Current Issues, Jan. 2024, Pt. 3 | Prepub Alert

Algorithms, MAGA, and the war in Ukraine. 

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Chayka, Kyle. Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture. Doubleday. Jan. 2024. 288p. ISBN 9780385548281. $28. POLITICS/TECHNOLOGY

From city grids to music playlists to the ads we see, our lives are ruled by algorithms, a network of mathematically determined choices that lend a decided homogeneity to our surroundings and challenge the notion that we are making choices for ourselves. Chayka, who writes about digital technology and its cultural impact for The New Yorker, limns the history of algorithms and questions the value of shareability over the messiness of creativity.

Green, Joshua. The Rebels: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Struggle for a New American Politics. Penguin Pr. Jan. 2024. 400p. ISBN 9780525560241. $30. lrg. prnt. POLITICS

While Green’s Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Nationalist Uprising plumbed the roots of popular dissatisfaction on the right, his new book focuses on the 2008 financial crisis as the cause of popular dissatisfaction on the left, arguing that until then the left was essentially an outlier in a U.S. politics ruled by Wall Street’s market mentality. Among the players profiled her are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Herold, Benjamin. Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs. Penguin Pr. Jan. 2024. 496p. ISBN 9780593298183. $32. POLITICS/SOCIAL SCIENCE

Short-listed for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, this work by education journalist Herold tracks the clash of history and aspiration in U.S. suburbia today. A middle-class Black family challenges the school system, a conservative white family can’t escape social change by moving to an affluent enclave, a multiracial mother joins a progressive challenge to her town’s liberal status quo, undocumented Latine parents hope a new school will help their gifted son, and Black mother Bethany Smith (who provides an epilogue) settles on the same street where the white author grew up.

Kagan, Robert. Everything Is at Stake: The Crisis of Our Lifetime. Knopf. Jan. 2024. 160p. ISBN 9780593535783. $25. POLITICS

Washington Post columnist Kagan considers the threat Donald Trump poses in the 2024 election (he would refuse to accept the outcome if he lost), how the country has come to this (it starts with the political compromises that engendered enslavement and runs through the cloaked fascism of the 1930s), and whether Trumpism represents the apotheosis of a single individual or a political movement that is here to stay.

Nguyen, Tina. The MAGA Diaries: My Surreal Journey into the Heart of the Alt-Right and How I Got Out. One Signal: Atria. Jan. 2024. 288p. ISBN 9781982189693. $28. POLITICS

Currently a national correspondent for Puck, Nguyen was a right-wing activist at Claremont McKenna College in 2008–12 and was consequently there at the creation and initial surge of the MAGA movement. She got out, as her subtitle states, and here draws on that early access to explain how the alt-right recruits and indoctrinates believers, building networks meant to bend the nation to its will.

Roy, Jessica. American Girls: One Woman’s Journey into the Islamic State and Her Sister’s Fight To Bring Her Home. Scribner. Jan. 2024. 352p. ISBN 9781982151317. $28. POLITICS

Raised in a Jehovah’s Witness community, Lori and older sister Sam remained close after marrying brothers. But while Lori left her abusive marriage, Sam was controlled by a husband who eventually turned jihadist and took the family to Syria, where he fought for Daesh. Digital director of Elle, Roy details Sam's sometimes horrific experiences and Lori's efforts to rescue her, finally relating the subjugation that women like the sisters experienced in the United States to the extremist patriarchal ideologies like the one preached by Daesh. 

Scheyder, Ernest. The War Below: Lithium, Copper, and the Global Battle to Power Our Lives. One Signal: Atria. Jan. 2024. 384p. ISBN 9781668011805. $30. BUSINESS & ECONOMICS

Notes Reuters senior correspondent Scheyder, the renewable energy economy we desire has demands of its own: lithium, copper, cobalt, rare earths, and nickel must be extracted from the earth, but that poses issues. Cobalt and nickel mining means disrupting Minnesota’s delicate wetlands, for instance, and rare earths mining in California meant to bring the United States minerals independence would still require cooperating with China for its expertise.

Shuster, Simon. The Showman: Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky. Morrow. Jan. 2024. 352p. ISBN 9780063307421. $32.99. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

A senior correspondent at Time specializing in international affairs, Shuster offers a true insider’s account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the outset, he’s been reporting from inside the presidential compound in Kyiv and has also traveled to the front with President Zelensky. Here, Shuster draws on unparalleled access to the president and his top aides, plus extensive interviews with his family, friends, and enemies; this report is forthright about Zelensky’s stumbles as well as his obvious heroism.

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Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; winner of ALA's Louis Shores Award for reviewing; and past president, awards chair, and treasurer of the National Book Critics Circle, which awarded her its inaugural Service Award in 2023.

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