Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age by Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox

The authors are longtime advocates for reforming the criminal-justice system, but this indispensable book casts a far wider net in its nuanced call for incremental rather than massive change as the best way to ensure a fairer society. “Radical realism” is their rallying cry, and they offer persuasive examples of how this has worked in the past (the establishment of Social Security in the 1930s, which has lifted millions of Americans above the poverty line as they age) and how it could work in the future (the full utilization of available green cards, which now include more than 210,000 unallocated documents, would allow more people to legally obtain permanent residency, thus reducing the number of undocumented foreigners). Given how resistant most Americans are to big change, Aubrey Fox and Greg Berman convincingly argue that, as Yale professor Charles Lindblom put it, “if politics were a game of golf, the government should mainly use the putter, even for long distances.”

The Plot to Save South Africa: The Week Mandela Averted Civil War and Forged a New Nation by Justice Malala

On Easter weekend in 1993, three years after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and in the midst of power-sharing talks with President F. W. de Klerck, Mandela’s protégé Chris Hani was assassinated. The killer was Janusz Waluś, a white supremacist whose goal was nothing less than to incite a race war that would scuttle the talks and plunge South Africa into chaos. Justice Malala, a young journalist at the time who covered the crime, retraces in vivid detail the nine days after Hani’s murder, in which not only was civil war averted but, miraculously, the talks began again with greater urgency than before. The Plot to Save South Africa is part thriller, part memoir, part investigative journalism, and entirely a riveting chronicle about the triumph of leadership over despair.

There Will Be Fire: Margaret Thatcher, the IRA, and Two Minutes That Changed History by Rory Carroll

This is another book about an assassination, but in this case the intended target escaped unscathed. In the early-morning hours of October 12, 1984, a bomb ripped through the Grand Hotel in Brighton, the last day of the annual Conservative Party conference. The explosive had been planted by the I.R.A., and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was staying on the hotel’s fifth floor, would surely have been killed by flying debris if she had been in another part of her suite. Five people were killed and dozens more wounded, and in a chilling coda the I.R.A. declared, “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

Thus began a ferocious and meticulous manhunt for those responsible, which finally resulted in a single arrest, of Patrick Magee, who had planted the bomb. (He was released from prison in 1998 without ever revealing the names of the other plotters.) Rory Carroll, a veteran British journalist, creates a well-paced and revealing narrative worthy of The Day of the Jackal. But in this case the tale is true, making it an even more remarkable feat of storytelling.

Gradual, The Plot to Save South Africa, and There Will Be Fire are available at your local independent bookstore, on Bookshop, and on Amazon