Jan 19, 2020
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11 New Books We Recommend This Week

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TIGHTROPE: Americans Reaching for Hope, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. (Knopf, $27.95.) Centered on rural Oregon (where Kristof, a Times columnist, grew up on a sheep farm, and WuDunn, his wife and former colleague, has spent much time), this book details wrenching devastation among the working poor: a generation ruined by addiction, suicide and treatable health conditions. “Kristof and WuDunn document the tireless and heroic ways in which the people they interviewed tried, often with greater gumption than many fortunate people will ever be asked to summon,” Sarah Smarsh writes in her review. The book’s “greatest strength is its exaltation of the common person’s voice, bearing expert witness to troubles that selfish power has wrought.”

LONG BRIGHT RIVER, by Liz Moore. (Riverhead, $26.) Moore shows the toll of the opioid crisis on a Philadelphia neighborhood in her emotional thriller about sisters on opposite sides of the equation. One is a cop, the other an addict who has gone missing. Satisfyingly, the characters’ interior lives are as important as the mysteries that propel the action. “Even in the midst of their crime-ridden, drug-addled neighborhood, Moore’s people have a steely kind of faith,” our colleague Elisabeth Egan writes in Group Text, a new monthly column suggesting picks for book groups. “Not necessarily the kind that brings you to your knees — although there’s some of that too — but the belief that makes you stand a little taller and hold out for something better, against all odds. Moore gives you a lot to chew on.”

WHY WE CAN’T SLEEP: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, by Ada Calhoun. (Grove, $26.) Aware that she and many of her Gen X peers were unhappy, Calhoun studied housing costs, job trends and other factors — and, crucially, she talked to people. Dedicated to the middle-aged women of America (“It’s not just you”), this candid book sums up her sleuthing. “The life she portrays in the most depth is her own, and her descriptions of money struggles and health challenges are candid and engaging,” Curtis Sittenfeld writes in her review. “She’s a funny, smart, compassionate narrator, and I … admired her insistence on taking women’s concerns seriously.”

SUPREME AMBITION: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover, by Ruth Marcus. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) Marcus, an editor and columnist at The Washington Post, deploys impressive reporting and a deep knowledge of Beltway politics to this trenchant, if dispiriting, account of the behind-the-scenes machinations that drove Justice Kavanaguh’s ascent to the nation’s highest court despite claims that he committed sexual assault in high school. “The most interesting part of Marcus’s narrative is her discussion of why, in the end, the evidence mattered so little,” Adam Cohen writes in his review. “Much of the credit goes to Kavanaugh, whose … angry insistence that he was the true victim — which took a page from Clarence Thomas’s response to Anita Hill’s sexual harassment charges decades earlier — shifted the momentum in his direction.”

VIRGINIA WOOLF: And the Women Who Shaped Her World, by Gillian Gill. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) Woolf’s life has been endlessly pored over, but Gill finds a fresh way in by structuring her chatty, occasionally speculative biography around the female influences on Woolf’s thinking and well-being, including her bohemian sister, Vanessa. “Gill’s portrait shows Woolf’s character to have been complicated not just by difficulty but by pleasure, too,” Claire Jarvis writes in her review. “Gill’s biography is especially good in delineating Vanessa’s charismatic appeal for her sister, whose adoration was never quite reciprocated.”

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