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New & Noteworthy, From Ants to Erin Brockovich


A ROOM CALLED EARTH, by Madeleine Ryan. (Penguin, paper, $17.) Set over the course of a single day, and centering on an eventful party, this debut novel by an autistic Australian woman charts the lively mind of its neurodiverse young heroine.

SUPERMAN’S NOT COMING: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It, by Erin Brockovich. (Pantheon, $28.95.) The celebrated environmental activist details her continuing fight to keep chemicals out of groundwater, highlighting the stakes and offering advice to concerned citizens.

TALES FROM THE ANT WORLD, by Edward O. Wilson. (Liveright, $26.95.) In a series of chapters devoted to 25 different ant species, the retired Harvard biologist (and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction) returns to the animal that first drew him to study social behavior among insects.

THE FRIGHTENED ONES, by Dima Wannous. Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette. (Knopf, $25.95.) This Syrian novel toggles between two women — the narrator, and the heroine of a manuscript her former lover wrote — to paint a textured picture of Damascus at war with itself.

MAKING SENSE: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity, by Sam Harris. (Ecco, $29.99.) Transcripts of the popular podcast hosted by the prolific neuroscientist and philosopher.

If I’d given it any real thought, I might not have chosen a book about a terrorist attack in India as the breather I needed from reporting on the coronavirus. But I’m delighted now that I did. Megha Majumdar’s A BURNING trades our current crisis for one purely engineered by hate, greed and corruption. Both feature dishonest and foolish men, hapless women and a runaway train of events. But Majumdar’s book also offers lyricism (a perfume like a “disguise” over “indigestion and belching and the odor of feet”), the stench of communal politics and characters so distinct I could hear their voices. There’s Jivan, a Muslim girl who lives in a shack behind a “famous” garbage dump (“You could say I lived in a landmark building”); PT Sir, a teacher driven by an agonizing need to matter; and my favorite, Lovely, a transgender woman or hijra who, even when stung by insults that are “not new” but also “not old,” holds on to her humanity. I raced through the first third of the book, and have slowed down to savor every word.

—Apoorva Mandavilli, science and health reporter

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