The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. For more book lists and featured book reviews, check LAPL Reads.
Sciubba takes us on a demographically backed exploration of questions about human world population: exploring factors of sex and reproduction, aging populations, mortality, and migration. She explores how population trends shape the world we live in. A fascinating, layman friendly look at how populations shape our world.
The civics geek son of a civics geek dad, Will Haskell decides in his senior year of college at Georgetown University to run for the Connecticut state senate against a Republican incumbent who has held the seat longer than Haskell’s been alive. Inspiring in his idealism and tenacity, Haskell's story is a vital antidote to the jadedness that often shadows American politics today.
As a performer Josephine Baker was an international sensation who broke many barriers, in particular racial. She was gorgeous, exuberant, rebellious and offbeat which was evident in all of her stage performances, and was also “a world class spy” during World War II.
After meeting on their respective South American vacations, Irishman Seán and Swede Elias begin a romance that quickly leads to them living together in Elias' hometown of Gothenburg. But when Elias becomes unmoored in the maelstrom of his disintegrating mental health, Seán must try to keep Elias afloat while keeping his own head above water.
Frank O'Hara, who died tragically at age 40 in 1966, was one of the most influential poets of the second half of the 20th Century, a star of the New York School. Ada Calhoun mixes her trenchant personal memoir with a biography of the famed poet, finishing the work her father, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, began decades ago. Schjeldahl left Calhoun cassette tapes of his interviews with all of O'Hara's artistic friends, including the artists Larry Rivers, O'Hara's lover, and Jane Freilicher, O'Hara's best friend.
Robert S. McNamara was Secretary of Defense under two Presidents: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. In that position he relied on numbers to convince both U.S. Presidents that the Vietnam Conflict could be won. His son, Craig McNamara was plagued by his father's various decisions, but never was able to find any type of resolution because his father did not communicate directly with his son, or with anyone else, including the media. At the end of his life, on stage with film documentarian Errol Morris, Robert McNamara was running on automatic, and in the midst of an interview, walked off stage rather than answer certain questions.
An examination of the science of evolution and sex introducing female animals that defy the stereotypical behavior as described by scientists in the Victorian era. Examples: spiders (female devours the male); meerkats, bees, and others (social power and control held by females); various species of fish (species do not remain binary). Lucy Cooke makes a strong case that “truth lies in diversity and transparency” and that biases get in the way of good science.
Ron Shelton covers the waterfront in this insider’s account about what it took to get Bull Durham made. It is detailed, fast-paced, witty and hilarious. If you haven’t seen it, see this classic movie first, then read this book.
Among the many “firsts” in the life of Constance Baker Motley, she was the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge and the first Black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Throughout her life, she fought for equality and justice for all and knew that inequality of any type was a barrier to freedom of expression
Think Impossible Burger, not seitan, tempeh, or old-school textured vegetable protein. My favorite recipes include Pan-Fried Dumplings and Green Chile Stew with Hominy (Pozole!) This book is a must for the supermarket vegetarian chef.
An examination of our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, and how important sex roles are to their species. De Waal’s conclusion asserts that biology does play a role in our behavior but so does nurture and/or culture, and the two can interact in deliberate ways. Biology is not destiny but does have some influence on human behavior.
Today, plastic surgery is taken for granted, mostly as a way to maintain a youthful appearance, but its modern roots were developed as a result of the horrific facial damage inflicted on soldiers during WWI. This is the remarkable story of Harold Gillies, “who dedicated himself to reconstructing the burned and broken faces of the injured soldiers under his care.” As with many innovators, Gillies ideas were questioned and at times thwarted.
Physicist Antonio Padilla takes us on a tour of unusually large and unusually small numbers, examining what they tell us about the universe we live in. Recommended for those with a love of the workings behind reality
Journalist, author, war veteran, former Marine Corps Special Operations Team Leader, Elliot Ackerman takes us behind the scenes of America’s final military exit from Afghanistan. He presents a chilling analysis of our military interventions since 9/11.
Googie modern was a style of architecture that had its birth in Southern California and was easily recognizable. Michael Murphy had access to the archives of the creators of this iconic style, so there is wonderful historical information plus page after page of color photographs, sketches and blueprints.
The Gullah and Geechee people were isolated slaves having worked on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. “This Lowcountry community represents the most direct living link to the traditional culture, language, and foodways of their West African ancestors.” 89-year-old Emily Meggett was born on Eidsto island, has lived there her entire life, and is "a respected elder of the Gullah community." She presents her special recipes and comments about food and life.
With fulsome candor, Edgar Gomez recounts his struggle to reconcile the macho Nicaraguan man his family expects him to be with the effeminate young gay man he feels himself becoming. From a rural cockfighting ring to a 24-hour gay bathhouse, from the exaltation of a burlesque stage to the devastation of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, Gomez lays it all on the table and dares you to judge him.
Many years ago media critic Ken Auletta wrote about the volatility of the very successful and powerful Harvey Weinstein. Little did he know that worse things were going on at Miramax. This book is more than a methodical investigation of a maniacal often brilliant person, but of power gone berserk, and how so many people felt trapped, threatened, endangered, caught in a web of silence, and were afraid to speak out.
A long overdue and fitting tribute to twenty-five women who made major contributions to the world of Gospel music. Interviews and extensive research gives these women their proper place in the history of world music.
We all know him as a master chef, sidekick to Julia Child, and TV presenter. In this homage to the chicken and its versatility, Jacques Pépin has created a memoir with recipes, accompanied by his own vibrant paintings. Growing up in the French countryside, he learned many ways to cook a chicken from his maman, whose special techniques and recipes he shares with us.
An in-depth examination about how thinking works, written for the layperson in language that is poetic and comprehensible. Beginning with the basic link between a sensor and a doer that follows the module as it ratchets up in complexity, all the way to self-awareness and consciousness. An inspirational book that will make you ponder the authors’ conclusions about the process of thinking and how it affects you.
If she is known at all by the general public, it is for San Simeon, on which she spent 30 years working with William Randolph Hearst, but Julia Morgan had many other accomplishments, as documented in this new biography, lavishly illustrated with numerous color photographs.
Beginning with Sally Yates, Acting United States Attorney General, who, in 2017, refused to sign off on the Muslim Travel Ban, Lithwick presents the legal details as to why Yates said, “No." Moving forward in time, she presents the work and experiences of other women, who are lawyers, and what actions they took in order to preserve a fair legal system.
Marie Yovanovitch was U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and in 2019 was recalled from that post, which soon brought her to national attention during an impeachment inquiry about Donald Trump. Her autobiography is about her family’s immigration to this country, overcoming hardships in Europe, and her dedication in representing the United States in her career with the diplomatic services.
This new biography on the groundbreaking African-American playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, details her involvement in civil rights activism, queer activism and left-wing politics before her tragic demise from cancer. Hansberry's upbringing inspired her classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, including her family's involvement in some controversial real estate practices.
Selma Blair's unlikely journey to stardom took her from suburban Detroit to New York and Los Angeles, and she is now best known as an advocate for sufferers of multiple sclerosis. Although she did not start to get serious about acting until college, Blair got progressively larger roles until she became a movie star and fashion icon at the beginning of the 21st Century. Blair recounts her struggles on the way to the top in harrowing detail, including bouts with alcoholism and depression, and her father's attempt to undermine her career by sending poison pen letters.
Rick Martínez, food writer and chef, takes readers on a tour de force, lip-smacking, journey through Mexico. His own recipes are glorious, accompanied by anecdotes and full-page color photographs.
Chuck Klosterman's work of cultural analysis is a nostalgia trip for members of Generation X, and a primer for those too young to remember the decade in detail. The 1990s were shaped by rapid changes in technology and the explosion of mass media, leading to profound cultural transformations by the end of the decade.
The best biography about the House of Windsor-Mountbatten-Spencer since the 1997's The Royals by Kitty Kelley. This is a page turner that has something for royal newbies as well as the jaded. Who knew that Princess Margaret was a good mother? Or that the only photo kept on Prince Philip's bureau was that of his son Edward? Verdict from Tina Brown, who is English: Kate is good and Meghan is bad.
While doing research about the restaurant that her grandmother Doña Natalia opened, Natalia Molina discovered even more about the eatery, her grandmother, and the community that worked and ate there. The real-life experiences reflect a complex history of Los Angeles with more twists and turns than a suspense novel.
Learn how to make cookies for breakfast, belly-warming soups, savory stir fries and more in this cookbook by Instagram influencer Carleigh Bodrug. Vegans and omnivores alike will enjoy these plant-based, oil-free recipes made with oridnary ingredients. This is a well laid out cookbook, semi-glossy, and easy to read with great photos of recipes and their ingredients.
Literature plays a major role in freedom of expression. Azar Nafisi, professor, and writer, presents her thoughts in a series of letters to her late father, who was the Mayor of Tehran. In examining the books of selected writers, she urges us to examine the motivations of those who stand in the way of freedom of expression. At the same time, she cautions us not to replicate the behavior of those who seek to suppress this precious freedom.
Film and television actor Michael K. William's posthumously published memoir finds him tracing his complex youth back from the projects in Brooklyn to his recent accomplishments as an actor and activist. Insightful, reflective and unflinching, Williams touches on his struggles with masculinity, addiction and finding a purpose in life and a path forward. He died on September 6, 2021.
Higgins takes a close look at the senses by investigating animal exemplars of each sense, and tracking back to closely examine what that means about each sense in humans. She covers the five standard senses of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight, as well as others: a time sense; magnetoreception; and senses that help us keep track of our balance and our body in space. A fascinating, approachable read that is aimed squarely at the general public.
Mary Rodgers was the daughter of someone famous, “If you’ve read this far, you probably already know that Daddy was Richard Rodgers (1902-1979): composer, womanizer, alcoholic, genius.” And, how’s this for a line, when grabbing the check for dinner, “When your father writes Oklahoma! You can pay for dinner.” However, in this rollicking ride through the world of Broadway, she demonstates that she was a talented and spirited creator in her own right.
In his18th book, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, astrophysicist and bestselling author, Neil deGrasse Tyson ponders solutions to some of the big questions facing humanity while making persuasive arguments how to replace some of our current problem-solving strategies with ones based on the scientific method. These strategies would benefit everyone/thing on the planet. The result is a book that is awe inspiring, cringe inducing, and, at times, laugh out loud funny.
A heartbreaking, compact memoir from a New Yorker staff writer, tracing his emotional and political education from childhood to university. His professional first-generation parents provide guidance and support, while the cultural and activist climate of Berkeley shapes his aesthetic and ideological formation. It is his unlikely, tragically short friendship with the popular and confident Ken, whose ambition and grappling with his Asian-American identity, all of which complements and complicates Hsu’s own, making a most dramatic impact. Searing, precise and lucid, his story moves at the speed of youth.
Irish comedian Maeve Higgins’ first collection of essays was a laugh riot. But this collection is decidedly more serious, tackling such issues as Customs and Border Patrol, the resilient diversity of her adopted New York City, and the Confederate statuary in Richmond, Virginia. All of this told from a white immigrant’s perspective.
Nobel-winning German novelist Thomas Mann spent a decade in Los Angeles during and after World War II. This is a look at Mann and the circle of fellow exiles he socialized with, including writers, artists, and musicians including Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Franz Werfel.
Semiotics, broadly, is the study of signs and symbols and how our interpretations of them develop. Using semiotics as a jumping off point, Hungarian semiotician Thomas Sebeok’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt in the 1980s to devise warning signs for nuclear waste disposal sites that will maintain their meaning for at least the 10,000 years the waste is predicted to stay dangerous, Marcel Danesi discusses the problems of universality in symbols and the decay of meaning over time.
A unique book that is the first cookbook devoted entirely to Juneteenth. It is lavishly illustrated with photographs, history and marvelous recipes.
In this sequel, Randall Munroe answers more ridiculous “hypothetical” questions. As in the original book, Munroe, famously the creator of the xkcd comic, takes submitted science-themed and generally absurd questions from the public, and provides seriously researched, often taken to the extreme, answers. He includes illustrations in his xkcd style for added zestiness. The result is a fascinating read that ranges across the physical sciences.
Peter Irons, Constitutional legal scholar and member of the Supreme Court Bar, traces the history of systemic racism in the United States, from the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade through the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, all the way to the current Black Lives Matter movement, with particular attention paid to how legislation and court cases have both contributed to and hindered the struggle.
The activities of five women (Addy Hawkins, Lize Sudmeier, Mary Hutchinson, Jane Burrell, Eloise Page) prior, during and after WW II, were instrumental in the founding of the CIA. “This is the kind of book the Wise Gals could not have anticipated would ever be written … their lives and accomplishments remained undocumented. Sadly, their stories could not have been told while the women were still with us. If living, neither the identities of the women, nor their work within the agency, would have been disclosed by the CIA. It is only in death that the full measure of their accomplishments can be revealed.”
Sandra Cisneros, the best-selling author of The House on Mango Street, has swept the poems from under her bed to publish her newest collection of poetry in 28 years. Cisneros is candid and humorous in her poems that recall her youth, her love life and her aging, unmarried self.