Selections mine, blurbs via Amazon.
See also: 5 Best Books of 2021
Scenes from My Life
Michael K Williams
When Michael K. Williams died on September 6, 2021, he left behind a career as one of the most electrifying actors of his generation. From his star turn as Omar Little in The Wire to Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire to Emmy-nominated roles in HBO’s The Night Of and Lovecraft Country, Williams inhabited a slew of indelible roles that he portrayed with a rawness and vulnerability that leapt off the screen. Beyond the nominations and acclaim, Williams played characters who connected, whose humanity couldn’t be denied, whose stories were too often left out of the main narrative.
At the time of his death, Williams had nearly finished a memoir that tells the story of his past while looking to the future, a book that merges his life and his life’s work. Mike, as his friends knew him, was so much more than an actor. In Scenes from My Life, he traces his life in whole, from his childhood in East Flatbush and his early years as a dancer to his battles with addiction and the bar fight that left his face with his distinguishing scar. He was a committed Brooklyn resident and activist who dedicated his life to working with social justice organizations and his community, especially in helping at-risk youth find their voice and carve out their future. Williams worked to keep the spotlight on those he fought for and with, whom he believed in with his whole heart.
No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy
Mark Hodkinson grew up among dark satanic mills in a house with just one book: Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. His dad kept it on top of a wardrobe with other items of great worth – wedding photographs and Mark’s National Cycling Proficiency certificate. If Mark wanted to read it, he was warned not to crease the pages or slam shut the covers.
Fast forward to today, and Mark still lives in Rochdale snugly ensconced (or is that buried?) in a ‘book cave’ surrounded by 3,500 titles – at the last count. He is an author, journalist and publisher.
So this is his story of growing up a working-class lad during the 1970s and 1980s. It’s about schools (bad), music (good) and the people (some mad, a few sane), and pre-eminently and profoundly the books and authors (some bad, mostly good) that led the way, shaped a life. If only coincidentally, it relates how writing and reading has changed, as the Manor House novel gave way to the kitchen sink drama and working-class writers found the spotlight (if only briefly).
Fiona and Jane
Jean Chen Ho
Best friends since second grade, Fiona Lin and Jane Shen explore the lonely freeways and seedy bars of Los Angeles together through their teenage years, surviving unfulfilling romantic encounters, and carrying with them the scars of their families’ tumultuous pasts. Fiona was always destined to leave, her effortless beauty burnished by fierce ambition—qualities that Jane admired and feared in equal measure. When Fiona moves to New York and cares for a sick friend through a breakup with an opportunistic boyfriend, Jane remains in California and grieves her estranged father’s sudden death, in the process alienating an overzealous girlfriend. Strained by distance and unintended betrayals, the women float in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship both a beacon of home and a reminder of all they’ve lost.
In stories told in alternating voices, Jean Chen Ho’s debut collection peels back the layers of female friendship—the intensity, resentment, and boundless love—to probe the beating hearts of young women coming to terms with themselves, and each other, in light of the insecurities and shame that holds them back.
Spanning countries and selves, Fiona and Jane is an intimate portrait of a friendship, a deep dive into the universal perplexities of being young and alive, and a bracingly honest account of two Asian women who dare to stake a claim on joy in a changing, contemporary America.
In Longshot, investigative journalist David Heath takes readers inside the small group of scientists whose groundbreaking work was once largely dismissed but whose feat will now eclipse the importance of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in medical history. With never-before-reported details, Heath reveals how these scientists overcame countless obstacles to give the world an unprecedented head start when we needed a COVID-19 vaccine.
The story really begins in the 1990s, with a series of discoveries that were timed perfectly to prepare us for the worst pandemic since 1918. Readers will meet Katalin Karikó, who made it possible to use messenger RNA in vaccines but struggled for years just to hang on to her job. There’s also Derrick Rossi, who leveraged Karikó’s work to found Moderna but was eventually expelled from his company. And then there’s Barney Graham at the National Institutes of Health, who had a career-long obsession with solving the riddle of why two toddlers died in a vaccine trial in 1966, a tragedy that ultimately led to a critical breakthrough in vaccine science.
With both foresight and luck, Graham and these other crucial scientists set the course for a coronavirus vaccine years before COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China. The author draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with key players to tell the definitive story about how the race to create the vaccine sparked a revolution in medical science.
The Man Who Broke Capitalism
In 1981, Jack Welch took over General Electric and quickly rose to fame as the first celebrity CEO. He golfed with presidents, mingled with movie stars, and was idolized for growing GE into the most valuable company in the world. But Welch’s achievements didn’t stem from some greater intelligence or business prowess. Rather, they were the result of a sustained effort to push GE’s stock price ever higher, often at the expense of workers, consumers, and innovation. In this captivating, revelatory book, David Gelles argues that Welch single-handedly ushered in a new, cutthroat era of American capitalism that continues to this day.
Gelles chronicles Welch’s campaign to vaporize hundreds of thousands of jobs in a bid to boost profits, eviscerating the country’s manufacturing base and destabilizing the middle class. Welch’s obsession with downsizing—he eliminated 10% of employees every year—fundamentally altered GE and inspired generations of imitators who have employed his strategies at other companies around the globe. In his day, Welch was corporate America’s leading proponent of mergers and acquisitions, using deals to gobble up competitors and giving rise to an economy that is more concentrated and less dynamic. And Welch pioneered the dark arts of “financialization,” transforming GE from an admired industrial manufacturer into what was effectively an unregulated bank. The finance business was hugely profitable in the short term and helped Welch keep GE’s stock price ticking up. But ultimately, financialization undermined GE and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies.
Gelles shows how Welch’s celebrated emphasis on increasing shareholder value by any means necessary (layoffs, outsourcing, offshoring, acquisitions, and buybacks, to name but a few tactics) became the norm in American business generally. He demonstrates how that approach has led to the greatest socioeconomic inequality since the Great Depression and harmed many of the very companies that have embraced it. And he shows how a generation of Welch acolytes radically transformed companies like Boeing, Home Depot, Kraft Heinz, and more. Finally, Gelles chronicles the change that is now afoot in corporate America, highlighting companies and leaders who have abandoned Welchism and are proving that it is still possible to excel in the business world without destroying livelihoods, gutting communities, and spurning regulation.