Your Spring Nonfiction Reading List—Plus Bonus Recommendations

Four new books make deep thoughts on the nature of man highly entertaining.

Hot Art by Joshua Knelman

Tin House Books, $19

The Big Idea: Stolen art has become one of the world's largest black markets.

The Delivery: Through interviews with cops, FBI agents, and a prominent former smuggler, the Canadian journalist shows how corrupt dealers (and public indifference) have helped this nearly unpoliced form of criminal activity become so pervasive.

The Author Recommends: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. "It deepened and, in fact, altered my understanding of one of the defining and most horrific events of our age."

Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26

The Big Idea: Creativity is a science.

The Delivery: The author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist argues his case using examples ranging from the songs of Bob Dylan to the invention of the Swiffer, adding practical tips (the color blue stimulates imagination; brainstorming meetings don't work) for better right-brain thinking.

The Author Recommends: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. "The lesson is that the best way to increase creativity is also the simplest: Get people to come together, and then get out of the way."

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Pantheon, $27

The Big Idea: Nonbelievers can learn from organized religion.

The Delivery: The controversial Swiss author (The Architecture of Happiness) might strike Christians as condescending, but he offers smart suggestions for improving institutions from schools to museums.

The Author Recommends: Zona, by Geoff Dyer. "The British author's latest is ostensibly about the Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky, but it's really about life, love, and death--with many jokes and painful but true bits along the way."

Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck by Eric G. Wilson

Sarah Crichton Books, $22

The Big Idea: Our fascination with tragedy is a coping mechanism, not a character flaw.

The Delivery: The author of the similarly counterintuitive bestseller Against Happiness uses sources high (Susan Sontag), low (beheading videos), and in between (Dexter) to make his case.

The Author Recommends: The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts. "This book shows how a desire to be happy all the time leads to the anxiety of wanting something life doesn't offer: total contentment."

—Timothy Hodler

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