Big lives cast long shadows on this week’s list of recommended books. In “Famous Father Girl,” Leonard Bernstein’s elder daughter, Jamie, describes what it was like having the renowned conductor/composer for a dad. “Empress” explains how Nur Jahan came to amass power and influence in a patriarchal dynasty that ruled much of what is now India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. And Claire Tomalin, whose acclaimed biographies have told the stories of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and other literary giants, gets around to sharing her own accomplished and incident-filled life in a new memoir. It’s not all biography this week: Other subjects include evolution, financial crises and satires of millennial culture.
Daily Books Editor and Staff Writer
A LIFE OF MY OWN, by Claire Tomalin. (Penguin Press, $27.) Claire Tomalin, the esteemed biographer of Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, among others, tells her own story in this memoir. In addition to her professional life, Tomalin recounts the often challenging moments in her personal life — “one shock after another,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “There is genuine appeal in watching this indomitable woman continue to chase the next draft of herself. After a while, the pages turn themselves. Tomalin has a biographer’s gift for carefully husbanding her resources, of consistently playing out just enough string. When she needs to, she pulls that string tight.”
THE TANGLED TREE: A Radical New History of Life, by David Quammen. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) In his latest book, David Quammen — our critic Parul Sehgal calls him “our greatest living chronicler of the natural world” — surveys the field of molecular phylogenetics, plunging into how various findings have upended our conception of stately Darwinian inheritance, represented in the notion of the tree of life — of species branching out, evolving separately from each other. “There are few writers so firmly on the side of the reader,” Sehgal writes, “who so solicitously request your patience and delightedly hack away at jargon. He keeps the chapters short, the sentences spring-loaded. There are vivacious descriptions on almost every page.”
CRASHED: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, by Adam Tooze. (Viking, $35.) The crash of 2008, Tooze argues, was caused in both Europe and America, and its impact, he says, has been more political than economic, leading to a continuing wave of nationalism, protectionism and populism throughout most of the West. “Brexit, Trump, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and China’s ever-escalating role in the financial system: Tooze covers them all and much more, in a volume that’s as lively as it is long — which is to say very, on both counts,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes, calling “Crashed” a “bravura work of economic history.”
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