David Finkel is one of the truly great talents in journalism today. Even at The Washington Post, which has no shortage of talent, Finkel has stood out as an exceptional writer and chronicler, a master in particular of immersion-based, long-form reporting. Four years ago, in his first book, The Good Soldiers, Finkel provided a gripping narrative of the deployment in Iraq of a U.S. Army infantry battalion during the 2007-2008 surge. His new book, Thank You For Your Service (Sarah Crichton, $26), is a sequel that follows some of the same soldiers and their families in their difficult efforts to resume lives at home. This is a heartbreaking, haunting tale, filled with intimate portraits of ongoing struggles not just with physical injuries and mental wounds, but with isolation, loneliness, anger, and bewilderment.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, $27), by Reza Aslan, is a fascinating book to read, appreciate, and to talk about. Wading into an already well-explored and much discussed field, Aslan has accomplished the improbable. “Meticulously researched” are not our words, but it’s absolutely true, as the book concludes with sixty pages of explanatory endnotes for those interested in further exploration. Yet combining a layman’s language with academic acumen, Aslan takes the complex and sometimes mystifying story of the historical Jesus—the Jewish aspirations through messianism, revolt, and temple politics, and the context of Roman Palestine—and expounds on it in a freshly gripping and informative way.
After her mother’s death, then twenty-six-year-old Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone; she was not prepared. Knowing almost nothing about hiking, Strayed doggedly pursued her goal of walking from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State with neither a guide nor experience. She made many mistakes along the way— her pack was too big, her shoes were too small—she encountered scary animals and sometimes creepy hikers. But she kept going. Wild (Knopf, $25.95) is an amazing story, expertly told.