Jan 30, 2020
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10 New Books We Recommend This Week

Written by

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

A VERY STABLE GENIUS: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig. (Penguin Press, $30.) The Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig composed this book, they write, out of a desire to step out of the churning news cycle and “assess the reverberations” of Donald Trump’s presidency. The result is a chronological account of the past three years in Washington, based on interviews with more than 200 sources. “They’re meticulous journalists, and this taut and terrifying book is among the most closely observed accounts of Donald J. Trump’s shambolic tenure in office to date,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “It reads like a horror story, an almost comic immorality tale. It’s as if the president, as patient zero, had bitten an aide and slowly, bite by bite, an entire nation had lost its wits and its compass.”

THE LONGING FOR LESS: Living With Minimalism, by Kyle Chayka. (Bloomsbury, $27.) The cultural critic Kyle Chayka admits to being a minimalist, but only “by default,” a consequence of living as an underpaid writer in New York. When he began writing “The Longing for Less,” he was put off by how minimalism had become commodified — a smug cure-all that countered late-capitalist malaise with self-help books by Marie Kondo and seasonal pilgrimages to The Container Store. “But those two kinds of minimalism — enforced austerity and sleek lifestyle branding — don’t quite convey the enormousness of the subject Chayka explores in this slender book,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes. “Delving into art, architecture, music and philosophy, he wants to learn why the idea of ‘less is more’ keeps resurfacing.”

WILMINGTON’S LIE: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, by David Zucchino. (Atlantic Monthly, $28.) This account of the violent overthrow of a multiracial government in a North Carolina city at the end of the 19th century recovers a forgotten episode in American history that is both deeply disturbing and terribly sad. “With economy and a cinematic touch, Zucchino recounts the brutal assault on black Wilmington,” Eddie S. Glaude Jr. writes in his review. “A town that once boasted the largest percentage of black residents of any large Southern city found itself in the midst of a systematic purge. Successful black men were targeted for banishment from the city, while black workers left all their possessions behind as they rushed to the swamps for safety. Over 60 people died. No one seemed to care.”

EXTREME ECONOMIES: What Life at the World’s Margins Can Teach Us About Our Own Future, by Richard Davies. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) Davies, a British economist and journalist, toured nine places where humans live in extremis, including Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami, a Jordan refugee camp and a Louisiana prison — all of which, he argues, hold valuable lessons for the future. Matthew Yglesias reviews the book, favorably: “All nine studies are engagingly written and genuinely interesting, each a dive into a corner of the world you don’t hear much about that conveys, briefly and clearly, a sense of how this far-off place works,” Yglesias writes. “The book is simultaneously entertaining, informative and balanced.”

OLIGARCHY, by Scarlett Thomas. (Counterpoint, $26.) The privileged teenage girls in this dark comedy, attending a dysfunctional, third-string boarding school in the countryside north of London, get caught up in a mass-psychogenic, contagious version of anorexia nervosa. “Thomas’s humor has a sharp, rhythmic perfection,” Lydia Millet writes in her review. “Her prose is fast-thinking, entertaining and punchy, her dialogue fully authentic without sinking into the tedium of real-life conversation.” Millet calls the novel “a study in obsessiveness” and adds that “intriguing, fluid and frequently funny interior monologues are what Thomas does best.”

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