Books

9 New Books We Recommend This Week

For no particular reason, today might be a good day to read Edmund Fawcett’s “Conservatism” — an intellectual history that explores how one political philosophy can give rise to wildly divergent politics. The book doesn’t limit its discussion to America, or to the present day, but for anybody riveted and shaken by images of rioters storming the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the orderly progress of democracy this week, it does offer a valuable wide-lens perspective on currents that have been at play for decades if not centuries. (Fawcett is a journalist, and by nature more an analyst than an agitator; in an earlier book he likewise explored the origins and contradictions of liberalism.)

Also on the shelf this week: two books about the search for human ancestors, biographies of Henry Adams and Sylvia Pankhurst, essays by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Christa Parravani’s memoir of fraught motherhood, and new fiction by Alecia McKenzie and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

CONSERVATISM: The Fight for a Tradition, by Edmund Fawcett. (Princeton University, $35.) Fawcett’s magisterial study of conservatives in the United States, Britain, France and Germany describes intellectual traditions and divisions that are important to everyone across the political spectrum. “The strength of this book is in its international reach,” Andrew Sullivan writes in his review. “Fawcett’s grasp … is, quite simply, formidable. He alternates between concise accounts of various conservative thinkers and brief histories of conservatism as a political force in the history of Western government. What he finds is that the party most opposed to liberal modernity has, in fact, ended up dominating its governments.”

ZIKORA: A Short Story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Amazon Original Stories.) Adichie’s first fiction book since “Americanah” takes place in an American delivery room, as a Nigerian woman gives birth. The audio version may be only 75 minutes, but Adichie packs in family histories, meditations on nostalgia and commentary on the challenges faced by Black mothers in the United States. The story “is short enough for one sitting, but will stick with you long after,” Sebastian Modak writes in a new column devoted to audiobooks. “The actor Adepero Oduye as narrator shifts seamlessly between characters, and I hung onto her every word.”

IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS: Essays, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Translated by Martin Aitken. (Archipelago, $28.) The Norwegian author of “My Struggle” explores the possibilities and limits of artistic creation, discovering in essays on Flaubert, Knut Hamsun, Ingmar Bergman, Michel Houellebecq and Cindy Sherman, among other figures, the necessity of both boundaries and unfettered freedom in art. The collection “reads less like a book of criticism at times than a work of negative theology,” Meghan O’Gieblyn writes in her review, “circling the mysteries of artistic creation that cannot be directly articulated: What makes a book or a painting feel alive and relevant? Why should art, which occupies the realm of pure fantasy, have any rules at all? … In most cases, however, these airy speculations are saved by moments of self-searching that bring the meditation back to the personal and the concrete. To some extent, the collection is an extended reckoning with Knausgaard’s own creative process.”

THE LAST AMERICAN ARISTOCRAT: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams, by David S. Brown. (Scribner, $30.) Brown’s vivid biography captures the scion of an early American dynasty warts and all, arguing this sour but gifted man was the pre-eminent historian of America’s turbulent 19th century. Amy S. Greenberg, reviewing the book, calls it a “marvelous new biography” that “reveals how dynastic burden shaped the personality and career of the brilliant, bitter and thoroughly unlikable man who brought the prominence of the Adams family, and expectations for the endurance of political legacies, to an ignominious end. In the process it provides a compelling account of America’s transformation in the space of one man’s lifetime.”

FOSSIL MEN: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind, by Kermit Pattison. (Morrow, $32.50.) Pattison tells the wild tale of the discovery of Ardipithecus, a protohuman that lived 4.4 million years ago in Ethiopia. The man who made the find, Tim White, comes across as a brilliant antihero whose adventures, feuds and larger-than-life personality propel the story: “Indiana Jones meets Tony Soprano,” as Steve Brusatte describes him in his review. “He’s ruthless in his quest to find new fossils, no matter what war zone or swarm of poisonous pests might be in the way. Often vulgar, but charming and funny, he commands an army of loyal friends against tides of intellectual enemies. The disagreements are far from academic; they are the fundamental questions of our genesis.”

THE SEDIMENTS OF TIME: My Lifelong Search for the Past, by Meave Leakey with Samira Leakey. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) Meave Leakey is paleoanthropological royalty: the wife of Richard, and daughter-in-law of Louis and Mary. In this memoir, written with her daughter, she details her own research and important discoveries in the field. “This inspirational autobiography stands among the finest scientist memoirs,” Steve Brusatte writes, reviewing the book alongside “Fossil Men” (above). “Its genial tone contrasts with the grittier air of Pattison’s book, but the two complement each other beautifully — the way a tall glass of water refreshes after a double shot of whiskey.”

SYLVIA PANKHURST: Natural Born Rebel, by Rachel Holmes. (Bloomsbury, $40.) Pankhurst, a daughter of Britain’s leading suffragist, came by her radical politics naturally. But as this absorbing biography shows, she embraced a precociously modern awareness of gender and class, campaigning tirelessly for the rights of women and workers. “No book on Sylvia Pankhurst could fail to pass on an exhilarating story,” Francesca Wade writes in her review. “Pankhurst took on the 20th century both as participant and observer. She was an indefatigable activist, but also a journalist, who traveled — often in perilous conditions — across Europe, America and Africa to report on the dangers of fascism, the suppression of workers’ rights, the degradation of women, the folly of any system that imposed difference over commonality.”

A MILLION AUNTIES, by Alecia McKenzie. (Akashic, paper, $16.95.) The Jamaican-born author’s tender new novel, about a young Black painter from New York who travels to Port Segovia, Jamaica, in the wake of his wife’s death, is an emotionally resonant ode to adopted families and community resilience. Maisy Card, reviewing it, calls the book a “polyphonic narrative with a cast of characters who have experienced betrayal, disaster and loss at different stages of life … exploring how not just family but community can be our saving grace in our darkest moments. McKenzie’s message is clear: There is power in us simply showing up for one another.”

LOVED AND WANTED: A Memoir of Choice, Children, and Womanhood, by Christa Parravani. (Holt, $26.99.) This frank memoir begins when a mother of two learns she is unexpectedly pregnant. Her family is strapped for energy, child care and cash — and, in West Virginia, options are limited. “Parravani never lets us feel that a news item is anything less than terrifyingly, corporeally personal. When she tells us that 53 percent of West Virginian pregnancies are unplanned, it’s not a mere statistic but a rush of grief and fury at the reality of these circumstances,” Lauren Sandler writes in her review. “What she has done is dissect the complexity of choice, how our own trauma and relationships inform it, as well as policy and access. She reveals the cost to us all when we fail to openly personalize the politics of abortion in America.”

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