What do your reading plans look like for February? This month’s new books span a wide array of stylistic and thematic ground, from literary fiction to incisive looks at popular culture. If you’ve ever wondered what stories the great character actor Tim Blake Nelson has to tell or you’re looking for a deep dive into the life and work of an influential ancient thinker, this month’s new releases have you covered. Here are the 10 best books to read right now.
Salman Rushdie, Victory City (Feb. 7)
With his new novel, award-winning author Salman Rushdie ventures back several centuries into the history of India. Victory City tells the story of a young woman tasked by a divine being to create a new city, and the novel traces its rise and fall throughout the decades to come. It’s Rushdie working on the grandest of scales, which should be a story for the ages.
Alex Prud’homme, Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House (Feb. 7)
There are plenty of angles one can approach the men who have been President of the United States — from their domestic policy to their taste in books to their feelings on technology. Alex Prud’homme’s new book offers a very different way to ponder all things presidential: namely, what were their feelings on food? It turns out dining habits at the White House can offer an important lens through which to view crucial moments in history, and Dinner with the President provides exactly that.
Tim Blake Nelson, City of Blows (Feb. 7)
Tim Blake Nelson has made a career out of playing memorable roles in films like Lincoln, Nightmare Alley and a host of collaborations with the Coen Brothers. Turns out acting isn’t his only forte — he’s also making his debut this month with the novel City of Blows. Nelson’s novel focuses on the contentious web of relationships that develop around a highly-touted screenplay in the modern film industry.
Martin Puchner, Culture: The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop (Feb. 7)
Harvard professor Martin Puchner has spent a lot of time thinking about history and art, exploring some of the great works of theater throughout the years and pondering how art and politics can dovetail in surprising ways. His new book encompasses an especially grand scale — the art made by humans across thousands of years of history. It promises to be a thought-provoking read.
Christopher J. Preston, Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think about Animals (Feb. 21)
Read enough about endangered species, and you’re likely to hear about efforts made to restore those species to their natural habitats. But each of these efforts has been different in subtle ways and offers lessons for scientists and environmentalists going forward. Christopher J. Preston’s new book takes a look at a host of memorable efforts in this department across a host of landscapes and ecosystems.
Two Historians Take on Misinformation With a New Anthology“Myth America” is out now
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession (Feb. 10)
Not many books come with blurbs from academics and trainers alike. Then again, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s Fit Nation is not most books, as the author is both a historian and a certified fitness instructor. If you’re looking for a guide through one nation’s fixation on exercise and fitness, it’s hard to imagine someone better suited to the task.
Mehdi Hasan, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking (Feb. 28)
For better or for worse, it’s probably easier to get into an argument right now than it’s been at any other time in human history. Whether you’re engaging in Twitter beef or making the case for something in your workplace or community, understanding the right and wrong ways to address the subject is an invaluable skill. Cue the new book from MSNBC host and journalist Mehdi Hasan, which offers readers just that.
Carmela Ciuraru, Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages (Feb. 7)
Delve deeply enough into the lives of prominent figures in literature, and you’re likely to learn crucial details about their relationships and — when applicable — their marriages. Cue literary historian Carmela Ciuraru, whose new book Lives of the Wives chronicles the complex dynamics found within a quintet of marriages, including writers like Kingsley Amis and Roald Dahl.
Susanne Wedlich, Slime: A Natural History (Feb. 28)
Some of the most fascinating subjects to read about can also be some of the most unsettling things to look at. Consider slime — it’s something we generally loathe to come into contact with, for obvious reasons, and yet it also helps keep the world functioning. If you’re left wondering how, exactly, that works, Susanne Wedlich has written an engaging book on the very subject.
Carlo Rovelli, Anaximander: And the Birth of Science (Feb. 28)
More than 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Anaximander lived in what is now Turkey, where he pondered scientific concepts in ways that are still being studied today. What does one ancient philosopher have to offer the modern world? That’s a question that Carlo Rovelli takes up in this compelling and thoughtful history.
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