“Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire” by Andrea Stuart (Knopf)
In telling her own family’s history, Stuart confronts the great dislocations of empire; her ancestors included both enslaved Africans brought to Barbados to harvest sugar cane and ambitious young Britons who built fortunes on their backs.
“Margaret Fuller: A New American Life” by Megan Marshall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Fuller, the 19th-century writer, editor, and women’s rights advocate, was treated shabbily in life by her male Transcendentalist colleagues and in history, mostly mocked or ignored. In this nuanced, compassionate portrait, she emerges as a complicated but enormously compelling character, such good company that we miss her at book’s end.
“The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince” by Jane Ridley (Random House)
Deeply researched and beautifully written, this hefty biography re-examines the legacy of Queen Victoria’s underestimated oldest son.
“The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking” by Brendan I. Koerner (Crown)
Koerner tells the seriously strange and completely riveting tale of a 1972 hijacking in a book that hums with the revolutionary, paranoid energy of the era — featuring a cast of characters including Eldridge Cleaver, Richard Nixon, and Jean-Paul Sartre. How could it not?
“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf)
Wright renders an unsettling subject — the manipulative power of a secretive religion, and the often vacuous actors who are seduced by it — compulsively readable.
“The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce (Public Affairs)
“Well-meaning people can enable tragedy with their good intentions,” Joyce writes in this razor-sharp investigation into the unsavory side of adoption, both domestic and international.
“Candy: A Centuryof Panic and Pleasure” by Samira Kawash (Faber & Faber)
Kawash chronicles the American love affair with candy, which has passed through phases, including numerous attempts to include it in food, as illustrated by a 1926 recipe calling for “a delectable mixture of diced tomato, mayonnaise, and chopped Oh Henry! bars.”
“Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It” by Jennifer Michael Hecht (Yale University)
This slim book is a thoughtful, emotionally resonant argument against suicide by an author who is both poet and intellectual historian.
“Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” by Jill Lepore (Knopf)
Benjamin Franklin’s sister, homebound and forgotten by history, emerges into startling clarity in Lepore’s charming, vivid portrait.
“The Book of My Lives” by Aleksandar Hemon (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
In these autobiographical essays, Hemon writes with a novelist’s eye about his native Sarajevo and adopted America.
“Holding Silvan: A Brief Life” by Monica Wesolowska (Hawthorne)
How do you mother a dying infant? In this elegiac, elegant memoir, Wesolowska bears witness to her first child’s too-short life.
“To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care” by Cris Beam (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Caring for the damaged, neglected, and unwanted children in our communities is both a policy challenge and a moral dilemma — Beam’s deep research and compassion help her examine both.