10 best books of September: the Monitor's books

From a true story of character reformation to a passionate primer on opera to an engaging fictional tale about a 1916 election, here are the 10 September books the Monitor's book critics liked best.

'Rising Out of Hatred' is by Eli Saslow.

1.  Rising Out of Hatred, by Eli Saslow
Derek Black was born into a prominent white nationalist family and groomed to become a leader for the next generation of American racists. Instead, as an adult, Black turned away from that legacy of hate and embraced tolerance and inclusion. The story of his transformation is powerful and riveting.

2.  Ninth Street Women, by Mary Gabriel
Biographer Mary Gabriel offers an excellent slice of American cultural history in her book on the abstract expressionist movement focusing on five female artists: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. Gabriel brings alive an era and an art movement, even as she directs attention to an exceptional group of women.

3.  We Fed an Island, by José Andrés
Andrés, a Michelin-starred, James Beard Award-winning chef with more than 30 restaurants around the world, flew to Puerto Rico four days after hurricane Maria, with a single goal: feed the people. The way Andrés managed to do his work amidst circumstances that caused far larger and better-funded efforts to flounder is at the heart of this book, which is a savory mix of personal narrative and historical context.

4.  Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, by Sarah Bird
Bird takes the bare facts about the historical Cathay Williams (1844-1893), an ex-slave who dressed as a man to join a regiment of black “buffalo soldiers” after the Civil War, and spins them into storytelling gold. Her “Cathy” emerges as a remarkably resilient woman, determined to live up to her “royal African blood,” and insistent on receiving what she’s owed. Bird’s story sheds light on a part of history that was nearly erased from the record books.

5.  How to Invent Everything, by Ryan North
Stranded in a past century? Not to worry! Here’s the entertaining and sometimes even hilarious book that will tell you everything you need to know. North lays out the fundamentals of agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, metalworking, and navigation even while explaining how to build an electrical generator, how to distill water, and how an airplane achieves take off.

6.  Transcription, by Kate Atkinson
Innocent and imaginative 18-year-old Juliet Armstrong is pulled into the intriguing world of World War II espionage as a transcriber for MI5’s secret surveillance of British Fascist allies. Fast-forward 10 years after the war, when the more jaded Juliet is creating radio shows for the BBC and her past life comes back to haunt her. This is intelligent historical fiction that entertains with great wit.

7.  Leadership: In Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Award-winning historian Goodwin looks at the lives of four presidents – Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson – all of whom she has previously profiled in stand-alone biographies, seeking out lessons on leadership. What she finds makes for an inspiring read.

8.  The Tango War, by Mary Jo McConahay
As World War II loomed, both American and European leaders turned a nervous gaze to Latin America. Here, countries rich in resources essential to the war effort (including oil and rubber) were also known to have strong fascist sympathies. McConahay tells the lesser-known but fascinating story of the “shadow war” that took place in a continent seemingly far from the fighting.

9. A Mad Love, by Vivien Schweitzer
As a former classical music and opera critic for The New York Times, Schweitzer brings both expertise and passion to her guide to the essential elements of opera. For readers ready to engage with opera more deeply and more enthusiastically, this book will be a delight and an eye-opener.

10.  Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, by Amy Stewart
Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp faces intense media scrutiny in the fourth installment of Stewart’s series about the historic Kopp Sisters. It’s 1916. Constance’s boss, Sheriff Heath, is running for Congress and his opponent is out to make Constance into a campaign liability. The unflappable deputy keeps her focus on righting the county’s wrongs all the way to the climactic election. It’s a refreshing look at a fascinating historical period and the life of an early policewoman, Kopp, whose true-life adventures inspired this series.

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