The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War by Fred Kaplan

Just in case you worry that we are running out of things to worry about, Fred Kaplan’s lively and chilling account of how the White House and the Pentagon have handled (and nearly mishandled) the country’s nuclear arsenal over the decades should ease your concern. Kaplan brings fresh detail and nuance to the most important narrative of our time, and with Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un playing touch football, The Bomb is timely as well. An especially frightening scene involves not so much Trump as it does several members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who, Kaplan says, in 2017 learned to their dismay that the president could order a nuclear first strike without congressional approval, a policy in effect for decades. So much for orientation week on Capitol Hill.

Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist by Alexander Zevin

An enduring appeal of The Economist (and for a newspaper founded in 1843, “enduring” may be an understatement) is that it promises you the world every week, offering its tempered views on politics, business, science, and the arts, capped at the end with an obituary so beautifully crafted you (almost) envy the corpse. So why, then, would you pick up Alexander Zevin’s hefty history when the weekly dosage seems plenty? For starters, Zevin is a wonderful writer, who brings alive the personalities (Kim Philby served as a correspondent in Beirut before his defection to Moscow) and newsroom battles that shaped a publication that shuns bylines and mastheads. What Zevin does especially well is show how events shaped The Economist and its definition of liberalism over the last 175 years, along the way serving up history with brisk style.

The Truants by Kate Weinberg

On December 4, 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared, prompting global headlines and a police search complete with an abandoned car, bloodhounds, and thousands of volunteers. Eleven days later, she turned up at a spa, refused to say what had happened, and more than a year later divorced her husband, who had been having an affair.

Weinberg became fascinated by this episode as a youngster, which helped to inspire The Truants, her first novel. The title is also that of a book written by Lorna Clay, the iconoclastic Christie scholar who attracts the especially fervent student (and book’s narrator) Jess Walker. Weinberg’s skill at capturing youthful ardor and jealousy in a college setting may remind readers of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but the author marries character and plot so deftly that no comparison is necessary.