5 Hot Books: A Big History of the Salem Witch Trials, a Holocaust Atrocity in Poland, and More

The following article first appeared in The National Book Review.

1. The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown)

Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible made the Salem witch trials an allegory for the McCarthy era. Now Stacy Schiff, a stylish writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for her biography Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), presents this fascinating episode in early American history straight. Her account of the panic that spread like dynamite through the colony, culminating in the hanging of 19 women and men, is-- the New York Times says -- "almost novelistic, thrillerlike."

2. The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne by Anna Bikont (Tranlated by Alissa Valles) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Polish writer and psychologist Bikont's book -- a work of memoir, history, and journalism --- tells the story of a massacre in which citizens of this small Polish town rounded up their Jewish neighbors and burned them alive in a barn. In this profound and necessary exploration of the horrors of that time, which won the European Book Prize in 2011, she chronicles the events themselves and the town's refusal to own up to its own shocking past.

3. The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (Grand Central)

In Hawaii in 1937, an elementary school teacher did something remarkable: he took a group of Japanese-Americans children who lived in Hawaii's wretched sugar plantation work camps and trained them to swim -- better than anyone could have imagined. The poor, malnourished group transformed themselves into successful champions at the 1948 Olympics. Checkoway's story of youthful perseverance will earn a place on the shelf with The Boys in the Boat.

4. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (Random House)

The first book in two decades from feminist icon Steinem, My Life on the Road recalls her itinerant childhood, and an adult life of travel and activism. She recounts working to end prostitution in India, founding Ms. magazine, and exploring Native American country -- among other adventures -- and making many friends along the way.

5. The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra (Hogarth)

Marra's debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, won the National Book Critics Circle's inaugural John Leonard Award. This new collection of tightly interlocking short stories is evidence that Marra is no one-hit wonder. The history of the Soviet Union - including communism, before and after glasnost, from Siberia to Chechnya - emerges as tragic and absurd in this dazzling work, which confirms that Marra is a rising star.