As told to Dr. Moiya McTier, the Milky Way details its page-turning life story, full of drama and humor.
As told to Dr. Moiya McTier, the Milky Way details its page-turning life story, full of drama and humor.

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Some of the best historians, scientists, poets and memoirists working today—plus a few multitalented movie and music stars—are ready to dazzle you with their latest works of brilliance.

Scenes From My Life by Michael K. Williams
Crown | August 23

Growing up in an East Flatbush housing project in Brooklyn, New York, Michael K. Williams was a fragile outsider and bullied kid. As he grew older, he progressed from Manhattan dance clubs to a nascent modeling career, then to acting. When the beloved performer died in September 2021, his memoir about this wild life journey, written with author Jon Sternfeld, was nearly finished. Now the posthumously published Scenes From My Life will explore not only Williams’ many iconic television roles, especially Omar from “The Wire,” but also his work as an activist and advocate for young people who get stuck in the school-to-prison pipeline. Scenes From My Life will cement Williams’ legacy as a kind, thoughtful man who used his public prominence to give back to his community.

A Place in the World by Frances Mayes
Crown | August 23

In Frances Mayes’ new collection of essays, she ponders the meaning of “home,” that intangible thing to which countless magazines and blogs are dedicated. The storied author recalls the literal homes where she has taken up residence over the years—from the iconic Italian villa from Under the Tuscan Sun, to the humid and fragrant Georgia town that was the subject of her memoir Under Magnolia, to the North Carolina farmhouse where she and her husband live when they’re not in Italy. She even recalls temporary homes, such as rentals in Mexico and Capri, as well as the sculptures, books, kitchens and fireplaces of her friends’ homes around the world. Tempered by a dash of wistful examination as Mayes enters her 80s, A Place in the World promises to be as nourishing and comforting as a home-cooked meal.

Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv
FSG | September

Rachel Aviv’s first book explores questions of self-knowledge and mental health, subjects she’s previously examined in her award-winning journalism for The New Yorker. Strangers to Ourselves offers sensitive case histories of people whose experiences of mental illness exceed the limits of psychiatric terminology, diagnosis and treatment—including the author’s own experience of being the youngest child in the U.S. to receive a diagnosis of anorexia. After being hospitalized for a failure to eat or drink, she met anorexic girls twice her age and learned to mimic their strategies for losing weight. But which came first: the diagnosis or her symptoms? This contradiction between psychiatric terminology and lived experience is the core issue driving Aviv’s book, which also examines Western psychiatry’s long history of ignoring the link between racial violence and mental illness. It’s a sharp, compassionate and necessary investigation, not to be missed.

What If? 2 by Randall Munroe
Riverhead | September

Randall Munroe returns with the answers to more questions that you have probably never asked. (What would happen if the solar system were filled with soup out to Jupiter? If a T. rex were released in New York City, how many humans per day would it need to consume to get its needed calorie intake?) The former NASA roboticist and bestselling author of How To, What If? and Thing Explainer combines scientific prowess with humor and his signature stick figure comics to illustrate complicated physics concepts in the silliest ways possible. But as Munroe writes in the introduction to What If? 2, “The same kind of science is used to answer serious questions and silly ones.” So abandon your pretensions, all ye who enter here, and you’ll be sure to learn something new.

The Year of the Puppy by Alexandra Horowitz
Viking | September

Do you ever wish you’d known your dog for its whole life? That you could have met it right after it was born and watched it grow into the dog you know and love today? Dog cognition extraordinaire and bestselling author Alexandra Horowitz (Our Dogs, Ourselves) decided that her family’s next dog would provide the perfect opportunity to study puppy development, and The Year of the Puppy records everything she learned in the first year of that puppy’s life. It’s a heartwarming personal story that seamlessly incorporates captivating science about our beloved canine companions. It’s also a must-read for dog lovers, which probably goes without saying, but we suspect that even cat lovers will find much to enjoy in this endearing scientific memoir.

Stay True by Hua Hsu
Doubleday | September

New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu’s memoir is born of trauma. In the summer of 1998, Hsu’s friend and classmate Ken Ishida was murdered in a carjacking just before their senior year at the University of California, Berkeley. Stay True examines the reverberations of a friendship frozen in time by death, while charting a parallel exploration of the experiences of immigration and assimilation that both drew together and pushed apart Hsu, whose parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and Ishida, whose Japanese American family had been in the United States for generations. Ultimately it’s a touching portrait of the years in a young person’s life when every album, every item of clothing is a stake in the ground of their burgeoning identity. Readers who came of age at the turn of the 21st century will be especially rewarded by the pop culture gems studded throughout.

Fen, Bog and Swamp by Annie Proulx
Scribner | September

The acclaimed author of The Shipping News, Barkskins and Brokeback Mountain turns her perceptive eye to the calamitous destruction of the world’s peatlands in Fen, Bog & Swamp. Annie Proulx is a lifelong environmentalist but not a scientist, so her language is always accessible as she explains how fens, bogs and swamps differ by water level and vegetation, and how crucial they are to a healthy ecosystem. She ranges widely, both thematically and geographically, and considers plenty of archaeology and literature along the way. She also sprinkles in reminiscences of her own wetland encounters and discusses the interactions between human and peatland throughout history, such as the ritual sacrifices that were later turned up as “bog bodies” by terrified peat cutters. It’s a smorgasbord of information that nature lovers won’t want to miss.

The Sporty One by Melanie Chisholm
Grand Central | September

Melanie Chisholm, aka Mel C., aka Sporty Spice, is giving readers everything, all that joy can bring, this I swear. But The Sporty One doesn’t just cover the joyful highs of Chisholm’s life—such as answering an ad in the newspaper at age 22 and landing herself in one of the world’s biggest musical groups, performing at the Olympics and appearing on the covers of countless magazines—but plumbs the darker depths of her life, too, including a lifelong struggle with perfectionism and insecurities about her body. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “girl power” while wearing platform shoes, this book will be a wonderful bright spot this autumn.

Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey
Little, Brown Spark |
October 11

Tricia Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry, an organization that facilitates workshops and art installations that explore rest as a tool for healing and reconnecting with our humanity. She makes her publishing debut with Rest Is Resistance, a searing indictment of capitalist grind culture. With a background in theology, art and community organizing, Hersey especially addresses the soul-deep weariness of Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. The system of slavery that treated humans like machines for production, Hersey says, is the same system that drives today’s punishing, profit-driven economic system. Rest Is Resistance is a call to move toward racial justice and community healing by engaging in activities that have nothing to do with productivity, such as daydreaming and napping.

Madly, Deeply by Alan Rickman
Holt | October 18

When iconic actor Alan Rickman died in 2016, he left behind shoes that are virtually unfillable. (Who else could embody roles in Die Hard, Sense and Sensibility and Harry Potter and be perfect in all three?) For those still mourning his loss, Madly, Deeply will provide a wealth of insight to this man and his many charms. The book collects entries from Rickman’s diaries from 1993 to 2015, with some additional snippets from 1974 to 1982, to create an intimate picture of the daily rhythms of his life as they occasionally collided with incredible success and life-changing opportunities. Fans of theater and film will revel in Rickman’s candid witticisms about his co-stars, and their love for his work will deepen as they learn more about this artist’s dynamic life and legacy.

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman
Knopf | October 18

If any actor in the last 100 years has reached icon status, Paul Newman has. His posthumous memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, grew out of a project that Newman himself initiated in 1986 to compile an oral history of his life by interviewing friends, family, lovers and colleagues about their honest impressions of the beloved actor. In turn, Newman gave his own takes, offering up incredible details about his troubled childhood, introduction to acting, marriage to Joanne Woodward, the death of his son and much more. Newman’s unvarnished recollections of Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor make this book a treasure trove for movie buffs of every ilk.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown | October 25

Master biographer Stacy Schiff (Vera, Cleopatra) sets her sights on America’s rocky beginnings in The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams. In her sixth book, the Pulitzer Prizewinning author brings to light the radical rabble-rousing of Samuel Adams, who, as it turns out, was much more than just the namesake for a beer. As one of the architects of the Boston Tea Party, Adams played an integral part in spurring America toward revolution. As it chronicles Adams’ journey from a frivolous youth to a rebellious adulthood, Schiff’s sprawling biography will secure Adams a place of significance in our national memory once again.

The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Scribner | October 25

Take a journey into the smallest unit of our bodies with bestselling and Pulitzer Prizewinning author Siddhartha Mukherjee—no Magic School Bus required. In The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene, Mukherjee laid out the moving history of genetics and their effects on our biological destinies, including their influence on cancer. Now in The Song of the Cell, the cancer physician and researcher explores another essential piece of the human story: cells. Covering everything from their discovery in the 1600s through today’s rapidly developing technology for healing and manipulating our maladies on a cellular level, Mukherjee’s latest harnesses some of the most important scientific work being done today and distills it into a beautiful, readable page turner.

Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
Algonquin | October

Award-winning author Ross Gay has become something of an authority on joy after his 2015 poetry collection, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, and his bestselling essay collection, The Book of Delights. But his next collection of essays is somewhat sneakily about sorrow. That is, it’s about the ways that sorrow draws us together, causes us to rely on one another and then, rather unexpectedly, squeezes joy out of our togetherness. With playful metaphors and language that skips along like a game of hopscotch, Inciting Joy: Essays promises to deliver heart-swelling insights into life, death and the joyful necessity of interdependence.

And There Was Light by Jon Meacham
Random House | October 25

It’s a big season for new releases from Pulitzer winners! Add Jon Meacham (The Soul of America, His Truth Is Marching On) to the list with And There Was Light, his 720-page biography of Abraham Lincoln. In his 13th book for adults, Meacham explores Lincoln’s moral development, mapping the influences—from Baptist preachers to the books that provided his self-made education—throughout Lincoln’s life that contributed to the 16th president’s eventual status as an antislavery mountain-mover. Along the way, Meacham’s writing is engaging and brisk, telling a familiar story with fresh insights and interesting emphases.

The Grimkes by Kerri K. Greenidge
Liveright | November 8

For less well-trod historical ground, put Kerri K. Greenidge’s reexamination of the Grimke family on your TBR list for this fall. Angelina and Sarah Grimke (the latter of whom was one of the subjects of Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Invention of Wings) were white sisters who left their plantation in South Carolina to become abolitionist activists in the North. For many years, they have been upheld as antislavery heroes, but Greenidge takes a closer and more nuanced look at their story and fleshes out the full Grimke family, including its Black members who have so far been overshadowed by their white relatives. Reaching from the 18th century into the 20th, The Grimkes is an exciting, groundbreaking work of biographical history about one of the most important multiracial families in America.

Fatty Fatty Boom Boom by Rabia Chaudry
Algonquin | November 8

From the host of the “Undisclosed” podcast and author of Adnan's Story comes a memoir about family, food and the push and pull these things have exhibited over Rabia Chaudry’s body. Growing up in a Pakistani immigrant family, Chaudry’s relationship with food was shaped by her parents’ belief in the nutritional superiority of American cuisine. But when she visited family in Pakistan, Chaudry was teased and told that she would never be able to entice a man because of her size. Over the course of her life, she has experienced food as both punishment and joy, and her body as both a wonder and a burden. Fatty Fatty Boom Boom runs the gamut from rejection to acceptance, complicating the dominant narratives around how fat women are expected to feel about their bodies.

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama
Crown | November 15

Michelle Obama, the mega-bestselling author of Becoming—and, oh yeah, our former first lady—will publish her second book this November. The Light We Carry is full of personal stories and practical wisdom for sharing our light with others and staying afloat when circumstances are tough. Anyone looking for a guide to deeper self-knowledge and steadier connection with their community will benefit from Obama’s newest heartfelt book.

How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa
Harper | November 29

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Maria Ressa tells her story of fighting fascism in How to Stand Up to a Dictator. As a Filipino American journalist, Ressa has spent her career rooting out lies and misinformation sown by the government of the Philippines. Her memoir charts the risks, consequences and rewards of fighting against authoritarian systems and outlines the ways that social media has made it easier for fascist movements to gain momentum in recent years. Champions of democracy and the free press will find both crucial information and a moving memoir in How to Stand Up to a Dictator.

Weightless by Evette Dionne
Ecco | December 6

Evette Dionne, whose middle grade book Lifting as We Climb was nominated for a National Book Award in 2020, makes her adult debut with Weightless: Making Space for My Resilient Body and Soul. The former editor-in-chief of Bitch Media not only tells her own story as a fat Black woman who has been discriminated against by society and who rarely sees herself represented in pop culture except as comic relief, but she also dismantles the culture of fatphobia that upholds these injustices in public and private spaces. As Dionne writes in the introduction, “Fat people aren’t a problem that needs to be solved. Fatphobia, which creates a world in which we’re all made to believe that thin bodies are better and deserving of better treatment, is the issue—and that’s where my focus lies.”

Read on. Your new favorite nonfiction book might be waiting for you to discover it.

Yes, you read the title correctly. This is indeed an autobiography of our galaxy, and yes, it is nonfiction. The Milky Way's debut book—a creative, humorous and enormously entertaining one at that—comes to us earthlings via Dr. Moiya McTier, who studied both mythology and astronomy at Harvard before earning her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Columbia University. 

The galaxy begins its life story this way: “Take a look around you, human. What do you see? Actually, don't answer that. Why would I bother listening to you when I know you'll get it wrong?” The Milky Way, it seems, is rather a stuck-up know-it-all. (Superior, omniscient, haughty—perhaps a bit like your cat. As Dr. McTier explains in the acknowledgements, whenever she needed to get into the Milky Way's voice, she would look at her cat, Kosmo.) Although, once you stop to think about things from our galaxy's perspective, it's easy to see why. After all, the Milky Way is more than 13 billion Earth years old and home to more than 100 billion stars. Impressive, to say the least.

Read the Milky Way’s behind-the-scenes story of how an ancient galaxy managed to land a book deal.

And that's just the beginning. In chapters covering its early years, growing pains, constellations and modern myths, the Milky Way details a page-turning life story, full of drama (massive black holes!), major changes (the death of stars!) and tumultuous relationships with neighboring galaxies, such as Andromeda. It is quite adept at explaining complex scientific concepts to us (vastly more ignorant) humans, but the most surprising aspect of this book is that the Milky Way has a buoyant sense of humor, as well as a passion for “inspiring others.”

As with any translation from another tongue, readers may marvel at the role of the translator in creating a book that is both informative and truly inspirational. Here, it's clear Dr. McTier has harnessed the sense of marvel she felt as a child, when she imagined the sun and moon as celestial parents who watched over her and talked to her on a regular basis. That childlike wonder, combined with her expertise in mythology and astronomy, makes her the perfect human to assist in telling this story.

At any rate, since the Milky Way took the time to help us all understand more about our universe, it would be only polite to put this highly recommended title at the top of your reading list.

As told to Dr. Moiya McTier, the Milky Way details its page-turning life story, full of drama and humor.

I knew you'd want more of me after you heard my story! How could you not once you learned that you live in a galaxy as utterly charming as myself? But I'll admit that I didn't expect you to crave more of my wit so soon. I am still getting used to human time scales, operating in months and years instead of millennia. Moiya, on the other hand, has been chomping at the bit to share my book, The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy, with the world. Her mortality makes her impatient, her youth even more so.

Anyway, I have been asked to give you a peek into my process for creating my autobiography. Apparently you still have questions about how a galaxy could “land a book deal,” as you say.

The truth is that navigating your human publishing system is nowhere near as difficult as some of your writers make it seem—at least, not if you're a celebrity. And if you've read the book, you know that, historically speaking, I'm humanity's biggest superstar. For a VIG (very important galaxy) like me, publishing a book was just a matter of finding the right human to do all the stuff I didn't want to do. You know, all the tedious typing and fact-checking, the fretting over money and legal deals across your ephemeral borders . . . the disgusting human busywork. That's where Moiya came in. I was much more excited to solve the puzzle of how to sculpt my story into a shape that your fleshy brains could comprehend.

Read our starred review of ‘The Milky Way’ by Moiya McTier.

Talking about myself was the easy part. I've been regaling my peers with tales of my fabulous achievements and galactarian good deeds for longer than your puny planet has existed. (How do you think Draco, the Leos and all my other dwarf galaxy neighbors learned to make stars? They don't have the gas to spare on trial and error, so I taught them what I knew.) But I didn't expect it to be so difficult to limit myself to your human level of knowledge and understanding of the universe. Every time I got into the groove of telling my story, I ran bulge-first into a dead end of human ignorance. I promised myself I wouldn't tell you anything your scientists didn't already know, but that rules out all of the most exciting stuff! Instead, I was confined to the simplest concepts, like one of your preschool teachers trying to explain the color purple to a creature who only knows about red and blue. I had to use small words and speak slowly.

It was especially onerous to hold back on the parts about dark matter and particle physics, but in the end, I kept my promise. And I still managed to deliver a work that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. Larry never should have doubted me, but that just means I'll get to brag more when the time comes.

Speaking of Larry, whom you might know by its formal galaxy name, Large Magellanic Cloud—one tough decision I faced while penning my autobiography was how much to tell you about galactic society. I wanted to tell you enough that you'd understand my place in the large-scale structure, but I didn't want to betray my fellow galaxies' trust by giving away too much of our business—especially Andromeda, who is too proud to forgive such revealing offenses. And so you are left with scrappy tidbits about galactic gossipmongering, eons-old grievances and vague social norms. The book contains next to none of our language! Not that I'd possibly be able to convey it in a writing system you'd recognize. Oh well, the story was supposed to be about me anyway, and I gave you plenty of that.

“Historically speaking, I’m humanity’s biggest superstar.”

The Milky Way
Astrophotography of the Milky Way galaxy. Silhouette of mountains. Stars, nebula and stardust at night.

I also gave you plenty of you in the book, via anecdotes plucked from your short human history. It was Moiya's idea to let you be a part of the story. She said you had earned it with your scientific victories, but I think it's also because your fleeting human attention spans perk up whenever you hear about yourself. Vanity has always been something we have in common, your kind and I.

Moiya was more helpful in this whole process than I expected of a human. She added a valuable . . . empathetic perspective, let's say, and softened some of the sharper edges of my judgment of humanity by explaining your more frustrating quirks. (What do you mean you have to shut your body down for a third of each day?) So I was lucky to find a human like Moiya who met all of my transcriber criteria.

Whoever channeled my story had to be one of those precious few astronomers who had dedicated their lives to studying me, someone who already knew the basics so I could skip to the good parts. But they also had to be open to the possibility of accepting my narrative without making too many changes. And then I found her! Your Dr. Moiya McTier, who knew me by way of both math and myth, is an insatiably curious scientist who had been waiting most of her life for the sky to talk back. And she just happened to be well positioned—honing her communication skills in that Big Sleepless Apple of yours—to break into the publishing industry.

“Vanity has always been something we have in common, your kind and I.”

A literary agent found her after one of her public talks. He seemed to both of us like a nice and smart enough fellow, and together they crafted a proposal to write the Milky Way's autobiography. Editors, of course, couldn't resist such a juicy project, and we had our choice of publishing companies. I told Moiya to pick her favorite since she would be the one dealing with them. And the rest, as you humans say, is history.

The book is static like history can be, too. The stories we galaxies share across the cosmic web are remolded whenever there's something to change or add. Your human books are crude physical objects, stuck in the time that they were written. That's normally fine, but your science progresses so quickly that there have already been breakthroughs announced since Moiya turned in the final draft of the book.

For example, you finally snapped a picture with your Earth-size telescope of the event horizon of Sarge, my supermassive black hole, a full five years after the data were collected. Typical stubborn Sarge. Besides that, your astronomers recently discovered their 5,000th exoplanet, saw the first eye-opening images from the James Webb Space Telescope, found a new type of star with odd pulsing patterns and learned a whole lot about the planets in your stellar backyard. Keep up the pace, humans. I don't want to get bored again.

You know, the Fornax galaxy thought humans were too simple to relate to my story. It thought you would shun what I said because you couldn't understand it. That's an insult to you and to my storytelling abilities! Thank you, dear readers, for the (small) part you played in helping me prove it wrong.

Author photo of Moiya McTier by Mindy Tucker

How did an ancient galaxy pen its own autobiography? The Milky Way explains in this Behind the Book essay, as dictated to Dr. McTier.

Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for fiction, Jason Mott's Hell of a Book is a searing portrayal of the Black authorial experience. At the center of the novel is an unnamed Black author on his first book tour struggling to navigate the publishing industry and make sense of the modern world. His narrative is offset by chapters recounting the story of Soot, a young Black boy in the South. Poignant and often funny, Mott's novel draws readers in as it scrutinizes race in American society and the power of storytelling.

Marlon James' epic fantasy Black Leopard, Red Wolf is narrated by Tracker, a hunter with an acute sense of smell. Accompanied by a shape-shifter named Leopard and a band of misfit mercenaries, Tracker travels through a landscape inspired by African mythology and ancient history on a dangerous quest to find a lost boy. Hallucinatory and violent yet marvelously poetic, this first entry in James' Dark Star trilogy won the 2019 L.A. Times Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. There are an abundance of potential topics for discussion, such as James' folkloric inspirations and Tracker's unreliable narration.

Following the death of her aunt from an uncommon ailment called Chagas, or the kissing bug disease, Daisy Hernández decided to research the illness. She shares her findings in The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation's Neglect of a Deadly Disease. Hernández talked to physicians and disease experts throughout the United States, and her interviews with patients reveal the human cost of the American healthcare system's inadequacies. Hernández displays impressive storytelling skills in this masterfully researched volume, which won the 2022 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award.

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado's powerful chronicle of a toxic love affair, won the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ nonfiction. In the book, Machado reveals that she fell hard for a magnetic, emotionally unpredictable woman who became abusive. In structuring her memoir, she draws upon various narrative devices and traditions (coming-of-age, choose your own adventure and more), and the result is a multifaceted, daring and creative portrayal of a deeply dysfunctional relationship.

Pick a guaranteed winner for your reading group.

“I can't imagine another disease on the planet where if somebody didn't get better, everybody in their life would abandon them,” said Chris Schaffner, director of a harm-reduction program in Peoria, Illinois. And yet, that's the attitude many of us have toward people with addictions, thanks to America's long-standing war on drugs mentality. After tackling the origins of the opioid crisis in Dopesick, along with its devastating effects on families near her adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, Beth Macy continues this essential conversation in Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America's Overdose Crisis. Her fourth book zeroes in on why this crisis continues and how things can change, and the facts she presents will enlighten you and likely change your opinions on many important overdose-related issues.

Beth Macy shares some of her reasons for feeling hopeful about the future of the opioid crisis.

Once again, Macy's up close and personal reporting is riveting as she weaves together multiple storylines. She profiles numerous front-line heroes like Tim Nolan, who, after his full-time job is done, works as a traveling nurse practitioner in North Carolina, delivering harm-reduction supplies out of his Prius. Nolan works alongside the Reverend Michelle Mathis, co-founder of Olive Branch Ministries, which offers addiction triage, counseling, food and hygiene supplies in 10 western North Carolina counties. “I'm like the grandma that does syringe exchange and delivers biscuits,” Mathis said. In West Virginia, there's 30-year-old Lill Prosperino, who puts their 4'10”, 125-pound frame to work helping about 800 people who use drugs. These activists share many admirable qualities, including the ability to greet substance users with “unconditional positive regard,” as one mental health counselor advises.

Macy also follows the diverse, dedicated group that brought the OxyContin-pushing Sackler family to court, including the renowned photographer Nan Goldin, who staged a series of “die-ins” and other protests at museums around the world to pressure them into removing the Sackler name from their halls and galleries. Commenting on Goldin's success, Macy writes, “That it had taken a famous artist, of all people, to finally get under the Sacklers' skin said as much about what captures Americans' attention as it does about corporate influence-peddling.”

The genius of Macy's writing is that she makes readers care, on every page, as she bears witness. This is heartfelt, informed writing at its best, and always personal. With Dopesick and now Raising Lazarus, Macy is a social historian and change-maker at the top of her game.

Raising Lazarus, Beth Macy’s follow-up to Dopesick, will radically change your opinions on the opioid crisis.

After the publication of her landmark 2018 book Dopesick, which featured six years of reporting about how the opioid crisis affected families in her adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, Beth Macy vowed to herself, “I'm not writing about this again.” Her physician feared Macy might have PTSD after bearing witness to so many tragic deaths, including that of a 28-year-old mother named Tess Henry, whom Macy had grown close to while reporting Dopesick and whose body was found in a Las Vegas dumpster on Christmas Eve 2017. Macy's husband suggested that she should write about happy things this time, like food and gardening, while her late mother, who had advancing dementia at the time, advised her about “eight times a day” to “write a love story instead.”

Not surprisingly, Macy didn't listen. Yet today she is feeling happy and hopeful, chatting by phone about Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America's Overdose Crisis from her mountain cabin an hour outside of Roanoke. Midway through our conversation, she becomes even more ebullient, shouting, “Oh my God. I'm looking at an eagle!”

Macy explains that writing Raising Lazarus was a very different experience from writing Dopesick, and in some ways, it was healing. “I'm not writing about just death,” she says of her most recent book. “I'm mostly writing about helpers, as Mr. Rogers called them. I'm writing about people who are actually making a difference. It feels really good to give them a platform, a voice.” 

Read our starred review of ‘Raising Lazarus’ by Beth Macy.

One of the book's many fascinating heroes is the Reverend Michelle Mathis of Olive Branch Ministries in western North Carolina, who uses the biblical story of Lazarus to encourage people to extend help rather than judgment to those with substance use disorder (SUD). Mathis “tells the story to get well-meaning Christians to check their blind spots,” Macy says. “Jesus does the miracle, but the people who are following him have to go in there and get their hands dirty. They have to roll the stone and unbind Lazarus.”

Blind spots play an important role in examining issues related to SUD. The opioid crisis is everywhere, but in rural areas it's often hidden in plain sight—”literally,” Macy says, “right under the bridges you drive across.” She and the helpers she profiles in Raising Lazarus encourage an alternate approach to the war-on-drugs, “just say no,” victim-blaming approach that so many of us grew up with. “The idea that drug users are worthy human beings—that they are, in fact, equals—is harm reduction in a nutshell,” she writes. They need access to things like clean needles, hepatitis tests and buprenorphine, or “bupe,” an FDA-approved medication to treat opioid use disorder.

People with SUD also need simple things, such as casseroles, instead of stigma and reproach. “It doesn't always smell like flowers, and you might get a little something on you,” Rev. Mathis says in the book. “But the people who are willing to work at the face-to-face level get to see the miracle and look it in the eye.” Many such solutions, Macy points out, “are kind of low-tech and high-touch,” and the good news is that they're working. “That's the view that America needs to see,” she says, “not just the dark but the miracles.”

“That’s the view that America needs to see, not just the dark but the miracles.”

Raising Lazarus by Beth Macy

The first time Macy visited a needle exchange program in Roanoke, “I just kind of had to take a breath and turn around and get a hold of myself,” she says. She thought of Tess Henry, who had verbalized a need for urgent care for people with SUD before she died. “She didn't know what that meant, because she had never seen it,” Macy says, “but she knew it needed to be as easy as the urgent care center that first prescribed opioids for her.” Tess, she believes, would have loved this needle exchange and its welcoming, comfortable vibe. It's run by a “sweetheart of a guy,” Macy says, who brings his two little white dogs with him to work and provides things like deodorant, food, computers and help with housing and job applications to anyone who needs it, in addition to clean needles.

Macy admits that she has at times struggled to forgive those with SUD, especially in the case of her father, whose substance was alcohol. As a result of his addiction, she grew up in poverty; he even failed to attend her high school graduation. Every now and then, she thinks, “Wow, I really didn't have the experience of having a father.” But she also knows that he had an illness. “So in some ways,” she says, “I'm trying to figure all that out for myself too.”

Macy knows that she could have become addicted, too, if things had played out a little differently in her life. “I was a wild thing,” she says, “but in my small town, it was just marijuana and beer. I'm sure if everybody was doing [opioids], I would've wanted to get in on it too.”

“I think when the full truth comes out, it’s going to be even more shocking than it is now.”

At that time, however, the Sackler family had yet to unleash the pain medication that would eventually cause the opioid epidemic: OxyContin. With fascinating detail, Raising Lazarus describes major players in the class-action lawsuit against this “cartel of the opioid crisis,” as Macy describes them. Paul Hanly, a high-profile litigator who led the legal fight against opioid makers and distributors, told Macy, “I've taken 500 depositions in my career, and I have never deposed a person whose ability to exhibit empathy is zero. . . . Compared to [Perdue Pharma chairman and president Richard Sackler], Donald Trump looks like Jesus Christ.”

Macy says she would love the chance to question the Sackler family herself, but only if they first took a truth serum. “They hid so much of it for so many years,” she says. “I think when the full truth comes out, it's going to be even more shocking than it is now.”

Still, Macy wonders whether the Sacklers wish they could have done things differently—even though board member Kathy Sackler has already testified before Congress that they do not. “They started this thing that has hurt roughly a third of American families, and they've taken no responsibility for it,” she says. “I just want to hear them say they're sorry.”

Author photo of Beth Macy by Josh Meltzer

The bestselling author of Dopesick reexamines opioid addiction, this time with a more hopeful view.

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