By George Packer (Alfred A. Knopf, $30)
Brilliant and idealistic early on, difficult and egotistical later, Richard Holbrooke was perhaps best known as the brain behind the Dayton Accords that ended the Balkan war. He started in Vietnam, died trying to solve Afghanistan, and did his best to have his fingers in every international pie in between. Packer's writing is lively and quick, rich with voice and asides. More than the story of a man, this is the story of America.
By Dani Shapiro (Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95)
Like many of us, memoirist Shapiro sent off a sample of her DNA to be analyzed, mostly as a lark. But the results were shocking: Her father, she learned, was not really her father. This stunning information sent her on a quest to figure out who she is and where she came from. Unfolding minute by minute in page-turner fashion, "Inheritance" explores family, legacy and truth in Shapiro's most compelling memoir yet.
The Salt Path
By Raynor Winn (Penguin Books, $17)
In one fell swoop, Raynor Winn and her husband lost their home, their livelihood, their life savings, their health. So they shouldered their packs and set out to hike the South West Coast Path in England, primarily because they had nowhere else to go. As they trudged across that corner of England, they met hikers and homeless people, endured rainstorms, sunburn and constant hunger, and found beauty everywhere.
A Woman of No Importance
By Sonia Purnell (Viking, $28)
The most fascinating World War II spy is someone you have likely never heard of — a beautiful American socialite with a wooden leg that she called "Cuthbert." Virginia Hall went behind enemy lines into France to organize unlikely accomplices (nuns, prostitutes and peasants), assist downed pilots, blow up bridges and organize parachute drops. Her story is almost too incredible to believe.
By Josh Levin (Little, Brown, $29)
Ronald Reagan used Linda Taylor (dubbed the Welfare Queen) to put a face on welfare fraud. She wore furs, drove flashy cars and bilked the government out of thousands of dollars. But Taylor was not a typical welfare recipient and, as Levin uncovers in this fascinating biography, welfare fraud was pretty small potatoes for her, a master con artist. Born to a white mother and a black father, pregnant at 14, she set off alone to make a new life — by her own rules.
By Mira Jacob (One World, $30)
This graphic-novel memoir is wise, poignant, thought-provoking and funny. Jacob tells her story through dialogue, starting with discussions between herself and her 6-year-old son, and branching out to include her parents, brother, husband, friends and in-laws. The topics? Race, love and sexuality, first against the backdrop of being the bisexual daughter of immigrants from India and then of being the mother of a mixed-race child during the time of Donald Trump.
By Richard Kreitner (Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99)
Literary tourism has grown popular in recent years, and Kreitner's book (subtitled "A Traveler's Guide to Literary Locations Around the World") will whet your appetite to visit the places you have read about. With color photos and engaging descriptions of Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, James Joyce's Dublin, Basho's Japan and scores of other places, "Booked" will inspire you to put down your book and head into the world.
By Megan K. Stack (Doubleday, $27.95)
Stack, a former war correspondent, writes about the trade-off women make when they continue working after having children. She writes about her own situation — an expat in China and India trying to write a novel — but also writes about the Chinese and Indian women she hired to care for her children, who then had to find someone to care for theirs. The complicated world of minding children, cooking and cleaning, Stack notes, remains almost entirely a female problem.
They Called Us Enemy
By George Takei (Top Shelf, $19.99)
The man known as Cmdr. Sulu on "Star Trek" spent his childhood in an Arkansas internment camp during World War II. This graphic novel memoir tells the experience from the young Takei's point of view — the confusion, fear and injustices. Many in the camps lived productive lives. Others became radicalized. "If the U.S. government was going to treat them like the enemy," Takei writes, "they were going to show them what kind of enemy they could be."
The Yellow House
By Sarah M. Broom (Grove Press, $26)
This brilliant memoir tells the story of the Broom family of New Orleans and the loss of their family home. In 1961, Broom's mother bought a small house and dreamed of making it bigger, with room for all. In Broom's distinctive voice, we learn about the chaos as projects are abandoned and the family grows bigger. And then — Katrina hits. The house is razed. The family scatters. This moving book tells a broader story of how this country has failed its black citizens.
Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers
From the files of the New York Public Library (St. Martin's Griffin, $18.99)
Now you can search the internet, but back in the day you had to ask a person. These questions asked of librarians between 1940 and 1980 were discovered in a box at the New York Public Library. "What is the difference between 'pig' and 'pork'?" someone asked in 1945, to which a librarian responded, "Pig is the beast that squeals just before it is butchered to become pork."
By Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa, $20)
A few years ago, editors at the Guardian asked the author of "My Brilliant Friend" to write a weekly column, and she hesitantly accepted under the condition that they help her with ideas. The result is 51 columns, short in length but long on wisdom, on topics ranging from pregnancy and daughters to lies and confessions. As with her fiction, Ferrante's voice here is clear, eloquent and powerful.
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. • 612-673-7302 @StribBooks