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As long as piracy has existed, it has been shrouded in myth, legend and rumor, which compromises the reliability of primary texts describing its major figures. Author Katherine Howe tackles this historical pitfall in her newest novel, A True Account.

Hannah Masury, nicknamed “Hannah Misery” by the clientele at the waterfront inn where she works in colonial Boston, has a small life. As an orphan and a girl, she doesn’t possess much in the way of prospects. When, on a balmy June morning in 1726, Hannah witnesses the hanging of a pirate named William Fly, something breaks open in her. In a matter of hours, a combination of coincidence and terrible timing leads to Hannah running for her life. With nowhere to turn, she seeks refuge aboard the ship of infamous pirate Edward Low, in disguise as a cabin boy.

Meanwhile, in 1930s Cambridge, a bright-eyed freshman named Kay brings Dr. Marian Beresford a tattered manuscript that claims to be a true account of the adventures of one Hannah Masury. Marian almost immediately dismisses it, but her initial skepticism gives way to a guarded curiosity. Could the manuscript be genuine? If it is, did Hannah intentionally alter details to hide something? And if she did . . . what exactly is waiting to be unearthed?

Using dual narratives and timelines to create a work of metafiction, Howe examines the contradictory tales of the real Edward Low through the lenses of Hannah and Marian.  Conceptually, the idea is fascinating, though Hannah’s narrative of transformation is the more interesting and better constructed of the two. Too often, Marian teeters on the edge between character and device, and her sections can veer into a juvenile tone. In contrast, the use of a diaristic narrative to tell Hannah’s story invites readers to feel the rush of clandestine discovery alongside Marian and Kay.

While the novel might have been stronger with Hannah’s voice alone, her half of the story is too compelling to be overshadowed. Readers who found their childhood love of pirates rekindled by the HBO superhit “Our Flag Means Death” (which involves other real-life pirates such as Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and Calico Jack) will be enamored with Howe’s piratical retelling in which the heroes are as unlikely as buried treasure itself.

Readers who found their love of pirates rekindled by the HBO superhit “Our Flag Means Death” will be enamored by this piratical retelling in which the heroes are as unlikely as buried treasure itself.


Michael Cunningham has used three timelines to great effect in his novels Specimen Days and The Hours, his acclaimed homage to Mrs. Dalloway. He does so once again in Day, which follows a Brooklyn family on the same April day over three years: 2019, 2020 and 2021.

As Day opens, Isabel and Dan, in early midlife, are muddling through an ordinary morning with their school-age kids, Nathan and Violet. Isabel is a creative director in an industry that has mostly evaporated, and Dan is a former rocker who still yearns for the spotlight. Isabel’s brother, Robbie, teaches sixth grade history and lives in their attic bedroom. Though the point of view roves among characters and occasionally out over the Brooklyn landscape, it’s Robbie who forms the center of the novel. Robbie’s feeling regret about his ex, Oliver, and about his long-ago decision to turn down medical school. Now he’s about to make a big change: Isabel has asked him to move out. Everyone’s floundering, including secondary characters Garth (Dan’s brother) and his ex Chess, who struggle to navigate their new status as parents. The only one who’s not floundering is Wolfe, Robbie’s Instagram persona—a perfect, though fictional, gay man.

The novel’s middle section takes place a year later, on an April day during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, with Robbie stranded in Iceland, Isabel trying to manage her worries about her kids and her marriage, and Dan starting to write songs again. This section incorporates emails, texts, letters and stretches of unadorned dialogue, including a heartbreaking phone conversation between Isabel and her dad. One year later, in April 2021, the cast of characters gathers upstate, each changed in their place in life and in their relationships with one another.

Despite contemporary details like Instagram follows, Zoom school and long text exchanges, Day has a dreamy, timeless feel. Using gorgeous, often heightened prose, Cunningham offers intimate glimpses of weighty moments instead of big scenes to examine the family’s strands of connection and disconnection, along with the ripple effects of the pandemic. Day may be a spare, short novel, but it’s a novel that asks to be read meditatively, rather than rushed through.

Michael Cunningham’s gorgeous prose gives Day a dreamy, timeless feel as it examines a family’s strands of connection and disconnection, along with the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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After decades of being a largely underserved area of scientific study, fungi are finally having their moment. The phenomenon feels not unlike the overnight appearance of a mushroom; all it took were the right conditions for the right fruiting body. The conditions: a reading public amid COVID-19 lockdown in spring 2020, aching for connection. The fruiting body: British biologist Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Life, who showed us just how interconnected we really are.

Gently, affectionately and in the loveliest prose, Sheldrake invited us to discover the unfathomable fungal networks that run throughout our soil, binding and building our whole world. Illuminated with sweet illustrations drawn by Collin Elder in ink from an ink cap mushroom, Entangled Life felt like a classic naturalist’s journal. Except for these drawings and a slim centerfold of photographs, readers were left to imagine the worlds that Sheldrake described. With Entangled Life: The Illustrated Edition, the bestselling, award-winning book transforms into a visual spectacle that contains 100-odd full-color otherworldly images of mushrooms, lichens, mycelium and more.

Mushrooms poke up in jaunty angles like whimsical umbrellas, some neon-bright and avant-garde, others gooey and grotesque. Delicate mycelial networks appear like white lace stretched across great caverns of rotting wood. Globular spores shine like blown glass. There are more intense colors and complex structures than can possibly be described, even in Sheldrake’s gorgeous language, which has been significantly abridged by the author for this edition. The section on psilocybin is particularly well illustrated, featuring photographs of Maria Sabina, the Mazatec curandera who led sacred mushroom ceremonies in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, in the early 1900s.

Many images are on an almost incomprehensibly small scale, with electron microscopy revealing fungi living inside a root or dust seeds binding with mycorrhizal fungus. The simultaneous grandness and tininess of mycology overwhelms; by the end of the book, microscopy of spores starts to resemble mushrooms on a rotting log, the scales bleeding together in a riot of colors and textures.

The message of Entangled Life is to be open to new ways of thinking—to be a little less focused on orienting ourselves, and more willing to see the world anew. This is the gift that Sheldrake continues to give us: He reveals fungal life as both more familiar and more abstract than we imagine, and encourages us into the space between the known and the as-yet unknown.

Read our interview with Merlin Sheldrake.

British biologist Merlin Sheldrake shows us just how interconnected we really are with these otherworldly images of mushrooms, lichens, mycelium and more.
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Happy Singh Soni is not, well, happy: He is longing for more. And, given his condition at the outset of Celina Baljeet Basra’s debut novel, why wouldn’t he be? His home, a Punjabi farming village that is being steadily encroached upon by an expanding theme park, is no place for a young man with ambition—of which, make no mistake, Happy has a bountiful platter.

Happy’s primary objective is to travel to Europe and become something befitting his expansive and flighty imagination: perhaps a movie star or a playwright. Constantly updating his résumé, he envisions his future with “a lustrous, luxurious bathroom made entirely of Makrana marble.” This makes him an easy mark for those only too eager to shepherd the dreamer to the Europe of his imagination . . . for a price.

In a very timely manner, Basra makes a potent point about how undocumented workers are frequently abused both economically and physically. After a harrowing journey, Happy finds himself in Italy, working at a radish farm as an undocumented immigrant. His proximity to the Italian film studio Cinecitta makes his goal of stardom feel tantalizingly close, yet it remains every bit as remote as it was in India. He puts on a brave face even while the gap between his dreams and his daily life becomes a virtually unbridgeable chasm.

Although Happy starts out at a leisurely pace, this is just a matter of Basra taking the time to build Happy’s complex character layer upon layer, encouraging the reader to root for her quixotic protagonist. As his life, somewhat predictably, falls short of his lofty ambitions, she manages to keep Happy true to his ideals, rather than having him succumb to cynicism or bitterness.

The book’s unexpected climax is handled so masterfully that it seems, in retrospect, inevitable. The humanity underpinning Happy’s story will speak to anyone with a heart and a dream.

Happy’s unexpected climax is handled so masterfully that it seems, in retrospect, inevitable. The humanity underpinning this story will speak to anyone with a heart and a dream.

With the publication of exquisite literary gems like Foster and Small Things Like These, Irish writer Claire Keegan’s reputation among American readers is slowly, but steadily, growing. The three elegantly-crafted stories collected in So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men will only enhance that increasing regard.

In the title story, Cathal, a Dubliner on the cusp of middle age, faces a lonely weekend as he looks back on the demise of his relationship with Sabine, a French woman he met at a conference two years earlier. What Cathal originally regarded as innocuous and fully justified observations about his lover mutate into profound character flaws and reflections of his misogyny considered through Sabine’s eyes. Ruminating, he recalls a line he read, “about how, if things have not ended badly . . . they have not ended.”

“The Long and Painful Death” is the story of an unnamed female writer who has won a highly competitive two week residency at a cottage on Ireland’s Achill Island once owned by German Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll. Her retreat is interrupted almost immediately by a German literature professor who wants to see the house, and when she hosts him for tea and cake he makes clear his views about her worthiness as even a temporary occupant of Böll‘s former home.

The subtle air of menace that hovers over “The Long and Painful Death” emerges full-blown in “Antarctica,” which was originally published as the title story in Keegan’s debut collection. In this disturbing final story, a “happily married” woman uses the excuse of a Christmas shopping trip to Somerset, England, to find out what it’s like to sleep with another man. It doesn’t take her long to connect with a suitable candidate at a pub near her hotel. At first, their mutually fulfilling sex exceeds her modest expectations, but the story’s chilling final pages are worthy of a tale fashioned by Stephen King.

In a book that barely exceeds 100 pages, it’s tempting to race to the end. But Keegan’s lapidary style almost demands that her work be consumed slowly, sentence by lovely sentence, as when a character feels “the tail end of a dream—a feeling, like silk—disappearing,” or when a hen’s plumage appears “as though she’d powdered herself before she’d stepped out of the house.” These stories invite rereading to appreciate how a skilled author can construct character and build narrative tension with unaffected grace.

Claire Keegan’s lapidary style demands that her work be consumed slowly, sentence by lovely sentence. Her latest collection, So Late in the Day, will only enhance her increasing regard among American readers.
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Having a group of friends means getting up to hijinks. Even hiding the dead body of a friend and pretending he’s still alive, and therefore eligible to win a Nobel prize, can be a fun group activity, as Noa Yedlin proves in her latest novel—though results may vary.

Stockholm begins in Israel, where Avishay has passed away a week before the Nobel Prize announcements, for which he’s been in the running due to his work in economics. His four closest friends, Zohara, Yehuda, Nili and Amos, think that if they pretend he’s still alive, Avishay could go down in history. What follows is a madcap adventure filled with laughs and tears and the kind of under-your-skin frustration that only your closest friends can give you.

The complex dynamics among the friends make for a slew of hitches in their already improbable scheme. Zohara is the one to discover Avishay’s body using the key he gave her to his apartment because they were not-so-secret lovers. Then, Yehuda hatches the plan to pretend Avishay is alive for another week, claiming that it is out of love for his friend while neglecting to mention that it would benefit him. Nili frequently decries her status as the fifth wheel of the group, and no one does much to assuage her anxieties. Meanwhile, Amos was in an unspoken, career-long competition with Avishay and has mixed feelings about the whole affair. He questions whether Avishay’s work really warrants the fame—and extensive Wikipedia entry—given to the dead man. As the four surviving friends fake texts and ward off visitors, their bond is put to the test and decades of pent-up feelings erupt in a single week.

Yedlin makes these characters and their friendship incredibly real, and this absurd plot often feels more like that of a thriller. So much is at stake in every scene—not just the Nobel Prize but years of memories, trust and love. Though each character has a distinct voice and is given plenty of room to develop, the novel is best when the four of them come together. Witnessing their hilarious banter and inside jokes, readers won’t feel left out; they’ll be glad for a glimpse of this friendship, with all its tension and tenderness.

Stockholm is a madcap adventure filled with laughs and tears and the kind of under-your-skin frustration that only your closest friends can give you.

In the summer of 2019, bestselling author Lauren Grodstein (A Friend of the Family) visited the Oneg Shabbat Archive in Poland, which houses diary entries and records documenting Jewish life under German occupation during World War II. As she read testimonies and reflected upon her own family’s departure from Poland, Grodstein found inspiration for her next novel, a stirring work of historical fiction that takes readers into the Nazis’ largest ghetto.

We Must Not Think of Ourselves tells the story of Adam Paskow, who is recruited by the Oneg Shabbat just months after being relocated to a shared apartment in Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. Emanuel Ringelblum, the group’s leader, explains to Adam that his assignment is to record “all the details, even if they seem insignificant. I don’t want you to decide what’s significant. . . . Our task is to pay attention. To listen to the stories.”

So Adam begins to conduct interviews with his flatmates as well as with children from the English class he teaches. Acting as something of a Greek chorus, these voices vacillate between the mundane, the macabre and occasional moments of joy, demonstrating how the community doggedly clings to any semblance of normalcy. We come to see that, for Adam and all the Jews stripped of their rights and freedoms, it is an act of resistance to simply persist in the business of daily living and continue to enjoy simple pleasures wherever they may be found.

Adam also transcribes his own life story, musing not only on his increasingly bleak present reality but also his life before the war, when he worked at a prestigious school and was happily married until his wife’s tragic death. Though he believes the great love of his life is behind him, we witness Adam slowly form a romantic connection with Sala, a married mother with whom he now shares cramped living quarters. Their mutual attachment transforms their time in the ghetto into something more than survival.

As its plot advances, We Must Not Think of Ourselves is most concerned with exploring the internal lives of its characters and giving faces to the people who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto. By keeping the novel’s scope intimate and personal, Grodstein lets readers experience Adam and his compatriots’ loss and resilience in a visceral, rather than intellectual, way. Emotionally charged and meticulously researched, We Must Not Think of Ourselves pays homage to the Oneg Shabbat’s goal of honoring the Jewish people by bearing witness to the entirety of their experience. This is a compelling and compassionate tribute that will resonate deeply with readers.

Emotionally charged and meticulously researched, We Must Not Think of Ourselves pays homage to the Oneg Shabbat’s goal of honoring the Jewish people by bearing witness to the entirety of their experience.
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A Toni Morrison Treasury caters to preschoolers and young readers with a collection of eight children’s books that the late Nobel Prize-winning writer wrote with her son, Slade Morrison. Each one is illustrated by an artist chosen by Toni herself; they include Joe Cepeda, Pascal Lemaitre, Giselle Potter, Sean Qualls and Shadra Strickland. As Oprah Winfrey writes in a brief foreword, “Reading these stories is a way for children and adults to connect with one of the world’s most extraordinary authors in a new and inspiring way.” 

Adults will enjoy sharing these stories with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children. “The Big Box” is a lengthy rhyming story about three children confined to a big brown box because, according to adults, they “just can’t handle their freedom.” The tale is a delight from start to finish. At first, the big box seems to offer unfettered joys—swings and slides and treats and toys galore—but readers will soon realize it’s a prison. As the children note: “But if freedom is handled your way / Then it’s not my freedom or free.” Giselle Potter’s droll illustrations perfectly capture the strange dichotomy of their situation and their feelings of entrapment.

Pascal Lemaitre’s comic-style illustrations enliven the “Who’s Got Game?” series of fables, which pit ant against grasshopper, lion against mouse and grandfather against snake. “Poppy or the Snake” is particularly clever, and Lemaitre’s use of dark tones heightens the tension between the two protagonists. Bright green Snake’s bold, wily ways make this a fun read-aloud, especially when Poppy ends up having the last laugh. 

In “Peeny Butter Fudge,” a lively homage to raucously wild days with a grandmother, Joe Cepada’s bright illustrations ramp up the rollicking fun had by two sisters, a brother and their high-spirited Nana. Readers can continue on their own by making the recipe for the titular treat, which is included at the end. “Please, Louise” rounds out the collection, showing how a young girl’s day is brightened by a trip to the library: “So smile as the stories unfurl / where beauty and wonder cannot hide. / Because reading books is a pleasing guide.” Shadra Strickland reinforces this message with engaging art beginning with dark, dreary colors on a stormy day that gradually morph into a rainbow.

Adults will enjoy sharing the stories of A Toni Morrison Treasury with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children.
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Bob Dylan is an artist of many faces: poet, folk hero, rock genius, visual artist, writer, welder, songsmith, Nobel Prize winner. He is, perhaps, what we project onto him of ourselves and our world. Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine is a 605-page immaculately designed compendium that seemingly encompasses all possible sides of the legend. The book expands on the inaugural exhibits at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which opened in 2022 and houses the complete Dylan archives. If you can’t get to Tulsa, Mixing Up the Medicine is the next best thing.

If you are expecting beautiful photos, art and memorabilia, you’ll find those here. If you want to read personal correspondence from Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Jack White and other luminaries, look no further. And if you’d like to attempt to decipher Dylan’s chicken-scratch handwriting, you have your work cut out for you. But what sets Mixing Up the Medicine apart from other books of its type is the writing. Authors, artists and musicians visited the Tusla archive and were asked to choose a single item that “enticed, beguiled, stirred, perplexed, or galvanized them,” and then write an essay about it.

Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo selects a painting of the first record that Dylan—as 15-year-old Robert Zimmerman—recorded, a breathless cascade of radio hits tracked in a music shop’s recording booth with two friends for $5. Ranaldo imagines that evening in the songwriter’s youth with aching specificity. Poet Gregory Pardlo uses a letter written to Dylan by Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton to explore Dylan’s relationship with Black activists and artists. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo chooses the Japanese album cover of Blood on the Tracks, lyrically riffing on “Tangled Up in Blue.” Author Tom Piazza takes inspiration from a typewritten draft of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” to pen a short play about a self-serious scholar who seeks the input of an exhausted, half-mad Dylanologist. And there’s more.

In the epilogue, Douglas Brinkley writes, “Dylan is an experience more like a meteorite than a mummified artifact of scholarly pursuit.” Mixing Up the Medicine, with all its heft and weight, keeps the man in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional. For Dylan acolytes, the joy of this tome is in combing its pages for the people we once were—our own changing faces, and those we will become.

Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine keeps the legendary artist in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional.
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Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein launched the @cheapoldhouses Instagram account in 2016, delighting followers with the boundless possibilities of starting over with a fresh—albeit dusty—slate. Even if you don’t dream of rescuing a fixer-upper, the notion is endlessly enchanting and story-rich, which is why “Cheap Old Houses” is yet another successful HGTV series. For those of us who’d rather read than stream or scroll, enter its book form: Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home, in which architecturally sound buildings priced beneath $150K are restored to livability. The Finkelsteins note that the buyers have “discovered astonishing purpose by devoting attention to a home that needs love,” a path to fulfillment I can totally get behind, despite my total lack of carpentry skills. There are how-tos sprinkled within (“Painted Woodwork: To Strip or Not to Strip?”) but the focus is on the amazing stories and images of a wide range of old buildings—from mansions to farmhouses to cabins, and even a hydropower station—and the people who gave them new life. The details and features that have survived in highly dilapidated structures are awe-inspiring but also educational: If you’ve wondered just what plaster-and-lath is, now you’ll know.

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
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There’s a subcategory of hardcore Beatles fans who, unprompted, will ardently opine that George Harrison—the humble writer of classics like “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—is in fact the best Beatle. Forget the saccharine songwriting of Paul, whose hubris was what ultimately led the group to implode, and heady John who left Earth’s orbit, taking only Yoko with him. And, um . . . Ringo who? It’s George, they argue, and you can look no further than Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle for all the proof you need.

In Norman’s biography, these George-heads can get a full serving of Beatlemania through the specific lens of the group’s youngest member, though the book will undoubtedly be of interest to all Beatles fans. Because of Harrison’s unique position as the poorest and youngest of the group, the entire dynamic of The Beatles is on full display in these career-spanning chapters, showing how class, religion and maturity played a role in the functioning of the band both when they were together and long after they broke up.

Norman underscores the emotion and intensity of Harrison’s life, as the Beatle moved from a young rebel without a cause into a pious guitar guru. Norman highlights Harrison’s distinctly well-adapted family, who, despite having limited resources, nurtured Harrison into a passionate creative. In his school days, we see Harrison wriggle free of draconian English expectations and meet his soon-to-be bandmates who are both impressed by his precociousness and turned off by his inexperience. Eventually, Harrison becomes so talented at playing songs by ear, replicating the solos of Buddy Holly note for note, that the others have to let him join. From there, the group slowly ascends, working grueling yet colorful days in Germany, and shoots into stardom all at once.

Norman layers the story with fascinating and intimate details about The Beatles’ complex relationships. John and Ringo, for example, were on vacation during Harrison’s wedding, which the groom apparently brushed off with a laugh. And, “have a laugh,” in the band’s joking vernacular, meant smoking marijuana, which they did frequently after Bob Dylan famously introduced them to it. With these anecdotes and many more, any Beatles fan will be enthralled page after page.

Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle only adds to the case that George was lowkey the best Beatle.
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HGTV’s “Home Town” creator Erin Napier’s Heirloom Rooms: Soulful Stories of Home, in which she tells stories of her own home renovations alongside anecdotes and home images from a bevy of friends. The book proceeds room by room, from front porch to back porch, with refreshingly unstaged shots of interiors, like an image of vintage cabinetry in which stacks of La Croix boxes are visible in a mirror. (Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s no shortage of enviable interiors that seem, well, at least a little bit staged.) In total, the book prompts readers to reflect on how memories and emotions are embedded in every nook of our domestic spaces. Napier wants us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives, and to treasure them as such, which is always a good idea.

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
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At age 65, she is still one of the most recognizable women in America, making news with every appearance and regularly posting to her 19.1 million Instagram followers. But Madonna in the 1980s and 1990s? It’s impossible to describe how thoroughly she dominated pop culture: groundbreaking videos like the sleek black-and-white “Vogue” and the gorgeously provocative “Like a Prayer”; the “Like a Virgin” wedding cake performance at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards; the infamous coffee table book, Sex.

In this vivid and memorable biography, journalist Mary Gabriel draws on previous interviews and reporting to paint a satisfyingly full picture of the life of Madonna Louise Ciccone. Born in 1958 to devout Catholic parents in Michigan, Madonna’s earliest years were spent in a boisterous and loving family. But her mother died of breast cancer when Madonna was only 5, and her remaining childhood was marked by deep sadness and chaos. Madonna escaped through performance—she was a serious dancer and immersed herself in the Detroit music scene.

She chased her dreams to New York City, living in apartments crawling with roaches and working dead-end jobs while pursuing music and acting. Gabriel brings 1980s New York to life: the gritty city where young talents went to find fame, and where gay men (including many of Madonna’s dear friends) were getting sick and dying of a mysterious new disease. The biography deftly sets Madonna’s story against the backdrop of the times, reflecting on how her art was influenced by religion, race, sex and women’s rights.

The artist is such a provocateur that her philanthropic work has sometimes been overshadowed. Gabriel provides a reminder of Madonna’s efforts to raise money for AIDS research and other causes. While Madonna: A Rebel Life can occasionally smack of research paper (it is chock-full of footnotes), it is still a thoroughly entertaining and deeply nostalgic look at one of the true icons of our time. Gabriel manages to tell a fresh story, even with a subject as scrutinized as Madonna. As the star once said, “There’s a lot more to me than can possibly be perceived in the beginning.”

Mary Gabriel’s vivid, memorable biography of Madonna takes a fresh look at a true icon of our time.

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