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What Pulitzer Prize-Nominated Books Should You Read First?

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

The winners of the Pulitzer Prizes, which honor excellence in journalism, arts and letters, were announced on Monday. Here are reviews of the 15 books that made it to the final round.

Winner: THE OVERSTORY, by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton)


Our reviewer called this novel a “delightfully choreographed, ultimately breathtaking hoodwink.” One might think, at first, that its tales are about unrelated people, but “standing overhead with outstretched limbs are the real protagonists. Trees will bring these small lives together into large acts of war, love, loyalty and betrayal.”

THE GREAT BELIEVERS, by Rebecca Makkai (Viking)


This is “among the first novels to chronicle the AIDS epidemic from its initial outbreak to the present — among the first, that is, to convey the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years as well as its course and its repercussions over the decades,” our reviewer wrote.

THERE THERE, by Tommy Orange (Alfred A. Knopf)


“Orange makes Oakland into a ‘there’ that becomes all the more concretely, emphatically and fully so in a novel that deals, in tones that are sweeping and subtle, large-gestured and nuanced, with what the notion of belonging means for Native Americans,” our reviewer wrote.

Winner: FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight (Simon & Schuster)


“Douglass cultivated the fiction that he was ‘self-made’ and had sprung fully formed from his own forehead,” our reviewer wrote. “Blight dismantles this pretense in a tour de force of storytelling and analysis.”

AMERICAN EDEN: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, by Victoria Johnson (Liveright/W.W. Norton)


In this book about the doctor-botanist who in the 1800s assembled a 20-acre plant collection where Rockefeller Center is today, Johnson weaves in “ threads of history — political, medical and scientific — and the tale of an up-and-coming New York City,” our reviewer wrote.

CIVILIZING TORTURE: An American Tradition, by W. Fitzhugh Brundage (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press)


This book chronicles the history of torture in the United States from before colonization to the present. Brundage argues that “the process by which torture is rendered invisible by euphemism and erasure, bolstering a myth that this country is ‘civilized,’ is an enduring American tradition,” according to a reviewer for The Los Angeles Times.

Winner: THE NEW NEGRO: The Life of Alain Locke, by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Oxford University Press)


This “majestic biography” is “more than a catalog of this now largely overlooked philosopher and critic’s achievements,” our reviewer wrote. Stewart, a historian and professor of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “also renders the tangled knot of art, sexuality and yearning for liberation that propelled Locke’s work.”

PROUST’S DUCHESS: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris, by Caroline Weber (Alfred A. Knopf)


Weber “describes not only the three women, but an enormous cast of the dandies, decadents, artists, writers, musicians and financiers of the fin de siècle,” our reviewer wrote, adding that “while the book is long and weighty, it is never dull.”

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, by Max Boot (Liveright/W.W. Norton)


In this “judicious and absorbing” biography of Edward Lansdale, an intelligence officer who held a different, arguably more humane view of how the Vietnam War could have been approached, “what emerges is a picture of a man who from an early point possessed an unusual ability to relate to other people, a stereotypically American can-do optimism, an impatience with bureaucracy and a fascination with psychological warfare,” our reviewer wrote.

Winner: BE WITH, by Forrest Gander (New Directions)


In many ways, the focus of this “plangent, thrumming” collection “is strikingly inward, showing how grief sounds in the body, mapping paths, making previously hidden regions visible,” our reviewer wrote. “In another sense, Gander’s poems are public howls that trace a luminous borderland where the self dissolves into the world.”

FEELD, by Jos Charles (Milkweed Editions)


“Charles, a trans woman, turns to a sort of Chaucerian-texting hybrid in an inspired effort to find language as unstable as her experience,” we wrote in our New & Noteworthy column.

LIKE, by A. E. Stallings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


In this collection, “we get the rhyming wit one expects from Stallings, although in the best poems here that wit is attractively darkened by experience,” said our poetry columnist, who named this one of the best poetry collections of 2018.

Winner: AMITY AND PROSPERITY: One Family and The Fracturing of America, by Eliza Griswold


The winning book tells the story of the social, physical and financial toll of fracking on a Pennsylvania town. Parts of the book “read as intimately as a novel, though its insidious, slow-motion ordeal is all too real,” our reviewer wrote.

IN A DAY’S WORK: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers, by Bernice Yeung (The New Press)


In this book, Yeung turns her attention to sexual harassment against women farmworkers, domestic workers and janitors — groups of women who are typically left out of conversations around sexual violence and the #MeToo movement. Yeung’s exposé is “a bleak but much-needed addition to the literature on sexual harassment in the U.S.,” according to a reviewer in The New York Review of Books.

RISING: Dispatches from the New American Shore,” by Elizabeth Rush (Milkweed Editions)


Rush’s book is first and foremost “a book about language,” our reviewer wrote, specifically creating “a new vocabulary” to understand climate change and the natural world. “Rush captures nature with precise words that almost amount to poetry; the book is further enriched with illuminating detail from the lives of those people inhabiting today’s coasts.”

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