Fascinating new nonfiction
“Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine” by Joe Hagan (Knopf, $29.95)
Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner provided Hagan with access to his associates and archives, but the two men had a falling out before the book’s publication. The book Hagan ended up writing is dishy — Hagan gets into Wenner’s explosive marriage and his struggle with his sexuality — but never tawdry, and the best parts are ones that focus on the magazine. Hagan, a former Rolling Stone contributing editor, captures the drama of Wenner’s celebrity relationships, including Patty Hearst and Hunter S. Thompson, but he is also insightful on how Wenner cannily created a popular and culturally influential magazine by mixing rock ’n’ roll with high-octane political journalism.
“The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” by Masha Gessen (Riverhead, $28)
Gessen, the New Yorker staff writer who was a journalist in Russia for many years, focuses on the trauma and disappointment of the nation today. In this book, a finalist for the National Book Award, Gessen offers up seven characters: a psychoanalyst, a sociologist and a nationalist philosopher — who fully grasp Russia’s transition from Soviet communism to Putin’s brand of state and crony capitalism — and four young people, born as the Soviet empire weakened and struggling with today’s political and cultural repression. Forceful and eloquent on the history of her native country, Gessen is alarming and pessimistic about its future as it doubles down on totalitarianism.
“Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery” by Scott Kelly (Knopf, $29.95)
Astronaut Kelly led an aimless youth until college, when he stumbled on Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff,” about test pilots and Project Mercury, which led him to become a Navy fighter pilot and eventually to be selected by NASA for a career in space. In this fascinating account, Kelly segues between his time in space and chapters on his New Jersey childhood with an alcoholic parent and a high-achieving twin brother, Mark (also an astronaut, married to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords). Kelly made four spaceflights, but his crowning achievement was 340 consecutive days with the International Space Station. In this memoir, he captures both the grandeur of orbit and daily details like interplanetary bathroom techniques.
“An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice” by Khizr Khan (Random House, $27)
After Khan brandished his pocket-sized Constitution at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and offered to lend it to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, orders for the little booklet soared. Now Kahn tells his own story, from his rural childhood in politically chaotic Pakistan to Texas and Harvard Law School and finally to the death of his son, killed by a car bomb in Iraq and posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. In this passionate but understated — and apolitical — memoir, Khan traces his journey toward American citizenship and details how he wrote, rehearsed and delivered a speech for the history books.
“Real American” by Julie Lythcott-Haims (Henry Holt, $27)
Lythcott-Haims, longtime dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult,” has won attention for her criticism of the “helicopter parenting” phenomenon. Now Lythcott-Haims turns the lens on herself, the child of a black father and white mother, and grapples with her own identity. Written in short, impressionistic, elegant chapters, “Real American” focuses on the evolution of Lythcott-Haims’s own consciousness: her consideration of slavery, her thoughts about the Charleston, S.C., church slayings — and, most interestingly, her own identity.
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