Rake’s Progress: The Madcap True Tale of My Political Midlife Crisis by Rachel Johnson

It takes nerve for a novice to run for office. It takes even more nerve to make opposition to Brexit your cause when your famous older brother, Boris Johnson, is a leading Brexiteer and used that to become prime minister of Britain. But it takes real talent to write a book about the experience with enough insight, verve, and humor for your family to (maybe) still be willing to have you to dinner.

Rachel Johnson, a journalist and columnist for Air Mail, tells the tale in a new memoir that treads lightly on both her failed attempt to run for the European Parliament and her distinguished and distinctly eccentric family, known in Britain as “the Poundshop Kennedys.” Rachel Johnson may be in a position that Eunice Kennedy once held, but she handles it with the élan of a Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service by Carol Leonnig

The New York Times Book Review is fond of asking writers which book they would recommend the president read, and if we are ever asked that question, our answer would be that Joe Biden should immediately pick up Carol Leonnig’s Zero Fail, a devastating chronicle of the men and women hired to protect him and his family. The Secret Service has improved considerably since the Kennedy administration, when a constantly traveling J.F.K. stretched an agency accustomed to his largely stay-at-home predecessors, but that is no excuse for the heavy drinking some agents did in the early morning hours of November 22, 1963, and the relatively inexperienced detail that accompanied the president on that day’s trip. Losing “Lancer,” the service’s code name for J.F.K., was not the fault of the Secret Service, but arguably the stain remains to this day.

Leonnig makes clear that inadequate funding and low morale are still the service’s biggest problems, but its toughest challenge may be in keeping its major clients happy. How to protect then candidate Bill Clinton when he insisted on “working out” without his detail in the Little Rock Y.M.C.A. so he could allegedly engage in trysts there? Or how to respect a First Couple who, according to daughter Chelsea, called agents “the pigs” behind their backs? As for Trump, he tainted the agency by refusing to allow it to give President-elect Biden full protection while the defeated Republican (code name “Mogul”) contested the election results, leading Biden to insist that some of the agents who had protected him while he was vice president be included in his personal detail once he took office. Mr. President, a.k.a. “Celtic,” read this book!

The Lost Boys of Montauk: The True Story of the Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors They Left Behind by Amanda M. Fairbanks

Once upon a time, before Montauk became a hangout for the young and obnoxious, it was a working-class village on the far tip of Long Island, home to families who made their living from the sea. In a remarkable feat of reporting, Amanda M. Fairbanks brings alive the tragedy that befell the town in early 1984, when the fishing boat Wind Blown sank and its four-man crew perished on a routine voyage. The Lost Boys of Montauk is a poignant tale of young lives lost, families drowning in grief, and how an incident nearly 40 years old can still reverberate in a town much changed by money but not by memory.

Health, Hedonism & Hypochondria: The Secret History of Spas by Ian Bradley

This book’s subtitle is its real selling point. And as Ian Bradley makes clear in his highly entertaining prose, there was much reason to keep the history hidden, since places such as Baden-Baden, in Germany, were not only elegant resorts for the likes of Kaiser Wilhelm, who spent 40 summers there in the mid–19th century, but places of ruinous gambling and, shall we say, invigorating romance. Today, the adventurous can go to the Czech town of Karlovy Vary and bathe solo or with company in a tub full of beer, or sign up for white-caviar facial treatments at Switzerland’s Bad Ragaz. Thanks to Bradley, taking the waters is not nearly as much fun as reading about them.