“I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche,” by Sue Prideaux. (Crown/Duggan)
“Become what you are.” “Man is a bridge, not a goal.” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is known for his plentiful aphorisms, and in this rich biography, Sue Prideaux digs deeper than those pithy sayings to illuminate his nihilistic philosophy. She recognizes his close relationship with his bullying, anti-Semitic sister, Elisabeth, who reworked her brother’s works to appeal to Nazis. With insight and wit, Prideaux captures the arc of Nietzsche’s life as he wrestled with ideas, before becoming the master of bromides such as “God is dead! … And we have killed him.”
“Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’s Masterpiece,” by Camille Laurens, translated by Willard Wood. (Other Press)
In this amalgam of art history, biography and memoir, Camille Laurens evokes the world of Edward Degas’ famous sculpture and the young woman, Marie van Goethem, who posed for him. Laurens vividly re-creates the 1881 debut exhibition of “Little Dancer,” cast in wax, displayed under glass and dressed in clothes and shoes, but also describes the working conditions for impoverished girls such as Marie, who, like their mothers, found extra work at the Paris Opera. French novelist and essayist Laurens paints a compelling portrait of Marie and animates this fascinating book by drawing on her capacious imagination, her own love of ballet and her curiosity about the fate of Degas’ model.
“Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey,” by Alice Robb. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Fitbits and phone apps can track our minutes of exercise and work, and even calories consumed during our active hours, but New York Magazine columnist Alice Robb argues for considering the flip side of wakefulness: sleep and dreams. Capitalizing on her deep knowledge of psychology and dream analysis, she compellingly contends that in ignoring dreams we squander opportunities to gain insight, experience adventure and enhance our mental health. We dream to work through anxieties, confront fears, deal with trauma and navigate the mazes of life. To maximize the benefits of dreams, Robb makes the case for maintaining a dream journal and learning to dream lucidly.
“Churchill: Walking With Destiny,” by Andrew Roberts. (Viking)
Widely praised as the best single-volume biography of Winston Churchill, historian and commentator Andrew Roberts draws on previously unavailable journals and notes for the robust, engrossing and nuanced history of the great British leader. Churchill, Roberts writes, possessed a belief in his destiny since his teen years, drawing strength and self-confidence from his aristocratic lineage, which allowed him to withstand criticism and thus take lonely, courageous stands against fascism and communism. Roberts, a deft writer himself, recounts how, hours after becoming prime minister in 1940 and facing Hitler’s blitzkrieg, Churchill wrote, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
“Hardly Children,” by Laura Adamczyk. (FSG Originals)
This debut story collection throbs with intensity as Laura Adamczyk locates the narrow, dangerous precipice between childhood and adulthood. Looming danger takes different forms in each story, from guns and abductions of children to subtler threats such as childhood memories, and a hug that could be friendly or tilt to creepy. Adamczyk demonstrates enormous stylistic range in these stories, and whether surreal or realistic, she has a knack for evoking the shadowy terror of everyday life.
Elizabeth Taylor and Adam Cohen are co-editors of the National Book Review.