“Let me tell you about the very rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote in 1926. “They are different from you and me.”
Maybe so, but when the rich person in question was the billionaire Sumner Redstone — the former chairman of Paramount Global, who died in 2020 and is at the center of “Unscripted,” a new exposé by the Times journalists James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams — he apparently wasn’t so different from “a 15-year-old kid at summer camp” in terms of his romantic crushes and his libido. The book is filled with astonishing stories of the aging Redstone’s lustful whims, as he casually provided his love interests with multimillion-dollar houses, horse stables, their own TV series. It’s juicy gossip, and riveting. But the book’s deeper message is about the way that Redstone’s impulsive personality shaped the culture at Paramount, which late in his tenure suffered a series of scandals and a succession battle to make the characters on “Empire” blush. If you’re interested in dysfunctional business, or dysfunctional people, this would be a good addition to your reading list.
But maybe you prefer to learn about 19th-century utopian cults? You can do that with Susan Wels’s “An Assassin in Utopia,” while still getting your fill of power struggles and other people’s love lives. More virtuous still, Saket Soni’s “The Great Escape” describes how the author worked to free hundreds of Indian laborers held in semi-captivity in a Mississippi work camp. And in fiction, we recommend a crime novel about a tough nun, a campus novel about college life in the 1990s and a British novel about grief and squash (the game, not the vegetable), along with a story collection set in Bangkok, a fragmented novel about (real-life) queer women writers at the turn of the 20th century, and Allegra Goodman’s fictional portrait of a 7-year-old girl living in tough circumstances. Happy reading.
The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy
James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams
This jaw-dropping chronicle by two Times reporters of the final years of Sumner Redstone, the head of Paramount, is an epic tale of toxic wealth and greed populated by connivers and manipulators, not least Redstone himself.
“A model of how gracefully to tell the most grotesque of stories. … The writing is elegant and the story so weird and compelling — I lost some sleep unable to put this book down — that the reader may be the only witness to this spectacle who never feels manipulated.”
From Adam Davidson’s review
Penguin Press | $32
Sister Holiday — the tattooed, chain-smoking star of this series debut — may be an unconventional nun. But when fires begin breaking out at her New Orleans convent, and someone she knows dies, her yen for amateur sleuthing asserts itself.
“‘Scorched Grace’’s power derives from Holiday’s nonstop internal struggle. … I cannot wait to read the sister’s next investigation, of mysteries and of her own self.”
From Sarah Weinman’s crime column
Gillian Flynn Books/Zando | $27.95
In this polished and disciplined debut novel, an 11-year-old Jain girl in London who has just lost her mother turns her attention to the game of squash — which in Maroo’s graceful telling becomes a way into the girl’s grief and her attempts to process it: Only on the court does she have space to mourn alone.
“In many ways, this intimate sport is loneliness itself. The beauty of Maroo’s novel lies in that unfolding, the narrative shaped as much by what is on the page as by what’s left unsaid.”
From Ivy Pochoda’s review
Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $25
MY LAST INNOCENT YEAR
Daisy Alpert Florin
This moving and graceful novel whisks readers back to 1998 and into the life of a college senior who struggles to find her path after two incidents with men send her reeling. She makes big mistakes and has the guts to look back on them with a wise eye.
“A heartfelt chronicle of a writer who realizes that her stories about girls with feelings matter every bit as much as the ones written by the guy who annotates The New Yorker. … Lands like a refreshing, deep breath.”
From Elisabeth Egan’s Group Text column
Holt | $27.99
AN ASSASSIN IN UTOPIA:
The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder
Wels’s subtitle promises a lot — and the book delivers, with forays into spiritualism, Reconstruction and experiments in communal living in a utopian society in Oneida, N.Y., as well as President Garfield’s assassination at the hands of a disillusioned cult member.
“Wels’s kaleidoscopic romp is an undeniable thrill. … We can find Oneida too in contemporary considerations of what it means to find fulfillment in work and love.”
From Mattie Kahn’s review
Pegasus Crime | $27.95
THE GREAT ESCAPE:
A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America
In this gripping account, Soni, a labor organizer, details the story of several hundred Indian men lured to this country on promises of work and green cards, who ended up in semi-captivity in Mississippi until his efforts to free them.
“Although Soni depicts the uncomfortable extent to which Americans have been shaped by a voracious appetite for cheap labor, he also holds out the prospect that the idealism of immigrants can renew the American dream for all of us.”
From Farah Stockman’s review
Algonquin | $28
Selby Wynn Schwartz
Inspired by Sappho’s work, Schwartz’s debut novel offers an alternate history of creativity at the turn of the 20th century, one that centers queer women artists, writers and intellectuals who refused to accept society’s boundaries.
“Considers the intimate moments beyond historical record, shifting our gaze and questioning the discipline of history itself. Schwartz builds a novel around women’s struggles for self-determination, excising the men who were in their way.”
From Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s review
Liveright | $28.95
This novel’s portrait of a girl at risk shimmers with an unusual intimacy and depth. Beginning when the title character is 7, living with her struggling single mother, Goodman’s tenderhearted story follows Sam through the confusions of girlhood.
“If it feels like Sam must live on in the world after the novel is done … it’s because Goodman has so genuinely inhabited a real identity: the kid primed to fall through the cracks who somehow doesn’t.”
From Mary Pols’s review
Dial | $28
WELCOME ME TO THE KINGDOM:
In his debut collection, Nardone fixes the spotlight on Bangkok’s dark, seedy corners, tracking a handful of families whose lives intersect over the decades in tales of corruption, poverty, sex tourism and racism toward the Muslim minority.
“This dark collection is an honest, crystalline depiction of what urbanization has done to complicate and erode human life. Bangkok is the true star here.”
From Sindya Bhanoo’s review
Random House | $27
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