Bryce Andrews’ vibrant, candid account of working as a cowboy in Montana provides a moving meditation on the fragility of life and inevitability of death.
Bryce Andrews’ vibrant, candid account of working as a cowboy in Montana provides a moving meditation on the fragility of life and inevitability of death.
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The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World (12 hours) begins with a perilous escape attempt from Auschwitz and expands into a larger story about Rudolf Vrba, the first Jewish person to escape from the notorious concentration camp. 

British author Jonathan Freedland (known for both his thrillers and work in journalism) depicts Vrba as a demanding and complicated person whose eyewitness account, though verified and reported by the Jewish Council, failed to reach the number of people he’d hoped. As author and narrator of this probing biography, Freedland recounts the dire circumstances preventing Vrba’s compatriots and fellow Jews from protesting the existence of the death camps. Freedland also explores history’s restrictive expectations of the Holocaust survivor and how Vrba’s decadent lifestyle (he enjoyed fine food, travel and a good argument) did not aid his case. 

Through this gripping narrative and his commanding yet disarming voice, Freedland reinforces Vrba’s place within the annals of history.

Read our review of the print edition of The Escape Artist.


This audiobook was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

Through his commanding yet disarming voice, British author Jonathan Freedland tells the story of Rudolf Vrba, the first Jewish person to escape from Auschwitz.
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On February 28, 2003, as President George W. Bush prepared to authorize military action, he turned to his advisers and asked if they had thought enough about “what they hoped to achieve in Iraq.” Plans were made and carried out, but in a short time, the Iraq policy went awry. Historian Melvyn P. Leffler explores the many reasons why in his enlightening, detailed Confronting Saddam Hussein: George W. Bush and the Invasion of Iraq.

After 9/11, the president felt some responsibility for the attacks (there had been warnings not heeded), along with guilt, anger, fear, a sense of political expediency and a need for revenge, the mixture of which led him to declare war on terrorism. After the decision to invade Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based, other potential dangers were considered. The president said repeatedly “that his most compelling fear was the prospect of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction from rogue regimes,” Leffler writes. Eventually the Bush administration turned its focus to Saddam Hussein, a ruthless tyrant in Iraq thought by some to have weapons of mass destruction. 

The Bush national security team was often regarded as unified and militant, Leffler explains. But in reality, the members were pragmatists with different approaches and interests who feuded with one another. Leffler shows that there was not a careful assessment of their proposed strategy for dealing with Hussein and Iraq. Hubris was a major factor, and no one person can be blamed. The president acted with the best of intentions, but his advisers who urged caution did so too hesitantly and ineffectively. Contrary to other accounts, Leffler claims that the president was not manipulated by others but was in charge at all times. He merely delegated too much authority and was indifferent to acrimony among his advisers, which adversely affected his policies.

As Leffler writes, President Bush “failed because his information was flawed, his assumptions inaccurate, his priorities imprecise, and his means incommensurate with his evolving ends.” Based on prodigious research, this superb account helps readers understand the many complexities of America’s attempts to keep our citizens safe in the face of very real dangers after 9/11.

President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy quickly went awry, and historian Melvyn P. Leffler’s enlightening, detailed book explores why.
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I’ve been in the unofficial fan club of author and illustrator Maira Kalman for years—along with many of you, no doubt. I can’t pass up the opportunity to applaud her latest work, Women Holding Things, which combines original paintings with both free verse and prose.

Women, Kalman notes in this tender and revealing book, must hold a lot, from “the children and the food” to “the sorrows / and the triumphs.” In her paintings, women hold things real and intangible: a can of worms, opinions about modern art. Sometimes she features a famous woman, such as Gertrude Stein, “holding true to herself / writing things very few people / liked or even read.” Sometimes she tells deeply personal stories about the paintings, and I love those parts best. Despite the title, there aren’t just women featured here but also a few men—and even things, holding other things. “It is hard work / to hold everything,” she writes, “and it never ends.”

Maira Kalman’s latest tender and revealing book combines free verse and prose with paintings of women holding things both real and intangible.

Goldie Taylor’s absolutely stunning memoir is dedicated to “the women who made me.” Taylor’s mother, her Auntie Gerald, Auntie Killer and Grandma Alice come to shimmering life in this tough and tender book. The Love You Save depicts Black life in East St. Louis in the 1970s and ’80s, evoking Taylor’s family’s voices and experiences with cinematic detail and novelistic prose.

Taylor has a robust public role as a news correspondent at MSNBC and CNN, a journalist, an editor and a human rights advocate. These professional successes, however, are shadowed by a legacy of childhood sexual abuse. This memoir tells the whole story of Taylor’s experiences with rape and sexual violence, which were terrible for her as an individual and terrifyingly common in her community.

Taylor’s traumatic personal history ran parallel to Taylor’s adolescent accomplishments as a gifted student and public orator. Her intellectual development via public libraries and a few good teachers buoys the narrative, as a young Taylor reads James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. The reader will cheer as her teachers recognize Taylor’s exceptional intelligence and grit, even as Taylor reminds us that Black excellence is often forged in the crucible of systemic racism and sexual violence.

This memoir is an important read for several reasons. It shows how complex trauma shapes a person’s life and psychology, especially someone who is a high-achieving public figure. It also shows how important public schools and libraries are as places to cultivate children’s creativity and intelligence, particularly for low-income and BIPOC children. And finally, in its portrayal of a Black family’s dynamic women, it offers a vibrant portrayal of survival and love.


This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

Goldie Taylor’s absolutely stunning memoir depicts Black life in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1970s and ’80s with cinematic detail and novelistic prose.
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Everyone should know the story of Ellen and William Craft, the subjects of Ilyon Woo’s Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom. In 1848, Ellen, a light-skinned Black woman, disguised herself as a wealthy, young white man in a wheelchair. William, her husband, accompanied Ellen as an enslaved man, tending to his “master’s” needs. Together they traveled in disguise from the mansion in Georgia where they were enslaved to freedom in the North. Every step of their journey depended on them keeping their wits about them, especially Ellen. Ship captains, train conductors and even a friend of her enslaver were fooled by Ellen’s ability to perform a role that transformed her demeanor in every conceivable way—from woman to man, Black to white, slave to master. Their self-emancipation was a triumph of courage, love and intelligence.

Yet the Crafts’ story is more than a romantic adventure, and Woo does an excellent job of providing historical context for the dangers they faced without losing the thread of a terrific story. The Crafts’ lives were not magically transformed merely by crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, Woo explains. The North, while free, was still hostile territory for self-emancipated Black people, with rampant bigotry and racism even among abolitionists. However, the greatest danger to Ellen and William was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which required everyone to return formerly enslaved people to their enslavers and forced the Crafts into exile in England until after the Civil War.

The real strength of Master Slave Husband Wife comes from Woo’s exploration of how Ellen was perceived and treated after her spectacular escape catapulted her into celebrity. Woo, whose earlier book, The Great Divorce, explored another convention-defying 19th-century woman, makes the excellent point that Ellen’s method of escape was not only brilliant but transgressive, defying conventions of gender and race. Even the fair skin tone that allowed her to pass as white was the product of generations of rape, giving the lie to myths of the “happy slave.” With empathy and admiration, Woo details Ellen’s quiet refusal to conform to the racist, classist and sexist expectations of her enemies, benefactors, supporters and even her husband. Thanks to Woo, Ellen is finally at the center of her own story as someone who heroically challenged America’s myths of equality and freedom.

Ilyon Woo tells the remarkable true story of Ellen Craft, a Black woman who disguised herself as a white man to emancipate herself and her husband from slavery.
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Occasionally, a book appears like a shimmering treasure stumbled upon during a forest walk. This is certainly the case with Iliana Regan’s memoir Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir. Her first book, Burn the Place, was a finalist for the National Book Award, chronicling growing up gay on an Indiana farm and creating her own Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. In both memoirs, Regan is a hypnotizing writer who speaks to readers in a deeply personal way, writing in a natural voice that artfully interweaves past and present.

Regan’s exquisite, carefully planned prose paradoxically feels like a casual chat, the sort that might unfold spontaneously during a long weekend visit. As it turns out, some very lucky people can experience exactly that, because in 2020, Regan turned over her restaurant, Elizabeth, to her employees, and now she and her wife run the Milkweed Inn bed and breakfast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Deep in the Hiawatha National Forest, 10 guests are treated to Regan’s culinary magic each weekend. During that time, Regan hopes they will experience something similar to the “magic of the farmhouse I grew up in.”

Fieldwork invites readers into this world, as Regan explores and forages in the nearby forest and river for food to use in meals at the inn. She also forages in her own mind for childhood memories, including those of her beloved parents and her grandmother Busia, a gifted cook who emigrated from Poland. Busia’s duck blood soup, or czarnina, exists in the author’s memories as a sort of magical potion, something akin to Marcel Proust’s madeleines. Regan also shares her ongoing struggles with recovering from alcoholism, the difficulties of running an inn during the COVID-19 pandemic, her fears of losing her parents, her anxieties about the world and her desire and attempts to become a parent. Alongside these thoughts, she captures the great beauty and comfort of the outdoors with the voice of a naturalist.

Regan has led an intriguing, unusual life, which gives her memoir a unique and compelling perspective. She notes, for instance, “Sometimes I think I would still like to be a man because I don’t feel like a woman. But I don’t feel like a man either. I feel more akin to a mushroom.” With both Burn the Place and Fieldwork, Regan has earned her place as not only a world-class chef but also a gifted memoirist.

As Iliana Regan forages in the forest for food to use in the meals she serves at her inn, she also forages in her own mind for shimmering, moving childhood memories.
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For My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings (7 hours), actor Zosia Mamet (“Girls,” “The Flight Attendant”) has gathered a who’s-who of creative folks, including fellow actors like Busy Philipps, musicians like Patti Smith, writers like David Sedaris and chefs like Kwame Onwuachi. Each contributed an essay about food or a food-related memory, and the collection of nearly 50 essays offers a veritable smorgasbord of cuisines and emotional resonance. Some essays are funny and sweet, while others engage with more serious subjects, such as depression or disordered eating. Because the essays are short (most run well under 10 minutes), listening to the collection feels like browsing a gourmet buffet. Many contributors read their own works; others are read by notable audiobook narrators or actors, including Mamet herself. The audiobook comes with a PDF of recipes associated with each essay. 

If you’re the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you’re cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight. 

If you're the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you're cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight.
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Is the 21st century “an epoch in which games and play are the model for how we interact with culture and each other”? Designer and professor Eric Zimmerman thinks so. At the very least, games can provide an extraordinarily useful way to learn by doing. In The Rules We Break: Lessons in Play, Thinking, and Design, Zimmerman gathers an array of games—ones that can be played on tabletops, playgrounds or even online—designed to encourage flexible and creative thinking, facilitate collaboration and improve communication.

Games are “a kind of miniature laboratory,” Zimmerman writes. Constraints always provide a fertile environment for creativity, of course, but sometimes the learning comes from devising the game itself. For example, one exercise asks groups to prototype games with a few found objects in 15 minutes. Fellow groups then play one another’s games. Zimmerman provides reflection and discussion points for all games, so it’s clear what we stand to gain from playing—whether in the classroom, boardroom, family room or workplace.

Eric Zimmerman has gathered an array of interactive games designed to encourage creative thinking, facilitate collaboration and improve communication.

Even if the word science only conjures up bad memories of frog dissections and failed lab experiments, you’ll find much to enjoy in Dan Levitt’s What’s Gotten Into You: The Story of Your Body’s Atoms, From the Big Bang Through Last Night’s Dinner. Levitt, a writer and producer of science and history documentaries, delivers a survey of life’s building blocks that’s intelligent, accessible and just sheer fun.

Levitt launches his inquiry with two fundamental questions: “What are we actually made of? And where did it come from?” His subsequent hunt for answers begins in an appropriate place: the discovery in the 1930s of what became known as the Big Bang by Belgian physics professor and Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre. Lemaitre‘s story is especially interesting for the way it encapsulates the tension between science and religion that looms over some of the issues in Levitt’s wide-ranging account.

Most of the book’s chapters follow a similar format. Levitt will open his investigation of a specific topic, such as how water appeared on Earth or the race to discover the structure of DNA, with an economical but informative biographical sketch of one or more of the scientists whose work proved pivotal in the field. Then he’ll dive into the science, with a special enthusiasm for the controversies that pitted one expert against another. While some of these researchers—such as Nobel laureates James Watson and Francis Crick, of DNA fame—are well known, others—such as Justus von Liebig, the 19th-century German chemist who pioneered research in the field of nutrition—are not. Levitt devotes extra attention to the role of women in science, noting the discrimination that has often prevented their work from receiving the recognition it deserves.

Levitt has the ability to present abstruse subject matter in a form that’s easily digestible by lay readers. He’s scrupulous about giving equal time to warring scientific combatants and is especially sensitive to the biases (among them, the “Too Weird to Be True” bias) that have dogged even the most brilliant scientists. One especially stimulating discussion plays out in the chapters titled “The Most Famous Experiment” and “The Greatest Mystery,” describing the controversy over the origin of life and whether it was sparked in the Earth’s atmosphere, in outer space or in the depths of the ocean. Extensive endnotes and a bibliography that stretches to 20 pages reveal that Levitt has done his homework.

Readers of What’s Gotten Into You will come away better informed while still appreciating that some of our most fundamental scientific questions have yet to be answered.


This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

In What’s Gotten Into You, Dan Levitt delivers a survey of life’s building blocks that’s intelligent, accessible and just sheer fun.

Although sheepshearing typically involves a bit of frustrated grunting from shearer and shearee alike, when done right, the act can resemble a ballet: two bodies bending and swooping in sync, the whirring of wickedly sharp clipper blades their only accompaniment. As readers will learn in Peggy Orenstein’s illuminating, informative and often funny Unraveling: What I Learned About Life While Shearing Sheep, Dyeing Wool, and Making the World’s Ugliest Sweater, doing that dance with any grace takes a lot of practice. 

It all happened during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, when the journalist and bestselling author decided that, rather than baking bread or gardening, she would fill her “indefinitely empty calendar” with a dream project: making a sweater from the ground up. The lifelong knitter was taught the craft by her beloved late mother; it “bridged the generation gap, created reliably neutral ground where we could meet,” Orenstein writes.

Over the course of Orenstein’s quest, a talented group of teachers shared their expertise and passion for ranching, shearing, spinning, dyeing and knitting. Along the way, she explores how textile creation has influenced human history and culture, from language (gathering wool and counting sheep) to politics (yarn-bombing and pussy hats) to pivotal inventions. For example, the spinning wheel “has been credited with everything from establishing trade routes . . . to catalyzing the Renaissance.”

But progress had an eventual cost. Today, “the fashion industry is an ecological disaster, responsible for more greenhouse gases than all international flights and maritime shipping combined,” Orenstein writes. Indeed, concern for the Earth’s uncertain future is woven throughout Unraveling. So, too, is the inexorable passage of time, as the author considers the “amount of sand at the bottom of my personal hourglass” and the ways her personal identity has shifted and changed.

Orenstein is an impressively intrepid figure throughout this charming and candid memoir in essays—even when her goal requires her to wrestle recalcitrant sheep and pick bugs and poop out of fleece. She even fully embraces the fact that her goal requires her to do something many people avoid: allowing “ourselves, as adults, to be in a position of being absolute rank amateurs.” Perfectly imperfect like a handmade sweater, Unraveling is an entertaining chronicle of a challenging year wonderfully well spent. Creativity and craft can soothe anxiety, encourage connection and spark joy; Orenstein’s book will do the same.


This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

Creativity and craft can soothe anxiety, encourage connection and spark joy; Peggy Orenstein’s book about learning to make a sweater from scratch will do the same.
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Sheila Liming’s Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time is a thoughtful manifesto on the inherently subversive and joyous act of socializing. In seven chapters about different types of hanging out (“Dinner Parties as Hanging Out,” “Hanging Out on the Job,” etc.), Liming explores the fading art of leisure and its cultural roots.

Liming defines hanging out as a conscious act of refusal in a production-obsessed society. “Hanging out is about daring to do nothing much,” she writes, “and, even more than that, about daring to do it in the company of others.” She acknowledges that it is a peculiar time—amid the COVID-19 pandemic—to call for a return to the in-person hang, but this context is precisely why we are realizing the importance of spending idle time in physical communities. We cannot let corporate capitalism snatch away what is left of our free time, Liming argues. “Time is being stolen from us—not for the first time . . . but at newly unprecedented rates.”

Hanging Out reads as a chattier, slightly more precious version of How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. The book embraces its call for intentional meandering with wide-ranging references and a loose narrative structure. An English professor, Liming is unsurprisingly the most compelling when she incorporates literary criticism into her treatise. While the personal stories drag, the fiction references crackle. This is particularly true in her analysis of “party literature” in the chapter “Hanging Out at Parties,” in which Liming looks at several 20th-century novels and examines the different ways parties have functioned as social mechanisms.

What is quickly revealed in Liming’s contemplative writing is that hanging out—and all of its possible ramifications, limitations and effects—is too enormous a subject to comprehensively discuss. Instead, Liming uses her time to argue for the importance of mingling with others and finding time, even in an increasingly virtual world, to enjoy the hang.

Sheila Liming’s Hanging Out reveals how the joyous act of socializing is inherently subversive.

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