Today's releases include a biography of one of history’s most famous contrarians, and a moving novel that deftly marries the personal and the political.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Sometimes you stumble upon a book and think, Why didn’t I know about this before now? In Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, Andrew Curran’s spirited biography, Diderot emerges from the page as not just an Enlightenment philosopher, a contemporary of Rousseau and Voltaire, and the lead writer of the Encyclopédie—he also steps out as a truly free thinker and master of dissent, even for today’s times. Although he had many followers, including Catherine the Great, Diderot chose, probably wisely, to record some of his most provocative thoughts in unpublished novels. Author Curran uncovers these writings for us, sifting through Diderot’s thoughts and arguments, adding context, and sweeping us up in Diderot’s words, his times, and his ideas. It is a relatively fun read and a fascinating journey. For a philosopher living during the Enlightenment, Denis Diderot sure was a Renaissance man. —Chris Schluep
In the exquisite The Far Field, Shalini’s mother, a Bangalore housewife with a secret, holds the world at arm’s length. Caustic and inscrutable, she withholds affection, even from her daughter. After her mother’s death, grief propels Shalini to track down a figure from her childhood, a traveling salesman who visited her mother for years before disappearing. Certain that his disappearance and her mother’s death are linked, Shalini travels to his hometown, Kashmir, and into the heart of a community roiling with political strife. Sheltered and privileged, Shalini’s yearnings gives way to an awakening as she makes the deep, human connections with the Kashmiri people that evaded her in her life in Bangalore. Vijay does a superb job of showing how the personal and the political spark off one another to drive change in both. But when violence erupts in Kashmir, difficult choices must be made and sobering lessons learned about privilege, Indian history, class prejudice, violence, and sexuality. --Vannessa Cronin