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12 New Books We Recommend This Week


AMERICAN MOONSHOT: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, by Douglas Brinkley. (Harper/HarperCollins, $35.) In his study of the politics behind Apollo 11’s launch, Brinkley fits the space program into a wider American social context. He also asks whether the program was worth the tens of billions it cost, and argues that for its technological advances alone, it was. Our reviewer, the historian Jill Lepore, evaluates the book alongside a stack of other titles being published to coincide with the moon landing’s 50th anniversary, and calls it “the best new study of the American mission to space, rich in research and revelation.”

ORIGINAL PRIN, by Randy Boyagoda. (John Metcalf/Biblioasis, paper, $14.95.) This highly original novel traces an unexceptional professor’s path to becoming a suicide bomber. The comedy of literary and cultural references involves serious matters like cancer, a crisis of faith and Islamic terrorism, as well as easier comic subjects like juice-box fatherhood and academia. “Boyagoda finds dark absurdities in all corners,” Tom Barbash writes in his review. “Without revealing how suicide bombing figures into the final act of the book, it’s enough to say that it fits into Boyagoda’s absurdist design and raises … some of the book’s most fascinating questions about fanaticism and the state of the modern world.”

BIG SKY, by Kate Atkinson. (Little, Brown, $28.) After a nine-year absence, Atkinson’s laconic private eye, Jackson Brodie, returns to deliver his idiosyncratic brand of justice in a case involving human trafficking. Marilyn Stasio, reviewing the book in her latest crime column, says that “Atkinson is writing about major crimes and strong themes here, but it’s the voices of her characters that make you clutch your heart: people like Crystal, an abused woman who prefers ‘quiet men with low opinions of themselves,’ and Bunny, a drag queen dreaming of a triumphant stage appearance.”

THE PLAZA: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel, by Julie Satow. (Twelve, $29.) Satow’s gossip-stuffed tale traces the history of one of New York’s most iconic landmarks, the imposing white chateau at the corner of 59th and Fifth. “A great hotel is a theater of dreams,” Tina Brown writes in her review, “and Julie Satow, a journalist who covers New York real estate, digs deep into the forces that took the Plaza from a living center of aspiring social connection tied to the fortunes of American high society to its present status in an atomized era of pitiless transactional globalism.”

THE WHITE DEVIL’S DAUGHTERS: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, by Julia Flynn Siler. (Knopf, $28.95.) From the Gold Rush to the 1930s, a sex slave trade flourished in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Siler’s colorful history includes portraits of the determined women who helped thousands of Chinese girls escape to freedom. “She focuses commendable attention on exemplary but overlooked figures,” our reviewer, Gary Kamiya, writes, and “also spotlights several men who played an important role in the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunities for Chinese and Chinese-Americans.”



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