Affirmative Action for Four Centuries?

The Atlantics editors and writers share their favorite titles—new, classic, or somewhere in between—from a year of reading.

The Atlantic’s editors and writers share their favorite titles—new, classic, or somewhere in between—from a year of reading.


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Harry August, the narrator and protagonist of Claire North’s 2014 novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, is an “ouroboran,” gifted and cursed with a sort of immortality: Death, for August and others like him, is merely a reset button. When he dies, his life begins again from birth. On top of that, August’s memory is cinematic; he remembers in vivid detail everything that’s happened to him after infancy throughout all his lives.

In less deft hands, this recursive reincarnation could have easily made for a messy, thematically incoherent plot. (Though from Groundhog Day to Life After Life, it’s worth noting, this certainly isn’t the first well-crafted run at the conceit.) But this book is a marvel of plotting—intricate and fast-paced, yet lucid and digestible. Best of all is the novel’s thematic richness; this is a book about many, many things. To me, it was a striking portrayal of aging—the way an earlier stage of life can come to seem like a different life altogether, how the emotion of an intense and abruptly ended love affair gradually and unexpectedly softens, the process of coming to terms with death. To you, this book will likely be about something quite different. And perhaps it will acquire yet more meanings in the lives we have ahead.