nonfiction

Deep in the Shadows: Undercover in the Ruthless World of Human Smuggling by Hipólito Acosta

Deep in the Shadows (Arte Público Press, 2017) is Hipólito Acosta’s unflinching account of his time as an undercover INS agent tasked with apprehending those who smuggle undocumented immigrants across our borders. The memoir covers the major busts of Acosta’s law-enforcement career. Over three decades, Acosta adopts various criminal identities to enter the dens of human traffickers, counterfeiters, drug dealers, and corrupt agents. This is a fascinating look at a hidden world. —René Martínez

Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent Into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death by Jim Frederick

This novelesque work of nonfiction (Broadway Books, 2011) is the book Capote night well have written had he been embedded with a platoon of US troops guarding a highway in the desert south of Baghdad in the early days of the occupation. At the center of the book is a war crime more horrendous than what happened in Capote’s Holcombe but, like Truman, Frederick eschews the question who done it for the much harder to resolve what makes people capable of such things? He deftly chronicles how daily suicide missions shatter psyches and how being ordered to clear IEDs by way of walking on top of them quickly erodes a soldier’s sense of purpose. Jim Frederick takes no liberties whatsoever by putting “descent into madness” in his subtitle. This is not for the faint of heart, but a sobering look at how otherwise good kids lose their souls at the edge of empire. —Ryan Krull

300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso

Don’t worry about defining Manguso’s latest work. Graywolf (2017), the publisher of Manguso’s seventh book, describes the book as a “foray into the frontier of contemporary non-fiction.” Broken into three hundred pieces—sometimes sentences, sometimes a paragraph—each part of this book builds on another, often in unexpected and surprising ways, often several pages after the reader has last considered the idea that Manguso broached. There’s a narrative structure here that any reader will feel, even if not articulate it, and subjects such as desire, happiness, failure, and dread are tackled with a range from serious playfulness to existential dread. This is a book you will need, and want, to read more than once to fully appreciate. —Michael Nye

But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

I teach college English, and in my rhetoric courses, I encourage skepticism about almost everything students face in their daily lives: claims made by politicians, religious beliefs, even the ideas presented in classrooms by smug professors. Chuck Klosterman’s But What if We’re Wrong? (Blue Rider Press, 2016) takes this notion much further by questioning things most consider beyond reproach, like the concept of gravity. One section imagines the writer that future generations will regard as the literary genius that defines our era. Will it be a current favorite like Roth or Franzen, or will it be a Kafkaesque unknown who’s currently sharing his work on the dark web?  Klosterman’s views are interesting and worth considering. —René Martínez