The year was crazy, but at least the books were good. Whether you’re browsing for true tales or fantastic fiction, here are our top picks.
Ben Mezrich (Grand Central Publishing)
Who didn’t love the Game-Stop short squeeze? It was an epic (and deeply hilarious) financial drama that even amateurs could follow. In this book, the bestselling author takes a look at what the hell happened, introducing the many players (one of whom went by the moniker Roaring Kitty, which should be enough to grab you) and bringing the reader along for the bumpy ride.
John Glatt (St. Martin’s Press)
Thomas Gilbert Jr. grew up wealthy in Manhattan, going to the best schools and mingling with other highly privileged kids. But wealth is no safeguard against serious mental illness, as became shockingly apparent when he murdered his hedge-fund father in 2015, over a reduced weekly allowance. Glatt takes a look at the early warning signs that led to the murder, including a fire at the Hamptons home of Tommy’s best friend. Tommy was the main suspect, but was never charged (see: privilege, above).
Rebecca Donner (Little, Brown)
Mildred Harnack was a 26-year-old Midwesterner when she embarked on a PhD program in 1930s Germany. It gave her a front-row seat to the rise of the Nazi party, and she and her new husband soon become part of an underground resistance group in Berlin. While her ending was not a happy one, this book, written by her great-great niece, is a moving tribute to one ordinary woman’s courage.
Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)
The Sackler family was long recognized for their philanthropic efforts; more recently, they’re better known for profiting handsomely from the opioid crisis. This fascinating read from the author of “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” looks at how clan’s fortune rose with the creation of Valium — only for their reputations to take a fall as the fallout from OxyContin became widely known.
Audrey Clare Farley (Grand Central Publishing)
In the early 1930s, socialite Maryon Cooper Hewitt got doctors to declare her “promiscuous” daughter Ann mentally unfit — and sterilize the young woman without her knowledge. Her goal was to prevent Ann from claiming millions of dollars from her father’s will, which contained a child-bearing clause. A riveting court case ensued, as detailed in this equally fascinating book.
Brian Alexander (St. Martin’s Press)
In Bryan, Ohio, a small hospital struggles for its survival in an industry of cost-cutting and consolidation, with CEO Phil Ennen fighting to preserve its independence. The book is a poignant, thoroughly researched look at the American medical industry with a narrative that focuses on the human stories behind dry policy debates.
Josh Mitchell (Simon & Schuster)
In 1981, a new executive at Sallie Mae brought home the company’s financial documents one night to review. What he found was a big surprise: “You’ve got to be sh–ting me,” he told the company’s CEO. “This place is a gold mine!” If you’ve don’t think a book about the student loan crisis can read like a fast-paced thriller — complete with passages that will leave you exclaiming in shock out loud — this book will prove you wrong.
Scott Ellsworth (Dutton)
Over the course of 24 hours in the spring of 1921, Tulsa’s thriving “Black Wall Street” was destroyed. Businesses were burned to the ground, and people were killed and buried in unmarked graves. And then in its aftermath: Silence. The massacre was covered up, official records disappeared, and researchers threatened. This well-reported book takes a look at a day that changed a city — and the nation.
Debby Applegate (Doubleday)
In Roaring Twenties Manhattan, Pearl “Polly” Adler’s brothels were hotspots where the literati mingled with prostitutes, the elites hobnobbed with violent criminals, and the star-studded clientele included Desi Arnaz Jr., Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio. A funny, fascinating look at a madam who set out to become the “best goddamn Madam in all America.”
Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury)
From the author of “Dreamland” comes this follow-up that explores the next stages of the opioid epidemic — terrifying, for sure — but is also filled with stories of communities trying to repair themselves. “In a time when drug traffickers act like corporations and corporations like traffickers,” Quinones writes, “our best defense, perhaps our only defense, lies in bolstering community.”
Gregory Zuckerman (Portfolio)
An in-depth look at the quest to create the COVID-19 vaccine — one of science’s crowning achievements — with an absolutely captivating cast of characters involved. Even when you know the result (spoiler alert: they created the vaccines!) you can feel the urgency on every page. From the bestselling author of “The Man Who Solved the Market.”
Gregory Zuckerman (Portfolio)
The poor neighborhood of Algiers in New Orleans comes alive on Friday nights, when the Edna Karr High School football team takes the field. Sports journalist Babb follows the team through its 2019 season as head coach Brice Brown grapples with an epidemic of gun violence that claimed the life of his former star quarterback.
Peter Robison (Doubleday)
The two crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX in 2018 and 2019 rocked the century-old aerospace company and comprised the worst crisis in its history. The award-winning Bloomberg reporter takes a fascinating look at the dysfunction and mismanagement that led to the disasters.
James Andrew Miller (Henry Holt)
“The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” “Sex and the City” — the list of HBO hits that also shaped our culture is long. In this thoroughly researched book, Miller uncovers a virtual treasure trove of secrets and behind-the-scenes maneuverings within the company that will be hugely entertaining to anyone who enjoys taking a peek behind the curtain.
Audrey Audrain (Pamela Dorman Books)
This book should come with a warning label: If you’re pregnant, step away from this title! Blythe Connor is convinced she won’t be a good mother to her baby Violet — she thinks she lacks the nurturing gene. As her daughter gets bigger, Blythe starts to worry there’s something seriously wrong with Violet, while those around her brush away her concerns.
Mateo Askaripour (Mariner Books)
Twenty-two-year-old Darren is a Starbucks employee living at home with his mom when a chance encounter changes his life. The CEO of a hot startup is so impressed with Darren’s barista skills, he offers him a job — and soon the young black man is immersed in a strange, hilarious new world of corporate life.
Liese O’Halloran Schwarz (Washington Square Press)
An American family living in Bangkok in the 1970s is shattered when their young son is kidnapped. Forty years later and halfway across the globe, a man contacts Laura Preston, claiming to be her brother. She drops everything and flies to Thailand, where this new discovery dredges up more questions than answers.
Chang Rae Lee (Riverhead Books)
An exuberant Chinese-American businessman named Pong Lou and an average college student named Tiller are an unlikely pair, but when Pong Lou invites him on a business trip across Asia, he happily accepts – and his world is forever changed.
Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press)
In 1921 rural Texas, marriage is a woman’s only option; stepping out of line is unacceptable. When Elsa Wolcott meets Rafe Martinelli, she jumps quickly into marriage and motherhood. But life on the Martinelli farm is bleak, made more desperate by constant and relentless dust storms. When she realizes she can no longer depend on Rafe, Elsa makes a dramatic decision for her family. An epic family drama.
Nadia Hashimi (fiction, William Morrow)
1970s Kabul is a cosmopolitan city under progressive President Sardar Daoud, and Sitara Zamani has spent a happy childhood in the palace while her father works as Daoud’s right-hand man. But this comes to an abrupt and violent end when the communists stage a coup and assassinate the president, along with Sitara’s entire family. Smuggled out of the palace by a guard, Sitara manages to find her way to the apartment of an American diplomat who ends up raising her and bringing her to the States for a new life.
Alexandra Andrews (Little, Brown)
Florence Darrow is a low-level staffer at a publishing house. She has big dreams of becoming a famous writer, but those dreams don’t seem to be going anywhere. When she stumbles into an assistant job to the mysterious novelist Maud Dixon, a literary figure cloaked in secrecy, it seems like her luck might be changing. Little does she know just how deep those secrets run.
Willy Vlautin (Harper)
The out-of-control Portland real estate market is the setting for this dark novel, and Lynette is juggling multiple jobs, dutifully saving what little she earns in the hopes of buying the crumbling house where she lives with her mother and developmentally disabled brother. Her goal seems out of reach until she decides to reevaluate what she’s willing to do to get this money — even if it involves a bit of crime.
Amor Towles (Viking)
From the author of “A Gentleman in Moscow” and “Rules of Civility” comes this gorgeous 1950s cross-country epic. Emmett Watson has served his time at a juvenile work farm and is ready to start fresh with his little brother Billy — leaving their Nebraska town and trying to make their way to the promised land of California. But it turns out two of Emmett’s fellow farm mates have stowed away in the warden’s car, and have a proposition for him: Only, it involves going in the opposite direction, all the way to New York.
Gary Shteyngart (Random House)
It’s March 2020, and eight friends have gathered at one of their houses in upstate New York to wait out the pandemic: cooking, drinking a lot of wine, working on screenplays and reevaluating old relationships. Described as “Chekhov on the Hudson,” this novel from the author of the best-selling “Super Sad True Love Story” and “Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” is a much-appreciated addition to the fall lineup.
Wanda M. Morris (William Morrow)
Ellice Littlejohn is crushing it: She has a job as a corporate attorney in Atlanta, an Ivy League degree and good friends. When her boss is found dead of an alleged suicide in the office one morning, Ellice, the lone black attorney at the firm, is quickly promoted to replace him. She should be happy about her new title, but Ellice can’t shake the feeling that something is off in the firm — and that her promotion may have been a coverup for something very shady.
Emily Itami (Custom House)
Upscale, glittering Tokyo is the setting for this sharp debut novel, and Mizuki is a Japanese housewife with two kids, a successful husband and a beautiful Tokyo apartment. So why is she always musing about jumping off her high-rise balcony? One night she meets a restaurateur named Kiyoshi, and embarks on a new double life.
Mary Adkins (Harper)
Two creative thirty-somethings struggle in New York, feeling more burdened by bills and less creative by the day. When Mickey is suddenly offered a job as household manager for a multimillionaire in Palm Beach, they move with their infant son and plenty of misgivings (the abandonment of dreams, and what have you). But when Mickey quickly doubles his salary working for an evil billionaire venture capitalist, they have to choose between their progressive ideals and a nice steady paycheck working for a corporate villain.
Christina Sweeney-Baird (GP Putnam’s Sons)
It’s 2025, and a terrifying virus has broken out in Scotland, quickly spreading worldwide. Turns out, only men carry the virus, and the illness has a fatality rate of more than 50 percent. In this uneasy new world where males are an endangered species, women must band together to keep society functioning and stop the virus in its tracks.
Dolly Alderton (Knopf)
What’s in a ghosting? Nina is single and doing just fine; professionally successful, she has great friends and owns her apartment. When she meets a guy named Max, it quickly evolves into a relationship better than anything she’s experienced. And then, he proceeds to ghost her. Clever, sharp and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, the book takes on one of the biggest outrages of modern dating.
Katie Crouch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A newly arrived expat in Namibia, Amanda is supporting her husband while he works on his Fulbright. As she begins to meet embassy wives, she gets a crash course in how to live in the African country — just in time for her marriage to start falling apart.
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