When a writer as indefatigable as Ian Frazier tackles a subject as riveting and multifaceted as the northern third of Asia, then you get a remarkable study like TRAVELS IN SIBERIA (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30). Criss-crossing Siberia’s eight time zones—traveling mostly via automobile, lodging with locals or camping outside—Frazier explores the land, history, literature, and people of this vast, stunningly diverse region that technically doesn’t exist, politically or geographically. This meaty tome centers on a series of trips Frazier took to far-eastern Russia (“the greatest horrible country in the world”) between 1993 and 2009. His trademark mix of serious reportage and contagious curiosity makes Travels in Siberia an essential modern classic.
Following the lives of three individuals, African-Americans from the South who migrated north and west in the first half of the 20th century, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House, $30) shows how this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. For many, their flight from oppression was marked not only by uncertainty but by outright danger and hostility, whether they were en route or had landed in northern or western cities. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson expertly captures the historical sweep of this great migration, but by focusing her study on just three out of the millions, she tells a story that’s dramatic and moving.
Before Ron Chernow’s new multi-dimensional portrait of WASHINGTON (Penguin Press, $40), the first president’s character, as portrayed in the standard accounts, was as lifeless as that of a waxworks figure. Chernow’s wide-ranging research, including newly found diaries and letters, rescues Washington from the mausoleum where historians have heretofore placed him, and establishes his rightful place in American history as a complex man of deep emotions and strong opinions. In the French and Indian War he was an insecure young colonel, but as General Washington he went on to lead the Continental Army to victory; in his first inaugural address his voice and hand trembled, but his mastery of political skills and his growing self-assurance and self-control elevated him to a status that earned the admiration and trust of the new American nation. To Chernow, he was the greatest president in our history.