Amazon's Best Books of February: Part II

HayesThe late, great Oliver Sacks was so famously private, he didn’t divulge that he was gay until his memoir, On the Move, was published, shortly before his death at the age of 82. Granted, this revelation was one of the least interesting things about him. Sacks was widely beloved, which is saying something for a scarily brilliant, yet somewhat reclusive neurologist. But his childlike wonder and ability to wrap our brains around the complexities of everything from music to migraines to the cancer he succumbed to, was infectious, and the graciousness--and extraordinary gratitude--with which he accepted his terminal diagnosis earned him even further admiration. It stands to reason, then, that Sacks’s life partner must be pretty remarkable as well, and Insomniac City provides ample proof. In this affectionate and magnanimous memoir, author and photographer Bill Hayes pays tribute to their relationship, and provides a paean to one of the other loves of his life: New York City. Hayes’s contagious regard for the Big Apple makes you almost believe that getting lost on the subway is a happy accident (almost!), and his Humans of New York-esque vignettes inspire the same esteem and faith in humanity as Brandon Stanton’s blog of the same name. Add to that a couple of delightfully unlikely cameos from Björk and a black-eyed Lauren Hutton, and you won’t want to sleep until the last page of Insomniac City is turned. (Not a bad way to spend Valentine's eve, unless, of course, you have other worthy distractions.)

Check out more of our top 10 picks for February below, along with some thoughts about why we liked them. Or have a look at the full list here.

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The year is 1862. President Lincoln, already tormented by the knowledge that he’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of young men on the battlefields of the Civil War, loses his beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, to typhoid. The plot begins after Willie is laid to rest in a cemetery near the White House, where, invisible to the living, ghosts linger, unwilling to relinquish this world for the next...Saunders takes huge risks in this novel, and they pay off. His writing is virtuosic – and best of all, its highs and lows are profoundly entertaining. You may hear echoes of Thornton Wilder, Beckett and even a little Chaucer, but Lincoln in the Bardo is peculiar and perfect unto itself. Some advice: don’t try to read this one in a library. You’ll be hooting with laughter when you aren’t wiping away your tears. --Sarah Harrison Smith

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The Upstarts by Brad Stone
Brad Stone has a gift for unwrapping the mythology around a company's origins and making its actual origins—and growth and flubs and pivot points—far more fascinating than the mythology ever could be. In The Upstarts, Stone tackles the genesis of Airbnb and Uber, two companies that have woven themselves into the daily lives of people around the globe in less than ten years. Too many books spotlight a company's wise decisions and business victories, making success seem almost inevitable. In contrast, Stone gives Uber's and Airbnb's mistakes as much room on the page as its scrappy triumphs, allowing a far more complex story to build. Interwoven among the highlights and lowlights are innovation incubators, dirty tricks, desperation among VC investors to not miss the Next Big Thing, competitors' bright ideas, and the strikingly different personalities of the two companies' young leaders. But this is a book without an ending, because Airbnb and Uber are still evolving, making their long-term effect on their industries hard to predict. Timely, clear-eyed, and crisply written, The Upstarts is a must for readers seeking insight into how ideas and eventually businesses can succeed or fail in a technology-rich landscape. —Adrian Liang

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4321 by Paul Auster
Paul Auster’s 4321 is his first novel in seven years, and it feels extra personal. Details of a life spent growing up in Brooklyn—of loving the Brooklyn Dodgers, Laurel and Hardy, summer camp—are laid out with the earnest intensity of a writer looking back on his life. Plot points arise—for instance, a person is killed by lightning—which mimic more unique moments from Auster’s own life experience. At nearly 900 pages, it is also a long novel—but a reason for that is 4321 tells the story of its protagonist, Archie Ferguson, four different times. What remains consistent throughout Archie’s life (or lives) is that his father starts out with the same career, Archie falls in love with the same girl, and his personality seems more nature than nurture. But those are starting off points, and if our lives are the sum of our choices, they are the sum of other people’s choices as well. Circumstances matter, and what will keep you thinking about this book is the convergence of time and circumstance within each of Archie’s different lives. His past propels him, his circumstances form him, and regardless of which life we are reading, time will ultimately take him. --Chris Schluep

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Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
Those who read and loved Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens have been eagerly anticipating his new book Homo Deus. While Sapiens looked back at our evolutionary development, this new book examines where we might be headed (Homo Deus is subtitled “A Brief History of Tomorrow”). Predicting the future isn’t as easy as deconstructing the past, and Harari openly admits the challenge—but even if he’s completely wrong in his predictions, and most of us doubt he is, Homo Deus is the kind of provocative, food-for-thought read that drew so many of us to his work in the first place. According to Harari, our future could be very different from our present—dark, technocratic, and automated—but reading about our possible fates, presented in Harari’s clear-eyed and illuminating style, sure is fascinating. --Chris Schluep


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Comments (5)

Aren't there ANY books on these lists that REAL people read? These books are all either hipster crap or high brow nonsense. Where are the thrillers? The Mysteries? The serial killers?

Posted by: tracie | Wednesday February 15, 2017 at 5:34 AM

There is more out here than New York-centric literature--a whole culture, setting west of the Mississippi explored by many great writers. I am sixty years tired of the streets and angst of New York. Please dig deeper and wider.

Posted by: Meredith Whiteley | Wednesday February 15, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Hi Tracie. I think this may be the first time anyone has accused us of being hip, so...thank you(?) Please note that while the above post references our overall favorites for February, we also select best of the month picks in a variety of different categories, including mysteries and thrillers. We hope you find something of interest here:

Posted by: Erin | Wednesday February 15, 2017 at 1:34 PM

Agreed, Ms. Whiteley. There is a lot more out there than New York-centric literature. We hope you find something less angsty in our full list of picks:

Posted by: Erin | Wednesday February 15, 2017 at 1:46 PM

I'm real & I read these! I read the Impossible Fortress and downloaded Lincoln in the Bardo. Looking forward to it. Thanks!

Posted by: Matt | Monday February 20, 2017 at 7:58 AM

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