One ideal looms large in Septemberâ€™s rich harvest of books: freedom of speech.Â Salman Rushdie lost his by fatwah; Christopher Hitchensâ€™s was stolen by death. Wyclef Jean found his in hip-hop; Sergeant Dakota Meyer earned it with an act of extraordinary valor. Thomas Jeffersonâ€™s slave James Hemings won his by learning to cook exquisite French food, while Kofi Annan asks us to long for it in the name of others. And we wish, so wish, we could hear some more of it in that crazy voice of Jack Kerouac.
"Joseph Anton: A Memoir"Â by Salman Rushdie
On Valentineâ€™s Day of 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, calling for the authorâ€™s death for having writtenÂ â€śThe Satanic Versesâ€ť â€śagainst Islam, the prophet and the Quâ€™ran.â€ťÂ Â Rushdieâ€™s memoir covers the nine years he and his family spent in hiding, using the pseudonym Joseph Anton in honor of two beloved writers: Conrad and Chekhov. â€śI made it the title of the book becauseâ€¦I thought it might help dramatize, for the reader, the deep strangeness and discomfort of those years.â€ť
â€śInto the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan Warâ€ť by Dakota Meyer and Bing West
The first living Marine in three decades to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Sergeant Dakota Meyer recounts the legendary battle of Ganjgal against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.Â Â His heroic charge into the line fire atop his vehicleâ€™s open gun turret was a supreme act of valor that saved the lives of countless fellow soldiers, both American and Afghan.Â Â From his youth on a Kentucky farm to war and back, Meyerâ€™s quintessentially American tale is one that President Obama declared, â€świll be told for generations.â€ť
â€śInterventions: A Life in War and Peaceâ€ť by Kofi Annan (and Nader Mousavizadeh)
In his new civic-minded memoir, the former United Nations Secretary-General speaks candidly of forty years of service to the global community. Operating from an idealism forged in the Ghana independence movements of his youth, Annan joined the UN as the lowest level civil servant, working his way through the Cold War and its game-changing aftermath to become a prominent player on the world stage, on which the tragedies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan played out.Â Â Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize three months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Annan declared, â€śWe have entered the third millennium through a gate of fireâ€¦we will realize that humanity is indivisible.â€ť
â€śMortalityâ€ťÂ by Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens will surely take his place among the great essayists -- indeed wits -- of our era. The nuggets of prose that comprise "Mortality" are the infamous atheistâ€™s last thoughts, written forÂ Vanity FairÂ during nineteen months of illness, a period he called â€śliving dyingly.â€ťÂ Â His wife Carol Blue laments in the afterword that when her husband was admitted to the hospital for the last time, â€śhe thought heâ€™d have the chance to write the longer book that was forming in his mind.â€ť But even in this valedictory arrangement, the essays show strong evidence of Hitchensâ€™ characteristic zeal, his â€śunworldly fluencyâ€ť (Ian McEwan).Â Â Each chapter is nothing if not honest. â€śAnd what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speechâ€¦â€ť
Hip-hop legend Wyclef Jean grew up in the slums of Haiti during the murderous â€śBaby Docâ€ť Duvalier era.Â Â Immigrating to Brooklyn and then Newark deeply affected the young refugee, as did singing in his fatherâ€™s church choir and discovering funk, reggae, jazz, and â€śfreestyleâ€ť rap, which his father loathed.Â Â By the end of the 1990s, the musicianâ€™s hip-hop group the Fugees had won multiple Grammys and gone platinum.Â Â This is a chronicle of Jeanâ€™s musical career, but he also looks back on his efforts to help his native Haiti recover after the earthquake of 2010, the controversy surrounding his aid organization YĂ©le, and his exploratory bid for the Haitian presidency.
â€śThe Voice Is All:Â The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouacâ€ť by Joyce Johnson
Joyce Johnson met Jack Kerouac on a blind date in Greenwich Village arranged by Allen Ginsberg in January 1957, nine months before the publication ofÂ â€śOn the Road.â€ťÂ She was with him the night itsÂ New York TimesÂ review catapulted him to fame and saw to it thatÂ â€śVisions of Cody,â€ť considered his masterpiece, was published three years after his death. This book, the latest of several by Johnson about the Beat circle, considers how Kerouacâ€™s French-Canadian upbringing gave him an outsiderâ€™s view of America and shaped his struggle to find an authentic literary voice.Â Â Drawing on journals and abandoned manuscripts, Johnson sketches an interesting picture of Kerouacâ€™s apprenticeship as a writer.
â€śThomas Jeffersonâ€™s CrĂ¨me BrĂ»lĂ©e: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to Americaâ€ťÂ by Thomas J. Craughwell
Thomas Jefferson, it seems, was determined to improve the â€śrude, rough-hewnâ€ť palate of his newly formed United States.Â Â Collaring his beloved Sally Hemingsâ€™s nineteen-year-old half-brother James in 1784, he high-tailed it to Paris on a diplomatic mission intending to gather intelligence on the food, utensils, and cooking methods of France. Jefferson arranged for Hemings to apprentice with master chefs for whom skin color was of little consequence and from whom he learned the art of French cuisine.Â Â Jefferson and Hemings threw grand dinner parties on the Champs-Ă‰lysĂ©es with ingredients and wines Jefferson had collected.Â Â When the emboldened slave returned to Jeffersonâ€™s Monticello, he earned his freedom by passing on this valuable new gastronomical knowledge, although the tale of Hemingâ€™s demise into drinking and his suicide in 1801 -- the year Jefferson became president -- provides a bitter end to an otherwise delicious romp in American and culinary history.
â€śFrom the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asiaâ€ťÂ by Pankaj Mishra
â€śIf your writing collides with the conventional wisdom, thereâ€™s going to be some kind of friction,â€ť Pankaj Mishra told theÂ New York Times earlier this week.Â The Indian writerâ€™s newest book, colored by his chagrin that so few in the media present perspectives other than that of the West, explores little known but influential nineteenth and early twentieth-century Asian intellectualsâ€™ equally chagrined responses to western imperialism.Â Â Societies that had survived largely unchanged for centuries -- Persian, Chinese, Ottoman -- were unprepared for western armies and commerce.Â Â Mishra identifies the schools of thought that formed in response, but chooses to focus not on major players but on those whose writings most agitated later generations.Â Â Famous for his intellectual bone picking with the likes of Salman Rushdie, he wonders at the close of his polemic if in the process of modernization Asians have lost the values that once distinguished them.