11 New Books We Recommend This Week

ROCK ME ON THE WATER: 1974 — The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics , by Ronald Brownstein. (Harper/Ha...


ROCK ME ON THE WATER: 1974 — The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics, by Ronald Brownstein. (Harper/HarperCollins, $29.99.) Brownstein paints Los Angeles in 1974 as a kind of patchouli-scented version of Florence during the Renaissance, bursting with creative energy in television, movies and music. From Joni Mitchell to Archie Bunker, a year of cultural ferment is presented here in all its richness. “What Brownstein has done,” Madeleine Brand writes in her review, “is expertly knit the scenes together, giving the reader a plus-one invite to the heady world of Hollywood parties, jam sessions and pitch meetings, as well as a pointed demonstration of how culture can be made and unmade.”

LIBERTIE, by Kaitlyn Greenidge. (Algonquin, $26.95.) Based on the lives of Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first Black female doctor in New York State, and her daughter, Greenidge’s second novel centers its post-Civil War New York story on an enduring quest for freedom. “A feat of monumental thematic imagination,” Margaret Wilkerson Sexton writes in her review. “Greenidge both mines history and transcends time.”

A WHOLE WORLD: Letters From James Merrill, edited by Langdon Hammer and Stephen Yenser. (Knopf, $45.) The poet’s letters cast light on a generous soul with an active social life and a quicksilver wit. Artifice was Merrill’s way of being natural. He lavished his correspondents with parody and aphorism, as well as assessments of his poetic peers. Thomas Mallon, in his review, calls the letters “a cosmopolitan, bejeweled and philosophical chronicle of friendship, love, sex and work. … Their entertainment never feels like a performance for posterity, but rather something directed at the living, individual recipient, who seems to be sitting directly across from the sender.”

DO NOT DISTURB: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, by Michela Wrong. (PublicAffairs, $32.) In the years since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has become a favorite of Western donors. Yet in this authoritative account, Wrong, an Africa specialist, exposes the country’s long history of corruption and human rights abuses under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. The book “stands out as perhaps the most ambitious attempt yet to tell the dark story of Rwanda and the region’s deeply intertwined tragedies for a general audience,” Howard W. French writes in his review.

PLACES OF MIND: A Life of Edward Said, by Timothy Brennan. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.) In the first comprehensive biography of Said, Brennan, a former student, highlights the Palestinian scholar’s complexity, delivering a portrait of a thinker, activist and musician endowed with an unusually restless and protean intellect. “Brennan draws on an imposing array of material,” Ayten Tartici notes in his review, including “interviews with Said’s family, friends and colleagues; correspondence, essays, unpublished poetry and fiction; as well as the F.B.I. files on him. … In an era of professional specialists and self-declared experts, Said doggedly praised the amateur, the humanist who endeavored not to make audiences feel good but to be a nonconformist, embarrassing and roguish when it mattered.”

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