What motivated Adolf Tolkachev to begin spying for the CIA? Was it for money? Did he require an ego boost? Was it based on his hatred of the Soviet system? It likely was a combination of all three. But what mattered most to the CIA was that Tolkachev was delivering a treasure trove of Soviet military secrets during a critical period of the Cold War. Tolkachev’s daring exploits are described in riveting detail in David E. Hoffman’s The Billion Dollar Spy.
Ronald Reagan is trending. Everyone from Ted Cruz to Barack Obama sings his praises. Why is Reagan so popular? Was it his movie-star looks? His cowboy swagger? His “America first” doctrine? H.W. Brands covers it all in his thorough biography, Reagan.
Years ago, as a small-town newspaper editor, I spent a night riding along with an officer on patrol. The shift began with a potential car dealership break-in and ended with an encounter with a drunk stumbling along the side of a lonely road. That night―as memorable as it was―pales in comparison to the drama that Steve Osborne shares with readers in The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop.
The Folded Clock, as crafted by novelist Heidi Julavits, is intricate and delicately worked. Time doesn’t flow linearly in this memoir as we might expect. What at first glance appears to be the diary of a writer in her 40s living an enviable life—an apartment in Manhattan, a house in Maine, sabbaticals in Europe—turns into a structure more complex, like an origami crane. Meditations on marriage and friendship appear and reappear. Diary entries might skip six months, or jump back a year. Julavits arranges the raw material of her diary in such a way as to provoke insight across the units of time that we normally experience: the day, the week and the month.
The first thing that is immediately apparent about Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, is that it has been incorrectly named: There is nothing little about this novel—not the lives depicted within it or the size of its author’s ambitions and talents. And not the page count, either. It is a hulking doorstop of a book, perfect for the reader who likes to burrow into a book for weeks at a time.
At this moment on the other side of the world, a girl is sitting in the dark. A rare skin disease prevents exposure to the sun, to a shining bulb, even to the benign glow of a Kindle screen. She covers up the slightest cracks of light with tin foil. What do people who pass her house on the street think of these ceaseless black-out blinds, she wonders. She doesn't find out.
There’s something irresistible about a boarding school novel: the picturesque grounds; the tight-knit community of teachers and students and staff; the routine of seminars, lacrosse games and chapel; the inevitable romances that bud in such an insular world. In The Half Brother, her second novel after 2010’s sensual The Swimming Pool, Holly LeCraw has created an appealing setting in the Abbott School, a campus at the top of a ridge in north Massachusetts where azaleas and cherry blossoms surround the stone and clapboard buildings, and the grass almost shimmers with mist.
“Running a totalitarian regime is simple: tell the people what they’re going to do, shoot the first one to object, and repeat until everyone is on the same page.” Such was life in Ukraine for young Lev Golinkin and his family, and it might have been tolerable had he not also suffered daily beatings in school for being a Jew. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the family fled to Austria where they lived in a refugee hotel before immigrating to the U.S. A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is the story of that journey and of Golinkin’s struggle to reclaim his identity.
To imagine what life was like growing up in a French village in the early 15th century, don’t think of A Year in Provence. Think of modern-day Syria.
On July 8, 1879, cheering throngs watched as the USS Jeannette set out from San Francisco and sailed off like a “long dark pencil of shadow standing straight up against the vivid sunset.” Under the command of officer George Washington De Long, the steamer and its crew were attempting to reach the North Pole and confirm a then--popular theory that the polar sea remained ice-free and open north of the Bering Strait. The expedition was funded by James Gordon Bennett Jr., the wealthy and eccentric owner of the New York Herald, who had also financed Stanley’s mission to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone.