) as a metaphor for the complex relationship between the individual and their environment. Shedding light on how pollutants, cultural narratives, and capitalism influence identity, Shapland’s penetrating analysis is filled with insight and lyrical prose, making for a dazzling probe of the blurry line between the self and the greater world.


We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America

Roxanna Asgarian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In an investigation meant to restore dignity to the victims of a notorious tragedy rubbernecked by the national news media, Asgarian uncovers a Texas child welfare agency’s disturbing practice of removing children from Black families and placing them with white families out of state. It’s an exemplary piece of reportage that exposes troubling government malfeasance.


What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds

Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin Press)

The social complexity, playfulness, and impressive hunting abilities of owls are brought into focus in Ackerman’s superb study. Filled with striking research on the nocturnal predators’ abilities and habits (owls use “sophisticated mathematical calculations” to locate prey by sound), this is pop science at its finest.


When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era

Donovan X. Ramsey (One World)

Ramsey revisits the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic in this vivid exploration of an understudied moment in American history. Drawing on extensive interviews with four subjects whose experiences were key to the political developments of the era, this authoritative report brings crucial clarity to a troubling time.


Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation

Tiya Miles (Norton)

In this intellectual stroll through American history, Miles pieces together a surprising thesis regarding such radical women as Harriet Tubman and Louisa May Alcott and the strong relationships with the outdoors they developed in their youth. In graceful and erudite prose, Miles demonstrates how these pathbreakers were both drawn to the freedom of nature and in turn molded by it.


Womb: The Inside Story of Where We All Began

Leah Hazard (Ecco)

Midwife Hazard’s timely cultural history of the uterus surveys the politics of the “most miraculous and misunderstood organ in the human body.” She presents sharp observations about how such medical terms as “irritable uterus” conflate women with their condition, and the predictably fatal consequences of abortion bans.


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