By Jim Rutenberg
New releases this week:
GODLESS CITIZENS IN A GODLY REPUBLIC By R. Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick. (Norton, $26.95) How have America's laws, going back to the colonial era and into our times, dealt with atheism, with citizens of a religiously inflected country who didn't believe in God? The answers are in this alternative history of the country, focused on the nonbelievers. MY MOTHER, BARACK OBAMA, DONALD TRUMP, AND THE LAST STAND OF THE ANGRY WHITE MAN By Kevin Powell. (Atria Books, $26.) A combination of memoir and social criticism, Powell's book takes a look at sexual violence, poverty and race while also telling an intimate story of his Southern upbringing by a single mother.
THE PENGUIN BOOK OF HELL Edited by Scott G. Bruce (Penguin, paper, $17) is for when everyday life has got you down, dip into over three thousand years' worth of depictions of a fiery, tortuous afterlife of eternal punishment. From the Bible through Dante and up to Treblinka and Guantánamo Bay, here is a rich source for nightmares. BEETHOVEN'S TENTH By Richard Kluger (Rare Bird, $26.95) Kluger, a Pulitzer winner for his history of the cigarette industry, turns to fiction for the seventh time, producing a historical tale about Beethoven and a 10th symphony he never completed. SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER By Louis de Bernières. (Pantheon, $26.95) From the author of "Corelli's Mandolin" comes a story about love struggling to survive after war, as Daniel, a fighter pilot and Rosie, an army nurse, hold onto their marriage once the guns have stopped blazing.
"Before a recent vacation my sister, the most voracious reader I know, sent me Ian McGuire's THE NORTH WATER. I've always loved the sea and tales that are set on it. 'In addition to its many linguistic splendors, there is a particularly fetching bear,' my sister's inscription read. At its most basic level, the book is about a disgraced military surgeon's turn on a whaling vessel under the command of a cursed captain. But as one who covers the tectonic shifts in information technology that are reordering the world, I found that the book also speaks unexpectedly to our own shambolic times. McGuire sets his novel at the twilight of the whaling industry and the dawn of the Oil Age. He writes as someone who knows that it's in such moments of turbulence, with so much to gain and so much to lose, that humankind's darker instincts emerge - its vanity and greed. As one of the book's only moral characters says, 'We build a great bonfire to warm ourselves and then complain that the flames are too hot and fierce, that we are blinded by the smoke.'"
The reviewer is a media columnist