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Dr. Alexa Hagerty, an associate fellow at the University of Cambridge and an anthropologist with a Ph.D. from Stanford, can read bones. In Still Life With Bones: Genocide, Forensics, and What Remains, Hagerty explores the close connection between bones and words. Like words, bones can be articulated (arranged into a coherent form, such as a skeleton) and become articulate (capable of clear expression). Using sight, touch, smell and even sound, Hagerty can interpret the stories that bones conceal. For example, she can tell by touch if a bone’s fracture took place before, during or after its owner’s death. She can piece together the shattered remnants of a little girl’s skull to reveal the bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. She can even determine how a person’s occupation shaped their bones. A dairy worker might have compression fractures in their neck from leaning their face against a cow’s flank. A grooved incisor might once have held a tailor’s pins.

Still Life With Bones is in part a memoir of how Hagerty gained this extraordinary expertise, recounting the physically and emotionally draining work of meticulously searching for bones and identifying the dead and how they died. It sounds bleak, but there is also pleasure in these pages: the camaraderie of co-workers, the friendly competition among fellow students and the joy when a skeleton is reunited with the community who believed they would never see their beloved again. 

However, Still Life With Bones is more than just a memoir. Woven throughout these memories and lyrical reflections on bones, anthropology and storytelling are the actual horrors that some particular bones reveal. Hagerty did her fieldwork in the mass graves of Guatemala and Argentina; her subjects are the victims of genocidal wars committed by dictators against these countries’ citizens. Her colleagues are forensic anthropologists committed to reclaiming the dead and returning them to their grieving families at great personal risk and cost. Every beautifully written page of this extraordinary book affirms the individuality of each victim, and honors the living who serve them and their survivors.

Anthropologist Alexa Hagerty's extraordinary memoir pays tribute to the victims of genocide in South America, whose bones Hagerty returned to their grieving families.
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Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway call their deeply researched new book, The Big Myth, “the true history of a false idea.” The false idea in question is not really a single idea but rather many connected assertions, promoted throughout the 20th century, that have gelled into the “quasi-religious belief that the best way to address our needs—whether economic or otherwise—is to let markets do their thing, and not rely on government.”

Both Oreskes and Conway are highly praised historians of science and technology. Their blockbuster 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, examined the effort by a small number of scientists to undermine the evidence of climate change. One common denominator they found among these scientists was a distrust of government. The scientists’ ideological and economic biases led them to oppose anything that would admit a need for governmental action. In the introduction to their new book, Oreskes and Conway say that this discovery was what led them to do a deep dive into the ideology of neoliberal, free-market, anti-government thought, which has persuaded many Americans that unregulated markets are inseparable from democracy and freedom.

But are those things really inseparable, the authors wonder. In an early chapter, Oreskes and Conway point out that Adam Smith, a seminal theorist of capitalism, believed that government regulations were in fact needed to preserve a competitive playing field. Another chapter examines the moment in American history when power companies decided it was just too expensive to bring electricity to rural farming communities. They believed the market was too small, but at the same time, they resisted community alternatives. In the end, it was the government, not business, that literally brought power to the people. This leads the authors to wonder, how do markets alone supposedly make people free? In later chapters, they examine the economic, political and public relations efforts that have fostered our belief in this pervasive myth that government is the problem and markets are the solution.

The Big Myth is deeply detailed in its argument. Readers will be intellectually enlivened by chapters such as “No More Grapes of Wrath,” which looks at the ideological shift in the movie industry, and the revelatory chapter “The American Road to Serfdom,” which explores the popular rise of economist Milton Friedman and the “Chicago school,” which deftly promoted the libertarian argument against government involvement in markets. The way the book challenges each component of market mythology is hugely impressive—but the book is sometimes so detailed in its pursuit of the truth that some readers will surely become intellectually exhausted.

Still The Big Myth’s arguments do add up. “Markets are good for many things,” the authors write, “but they are not magic.” In a world facing existential threats like climate change, markets alone do not suffice, they argue. Governments must act.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway boldly challenge the American myth that unregulated markets are inseparable from democracy and freedom.
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In What’s Eating Us: Women, Food, and the Epidemic of Body Anxiety, author and four-time Emmy Award-winning television journalist Cole Kazdin declares there’s hope for those who have tried and failed to quit diet culture. As only someone with firsthand experience can, Kazdin explains in unflinching detail just how damaging dieting can be to our mental and physical health. Although What’s Eating Us centers on Kazdin herself—a journalist determined to reach recovery for her eating disorder—this isn’t just one woman’s story. Neither is it just a fact-based report aimed at finding answers. It’s both of these things: personal and illuminating, subjective yet relatable. Citing medical research alongside real-life testimonies, with a balance of personal candor and well-executed analysis, this book will resonate with anyone who’s ever been critical of their reflection in a mirror.

From body positivity to neutrality to liberation, Kazdin explores the different approaches to redefining our relationships with our bodies. For most people, this journey begins when we challenge our understanding of weight, health and dieting, which are topics mired in misinformation. Separating weight and health, Kazdin explains, becomes even more difficult when you factor in the ways that diet companies misleadingly brand themselves as holistic health and wellness programs. 

But perhaps the real feat of Kazdin’s book is its ability to propel the reader into thinking about their body in a way that feels connected to society—to gender, race and economic class—which makes the individual burden feel a little less heavy. The ways in which the scientific and medical communities have failed individuals when it comes to dietary health, Kazdin argues, is often rooted in systemic structures around racism, sexism and prejudice against larger bodies. For example, the toxicity of diet culture impacts everyone but especially women of color, whose health concerns often go unheard or ignored by doctors.

Folded within the book’s narrative are statements that may seem radical but are actually evidence-based and supported. Yes, people of all sizes can be healthy. No, a person’s weight is not always within their control. And yes, dieting to lose weight typically leads to gaining it back again. With empathy and understanding, Kazdin offers the reader everything they need to better understand this difficult topic. There are the daunting, disheartening facts; the levity of shared incredulity; and finally, the neutrality needed to see the number on the scale as just that: a number.

With its balance of personal candor and research, Cole Kazdin’s What’s Eating Us will resonate with anyone who’s ever been critical of their reflection in a mirror.
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Artist and critic Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy was a New York Times bestseller and a critical favorite. The 2019 book considered the ways we spend our attention in a world full of technologies vying for (and profiting from) that attention. Now Odell returns with Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, a provocative examination of efficiency culture that encourages readers to rethink their relationships with time. 

Odell was inspired to write the book after hearing from readers who enjoyed How to Do Nothing but struggled to incorporate their new thinking into their busy lives. “That feedback became generative,” she says during a call to her home in Oakland, California. “I started to think, if it’s true that we don’t have enough time, how did we get here? And why? Why do we think of time as scarce? What is the difference between, for example, someone who feels like they don’t have any time and someone who really doesn’t have any time?”.

Read our starred review of ‘Saving Time’ by Jenny Odell.

Saving Time began with two inspirations that came together in a surprising way. First, Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Library, a privately funded public research library in San Francisco, told Odell that she needed to read E.P. Thompson’s 1967 work, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” “It’s an early building block for thinking about the relationship of time to capitalism,” she says, and how the Industrial Revolution required workers to be more disciplined with their time in order to maximize profits. The second inspiration was Odell’s burgeoning interest in geology, which also shows up in the book’s cover art. “I spend a lot of time in the mountains, and that’s obviously a very different way of thinking about time,” she says. Mountains offer a way of zooming out on modern life by contemplating layers of earth forming, colliding and eroding over millions of years. “Saving Time is about these two ways of looking at time.”

The natural world is of central importance to Odell’s work, and her careful study of nature feels refreshing. For example, birds played a key role in How to Do Nothing, and they remain important in Saving Time. “I don’t think birds entered my work until I was writing the original How to Do Nothing talk,” she says, referencing a keynote address she gave at an art and technology festival in 2017, which later appeared in the book. “It was unexpected; I was doing a lot of that thinking in the [Morcom] Rose Garden, which has a lot of birds, and I started to see parallels between the natural world and things that happen with attention and information.” 

That municipal rose garden in Oakland is an example Odell gives of a noncommercial leisure space, a “third space” where people can gather outside of work and home, preferably without spending money. It’s where Odell spends much of her time, and in Saving Time, she complicates her feelings toward the park and its troubled history. “I still find it utopian, even though when it was built, it would have been a de facto white space because of redlining,” she says. “But the current-day rose garden gives me hope for what places like this could be.” Places where people can spend time, gathering or sitting in quiet observation, without working or buying something. Places where people can be.

I read Saving Time at the end of 2022, just as people were posting their ambitions for 2023. I share this with Odell, mentioning how clarifying it was to read about Frederick Winslow Taylor, a 19th-century “efficiency bro” (as she calls the modern generation of productivity influencers) who advocated for carefully breaking down actions into small, trackable components, at the same time I was feeling tempted to write an extensive list of resolutions.

“It’s seductive,” Odell says when I ask her about why we love seeing Taylorist statistics like the number of steps tracked by a Fitbit. (Taylor himself counted his steps and timed his own activities.) “For a user who wants to have a sense of control in their life, it’s really seductive. It offers self-understanding. You’ll be able to see yourself at a glance and make changes accordingly.” But this data also leads us to try and make each moment as productive as possible.

“After you read [Saving Time] . . . the world feels filled with curiosity rather than dread.”

So then, what do we do? “The only way to counter this desire is to ask why you’re doing something and if you want to be doing it,” is Odell’s advice. This requires a level of mindfulness that most of us struggle to attain. But Saving Time is not a screed, and Odell has no interest in scolding her readers, nor depressing them with grim truths about modern capitalism. Instead she offers hope. “I walk around a lot with a pair of binoculars and a jeweler’s loupe,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m hanging out with a friend, I’ll give them the loupe. At first they say, ‘Okay, why do you have this?’ And then they’ll look at something, and every single time they say, ‘I had no idea it looked like this. It’s incredible.’ And then they want to look at everything with the loupe.”

“Unfortunately for a lot of adults, the last time they remember that feeling of discovery was childhood,” Odell continues. “That’s what motivates my work. I want the end of Saving Time to be the beginning. After you read it, you have to go back outside and look at everything with a new lens, and now everything looks different. And hopefully it looks different because the reader has a new relationship to reality, and the world feels filled with curiosity rather than dread.” 

I can attest to the sense of discovery offered by Saving Time. In Odell’s work, observation, both inward and outward, is sacred. Here, she proves that there are new ways to think about time and productivity, that we don’t have to always feel like time is hopelessly scarce. Saving Time presents a new vision, both through a jeweler’s loupe and a pair of binoculars, of what a better world could look like.

Headshot of Jenny Odell by Chani Bockwinkel

The bestselling author of How to Do Nothing returns with a brilliant, hopeful critique of our obsession with efficiency.
Review by

Poverty, by America, the new book from Pulitzer Prize-winning Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond (Evicted), focuses on the root causes of Americans’ economic suffering. Mixing statistics and tales from real people’s lives, Desmond makes a convincing argument that poverty is a sinkhole too powerful for anyone to pull themselves out by their bootstraps alone. 

Early in the book, Desmond establishes that poverty is about not just money but “a relentless piling on of problems,” with housing insecurity, eviction and the instability of low-wage gig and temp work at its core. The rising cost of living in American cities and the decline of career work with benefits are also contributing factors, as are our country’s aggressive carceral and criminal justice systems. In a chapter on welfare, Desmond points out that while the amount of aid available to poor people has increased since the 1980s, many of the people who qualify never take advantage of it. This, coupled with the astronomical costs of healthcare, wreaks havoc on every demographic, but immigrants and single or unmarried parents are often hit the hardest. Desmond debunks the logic used to blame these groups for relying on public assistance. 

One of Desmond’s fundamental assertions is that America has little incentive to reduce its level of poverty because those in power profit from the labor and rent money of those living more precariously. For example, employers’ gradual victory over unions is a major reason employees are now unable to escape workplace exploitation, from low wages and no benefits to noncompete clauses and workplace surveillance. Payday loans, overdraft fees and racially discriminatory interest rates are other ways American institutions financially benefit from civilians’ poverty. This all combines with the costly privatization of more and more public goods and services, like when California’s Proposition 13 capped property taxes for homeowners and consequently gutted funding for public education in the state.

Desmond devotes a fair section of this slim volume to proposed solutions, repeatedly stating that those living well will need to sacrifice some affluence to alleviate others’ suffering. However, he balks at the phrase “redistribution of wealth,” saying it “distracts and triggers.” Instead, his practical solutions seem tailored to those who are willing to sacrifice in moderation—for example, by supporting businesses with unions, paying their full taxes and pressuring upper classes to do the same. Few of his solutions seem likely to form the political pressure cooker needed to regulate predatory banking, end exclusionary zoning and pry tax dollars from executives’ claws.

While Poverty, by America may not be a how-to for the revolution that many fed-up Americans are calling for, it’s a solid primer for those living in relative comfort about how the suffocating tendrils of poverty work, and who they benefit.

Read our audiobook review of Poverty, by America, narrated by Dion Graham.

Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, by America is a solid primer about how the suffocating tendrils of poverty work, and who they benefit.
Review by

Tracy Kidder’s 2003 bestseller, Mountains Beyond Mountains, profiled international humanitarian and activist Dr. Paul Farmer, who died in 2022. In Rough Sleepers (8.5 hours), Kidder focuses his attention closer to home with a moving portrait of Dr. Jim O’Connell, head of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. After graduating from Harvard University Medical School in the 1980s, O’Connell deferred a prestigious oncology fellowship to pursue what was supposed to be a one-year stint providing medical care to Boston’s homeless citizens. Decades later, O’Connell has built a multimillion-dollar program that serves as a model for other cities seeking to improve public health services for their homeless populations. 

Rough Sleepers moves between a chronicle of O’Connell’s life and career and Kidder’s present-day observations of O’Connell and his colleagues at work. Kidder’s narration (with a Boston accent that he dials up and down as needed) adds further intimacy to the book’s very personal stories. It feels almost like we’re riding along in the van with O’Connell as he checks on his patients. Listeners will connect with the humanity of O’Connell’s patients and admire the medical professionals who tirelessly treat them with the care and compassion they deserve.

Also in BookPage: Read our starred review of the print edition of Rough Sleepers.

Tracy Kidder’s narration of Rough Sleepers (with a Boston accent that he dials up and down as needed) adds further intimacy to the book’s very personal stories. It feels almost like we’re riding along in the van with Jim O'Connell as he checks on his patients.
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What is Latino? Or, for that matter, what is Latina, or Latine, or Latinx? In Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino,” journalist and author Héctor Tobar (The Last Great Road Bum) tries to explain. Though maybe explain isn’t the right word. Through this book, readers won’t get an explanation of this broad, ancient, vital culture—this “alliance among peoples,” as Tobar calls it—but rather an experience of it. Using both his own personal narrative and testimonies from a rainbow of people of color (not just Latinx folks), Tobar manages to capture the breadth of Latinidad (i.e., the diaspora of Latinx peoples) in the United States and beyond. With moving passages about triumph in the face of adversity, tragic stories of those lost to brutality and a scathing critique of U.S. immigration policy, this book is a call to action, the first step in a redefinition of that elusive word, Latino, and an important piece in a more complete picture of humanity.

Read our interview with Héctor Tobar, author of ‘Our Migrant Souls.’

Readers, no matter their identities, will see themselves in this panorama of life experiences. The book is split into two parts. First is “Our Country,” in which Tobar takes a long, hard look at the state of the Latinx community today. This includes a careful, illuminating examination of empire and its history, analysis of the continual pillaging of Latin America by the United States, and a parsing of the idea of identity itself. What is an identity? Why does identity feel so important in today’s divided social media-centric society? Tobar uses poignant examples, such as Latina icon Frida Kahlo, to show how we construct our identities with the materials of our lives. Tobar also creates a narrative from his own place in history: From his parents’ migration from Guatemala to Los Angeles, to his childhood living next-door to the white supremacist who killed Martin Luther King Jr., Tobar’s experiences have fortified his understanding of the vital role race has played in his life. In the book’s second part, “Our Journeys Home,” Tobar takes a road trip across the United States, retelling the stories of the people he meets and showing how, no matter where we come from or what we have been through, we are all united in our humanity.

Ultimately, Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Tobar’s blend of philosophy, narrative and history puts him on the same level as literary giants such as Eduardo Galeano and James Baldwin. Turning the last page of this book, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders—yet it is an uplifting experience.

Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Turning the last page, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders.
Interview by

Héctor Tobar has been busy. On a Zoom call to his home in California, he tells me that his new book, Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino,” is an “attempt to summarize 30 years of learning, reading about race in the United States and the Latino experience, and trying to understand Latino as a category in the lens of U.S. race history.” This is a pretty serious undertaking—but no one is better suited to lead the charge than Tobar, whose book surveys the Latinx community’s diverse relationships to migration, empire, identity and kinship.

Tobar is a veteran Latino author, writing on par with other modern masters such as Ada Limon and Valeria Luiselli. One of his most significant contributions to not just Latino literature but literature as a whole is Deep Down Dark (2014), which tells the true story of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days. Writing that book taught Tobar a vital lesson: “If I really wanted to create a work that would capture the fullness of their experience, I had to think about their full experience,” he says, “about working people and the ambitions in their lives, their hopes and dreams for their children, their affairs, the complications in their lives, the dysfunction, the glories. It makes for a much more satisfying read.” This lesson has influenced his writing philosophy ever since, especially in Our Migrant Souls, which makes significant strides toward documenting the fullness of Latinx experiences.

Read our starred review of ‘Our Migrant Souls’ by Héctor Tobar.

When I ask Tobar about the necessary steps to redefine Latino, he lays out his mission. To start, he says, we can “open up critical spaces to Latino writers [who are] trying to create work that will push Latino letters.” But in order to do that, we have to get past the stereotypes. Nowadays, readers and literary professionals see Latino as a marketing concept more than anything, Tobar says—largely because “our literary and cultural production is mediated through New York and American publishing.” But he thinks Latinx people can reclaim the meaning of Latino by unwrapping its history and asserting a new definition: “Latino is an alliance among peoples.”

When he says this, it’s a revelation: a whole continent-and-a-half of people, united under one word. How has such a large collection of people’s existences gone this long without serious examination? Tobar reminds me that there has been a long history of struggle leading up to this moment. “We fought for the idea that the experience of our people was worthy of intellectual inquiry,” he says. “The system that has produced these [prejudiced] ideas is ill. It is sick and inflicting harm upon us, and we need to change it; we need new ideas.”

“We fought for the idea that the experience of our people was worthy of intellectual inquiry.”

Book jacket image for Our Migrant Souls by Hector Tobar

This is why Tobar’s novels always feature working-class intellectuals, such as the housekeeper in The Barbarian Nurseries. Rather than rooting his narratives in harmful ideas and stereotypes, he roots them in the experiences of real people, the kind he says you can find anywhere and everywhere in this country. He knows this is true from his years working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, when he would walk the streets and talk to people, learning about them and hearing their stories. The latter part of Our Migrant Souls is based on a similar approach: using a road trip across the United States to highlight the mestizo (mixed) nature of this nation, showing through testimonies and anecdotes how ingrained Latinx people are in the culture. 

We can trace this mixture back to the beginning of humanity’s story, to migration. “Migration is a constant in human history,” Tobar says. In the book, he reflects on his own family’s migrations, not just to the United States but throughout Guatemala. There have been “unending permutations of migrants in my life,” he says. This is true of all Americans, no matter our ethnic backgrounds. But Latinx people are disproportionately vilified for migrating, which is why Tobar maintains that “U.S. immigration policy is a collective humiliation of the Latino people.” Whether through detention centers, fear mongering or simply forcing people to walk through the dangerous, vast desert, a whole population of people is being erased. “[U.S. Customs and Border Protection] will use any tool at its disposal,” Tobar says. “It’s a really cowardly situation.”

“Almost any facet of human experience is going to frustrate an attempt to put a label on it.”

This is why Tobar’s mission is so important: If Latinx people cannot redefine Latino in order to use it to our advantage, it will continue to be used to categorize and hurt us. When I ask him how we can defy labels, he tells me, “Think about Guatemalan. What does that mean? Every ethnicity is a pan ethnicity! If you look at any label, you will find a whole sort of quantum mechanics of people crashing into each other. . . . All of us are the constant mixing of entanglements.”

Tobar believes “this fad, this mania of applying labels on ourselves, is really counterproductive, cruel, anti-human and unintelligent. Almost any facet of human experience is going to frustrate an attempt to put a label on it.” It might seem paradoxical, then, to write about Latinx people and Latinidad (i.e., the diaspora of Latinx peoples), but Tobar doesn’t think so. “There’s many different ways of approaching the truth, and there’s many different truths,” he tells me.

“That’s true,” I say, and we laugh.

Author headshot of Héctor Tobar by Patrice Normand/Agence Opale

With Our Migrant Souls, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author documents the fullness of Latinx experiences.
Review by

The latest book from Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist Matthew Desmond examines the pervasiveness and conditions of poverty in the United States. Thoroughly researched and grounded in both historical research and original reporting, Poverty, by America (5.5 hours) provides readers with an avenue to think critically and compassionately about one of the most pressing social issues we face. 

In the audiobook, performed by award-winning voice actor Dion Graham, the questions posed in Poverty, by America become even more visceral and undeniable. With a disarming, conversational tone, Graham guides us through a harrowing topic while also bringing a sense of urgency and reflection, amplifying Desmond’s empathy and curiosity in such a way that invites listeners to lean in and pay attention. Together, Desmond and Graham urge listeners to heed the book’s call to action and become, as Desmond writes, “poverty abolitionists.”

Read our review of the print edition of Poverty, by America.

Through this audiobook, performed by award-winning voice actor Dion Graham, the questions posed in Poverty, by America become even more visceral and undeniable.
Review by

Time is often viewed as structured, chronological and profit-driven—but it doesn’t have to be this way. In Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock (11.5 hours), Jenny Odell dissects the cultural underpinnings of our perceptions of time, wealth and value, and offers a fresh perspective that cultivates hope, not anxiety.

Saving Time is a smooth listen that’s simultaneously thought-provoking and gentle. Kristen Sieh’s narration is emphatic but peaceful, lending further authority to Odell’s writing. It feels like an experienced mentor is sharing her wisdom, and listeners will likely find themselves nodding along, surprised by the simple yet paradigm-shifting ideas presented within.

Odell’s book reminds us that we are allowed to slow down, to find joy in the moment, and listening to this audiobook can be a practice in the very principles it explores.

Read our interview with Jenny Odell on Saving Time: “If it’s true that we don’t have enough time, how did we get here? And why?”

Listeners of the Saving Time audiobook will likely find themselves nodding along, surprised by the simple yet paradigm-shifting ideas presented within.
Review by

Even though Shakespeare refers to the great Egyptian queen as both “tawny” and “black” and his English contemporaries understood Egyptians to be dark-skinned, why did a major British production of Antony and Cleopatra not cast a Black Cleopatra until Doña Croll in 1991? Because too many of the Bard’s admirers have failed to address, or even notice, race in his plays.

Farah Karim-Cooper, a Pakistani American professor of literature and Shakespeare studies at King’s College London, challenges that willful ignorance in The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race. Karim-Cooper, who also serves as Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, argues that the bad alternatives to an honest conversation about race in Shakespeare are either to dismiss his work or stubbornly cling to the stale tradition of brushing aside race—both of which oppose her desire for the plays to speak to a wider public.

Aiming to include non-academic readers in her audience, Karim-Cooper takes a close look at characters who are clearly people of color: Othello, Aaron the Moor and the Prince of Morocco. She considers more ambiguous cases, like Cleopatra and Caliban, and also ranges farther afield to depictions of otherness such as the witches in Macbeth, noting how Shakespeare routinely relies upon racialized imagery and dehumanizing language: white/fair equals good; dark equals bad and ugly.

Like his contemporaries, Shakespeare employs racist and antisemitic tropes in his characters, yet also writes them as multifaceted individuals. “Shakespeare often challenges us to hold two contradictory views simultaneously,” Karim-Cooper states. Indeed, Othello is brave and forthright as well as lethally jealous; we hear Caliban’s side of the story as well as Prospero’s. The evidence of Black people and interracial marriage in Tudor England introduces the possibility of Shakespeare having actually encountered people of color. And Karim-Cooper’s analysis of The Merchant of Venice might make one wonder whether Shakespeare knew any Jews passing as Christians for safety.

Our perception of Shakespeare’s work is ever-evolving: It wasn’t until the 18th century that he was even glamorized as “the Bard” by theater star David Garrick. Karim-Cooper’s candid discussion of more nuanced and informed approaches to interpreting Shakespeare can only help his work endure.

Karim-Cooper's candid discussion of more informed and nuanced approaches to interpreting Shakespeare can only help the Bard’s work endure.
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Lynn Melnick’s I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive: On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton is an extraordinary homage to one of country music’s leading ladies. Melnick’s early life was marked by abuse and trauma, and she fell in love with Parton’s music at age 14. Mixing her personal history with reflections on the singer’s significance as a cultural figure, Melnick creates a moving narrative of female endurance. Parton’s popular tunes, including “Jolene” and “Islands in the Stream,” serve as springboards for the chapters of this inspiring book.

In Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate, Anna Bogutskaya explores how our perception of what makes a “likable” woman has changed as more complex female characters have become prevalent in media. Bogutskaya uses tropes such as “the mean girl” and “the shrew” as reference points and celebrates how those misogynist terms have been, in some cases, reclaimed. Bogutskaya’s analysis of gender, sexuality and the power of the media will get book clubs talking as she explores famous figures such as Cardi B and Hillary Clinton.

Emily Nussbaum delivers a shrewd overview of the modern TV landscape with her dazzling collection of essays, I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution. Over the course of the collection, Nussbaum—an unabashed fan of the tube—provides engaging analyses of audience viewing habits and storytelling trends and traditions. She also interviews showrunners and considers the significance of watershed series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Nussbaum’s lively writing style and gifts as a critic are on full display in this eye-opening collection.

Nerd: Adventures in Fandom From This Universe to the Multiverse, Maya Phillips’ smart, incisive essay collection, investigates the growth of nerd culture and its influence on modern media. Reading groups will appreciate Phillips’ personal yet wide-reaching critiques of cultural touchstones such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and Marvel comics and how they inspire feelings of belonging among fans. Phillips also delves into the complications of her own experiences as a Black woman engaging in fandoms without many Black characters. The evolution of pop culture, hero worship and the impact of fan bases are but a few of the rich themes in this intriguing book.

These great picks come with ready-made playlists and watchlists!

Our top 10 books of August 2023

Our top 10 books for August 2023 include Colson Whitehead's riotous sequel to Harlem Shuffle, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest horror novel and an engrossing look at race in Shakespeare’s works.
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Ghost Book

Remy Lai juxtaposes serious topics with charming humor in Ghost Book, a lushly illustrated folkloric contemporary fantasy that will inspire readers to learn more about

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Crook Manifesto book cover
Crime Fiction

Crook Manifesto

Crook Manifesto more than matches the finely hewn psychological tensions that haunted Colson Whitehead’s main character in Harlem Shuffle. The interplay between context and character

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Tom Lake

Tom Lake is a gorgeously layered novel that spans decades yet still feels intimate, meditating on love, family and the choices we make.

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Coming of Age


Nicola Dinan’s debut is a vulnerable, moving, riotously funny and deeply honest story about trans life, first love, art-making, friendship, grief and the hard, slow

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Valiant Women

Valiant Women is a vital and engrossing attempt to correct the record and rightfully celebrate the achievements of female veterans of World War II.

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Arts & Culture

The Great White Bard

Karim-Cooper’s candid discussion of more informed and nuanced approaches to interpreting Shakespeare can only help the Bard’s work endure.

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The Underworld

The Underworld is Susan Casey’s dazzling answer to the age-old, tantalizing question about the ocean’s abyss: “What’s down there?”

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Our top 10 books for August 2023 include Colson Whitehead's riotous sequel to Harlem Shuffle, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest horror novel and an engrossing look at race in Shakespeare’s works.

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