From the Oval Office to David Attenborough’s Journeys to the Other Side of the World.
Fiction The People in the Trees Hanya Yanagihara ( Macmillan, $ 25)
If your second novel is a knockout, people will want to read your first. That’s why Hanya Yanagihara’s wellreviewed ( but under-read) debut The People in the Trees – first published in 2013 – has been re-released after the success of her brilliant and harrowing novel A Little Life. In The People in the Trees, imprisoned scientist Norton Perina tells his life story, focusing on his famous discovery that members of an isolated Micronesian tribe can live many centuries. A classic unreliable narrator, Norton emerges as an arrogant antihero (and possible sociopath) responsible for the degradation and societal disintegration of the jungle dwellers. “I did what any scientist would have done,” he insists. An introduction, footnotes and epilogue by an acolyte, purportedly to verify Norton’s account, actually highlights the “memoir’s” self-justification and fallibility. A challenging, increasingly gripping read by a literary genius.
“A political insider that’s also a beach read.” Country Michael Hughes ( Hachette, $ 35)
Take The Iliad, move it to Northern Ireland, swap the Greeks and Trojans for the IRA and SAS, and you have the basic outline of Country, a colourful reimagining of Homer’s epic poem. It’s set around 1996, the Troubles are cooling down and the IRA has declared an uneasy ceasefire. But a local group of IRA men, led by the tempestuous Pig, isn’t happy about decommissioning and resolve to launch one last attack. Achill, the group’s sniper, splits with Pig. Betrayal, anger and violence ensue. Each character has its Homeric counterpart: Achill is Achilles, Pig is Agamemnon, local girl Nellie is Helen – but even if you’re not overly familiar with The Iliad, the churning rhythm of Michael Hughes’ prose and snappy pace will keep you turning the pages. Special mention to his use of dialogue, kept fresh and realistic by quirky Irish vernacular, yet never comically so. SAM BUTTON
Memoir From the Corner of the Oval Office Beck Dorey-stein ( Penguin Random House, $ 38)
Working for the current US administration doesn’t sound like a good time. But Barack Obama’s White House was another matter entirely. It certainly appealed to Beck Dorey- Stein, who tumbled into a gig recording and transcribing every speech, briefing and official statement of the 44th President of the United States. For five years, Dorey- Stein shadowed the POTUS’S every move, across 45 countries, for state visits, family holidays and some of the darkest moments of his presidency. The first-time author is at her best when she recounts running alongside her boss on hotel treadmills, when she discovers he’s as charming, competitive and committed as his supporters claim. It’s only when DoreyStein goes “full millennial” – obsessing about herself and her convoluted love life – that my attention flagged. But, as the Hollywood studio that optioned the film rights has noted, Dorey-stein has pulled that most difficult rabbit out of the literary hat: a political
insider that’s also a beach read. SHARON STEPHENSON Journeys to the Other Side of the World David Attenborough ( Hachette, $ 38)
“With electrifying suddenness, the bird [of paradise] ducked his head and throwing his magnificent plumes over his back, he scuttled down his branch, a tremulous fountain of colour, shrieking passionately.” David Attenborough, in more nimble days, once caught animals for the London Zoo – while filming early natural history films for the BBC. Somehow he also found the time to write six brilliantly descriptive books about his far-flung expeditions – the “Zoo Quest” series. Three were republished in 2017. This gathers together the second lot, first released between 1960 and 1963, and only slightly revised. Attenborough is a master of evocative prose, and his Indiana Jones-style exploits in New Guinea rainforest, the Pacific, Madagascar and Australia make riveting reading. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to travel over dense jungle in an overstuffed single-engined plane with a New Guinea blue-eyed cockatoo
on your lap, screeching and biting your thumb, a hornbill’s beak banging painfully into your neck and a box of snakes onboard, wonder no longer. “The journey was a memorable one.” JENNY NICHOLLS
Non-fiction The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger (Harpercollins, $33)
When it comes to sibling rivalry, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Lee Bouvier Radziwell would be hard to beat. Born into privilege and “bred to dazzle”, they were lookers from the get-go, with a well-honed competitive edge – often aimed at each other. Their modus operandi was to hook influential and wealthy men, which they did with aplomb: one married an American president and the other a Polish prince. The world gawped. Both marriages ended badly but still the need to “upstage” and the lust for moneyed men continued unabated. Enter Aristotle Onassis. Lee had the affair but Jackie became his wife. Lee? Not even a bridesmaid. Estranged sisters? You bet. The clincher was the reading of Jackie’s will when she died 24 years ago. Lee was left nothing, but she’s still alive at 85 and contributed to this extraordinary, mustread biography. JUDITH BARAGWANATH
Notes on a Nervous Planet Matt Haig (Allen & Unwin, $ 30)
“What happens when overload becomes a central characteristic of modern life?” asks Matt Haig in this superb little hardcover book. He explores consumer overload, work overload, news over- load and environmental overload, as well as things like time, belonging, love, happiness, anger, anxiety, panic, hysteria and – what advice would a turtle give? The answer to that one is, “Have an amphibious approach to life… You can tune in to the wind and the water. You can tune in to yourself.” Haig is a number-one bestselling UK author, who has experienced years of anxiety and panic attacks. Here, he mixes insight with warmth and can be very funny. I’ve already been back for a reread. JIM ROBINSON
The Lost Pilots Corey Mead (Macmillan, $ 38)
They’re barely remembered today, but in the 1920s Captain Bill Lancaster and pioneering aviatrix Jessie Keith-miller were global superstars. They embodied the excitement of aviation’s golden age and, during the frenzy of their fame, Lancaster and Keith-miller (both married to other people) fell scandalously in love. Soon, however, it all came crashing down. The Depression hit hard, the relationship foundered… then, one night, a young man died. And Lancaster was on trial for murder. Tapping into a wealth of source material – flight logs, personal journals, newspaper articles – The Lost Pilots illuminates, in an immensely appealing way, the glory days of pioneering aviation and a sensational murder trial. It’s capped with the poignant end to Lancaster’s story.
Dopesick Beth Macy ( Harpercollins, $ 37)
When opioids started ravaging rural, small-town America in the mid-90s, journalist Beth Macy was on the case. For five years she criss-crossed the country interviewing addicts, cops, grieving parents, doctors and the lawyers who finally took Purdue Pharma to court for allowing their “wonder drug” – Oxycontin – to decimate large tracts of the population. Three Purdue executives were fined, not jailed, and “Oxy” today is harder to source as an injectable. Good? Not really. There’s always something waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum, and part two of Dopesick deals with the age-old scourge of heroin. It’s back, it’s cheap, it’s accessible and it’s everywhere. The silent march of addiction continues, and Macy’s book, meticulously researched, spells out the awful truth. JUDITH BARAGWANATH
Biography Bruce Lee: A Life Matthew Polly (Simon & Schuster, $ 40)
The author of this 500-page biography is himself an interesting character: a Rhodes scholar who spent two years studying kung fu in China. Matthew Polly’s mix of academic, martial arts exponent and gushing film-star fan mesh together to tell the story of a man whose name remains synonymous with on- screen kung fu. With Crazy Rich Asians topping the box office in the US and UK, and being acclaimed for its Asian and Asian-american cast, Lee’s struggles as he tried to find employment in Hollywood half a century ago are put into even greater perspective. He was a ground-breaker but, as has so often been the case for film stars quickly bestowed with god-like status (James Dean, River Phoenix et al), his life was a short, tragic one. Polly’s decade-long research is revelatory, the life of Lee now draped in truth rather than myth.