The Atlantic Tunnel by Paul Farley (Faber and Faber, $25). A selection of poems by one of the most exciting of the early-career (i.e. younger) English poets. A writer who brings danger to what he describes in the title of one piece as “Big Safe Themes,” Farley ranges effortlessly from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (the 1980s synth-pop hit makers) to Google Earth.
Evening’s Empire by Bill Flanagan (Simon and Schuster, $15). “I dreamed I was flying all over the planet, like an angel on Google Earth,” rhapsodizes the protagonist of Bill Flanagan’s hilarious novel. Given his career as an MTV executive, Flanagan is perfectly positioned to bring the whiff of reality to this saga of Emerson Cutler and his dutifully dysfunctional band, the Ravons, told from the point of view of their legal manager.
When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison by Greil Marcus (PublicAffairs, $23). In his analysis of a series of songs by the Belfast-born troubadour, Greil Marcus describes Morrison as “a bad-tempered, self-contradictory individual whose work is about freedom. How do you get it? What do you do with it?” Enthralling.
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick (Knopf, $30). David Remnick’s revelatory, riveting account of a president whose work is also “about freedom.” Obama is described by an admiring Bob Dylan as being “like a fictional character, but he’s real.”
Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz (Doubleday, $29). The first intellectually persuasive study of Dylan (like a real character, but he’s fictional?) and his now-irrefutable significance. The “in” of the title is telling: This book simultaneously gives Dylan a social context and examines his impact on our society.
Arsenal of Democracy by Julian E. Zelizer (Basic, $35). Julian Zelizer has a rare capacity to make intractable material accessible, one of the reasons I see him becoming a major public intellectual. This account of the extent to which national security has been a defining, and divisive, component in national politics is everywhere exhaustive but nowhere exhausting.