The following article first appeared in The National Book Review
Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be
1. Concussion: Dr. Benet Omalu Discovered Something He Could Not Ignore. The NFL Tried to Silence Him. His Courage Would Change Everything by Jeanne Marie Laskas (Random House paperback)
Concussion, which opens wide Christmas Day starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, is based on Laskas' pathbreaking reporting, first in GQ and later in this book. Laskas tells the story of Biafra-born forensic pathologist Benet Omalu, who made a startling discovery while examining retired Steeler Hall of Famer Mike Webster. Dr. Omalu realized that Webster, and many other football veterans, were victims of brain injuries, and with neuroscientists around the country he led a movement to challenge the NFL to do more to protect players.
2. The Complete Works of Primo Levi Edited by Ann Goldstein (Liveright Publishing)
These three impressive volumes, 3,000 pages elegantly cased together, encompass the published work of one of the twentieth century's greatest writers and deepest thinkers. Levi, an Italian chemist who survived Auschwitz, died in 1987, in what was ruled a suicide - though some insist it was an accident. Levi is best known for his Holocaust memoir, If This Is a Man, written in the neutral but powerful language that distinguished his work, and his autobiographical short story collection, The Periodic Table.
3. Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown and Company)
Guralnick, the celebrated music journalist, draws on 25 years of knowing Sam Phillips to write this compelling portrait of an underappreciated cultural force. Guralnick recounts how Phillips discovered artists like B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, and fused black and white music into a new musical form that would, quite simply, change everything.
4. Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy by Courtney Jung (Basic Books)
Jung, a University of Toronto political science professor, takes on the "breast is best" philosophy, and examines how breast-feeding advocates have become a mouthpiece for the breast-pumping industry. Jung argues that this growing industry and pro-pumping advocates are guilt-tripping women into going the breast pump route, when the benefits are less than certain.
5. The Big Green Tent by Ludmilla Ulitskaya, translated by Polly Gannon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A big, sprawling Russian novel by one of Russia's most prominent writers, and Putin critics, The Big Green Tent is set in Russia after Stalin. Ulitskaya charts the trajectory of three anti-establishment schoolboys as they grow up and discover love, art, and fear and paranoia, in a troubled society dominated by the KGB.