12 New Books We Recommend This Week


THE MERITOCRACY TRAP: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, by Daniel Markovits. (Penguin Press, $30.) College is seen as society’s great equalizer, but Markovits, a Yale law professor, argues that higher education is driving inequality instead — propelling America’s wealthiest students into its most lucrative professions. “Indirectly and along the way, the hierarchy thus constructed has drained the promise from middle-class life and sparked a backlash,” Thomas Frank writes in his review. “There is something salutary and urgently necessary in the way the professor pounds his message home, with his statistics and charts and sickening Ivy League anecdotes, informing his right-thinking readers that the status of which they love to boast was purchased at the expense of our egalitarian ideals.”

ECSTASY AND TERROR: From the Greeks to “Game of Thrones,” by Daniel Mendelsohn. (New York Review Books, paper, $18.95.) Mendelsohn, a classicist by training, may be criticism’s answer to Michael Jordan; highbrow, lowbrow, antiquity, modernity, Sappho, “Suits” — he can do all the moves, as these essays, sparkling with insight and erudition, show. As a critic, he evinces “a rare fairness,” Craig Taylor writes in his review: “Mendelsohn can slice an author’s Achilles but leave a reader jotting down a list of her other books, the ones he believes succeed. … A recurring theme of ‘Ecstasy and Terror’ is that critical decisions must come through an appetite for learning. ‘To think is to make judgments based on knowledge: period,’ Mendelsohn writes.”

THINGS WE DIDN’T TALK ABOUT WHEN I WAS A GIRL: A Memoir, by Jeannie Vanasco. (Tin House, $25.95.) Vanasco was 19 when one of her closest friends raped her. Here, she confronts him about the drunken night 14 years earlier and navigates tricky issues of violence, forgiveness and the bogeyman. “Understanding the enemy is part of her motive, but it’s not the crux,” Maya Salam writes in her review. “His story dominates the book, but other men have also violated Vanasco. These stories are just as gutting.”

SAVING AMERICA’S CITIES: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age, by Lizabeth Cohen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.) In the 1950s and 1960s Edward J. Logue had a glowing national reputation as a wizard redeveloper of American cities, but Cohen’s detailed study shows that along with his successes came many failures. “She has not only taken the measure of a complicated man, but also provided an incisive treatment of the entire urban-planning world in America in the last half of the 20th century,” Alan Ehrenhalt writes in his review. “Urban planning has become, especially in recent years, a highly polarized subject. … By avoiding the ideological poles and giving each side a fair hearing, Cohen, a professor of American studies at Harvard, has created a more enlightening book than has appeared on this topic in quite some time.”

HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES, by Saeed Jones. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) This devastating memoir by a talented poet about growing up black and gay tackles sexual violence, bigotry and shame with searing imagery and an unusual generosity of spirit: As a memoirist, Jones isn’t interested in score-settling. Our reviewer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, calls it a “short book long on human failing” and characterized by dexterous storytelling: “Jones is fascinated by power (who has it, how and why we deploy it), but he seems equally interested in tenderness and frailty.”

EROSION: Essays of Undoing, by Terry Tempest Williams. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) In these essays Williams, an environmentalist, meditates on loss — of natural resources to greed, of her brother to suicide. Somehow, the book remains luminous and hopeful throughout. “If Williams’s haunting, powerful and brave book can be summed up in one line of advice,” Diane Ackerman writes in her review, “it would be this: try to stare down the grief of everyday life, speak out and find solace in the boundless beauty of nature.”



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