11 New Books We Recommend This Week

THE GLORIOUS AMERICAN ESSAY: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times to the Present, edited and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. (Pantheon, $40.) Many of these essays “speak vividly to our present moment,” Phillip Lopate writes in his introduction, about issues that “keep recurring on the national stage.” The collection includes speeches and letters as well as more traditional essays. The great majority of the pieces have august bylines: Douglass, Whitman, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Du Bois, Twain, Wharton, Mencken, Fitzgerald, Baldwin, Sontag, Didion. “Give in to its choral quality for stretches of time,” our reviewer John Williams writes, “and it’s easy to feel not just the sweep of our centuries but the dialogical nature of our grandest ideas and most persistent struggles.”

WAR: How Conflict Shaped Us, by Margaret MacMillan. (Random House, $30.) This is a short book but a rich one with a profound theme. MacMillan argues that fighting and killing is so intimately bound up with what it means to be human that viewing it as an aberration misses the point. War has led to many of civilization’s great disasters but also to many of its greatest achievements. “MacMillan shows how the need to protect oneself — or one’s tribe or nation — has influenced nearly every aspect of human history,” Dexter Filkins writes in his review. “The greatest pleasures of this book are the historical anecdotes, moments and quotations that MacMillan marshals on nearly every page to illustrate her points. They are bold, arresting and various, and they make the book come alive.”

SICILY ’43: The First Assault on Fortress Europe, by James Holland. (Atlantic Monthly, $30.) Holland offers straightforward military history, describing the rigors of war and concluding that the successful invasion of Sicily is an achievement that has not been fully appreciated. “Academic histories are all very well, but at times it is a pleasure to sit back and wallow in an old-school military tale of flinty-eyed men doing battle,” Thomas E. Ricks writes in his review. Holland “gives us a history of Anglo-Saxon males slaughtering one another while Italians mainly try to get out of the way. … In one memorable passage he portrays a German general gazing down at the huge American invasion fleet and concluding that Sicily was lost — and probably the entire global war as well.”

THE KINGDOM, by Jo Nesbo. Translated by Robert Ferguson. (Knopf, $27.99.) Nesbo’s Norway is populated with all kinds of creeps and psychos — in this case, two brothers whose family and friends have a tendency to meet distinctly unpleasant ends. The subtext is the narrowness and meanness of life in a small Nordic town where everyone knows everyone’s secrets, or wants to. “In the beginning the book seems less a mystery story than a Faulknerian saga about sibling rivalry and sexual jealousy,” Charles McGrath writes in his review. “But there is a dark family secret, it turns out … and, instead of one mystery, lots of them.”

UNFORGETTING: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas, by Roberto Lovato. (Harper/HarperCollins, $26.99.) This powerful memoir by a Salvadoran-American journalist straddles two cultures and recounts a life marked by the trauma of war. As Lovato’s grandmother tells him, “We’re all pieces of broken glass, stained with blood and struggling to put ourselves back together.” Reviewing it, Carolyn Forché writes that “Unforgetting” is “a story of two countries, inextricably bound, and Lovato is uniquely positioned to tell it. … His task is to piece together not only his fragmented identity, but the mosaic of testimony from the host of characters he assembles, all the while standing in the rubble of war’s aftermath.”

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