American politics have been unquestionably volatile for the past several years — you don’t have to look any further than one of the books we recommend this week, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s “The Divider,” about the chaos of the Trump White House, for Exhibit A. But two other books on our list this week suggest that polarization and division are nothing new in this country, even in eras when war has supposedly united us: Adam Hochschild’s “American Midnight” looks at domestic extremism during and after World War I, and Matthew F. Delmont’s “Half American” looks at the experiences of Black soldiers in the U.S. Army who fought for democracy abroad even as they faced racist hostility and discrimination here at home.
Also up: a biography of the 19th-century British Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, who herself contended with racism even as she became a legend in her field on par with Florence Nightingale. In fiction, meanwhile, we recommend three novels by debut authors (Meghan Gilliss, Rubén Degollado and Sarah Thankam Mathews) and three by established masters (Elizabeth McCracken, Yiyun Li and Gwendoline Riley). Happy reading.
This vivid book by Delmont, a historian at Dartmouth, shows how much of World War II looks different when viewed from the perspective of Black Americans — many of whom drew parallels between the fascist threat abroad and Jim Crow at home.
Hochschild, a renowned journalist, delivers a harrowing portrait of America in 1917-21, rife with racist violence, xenophobia and political repression abetted by the federal government. The book serves as a cautionary tale and a provocative counterpoint to our own era.
Mariner | $29.99
In this soulful, melancholy novel about a writer reminiscing about and missing her dead mother, McCracken dwells on the ephemeral line between fiction and nonfiction, writing, “Perhaps you fear writing a memoir, reasonably.” What she writes here is equally powerful.
Ecco | $26.99
Two teenage girls grow up together in a desolate village in 1950s France, devising elaborate games of make-believe and, eventually, a book of short stories that becomes a hit. They decide that only one of them will take credit, setting them on wildly different life courses.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $28
President Trump’s aides spent much of his tumultuous term trying to keep him from acting on his worst instincts. Over 750 detail-rich pages, the veteran journalists Baker and Glasser make us privy to the backbiting, the constant personnel turnover and the parade of firings and resignations.
This thorough biography of a Black nursing legend sheds light on the life of a woman who, in her own day, was as famous as Florence Nightingale.
Pegasus | Paperback, $17
Set on a remote, unnamed island off the coast of Maine, this lyrical novel — about an unemployed, food-obsessed new mother with a husband going through opioid withdrawal — reads with a slowly building terror. Belonging to a new category of literature, survival parenting, the story portrays a way of life that is unsustainable.
This novel, Degollado’s first, begins with an angry neighbor placing a curse on the Izquierdos, then tracks their ups and downs across three generations. If the curse is the problem, will the family ever be free of it?
Norton | Paperback, $16.95
Riley’s new novel centers on the painfully awkward meetings between a middle-aged narrator and her mother, as the narrator combs her parents’ histories partly to understand her own.
New York Review Books | Paperback, $16.95
Alone in the United States since her parents returned to India when she was a teenager, Sneha has just graduated from college and moved to Milwaukee, where she’s working a dead-end job and is all alone. Her plans do not go as expected.