The Best Books of December 2016: From Missy Franklin to GOOP

Every month, Signature combs through the upcoming releases across nonfiction and literary fiction to provide a look at the most exciting titles rounding the bend.

Gwenyth Paltrow and the editors of GOOP share lifestyle tips as we head into the new year, Bill Schwalbe gets deliciously sentimental with his love of reading just in time for the holidays, Missy Franklin shares the story of her journey to becoming the Olympian she is today, and Alex Bern dives deep into the feud between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson that puts that of Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal to shame.

That and more awaits us in literary December. Dive into our previews of the most anticipated books of the month below, and stock up on as many as you can before setting off on your holiday travels. Happy reading!

  • The cover of the book The Feud

    The Feud

    Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship

    Step aside Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, your forefathers have a thing or two to teach you about literary fisticuffs. Six years before the public meltdown between Mailer and Vidal on the Dick Cavett show, Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov erased what was left of their friendship in The New York Review of Books after Wilson wrote a very public, very scathing review of Nabokov’s new, pompous translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Seeking to redress Wilson’s slights against not just his translation but his character, Nabokov published a letter of rebuke in the same magazine – and there they went, back and forth until nothing was left but rubble and ashes and a wonderfully entertaining story well-captured by Alex Beam in The Feud.

  • The cover of the book The Glass Universe

    The Glass Universe

    How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

    Dava Sobel knows from narrative nonfiction. A former New York Times science reporter, the author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, and Letters to Father has been reporting on science for three decades. In her latest, The Glass Universe, the award-winning writer approaches the story of a group of women who were tasked with interpreting the observations of their male Harvard College Observatory colleagues. The findings of those women make up much of the current foundation of our knowledge of space. This little-known history is a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of science and history.

  • The cover of the book Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

    Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

    SCUBA and science expert Peter Godfrey-Smith is on to something with his new book, Other Minds. In it, he takes what we know of the fascinating and somewhat grotesque octopus and its resident class, the cephalods, and applies that understanding to science with a mass appeal spin. In digging through our oceanic-based roots, Godfrey-Smith applies what scientists have come to know about this alien-like creature to a new perspective on evolution.

  • The cover of the book Relentless Spirit

    Relentless Spirit

    The Unconventional Raising of a Champion

    Six-time Olympic Champion (5 of those were gold, by the way) Missy Franklin, with her parents, tells the story of how she became an Olympian. She made her Olympic debut at London’s 2012 Olympic games at the age of 17, swimming for the U.S.A. She took home a bronze medal that year, and it was only the beginning. Of course, a family that raises such a resilient swimmer can’t be an average one, right? Missy and her parents give readers the story behind the years leading up to her first Olympic Games, and what it was like growing up to be an Olympian.

  • The cover of the book The Rise of Athens

    The Rise of Athens

    The Story of the World's Greatest Civilization

    How did a small city-state in Greece come to be the world’s most influential civilization? Anthony Everitt, bestselling author of acclaimed biographies of Cicero, Augustus, and Hadrian, celebrates Athens—from its Golden Age to its decline to the average college town it is today—in his latest work. Few are unaware of the colossal, rippling influence that Athens has had on world history and culture, but Everitt gets into the weeds of the history that is at the crux of Athens’ soaring reach. From portraits of Themistocles to Pericles to Alcibiades, Everitt leaves no stone unturned in this detailed and important history.

  • The cover of the book The Wood for the Trees

    The Wood for the Trees

    One Man's Long View of Nature

    Just a few years ago, award-winning scientist Richard Fortey purchased four acres of woodland in the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire, England. His writings on his explorations of this land make up The Wood for the Trees. Something of a modern day Thoreau (although perhaps just a bit more scientific), Fortey brings readers with him on a year-long journey exploring the small forest—the small world, really—that comprises his purchased four acres. In doing so, he opens us up to a microcosm of the entire world, and helps us to see plainly the very real connections that we have with nature, and that it has with us.

  • The cover of the book Books for Living

    Books for Living

    Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life

    Will Schwalbe, author of the New York Times bestselling The End of Your Life Book Club, returns with another deep dive into the magic of reading. A delicious indulgence to anyone who loves talking about books and listening to others talk about them, this book recounts some of Schwalbe’s favorite books. He discusses books that helped him through tough times, books that taught him, and books that molded him. This book will get you excited to read like nothing else can.

  • The cover of the book The Case Against Sugar

    The Case Against Sugar

    Here’s something to chew on with your sweet tooth: In the past 30 years, diabetes rates have tripled to 347 million people globally. In Gary Taubes’s groundbreaking manifesto, sugar is singled out as the obvious and primary culprit. The sugar industry, like the 1960s tobacco industry in its willful neglect towards human health, stands to lose massive profits if it accepts the mounting science against it. As the research against sugar grows, so too does lobbying for the industry, countering claims with money and biased research of their own. Taubes carries readers through the history of sugar, from its use as additives to the overuse of high-fructose corn syrup. You don’t need to strip sugar out of your diet completely to practice a little more self-control. So, as the new year has you thinking about your ‘new you,’ let Taubes’s book be the Virgil to your infernal grocery store shopping.

  • The cover of the book Goop Clean Beauty

    Goop Clean Beauty

    Curated by Gwenyth Paltrow herself, Goop Clean Beauty is the ultimate guide to beauty from the experts on clean, mindful, and healthy living. Much more than the catalog of GOOP products that one might expect from the book, Goop contains extensive Q&As with, and tactical advice from beauty experts, ranging from how to approach acne to aging. Chock full of gorgeous images and inspiration, it’s perhaps the most practical coffee-table book you’ll ever own.

  • The cover of the book If Our Bodies Could Talk

    If Our Bodies Could Talk

    Operating and Maintaining a Human Body

    James Hamblin of The Atlantic is the perfect journalist to offer to readers and general biology enthusiasts the true inner workings of the bodies we possess. In a narrative that is both packed with information and entirely accessible – and at times humorous – Hamblin addresses cancer, immunity, sleep and more in a way that is both interesting and actionable for us mere humans.

  • The cover of the book Wake Up to the Joy of You

    Wake Up to the Joy of You

    52 Meditations and Practices for a Calmer, Happier Life

    So you’re new to this whole New Years resolution thing. No problem. Agapi Stassinopoulos’s Wake Up to the Joy of You has you covered. It’s a beginners guide with 52 meditations, mantras, and practices to see that you enter a year filled with promise, achievable goals, clear thinking, and the calmness and presence of mind to be a better, more grounded individual. Every week tackles a new theme – from self-care to approaching common stumbling blocks in life, and it’s buoyed by Stassinopoulos’s own career as an inspirational speaker. The book is a bedside must-have, something to refer to time and again for a flame of inspiration and a jolt of positive thinking.