9 New Books We Recommend This Week: Frontlist

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It’s probably no coincidence that the same subjects we’re taught to avoid in polite conversation — politics, religion, money — are so irresistible to read about. We’ll save religion for another time, but this week we invite you to think about money by way of Stefano Massini’s epic novel of the Lehman Brothers company, and about politics by way of the other books we recommend, from Robert M. Gates’s treatise on foreign policy to DW Gibson’s tour of President Trump’s border wall. We won’t even discourage you from discussing them, politely, when you’re done.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY, by Stefano Massini. Translated by Richard Dixon. (HarperVia, $35.) Massini wrote this 700-page novel in verse and later adapted it into his play of the same name. The story spans 160 years of the Lehman Brothers financial firm’s history, beginning when one of the brothers moved from Bavaria to Alabama and entered the cotton business. Massini’s writing is “smart, electric, light on its feet,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “‘The Lehman Trilogy’ lives on the page because of its human moments: the wooing of spouses; the scandals and feuds; the perilous attempts to climb the class ladder.”

LET THEM EAT TWEETS: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. (Liveright, $26.95.) Two widely respected political scientists argue that the wealthiest Americans have devised a successful antidemocratic strategy that thwarts the wishes of the vast majority by resorting to ever greater doses of toxic emotionalism. The authors, according to Franklin Foer’s review, “have constructed a portrait of the Trumpian moment that, in the book’s professorial way, is as terrifying as those Page 1 accounts of presidential ravings. They meticulously show how the president isn’t a singular presence, but a thoroughly representative one.”

THE DEMAGOGUE’S PLAYBOOK: The Battle for American History From the Founders to Trump, by Eric A. Posner. (All Points, $28.99.) In a survey of demagogues through American history, Posner sees Trump as a president similar to Andrew Jackson, hostile to expertise and existing institutions, and intentionally sowing seeds of division in order to enhance his own power. “A great virtue of Posner’s conceptual scheme is that it allows him to focus on those aspects of Trump’s presidency that are of lasting significance,” Yascha Mounk writes in his review. “Instead of condemning demagogues for any phrase or policy he happens to dislike, he zeros in on their dangerous habit of positing a conflict between the people and the very institutions that have historically enabled them to exert their power.”

EXERCISE OF POWER: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World, by Robert M. Gates. (Knopf, $29.95.) With decades of experience at the highest levels of government, Gates presents a critique of past mistakes in American foreign policy and provides a guide for policymakers in the future. “Gates says what he thinks and refuses to pull his punches,” Gideon Rose writes in his review, “and, as a result, the book offers in one volume the most accurate record available of recent American security policy, the most incisive critique of that policy and the most sensible guide to what should come next.”

14 MILES: Building the Border Wall, by DW Gibson. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) Gibson went to the place where Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful” wall is being constructed and talked to a range of people from border agents to activists who trek into the desert to drop jugs of water for thirsty migrants. He comes away with a layered portrait of both the symbol and the reality of Trump’s endeavor. “Gibson’s book stands out from the pack,” our reviewer, Shane Bauer, writes. “So much of today’s journalism lacks context for Trump’s immigration policies. In ‘14 Miles,’ the president’s attack on immigration is rightly presented as the latest in a long history of attempts to keep, or kick, foreigners out. … If anything, Trump’s wall is the embodiment of a longstanding illusion of American permanence and superiority.”

RIGGED: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference, by David Shimer. (Knopf, $29.95.) Both the Russians and the Americans have engaged in electoral interference, Shimer says, but the Russians have improved their techniques and America’s patchwork political system leaves it extremely vulnerable. “Shimer skillfully reconstructs the history of how both Washington and Moscow got into the business of election interference in the first place,” Timothy Naftali writes in his review. “While not breaking much new archival ground, he provides a powerful primer, at the same time avoiding the reflexive ‘whataboutism’ that mars so much analysis.”

MAKE RUSSIA GREAT AGAIN, by Christopher Buckley. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) Buckley’s latest satire, involving an effort to blackmail the president over the doings at a Miss Universe pageant, begins with his seventh chief of staff in prison. One standout chapter describes a cult, the Ever Trumpers, who want the president to shoot them on Fifth Avenue. “Buckley is an old hand at this, the author of more than a dozen political satires,” Ben Greenman writes, reviewing the book alongside two other works of politically minded fiction. “Topical lampoonery piles up quickly. Within the first few pages, there’s a statue of the Confederate colonel Robert E. Bigly and a resort called Farrago-Sur-Mer. … Buckley is intelligent and ingenious and at times pitch-perfect.”

ENTER THE AARDVARK, by Jessica Anthony. (Little, Brown, $26.) Alternating between two stories of covert gay affairs, one in Victorian England and one in contemporary Washington, Anthony explores the tension between public and private life, particularly where ambition is involved. Ben Greenman, in his review of three political satires, writes that the author “illustrates that identity is always a construction, and often a rickety one; and wonders whether societies that seem worlds apart might not in fact occupy the exact same space, psychically speaking. The novel is at times elaborate, but in the Rube Goldberg sense; it asks (and answers) simple questions with boundless energy and innovation.”

THE FAKING OF THE PRESIDENT: Nineteen Stories of White House Noir, edited by Peter Carlaftes. (Three Rooms, paper, $16.) This anthology of political fictions recasts presidential history in some audacious ways — in one, Tipper Gore and Laura Bush duke it out to settle the 2000 election. “A surprising number of the stories put arrows in the red or yellow,” Ben Greenman writes in his review. “Alison Gaylin’s ‘Burning Love,’ which kicks things off, imagines a world where Nixon’s interest in the specially deputized federal agent Elvis Presley is more than professional. Angel Luis Colon’s ‘Is This Tomorrow,’ set in the Eisenhower administration, neatly injects ‘Manchurian Candidate’-style Cold War paranoia into a tale of an exterminator tasked with eliminating squirrels on the White House lawn. The stories range far and wide, within the relatively narrow confines of this conceit.”
Source: NYTimes

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