After completing the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling started writing a mystery series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. And happily, her virtuosic talent as a spinner of stories with intricate plots and singular characters is front and center again. Lethal White is the fourth in the Cormoran Strike series, and it’s perfectly narrated by Robert Glenister, who can ace a wonderfully wide range of British accents. In Lethal White, Strike, a London private investigator with a reputation for unraveling high-profile cases, and his able, lovely (yes, their attraction thrums below the surface) assistant, Robin, are in the thick of it, investigating political blackmail and the murder of a Tory minister, all wrapped in a blur of populist politics, replete with a wild cast that includes radical lefties, conservative snobs and a mentally ill young man who desperately wants Strike’s help. After this 22-hour treat, I can’t wait for Strike five.
Henry Worsley was 13 when he read Ernest Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic, which detailed Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic in the early 20th century. Worsley fell under Shackleton’s spell, and the book shaped his own future as an explorer. The White Darkness, originally published in The New Yorker, is David Grann’s cogent, intensely drawn portrait of Worsley, his fascinating life, his lifelong obsession with the Antarctic and his relentless passion to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps and succeed where he didn’t: crossing Antarctica on foot, alone. Only two and a half hours long, The White Darkness is one of the most powerful audios of the year, made so by Grann’s deftly crafted prose and Will Patton’s unwavering performance, delivered with conviction and calm urgency. Worsley eventually made two successful Antarctic expeditions with teams in 2008 and 2011 and went back for a fateful third expedition alone in 2015. You’ll feel the icy cold, his exhaustion, courage and formidable will as he battles the “obliterating conditions” on his transcontinental quest. Perhaps you’ll come to understand what drove him and the brave few among us to challenge frontiers, regardless of risk.
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In her new book, These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore writes, “The past is an inheritance, a gift, and a burden. . . . There’s nothing for it but to get to know it.” To make our past more knowable, Lepore has penned an astonishingly concise, exuberant and elegant one-volume American history that begins with Columbus and ends with Trump. Lepore questions, as Alexander Hamilton did, “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” Lepore tells us upfront that much historical detail is left out; this is a political history, an explanation of the origins of our democratic institutions, and it lets history’s vast array of characters speak in their own words when possible. It also makes clear that slavery is an intimate, inextricable part of the American story. This is the past we need to know. Listen closely as Lepore reads with unexpected pizazz.