19 must-read books for fall

Aseason of beauty and bounty, fall is. And particularly for books. This year brings big new biographies of Gorbachev, Grant, and FDR, pointed personal takes on politics from Hillary Clinton and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and fresh fiction from Jennifer Egan, Alice McDermott, James McBride, and others. Here are some we can’t wait to read.


“What Happened’’

Hillary Clinton

(Simon and Schuster)

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Clinton’s memoir is billed as a candid airing of her thoughts and feelings on the presidential campaign and its aftermath (and based on the published excerpts bashing Bernie and the “Creep’’ in Chief it looks like it will deliver). Though anxiously awaited by some and viewed as irrelevant by others, virtually all agree that this book will be an event.


“The Ninth Hour’’

Alice McDermott

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

After the husband of a young, pregnant Irish immigrant kills himself in early 20th century Brooklyn, the woman and her baby are swept up by a group of nuns who help raise the infant girl in this story of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness spanning three generations.

“The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve’’

Stephen Greenblatt


Greenblatt, whose last book (“The Swerve: How the World Became Modern’’) garnered both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, considers the influence of the narrative of the First Couple over the ages and what it says about the power of stories.

“Five-Carat Soul’’

James McBride



Amusing and insightful yarns abound in this gathering of new fiction, among them one of a Jewish toy dealer’s quest to buy Robert E. Lee’s son’s trains from a black family, another featuring a grieving President Lincoln who overhears a conversation that changes history while visiting his late son’s pony, and a series of tales about the lives of teen funk-band musicians outside of Pittsburgh.

“Gorbachev: His Life and Times’’

William Taubman


Pulitzer-winning historian Taubman (“Khrushchev: The Man and His Era’’) tracks the rise and fall of a visionary, if tragic, hero who was deeply respected as a statesman in the West but whose efforts to reform a failing system were undermined by a deep distrust of him at home.

“True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities’’

John Hechinger

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Two-time Polk winner Hechinger focuses on popular and controversial Sigma Alpha Epsilon in this exposé of American college fraternity culture, which espouses honor and service but often fosters substance abuse, sexual assault, racism, and elitism. These groups, he notes, have access to the corridors of power — and are sorely in need of reform.



“Manhattan Beach’’

Jennifer Egan


Six years after her Pulitzer-winning “A Visit from the Goon Squad,’’ Egan returns with a noir-y historical novel about the first female diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during World War II and a chance meeting with a mob-linked nightclub owner who may help her learn what happened to her long-missing father.

“We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy’’

Ta-Nehisi Coates

(One World)

Urgent essays from the National Book Award–winning author of “Between the World and Me’’ ponder the long, bloody path that finally brought a black man to the White House, what happened during his tenure, and how it all lead to where we are now.

“Fresh Complaint’’

Jeffrey Eugenides

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This debut collection from a close observer of domestic life trails characters on the brink: “Baster,’’ for instance, follows a 40-year-old’s plot to gather the necessary materials to impregnate herself; “Air Mail” features spiritual seeker Mitchell (from his novel “The Marriage Plot’’) in the throes of dysentery in Thailand; and the title story details an Indian teenager’s tangled attempt to duck an arranged marriage.


Ron Chernow

(Penguin Press)

Best known for his book that inspired “Hamilton,’’ biographer Chernow’s last outing, “Washington: A Life,’’ won the 2011 Pulitzer, and this new one argues for a reconsideration of the failed businessman, military hero, and chronic drunk, who though considered a disappointment as a president, remains one of the most important figures in American history.

“The Power’’

Naomi Alderman

(Little, Brown)

The first sci-fi work to win the prestigious Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, this novel (which is causing a stir in Great Britain) asks the provocative questions: What would happen if women got a power that made them the equal of a man in a fight. How would it shift the fundamental dynamic?


Roddy Doyle


Failed writer Victor, recently divorced from his beautiful TV celebrity wife, begins frequenting a pub where he meets a man who claims to be an old schoolmate and stirs up memories that bring insight and pain in Doyle’s sharp and funny new novel.

“Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’’

Gordon S. Wood

(Penguin Press)

One was a well-liked, wealthy Virginia slaveowner who believed in equality and popular sovereignty, the other a prickly, Massachusetts middle-class son of a farmer and cobbler who was a skeptic of popular rule. Their differences would play a role in the creation of the political party system and highlight national schisms that remain.

“Uncommon Type: Some Stories’’

Tom Hanks


It’s Tom Hanks; it’s 17 short stories involving typewriters (which he apparently collects); and his 2014 New Yorker story (“Alan Bean Plus Four’’) proves he can write. If you’re not at least intrigued I wouldn’t want to drink with you, unless you’re buying.

“100 Amazing Facts About the Negro’’

Henry Louis Gates Jr.


Gates’s loving (if inherently ironic) homage consists of short essays in Q&A format (like “Who was the first black president in North America?’’) and updates black journalist Joel Augustus Rogers’s similarly titled 1934 book that offered white America its first lesson in African-American history and culture.

“I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street’’

Matt Taibbi

(Spiegel and Grau)

A complex and textured examination of the complicated personalities, flawed legal system, and politics revolving around the police killing of 43-year-old Eric Garner, whose final words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.


“Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life’’

Robert Dallek


Dallek offers a lesson for our times with his examination of Roosevelt, who amid his own tumultuous era of war and economic collapse, discovered that the keys to addressing major crises were building broad consensus and the need to have a national leader capable of rising to the task.

“Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News’’

Kevin Young


The award-winning poet and critic chronicles the tradition of American truth stretching from P.T. Barnum to Stephen Glass, Rachel Dolezal, and President Trump finding that these hucksters and the falsehoods they peddle often gain currency because they prey on widely-held suspicions and anxieties and confirm prejudices and stereotypes — particularly when it comes to race.

“Future Home of the Living God’’

Louise Erdrich


With evolution reversing itself (including the birth of babies that appear to be primitive human species) and American culture disintegrating, pregnant Cedar Hawk Songmaker goes in search of her Ojibwe roots.