The New York Public Library has named five nonfiction books finalists in the 31st annual Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. The Bernstein Award honors working journalists whose books bring clarity and public attention to important issues, events or policies.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves “workampers.”
On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Jessica Bruder meets people from all walks of life: a former professor, a McDonald’s vice president, a minister, a college administrator, and a motorcycle cop, among many others—including her irrepressible protagonist, a onetime cocktail waitress, Home Depot clerk, and general contractor named Linda May.
In a secondhand vehicle she christens “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying Linda May and others from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy—one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable “Earthship” home, they have not given up hope.
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The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.
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The Future is History by Masha Gessen
Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen’s understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own—as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.
Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today’s terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time and for all time.
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Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green
From the reporter who was there at the very beginning comes the revealing inside story of the partnership between Steve Bannon and Donald Trump—the key to understanding the rise of the alt-right, the fall of Hillary Clinton, and the hidden forces that drove the greatest upset in American political history. Based on dozens of interviews conducted over six years, Green spins the master narrative of the 2016 campaign from its origins in the far fringes of right-wing politics and reality television to its culmination inside Trump’s penthouse on election night.
The shocking elevation of Bannon to head Trump’s flagging presidential campaign on August 17, 2016, hit political Washington like a thunderclap and seemed to signal the meltdown of the Republican Party. Bannon was a bomb-throwing pugilist who’d never run a campaign and was despised by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Yet Bannon’s hard-edged ethno-nationalism and his elaborate, years-long plot to destroy Hillary Clinton paved the way for Trump’s unlikely victory. Trump became the avatar of a dark but powerful worldview that dominated the airwaves and spoke to voters whom others couldn’t see. Trump’s campaign was the final phase of a populist insurgency that had been building up in America for years, and Bannon, its inscrutable mastermind, believed it was the culmination of a hard-right global uprising that would change the world.
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Black Edge by Sheelah Kolhatkar
Steven A. Cohen is a Wall Street legend. Born into a middle class family in a decidedly upper class suburb on Long Island, he was unpopular in high school and unlucky with girls. Then he went off to Wharton, and in 1992 launched the hedge fund SAC Capital, which grew into a $15 billion empire. He cultivated an air of mystery and reclusiveness — at one point, owned the copyright to almost every picture taken of him — and also of extreme excess, building a 35,000 square foot house in Greenwich, flying to work by helicopter, and amassing one of the largest private art collections in the world. But on Wall Street, he was revered as a genius: one of the greatest traders who ever lived. That public image was shattered when SAC Capital became the target of a sprawling, seven-year criminal and SEC investigation, the largest in Wall Street history, led by an undermanned but determined group of government agents, prosecutors, and investigators. Experts in finding and using “black edge” (inside information), SAC Capital was ultimately fined nearly $2 billion — the largest penalty in history — and shut down. But as Sheelah Kolhatkar shows, Steven Cohen was never actually put out of business. He was allowed to keep trading his own money (in 2015, he made $350 million), and can start a new hedge fund in only a few years. Though eight SAC employees were convicted or pleaded guilty to insider trading, Cohen himself walked away a free man.