If you’re looking for escapist reading, this week’s recommended books won’t help. But if you want a cleareyed and sometimes rousing look at the state of the world today, settle right in: We’ve got books about the Mexican drug trade and America’s efforts to combat it (“The Dope,” by Benjamin T. Smith), along with an argument that modern warfare is too easy (Samuel Moyn’s “Humane”) and a memoir by a key figure in Donald Trump’s first impeachment (Alexander Vindman’s “Here, Right Matters”). We’ve got a hardscrabble immigration memoir from Qian Julie Wang, “Beautiful Country,” and two books exploring aspects of technology: Meghan O’Gieblyn’s “God, Human, Animal, Machine” and Tom Standage’s “A Brief History of Motion.” And in fiction, we recommend three debut novels about characters trying to make the best of sometimes dire circumstances: “Paris Is a Party, Paris Is a Ghost,” by David Hoon Kim, “Three Rooms,” by Jo Hamya, and “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” by the accomplished poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.
Senior Editor, Books
HUMANE: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, by Samuel Moyn. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) In his smart and provocative new book, Moyn suggests that making war less cruel diverts Americans from pursuing the more radical goal of genuine peace. Spectacular technological advances have reduced casualties — at least when compared with conventional warfare — but they have also opened up new ethical conundrums. Our critic Jennifer Szalai writes: “Arriving 20 years after 9/11, as the United States has withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan, ‘Humane’ encourages readers to ask central questions too often lost amid the chatter of the foreign policy establishment.”
GOD, HUMAN, ANIMAL, MACHINE: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning, by Meghan O’Gieblyn. (Doubleday, $28.) In brainy, loosely linked chapters, O’Gieblyn eloquently dissects our tech-obsessed culture’s elevation of data and quantification over qualitative experience, detecting in our relentless turn toward machines the remnants of a more humane, even spiritual reality. The book is a “hybrid beast, a remarkably erudite work of history, criticism and philosophy, but it is also, crucially, a memoir,” Becca Rothfeld writes in her review, applauding O’Gieblyn for speaking from a frankly personal point of view: “For all our posturing, beings like us could scarcely hope to speak from anywhere else.”
THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DU BOIS, by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. (HarperCollins, $28.99.) This triumphant debut novel follows a young Black woman figuring out how to live with joy in the modern American South. The novel switches between the past and the present, alternating the heroine’s story with those of her ancestors. “‘The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois’ is quite simply the best book that I have read in a very, very long time,” Veronica Chambers writes in her review. “I will avoid the cliché of calling it ‘a great American novel.’ Maybe the truest thing I could say is that this is an epic tale of adventure that brings to mind characters you never forget: Meg Murry in ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ Scout in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Huckleberry Finn.”