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Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall by Steven BrillWhat it is: a searing and insightful treatise on how well-intentioned structural changes in politics and the economy have led to what the author sees as a deteriorating American democracy.
What's inside: inspiring profiles of individuals (such as Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service) whose efforts and influence may help cure America of its current ills.
West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express by Jim DeFeliceWhat it's about: the oft-mythologized mail delivery enterprise that lasted less than two years before its operation was shuttered with the 1861 arrival of the transcontinental telegraph.
Why you might like it: Breezy and accessible, West Like Lightning brings to vivid life the major players of the Pony Express, including famous riders Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok.
Reviewers say: "Fans of the Old West will find many delightful nuggets in this fast-moving story" (Publishers Weekly).
Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, & Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy HornWhat it is: a somber study of New York City's Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island), purchased in 1828 for utopian aims but quickly overrun by corrupt officials. Poorly maintained hospitals, prisons, and an insane asylum housed residents who were punished and mistreated.
Did you know? Several authors visited the island -- Charles Dickens referred to it as "a lounging, listless madhouse;" journalist Nellie Bly's 1887 exposé Ten Days in a Mad-House recounts her undercover stint at the Women's Lunatic Asylum.
Ruthless Tide: The Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood by Al RokerWhat it's about: On May 31, 1889, the poorly engineered South Fork Dam -- built for a lake resort frequented by wealthy guests (including Andrew Carnegie) -- burst after a heavy rainfall, engulfing Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 20 million tons of water. The disaster killed over two thousand people and remains the deadliest flood in U.S. history.
What sets it apart: Al Roker combines a page-turning disaster epic with an informative morality tale, exploring how class and privilege played a part in facilitating the tragedy.
Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by Edith ShefferWhat it's about: Psychiatrist Hans Asperger's early benevolent work with autistic children turned sinister as he fell in line with the Nazi regime, experimenting on -- and eventually killing -- children deemed "inferior."
About the author: Historian Edith Sheffer is the parent of a child with autism and the author of Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain.
Is it for you? Readers who enjoy surveys of medical ethics like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will appreciate this thought-provoking cautionary tale.
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella ColemanWhat it is: an eye-opening, immersive investigation of the worldwide Internet "hacktivist" collective, tracing its evolution from satirical trolling to legitimate political player in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, among others.
Featuring: leaked documents, chat logs, court records, and interviews.
What sets it apart: Considered the world's foremost scholar on Anonymous, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman writes humorously of the blurred lines between insider and outsider in this engrossing study.
War of the Whales: A True Story by Joshua HorwitzWhat it's about: In March 2000, the largest recorded whale stranding occurred in the Bahamas, prompting an epic battle between a devoted group of whistleblowing environmental activists and the U.S. Navy, whose covert use of sonar had led to the strandings.
Why it's significant: The case (Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council) ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court, raising questions about the unchecked use of military power.
Book buzz: War of the Whales won the 2015 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature.
The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty MedsgerWhat it's about: In 1971, a small group of activists broke into the Pennsylvania offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and stole documents confirming that director J. Edgar Hoover was running his own shadow FBI, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
About the author: Betsy Medsger was a journalist at the Washington Post who received the leaked documents in 1971; here, her detailed reflections and contemporary contextualizing add credence to a riveting resistance caper and its resonant political implications.
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