Books to Read: The Best Reviews of May

A selection of the month’s most noteworthy books, as discussed by The Wall Street Journal’s reviewers. The author of “The Sea Inside” ta...


A selection of the month’s most noteworthy books, as discussed by The Wall Street Journal’s reviewers.

The author of “The Sea Inside” takes a fascinating and typically eclectic dive into the visionary world of the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. Christoph Irmscher writes: “I doubt that any other writer has grasped so deeply the feral, sensual undercurrent of Dürer’s art.”

Read the review

The Bomber Mafia

By Malcolm Gladwell | Little, Brown

The effort to defeat Japan in World War II culminated in the horror of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—but the harrowing firebombing of other cities was also part of the American plan. Paul Kennedy reads Malcolm Gladwell’s narrative account of the U.S. air war on Japan—and listens to the “remarkable” audiobook version that makes history “a work of art.”

Read the review

Chaos Under Heaven

By Josh Rogin | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In this “superbly researched” book-length analysis of the latest, tumultuous period in U.S.-China relations, Dan Blumenthal finds an account of the jockeying for position between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping that “could be the plot of a thriller.”

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Facing the Mountain

By Daniel James Brown | Viking

The previously unheard feats of valorous Japanese-American servicemen in World War II, whose units would take on German forces in pivotal conflicts, are highlighted in what Julia Flynn Siler calls “a story of ordinary people thrust into a historic moment.” Weaving together the annals of the highly-decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team with the heartrending stories of the soldiers’ families as they survived internment camps, “Facing the Mountain” is a “grand and ambitious” book.

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Finding the Mother Tree

By Suzanne Simard | Knopf

One of the scientists who has been changing the way we look at forests delivers an account that combines her investigation of the “wood-wide-web” with the story of her own path to discovery. Eugenia Bone writes: “For Ms. Simard, personal experience leads to revelation, and scientific revelation leads to personal insight.”

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Journey to the Edge of Reason

By Stephen Budiansky | Norton

This new biography of Kurt Gödel, whose work on the necessary incompleteness of mathematics proved a milestone, “overflows with fascinating detail,” in the words of David Edmonds. From his student days in Vienna to his years at Princeton (where Einstein looked forward to their walks) this “enthralling book” gives readers a glimpse into Gödel’s life and mind.

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Madhouse at the End of the Earth

By Julian Sancton | Crown

The 1897 expedition of the Belgica to Antarctica was meant to mark Belgium’s independence and place the nation at the forefront of a new era of discovery. When the ice closed in, the crew had to face the uninmaginable challenge of a polar winter. “Mr. Sancton has produced a thriller” writes Sara Wheeler, “and a welcome addition to the polar shelves.”

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Motley Stones

By Adalbert Stifter | NYRB Classics

The Austrian novelist and short-story writer Adalbert Stifter placed much of his fiction in a world where, Martin Riker notes, “humanity is largely good, old people are caring, youth is innocent.” Yet a compelling strain ran through his stories, like those in this collection, one that captivated admirers like Kafka and Mann. Placing the inhuman power of nature at the center of many of these tales, Stifter offered a “dark note of existential indifference and an admonition against forgetting.”

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Secrets of Happiness

By Joan Silber | Counterpoint

Money may be the root of all evil, but in Joan Silber’s novel-in-linked-tales, it’s also the foundation for much of what’s most fascinating in human behavior. In stories that unfold hidden connections among disparate lives, the author mines, according to Katherine A. Powers, a vein “rich with the complexities of life” in a novel that becomes “truly exhilarating.”

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Unsettled

By Steven E. Koonin | BenBella

With a book that Mark P. Mills says “kicks the hornet’s nest right out of the gate,” a top Obama-administration scientist challenges the current consensus about climate, taking on misunderstood statistics and rendering a “persuasively skeptical” view of dire computer models. The result is “a plea for understanding” about the real work science has to do on this hottest of topics.

Read the review

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