Charles Yu, author of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, is back with a short story collection entitled Sorry Please Thank You: Stories (Pantheon, $24.95). His smart and geeky stories are about relationships (as the title may suggest): they explore intimacy, heartbreak, relationships that just begin and relationships that fizzle out. They also touch on dissatisfaction with life, longing, and the search for self. Yu packs a lot of ideas into these short pieces, which makes it one of the most creative and thought-provoking collections you'll read this year.
Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (Doubleday, $35) describes the origins of the Soviet Bloc, a now defunct geopolitical entity consisting of European states that fell under the control of the USSR after World War II. Focusing specifically on Hungary, Poland, and East Germany, Applebaum investigates wartime and post-war factors that made the establishment of the Soviet regime possible. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time. This fantastic study of a “totalitarian mindset, Soviet priorities and Soviet thinking” should be required reading for any Soviet- or 20th-centuryhistory buff.
In his new book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (W.W. Norton, $28.95), the veteran science and nature writer David Quammen explores the origins of zoonotic diseases, i.e., infections that jump from animals to humans, such as Ebola, AIDS, SARS, and others. His investigation into the origins of these diseases evokes a peculiar and chilling epidemiological landscape. Quammen goes out into the field and visits places like Bangladesh, Gabon, Australia, and China to talk to scientists, researchers, and survivors of these new maladies. He speculates about the source of the next big pandemic and whether we can predict, let alone prevent, its emergence. This is a masterfully done piece of scientific writing that’s as informative as it is unsettling.