For gift giving or pleasure reading on wintry nights.
Whether inspired by the giving season or in search of a companion for some well-deserved year end R&R, here are a few new books guaranteed to entertain, enlighten, and intrigue.
RECOMMENDED READING FOR:
armchair economists and social scientists
While widely respected as an index for measuring individual intelligence, IQ, surprisingly, turns out not to be a strong predictor of personal prosperity—but your nation’s average IQ does. In Hive Mind, Garett Jones—drawing on research that spans psychology, economics, management, and political science—reveals how higher IQs lift all boats, fostering higher savings rates, more productive teams, and more effective bureaucracies. Hailed by Forbes as an accessibly written window into economic thinking, Jones’ book concludes with a call to action: to devote more resources to credibly raise test scores with the aim of enhancing our collective success.
“So what’s the takeaway for the individual? According to Jones, it’s that ‘being around smart people is more important than you being smart yourself.’”
Last Scene Underground chronicles the story of young, idealistic Tehrani students as they conspire to craft and perform an avant-garde, subversive play under the nose of government censors. Set in the wake of the Green Movement, the novel blends fact and fiction, art and ethnography and is infused throughout with the author’s own anthropological insights to Iranian culture—particularly concerning the fraught intersection of artistic expression and the state’s censorship regime.
“This beautifully written book captures the predicament of every Iranian artist who is conflicted between one’s own creative imagination, personal and social responsibilities, and political reality.”
visual artist and filmmaker
An American Cakewalk examines the cultural crucible of the post-Civil War United States, when in the wake of the antebellum order women, Indians, and African Americans, immigrants and expats, the marginalized and disaffected began to ask, what country had they? Standing in the shadowy side of the American imaginary, they carved out identities in novel ways. Through parody, satire and quiet subversions, these American writers, performers, and thinkers produced works and art that lay athwart their culture’s values and enhanced the breadth and diversity of American cultural heritage, writ large—and it is they who are the subject of this book.
“This book is a labor of love, serious in its prose and intentions, abounding with insight, written with verve and grace.”
author of Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby Dick
Pregnant with the Stars reveals how our cultural obsession with celebrity pregnancy is more than just harmless infotainment. When we scrutinize expectant stars—making judgments about maternal health choices, the post-baby bod, sometimes even going so far as to commodify celebrity children—we become complicit in the regulation of women's bodies and behavior. Invoking feminist and Foucauldian lenses, Cramer explores how the baby bump fixation is rooted in surveillance and social control, and intimately tied to the politics swirling around women’s reproductive health and the social mores of gender norms.
“A nuanced and engaging look at celebrity pregnancy, connecting the baby bump craze to larger issues governing women’s bodies and we expect and demand from them.”
—Anne Helen Peterson
features writer at Buzzfeed
Before becoming the iconic leader of Indian independence from British colonial rule, Gandhi was a lawyer and an agitator for social reform in South Africa. In The South African Gandhi (which the BBC have called a “controversial” new book), Desai and Vahed examine how the life he led during these years complicates his legacy as the consummate freedom fighter. Their critical assessment of his political project reveals how Gandhi did not always find common cause with the most oppressed—which in South Africa were the African people—but rather, endeavored to ally Indians with the British as junior partners in the imperial enterprise.
“A serious challenge to the way we have been taught to think about Gandhi.”
author of The God of Small Things
Plants are the new animals, argues Nealon. In Plant Theory he points out that while critical strides have been made in animal studies—which have placed animal rights at the forefront of ethical, legal, and environmental discussions—vegetable life has flown almost entirely under the radar. This, despite an outpouring of literature, both philosophical and scientific, that points to ever-increasing evidence of plant sentience and intelligence. It is this philosophical gap which Nealon seeks to address, calling for a more critically consistent and inclusive notion of what constitutes “life” beyond the human.
“Ironic but mercifully not postmodern, patient and eminently readable … Without question a singular contribution to recent research on biopolitics, animal studies, and the burgeoning field of ‘plant theory.’”
A novel, a genre-bender, and some quick 100-pagers for your summer reading lists.