Best of 2008
PW’s Best Books of the Year (2008)
by PW Review Staff — Publishers 🙂
“May you live in interesting times” is a quote commonly attributed to Confucius, probably erroneously, but Robert F. Kennedy did use it in a speech in 1966, adding a rueful twist: “Like it or not, we live in interesting times….” Regardless of your thinking on these current times, they are certainly anything but boring, and we feel the same about the books published this year.
When Will There Be Good News?
Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown)
Unrelated characters and plot lines collide with momentous results in Atkinson’s third novel to feature ex-cop turned PI Jackson Brodie.
Roberto Bolaño, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Bolaño’s sprawling masterpiece revolves around a passel of academics, a reclusive German writer and a fictionalized Juarez, Mexico. Pure brilliance.
Harlan Coben (Dutton)
Edgar-winner Coben’s unnerving thriller follows a sadistic suburban killer in a New Jersey community with his usual mastery.
The Brass Verdict
This beautifully executed crime thriller brings together two popular Connelly characters, LAPD Det. Harry Bosch and L.A. lawyer Mickey Haller.
Master of the Delta
Thomas H. Cook (Harcourt)
Edgar-winner Cook examines the slow collapse of a prominent Southern family in this magnificent tale of suspense set in 1954.
Tony D’Souza (Harcourt)
This story of an Indian-American family’s immigrant experience in Chicago is loaded with humor and pathos. Young in writer-years, D’Souza writes with a seasoned hand.
The Plague of Doves
Louise Erdrich (Harper)
Erdrich’s 13th novel, a multigenerational tour de force of sin, redemption, murder and vengeance, finds its roots in the 1911 slaughter of a farming family near Pluto, N. Dak.
Tana French (Viking)
Fans of psychological suspense will embrace Irish author French, who blurs the boundaries between victim and cop, memory and fantasy, in this stunning sequel to her debut, In the Woods.
Sea of Poppies
Amitav Ghosh (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Diaspora, myth and a fascinating language mash-up propel the Rubik’s cube of plots in Ghosh’s picaresque epic. The cast is marvelous and the plot majestically serpentine, but the real hero is the English language, which has rarely felt so alive and vibrant.
Mo Hayder (Atlantic Monthly)
Readers looking for visceral thrills need look no further than this British crime novel involving African witchcraft.
The Lazarus Project
Aleksandar Hemon (Riverhead)
Dueling story lines about Central European immigrants dovetail into a masterful account of the immigrant experience and the quest for identity in MacArthur genius Hemon’s second novel, an NBA finalist.
A.L. Kennedy (Knopf)
Kennedy’s highly stylized and immeasurably sad sixth novel (after Paradise) follows former Royal Air Force tail gunner Alfred Day as he relives his experiences in a WWII German prison camp.
Hari Kunzru (Dutton)
A reformed London radical’s past returns to haunt him in Kunzru’s divine novel.
Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf)
The gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children—and that separates the children from India—remains Lahiri’s subject for this faultless follow-up to The Namesake.
Lazar channels the Rolling Stones, Kenneth Anger and a Manson family associate in this piercing examination of the dread and exhilaration of the late 1960s.
Nam Le (Knopf)
The stories in Le’s stunning debut collection cover a vast geographic territory and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure.
The Given Day
Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
In a splendid flowering of the talent previously demonstrated in his crime fiction (Gone, Baby, Gone; Mystic River), Lehane combines 20th-century American history, a gripping story of a family torn by pride and the strictures of the Catholic Church, and the plot of a multifaceted thriller.
Stuart MacBride (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Scottish author MacBride’s dry wit turns what could have been a gratuitously gory slasher story into a crackling thriller.
How the Dead Dream
Lydia Millet (Counterpoint)
Millet is as lyrical, haunting and deliciously absurd as ever in this Heart of Darkness–style journey into massive loss.
Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon)
A Dutch-born equities analyst gets swept up by a fast-talking, crooked-dealing Bangladeshi cricket enthusiast in post-9/11 New York City in O’Neill’s beautifully written and intelligent novel.
Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)
They don’t come much grittier than this debut collection set in Knockemstiff, Ohio, a grimy pocket of derelicts, perverts and criminals.
Richard Price (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Price trains his sharp eye and flawless ear on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in this manic crescendo of a novel that explores the repercussions of a seemingly random shooting.
Ron Rash (Ecco)
This implacably grim tale of greed and corruption gone wild—and of eventual, well-deserved revenge—follows the dealings of a Depression-era lumber baron and his callous new wife.
Tim Winton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Two daredevil Australian teens get involved with a dangerous surfer (and his more dangerous wife) in this taut story of death, life, pleasure and thrill-seeking.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
David Wroblewski (Ecco)
A Wisconsin mute hides out in the woods with hyperintelligent dogs in Wroblewski’s contemporary riff on Macbeth.
Watching the Spring Festival
Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
In his first collection of short lyrics—a finalist for the NBA—Bidart reflects on aging, regret and a life lived in close contact with, if not through, pop music, art, dance and other monuments of culture.
For All We Know
Ciaran Carson (Wake Forest)
Long hailed as a master poet in his native Ireland, Carson fortifies his reputation here with this meditation on love and mystery that takes the classical fugue as its model.
Katie Ford (Graywolf)
Motored by a deeply personal connection to New Orleans and its inhabitants, Ford chronicles the destruction Katrina wrought, both on the city itself and on Ford’s faith—religious and otherwise.
The Shadow of Sirius
W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon)
The latest by one of America’s great living masters of the lyric poem—Merwin’s best book in a decade—finds the poet reflecting movingly on his own mortality, his oracular voice seeming to predict the past as if it were yet to come.
Kevin Prufer (Four Way)
A rare poetry collection: as angry and ironic over the state of contemporary America—figured here as a great classical empire in decline—as it is funny and perversely pleasurable.
Sandi Ault (Berkley Prime Crime)
Ault smoothly blends a murder mystery plot with Native American lore in this impressive sequel to her debut, Wild Indigo.
Lie Down with the Devil
Linda Barnes (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Boston PI Carlotta Carlyle suspects her mob-associated fiancé of infidelity after he disappears in this utterly compelling 12th outing.
Ghost at Work
Carolyn Hart (Morrow)
A ghost turns sleuth in this intriguing first in a new series by veteran Hart, who’s won Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards.
The Private Patient
P.D. James (Knopf)
Adam Dalgliesh, the charismatic police commander, investigates a private plastic surgery clinic after the murder of a patient in what fans will hope is not his last case.
The Messengers of Death: A Mystery in Provence
Pierre Magnan, trans. from the French by Patricia Clancy (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
French author Magnan blends elegant clue-laying and deft characterizations that strike to the core of human frailties in his second mystery set in Provence.
Death’s Half Acre
Margaret Maron (Grand Central)
Corruption and murder stalk rural Colleton County, N.C., in Maron’s outstanding 14th mystery to feature Judge Deborah Knott and her extended family.
James Sallis (Walker)
Poetic prose and the richly described rural Southern backdrop lift Sallis’s sublime third novel to feature philosophical sheriff John Turner.
Fear of Landing
David Waltner-Toews (Poisoned Pen)
Set in the repressive Indonesia of the early 1980s, this compelling debut introduces an unlikely detective, a Canadian veterinarian.
Inger Ash Wolfe
In this bracingly original mystery set in rural Ontario, a middle-aged female police inspector investigates the murder of an elderly cancer patient.
The Living Dead
Edited by John Joseph Adams
This superb reprint anthology runs the gamut of zombie stories, with entries by a plethora of renowned and outstanding authors from all sides of the genre.
Pump Six and Other Stories
Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
Bacigalupi’s extraordinary debut collection of futuristic tales, most of which focus on the very personal consequences of environmental disaster, delivers astute social commentary in poignant, revelatory prose.
Ink and Steel
Elizabeth Bear (Roc)
The secret war between fae and the Elizabethan court comes to light in this dramatic tale of espionage, seduction and the literal magic of poetry and plays.
City at the End of Time
Greg Bear (Del Rey)
Bear returns triumphantly to large-scale science fiction with this complex, difficult tale of Seattle drifters sent on a mission to preserve the universe’s last vestiges of consciousness.
Tim Lebbon (Bantam Spectra)
Lebbon blends wonder and nightmare in this vividly memorable novel of aging voyagers whose quest for glory takes a dark turn when they encounter ancient and terrifying gods.
Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct)
Shawl’s exquisitely rendered debut collection weaves threads of folklore, religion, family and the search for a cohesive self through a panorama of race, magic and the body.
Half a Crown
Jo Walton (Tor)
Walton wraps up her Small Change trilogy with a powerful tale of an alternate 1960 in which a fascist Britain, attempting to emulate Nazi Europe, finally pushes its citizens too far.
No One Heard Her Scream
Jordan Dane (Avon)
Dane crafts this debut murder mystery with tight plotting and smooth prose, and adds a few sparks to create a story that appeals to mainstream thriller readers as well as romantic suspense fans.
Angela Hunt (Mira)
Compelling characterization drives this enthralling tale of second chances and new beginnings, centered on the struggles of a young woman born without a face.
Linda Lael Miller (HQN)
Miller’s second Cave Creek supernatural mystery is packed full of plot twists and smart romance, painting crime-solver Mojo Sheepshanks as much more than just another quirky psychic.
Heart of the Wolf
Terry Spear (Sourcebooks/Casablanca)
A werewolf woman defies the alpha male of her pack in this supernatural romance, with chemistry that crackles off the page and a richly depicted pack dynamic.
Sherry Thomas (Bantam)
Deft plotting and sparkling characterization mark this superior debut historical romance, wherein an English lord agrees to grant his wife a divorce if she produces an heir within a year.
Aya of Yop City
Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly)
Abouet’s funny and lighthearted story about life on the Ivory Coast in the late 1970s continues an affectionate look at a bygone lifestyle.
What It Is
Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)
The trail-blazing indie cartoonist returns with a triumphal, exhilarating look at the creative process that serves as both a memoir and a how-to book.
Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child
Rick Geary (ComicsLit)
Precise yet unnerving b&w illustrations capture the media circus of greed and fame around the “Crime of the Century.”
Emmanuel Guibert (First Second)
A French cartoonist listens as an American GI recalls his life as a soldier during WWII and his subsequent disillusionment with American bravado, creating a fantastic, humane memoir.
Kramers Ergot 7
Edited by Sammy Harkham
Harkham gives a generation of cutting-edge cartoonists an oversized palette—the pages are newspaper tabloid-size—resulting in a dizzying banquet of visual overload.
The Education of Hopey Glass
Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
Perpetual punk Hopey Glass must face the loss of her ambitions in yet another stunning book from Hernandez.
Takehiko Inoue (Viz)
This spirited manga about high school basketball depicts all the passions of life on and off the court in high style.
Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight
Chris Onstad (Dark Horse)
Anthropomorphic slacker animals battle to find the meaning of masculinity in this quirky, hilarious collection of the popular Web comic Achewood.
Bottomless Belly Button
Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)
As a longtime marriage unwinds, the effects on a family are examined in this highly affecting mix of comics, diagrams and symbols by a major new talent.
Posy Simmonds (Houghton/Mariner)
A visiting journalist upends a writer’s retreat in the English countryside and the village around it in this sly, wise adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd.
Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)
A gorgeous, poetic pen line and sharp dialogue bring this angsty story of a disaffected teenage girl to life.
Yuichi Yokoyama (Picturebox)
A train journey becomes a madly energetic blueprint for an alternate reality in this abstract, experimental manga.
How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth)
Henry Alford (Twelve)
In this rich and humorous narrative, Alford focuses on the stories of the elderly as he sets off a prolonged meditation on the question: What is wisdom?
Nothing to Be Frightened Of Julian Barnes (Knopf)
In this virtuosic memoir, Barnes makes little mention of his personal or professional life, but grants readers access to an unexpectedly large world, populated with Barnes’s daily companions and his chosen ancestors (“most of them dead, and quite a few of them French”).
The Journal of Hélène Berr
Hélène Berr, trans. from the French by David Bellos (Weinstein)
Berr’s searing record of the devastation of Paris’s Jewish community during the Nazi occupation is also a moving self-portrait of a passionate young Jewish Frenchwoman who tried to aid her people and carry on her life with dignity before she perished in Bergen-Belsen.
The Solitary Vice: Against Reading
Mikita Brottman (Counterpoint)
Sharp, whimsical and impassioned, Brottman’s look at the pleasures and perils of compulsive reading is itself compulsively readable and will connect with any book lover.
Abraham Lincoln: A Life
(Johns Hopkins Univ.)
Drawing on a vast amount of new research, Lincoln scholar Burlingame has written the best biography of the 16th president to appear in many decades. This two-volume boxed set will supplant Carl Sandburg’s as the authoritative work on Lincoln’s life.
The Forever War
Dexter Filkins (Knopf)
With wrenching immediacy, Filkins’s kaleidoscope of vignettes depicts the violent theater of the absurd he encountered reporting on the struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq since 1998.
Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown)
Gladwell tears down the myth of individual merit to explore how culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck account for success—and how historical legacies can hold others back despite ample individual gifts.
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
Annette Gordon-Reed (Norton)
This extraordinary work of scholarship, an NBA finalist, brings to life not only Sally Hemings, slave and mistress to Thomas Jefferson, but the family’s tangled blood links with slaveholding Virginia whites over an entire century.
Standard Operating Procedure
Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris
Gourevitch and Morris’s history of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison is broad, deep and highly disturbing, arguably as important and powerful as Gourevitch’s 1998 Rwanda investigation, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.
David Hackett Fischer
(Simon & Schuster)
With his characteristically outstanding style, Fischer offers the definitive biography of an extraordinary and flawed man: Samuel de Champlain (1567–1635): spy, explorer, courtier, soldier and founder and governor of New France (today’s Quebec).
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America
David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
After writing about the folk scene of the early 1960s in Positively 4th Street, Hajdu goes back a decade to examine the censorship debate over comic books, casting the controversy as a prelude to the cultural battle over rock music.
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
Mark Harris (Penguin Press)
In examining the five films nominated for the 1967 Best Picture Oscar, Harris widens his scope to show Old Hollywood and New Hollywood clashing over changing cultural values, an outdated Production Code and the civil rights movement.
Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time
Susan Madden Lankford
Photographs, interviews, statistics and exhaustive research combine in this moving, eye-opening account of California women caught in a cycle of prison and poverty. Looking at the situation from all angles, photographer and first-time author Lankford achieves a vital and very personal portrait of America’s broken penal system.
God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570–1215
David Levering Lewis (Norton)
Lewis gives a superb portrayal of the fraught half-millennium during which Islam and Christianity uneasily coexisted on the European continent, forging a sophisticated, socially diverse and economically dynamic culture.
The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music
Steve Lopez (Putnam)
With self-effacing humor, fast-paced yet elegant prose and unsparing honesty, Lopez tells an inspiring story of heartbreak and hope as he tries to help an accomplished though homeless violinist find his path off the streets.
The Dark Side
Jane Mayer (Doubleday)
This hard-hitting exposé, an NBA finalist, by New Yorker correspondent Mayer examines the war on terror with a meticulous reconstruction of the battle within the Bush administration over antiterrorism policies: harsh interrogations, indefinite detentions without due process, extraordinary renditions and secret CIA prisons.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir
McCracken tells her own story in this touching and often unexpectedly funny memoir about her life before and after losing her first child in the ninth month of pregnancy.
How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken
Daniel Mendelsohn (Harper)
Mendelsohn displays his intellectual breadth in these elegant, wide-ranging critical essays, drawing on his training as a classicist to look at contemporary culture, from The Glass Menagerie to Kill Bill.
The Soul of the Rhino: A Nepali Adventure with Kings and Elephant Drivers, Billionaires and Bureaucrats, Shamans and Scientists, and the Indian Rhinoceros
Hemanta Mishra with Jim Ottaway Jr. (Lyons)
This mesmerizing account follows Mishra’s 30 years as a leader of Nepal’s conservation efforts, implementing programs to help eliminate rhino poaching and increase the animal’s population. Mishra’s political triumphs and setbacks are bolstered by fascinating scenes of Nepal’s cultural life and the vivid, varied wildlife.
Rogue Economics: Capitalism’s New Reality
Loretta Napoleoni (Seven Stories)
Examining the worldwide economy of illegal, criminal and terrorist activities, Napoleoni takes readers to the dark side of free trade, covering the sex industry, Internet fraud, piracy, human slavery, drug trafficking and even the subprime mortgage lending scandal. Fans of Freakonomics and Eric Schlosser’s consumer exposés will find this grim read quite gratifying.
Descent into Chaos
Ahmed Rashid (Viking)
Long overshadowed by the Iraq War, the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan and Central Asia finally receives a searching retrospective as Rashid surveys the region to reveal a thicket of ominous threats and lost opportunities.
Epilogue: A Memoir
In poignant flashes of everyday moments and memories, Roiphe tells an unflinching and unsentimental story of widowhood’s stupefying disquiet, of surviving love and living on.
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
Alice Schroeder (Bantam)
Schroeder strips away the mystery that has long cloaked the world’s richest man to reveal a life and fortune erected around a lucid and inspired business vision and unimaginable personal complexity.
The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War
Asne Seierstad (Basic)
In this searing journey through a traumatized Chechnya, Norwegian journalist Seierstad highlights children, women and other victims of the war in a gallery of portraits drawn from her reporting—sometimes undercover—from the region.
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives
Jim Sheeler (Penguin)
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Sheeler offers an unflinching look at the soldiers who have died in Iraq and their devastated families in this NBA finalist’s eloquent tribute that should be required reading for all Americans.
Audition: A Memoir
Barbara Walters (Knopf)
This mammoth, compulsively readable memoir offers an entertaining panorama of a full life lived and recounted with humor, bracing honesty and unflagging energy.
The Post-American World
Newsweek editor and popular pundit Zakaria delivers a largely optimistic forecast of where the 21st century is heading, predicting that despite its record of recent blunders at home and abroad, America will stay strong, buoyed by a stellar educational system and the influx of young immigrants.
Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen
José Andrés (Clarkson Potter)
Andrés brings everyday Spanish cooking to the American table in a collection that will appeal to both cooks new to Spanish cooking and experts.
Mario Batali (Ecco)
The latest from veteran cookbook author and restaurateur Batali contains enough ingenious, imaginative riffs to keep even the most seasoned of grillmasters experimenting; an essential collection for any serious backyard cook.
How to Cook Everything: 2000 Simple Recipes for Great Food
Mark Bittman (Wiley)
Ten years have brought many changes to the U.S. culinary landscape, and Bittman’s new edition of his contemporary classic reflects that. Whether the first edition is on their shelves or not, home cooks of all skill levels will want to get this one.
Urban Italian: Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food
Andrew Carmellini (Bloomsbury)
In one of the more creative yet accessible Italian cookbooks to come along, New York chef Carmellini presents spectacular recipes while opening a window onto his life with food.
BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking
Shirley O. Corriher (Scribner)
James Beard Award–winner Corriher offers a no-nonsense approach to cakes, muffins, breads and cookies, showing that baking is, above all things, a science.
Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook’s Essential Companion
Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore
Moonen shares his expertise—from how to shop for fish to how to clean it and how to cook it—in this essential cookbook for home chefs.
No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge
(Simon & Schuster)
Seaman (who died this year) and Eldridge articulate the myths, controversies, statistics, economics and prevailing protocols that feed continued confusion regarding women’s health during what the authors see as an overmedicalized but profoundly natural experience.
Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin
Kenny Shopsin and Carolynn Carreño (Knopf)
Shopsin hates publicity the way a magnet must hate metal filings, but this supposedly reluctant restaurateur now adds to his own legend by releasing a totally hilarious and surprisingly touching treatise on cooking, customer loyalty and family bonds.
A Platter of Figs: And Other Recipes
David Tanis (Artisan)
Both a meditation on the powerful rites of cooking and serving a meal and a gentle but serious education in doing both, this book by the part-time head chef at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse is an impressive ode to the simple beauty of food.
Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance
Polly Young-Eisendrath (Little, Brown)
Young-Eisendrath identifies a “threatening and perplexing problem” she calls the self-esteem trap, and encourages overbearing parents to let kids develop autonomy and experience the consequences of their decisions.
Who on Earth Was Jesus? The Modern Quest for the Jesus of History
David Boulton (O Books)
An impressive and evenhanded synthesis of historical Jesus scholarship.
Jesus for President
Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
A provocative book good for election year and beyond.
Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
Andy Crouch (IVP)
Research and theology blend in this call to do what’s possible to create and preserve the good in all that humans fashion.
My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith
Benyamin Cohen (HarperOne)
You don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy this faith trip.
O2: Breathing New Life into Faith
Richard Dahlstrom (Harvest House)
An original evangelical Christian voice counsels spiritual balance.
Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses
Donna Freitas (Oxford)
Freitas, an occasional contributor to PW, plumbs a contemporary phenomenon with sensitivity and insight in a work that is attracting attention.
The Open Road: The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama
Pico Iyer (Knopf)
A brilliant pairing of writer and subject in this journalistic analysis of a compelling world religious figure.
The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
Jack Kornfield (Bantam)
The well-respected teacher of insight meditation gets a little more self-disclosing in this comprehensive and friendly guidebook.
Reasons to Believe: One Man’s Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind
John Marks (Ecco)
A memoir of longing and doubt that tempers rejection with sympathy.
Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire
Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker (Beacon)
This humane and often beautiful study of faith, loss and hope straddles the boundary between historical discovery and spiritual writing.
Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America
Gustav Niebuhr (Viking)
The former longtime New York Times religion reporter tells remarkable stories of people reaching across religious lines.
Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life
Kathleen Norris (Riverhead)
A beautiful memoir, and Norris’s best book in years.
Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality
Martha Nussbaum (Basic Books)
A generous and engrossing history of the First Amendment’s religion clauses as pillars of religious liberty.
The Twenty-Piece Shuffle: Why the Poor and Rich Need Each Other
Greg Paul (David C. Cook)
A life-changing look at how the poor and disenfranchised have much to offer Christians who think they have it all.
The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why
Phyllis Tickle (Baker Books)
PW‘s founding religion editor, still on the trail of the topic, looks back in history to discern the future.
The Shape of Mercy
Susan Meissner (WaterBrook)
This stunning and achingly romantic story draws on the Salem witch trials to transform a present-day relationship.
Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Anne Rice (Knopf)
Rice’s persuasive characterization sensitively balances the human and divine natures of the protagonist.
In a Blue Room
Jim Averbeck, illus. by Tricia Tusa
Tusa appears to have breathed in first-time author Averbeck’s text and breathed it out as pictures in a bedtime book that surprises the senses.
The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum
Kate Bernheimer, illus.by Nicoletta Ceccoli (Schwartz & Wade)
A bang-up twist inverts a spellbinding story that invites readers to ponder a girl inside a castle inside a glass globe inside a museum full of toys.
The Day Leo Said I Hate You!
Robie Harris, illus. by Molly Bang
When mother/son relations go nuclear, Harris’s solution is so humane and, yes, replicable that booksellers might consider shelving copies of this vibrant book in the parenting section.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Mem Fox, illus. by Helen Oxenbury
In a paean to babies around the world, Fox’s rhymes feel as if they always existed in our collective consciousness and were simply waiting to be written down.
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
Marla Frazee (Harcourt)
Text contradicts art nearly every step of the way in this very funny book. Eamon spends a week at his grandparents’ house, along with his friend James; the grandparents provide educational activities, and the boys are shown goofing off—very affectionately, of course.
What to Do About Alice?
Barbara Kerley, illus. by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic)
It’s hard to imagine a picture book biography that could better suit its subject than this high-energy volume serves young Alice Roosevelt.
Suzy Lee (Chronicle)
The heroine of this wordless picture book, a mostly solitary girl, engages in silent play with the ocean; the two-color art explicitly recalls postwar classics.
Adèle & Simon in America
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Fresh from Paris, the siblings take a train journey across the early-20th-century U.S.; each of 12 destinations affords a hide-and-seek game with Simon’s lost belongings and with historical figures who are identified in endnotes.
Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons
Agnès Rosenstiehl (Raw Jr./Toon)
An early reader in comics format, this marvel of distilled storytelling draws children directly into the heroine’s emotional world; to know Lilly is to want to know what she has to say.
There Are Cats in This Book
Viviane Schwarz (Candlewick)
Utterly playful and innovative in its design, this cheeky lift-the-flap book invites readers to romp with a trio of cats.
Jon Scieszka, illus. by David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon (Simon & Schuster)
Two best friends who happen to be trucks thrive on gear-grinding noise and rowdy antics in a Pixar-like junkyard setting—how could any vehicle-loving preschooler resist?
Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Seeger deploys die-cuts to craft another nifty peek-a-boo book, this time enhancing counting to 10 with a clever word game.
How I Learned Geography
Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
In a work more personal than the Caldecott Medalist has ever before offered, Shulevitz summons boyhood memories of WWII and shows how he learned to defeat despair.
Jack and the Box
Art Spiegelman (Raw Jr./Toon)
Writing and drawing for emerging readers, the Pulitzer Prize winner times his jokes with a Cat in the Hat meets Marx Brothers perfection.
The House in the Night
Susan Marie Swanson, illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin)
A single color, marigold, enhances Krommes’s b&w scratchboard illustrations, delicate and elegant as snowflakes, in a bedtime book that connects the beauty of home with the wonders of the world.
Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster)
A young slave in New York City offers readers a provocative view of the Revolutionary War, within the context of a fast-moving, emotionally involving story; an NBA finalist.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 2: The Kingdom on the Waves
M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)
With an eye trained to the hypocrisies and conflicted loyalties of the American Revolution, Anderson resoundingly concludes the finely nuanced bildungsroman begun in his National Book Award–winning novel.
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf)
Even better than the National Book Award–winning original, this vivid sequel finds the four Penderwick sisters plotting to foil their aunt’s matchmaking schemes for their widowed father.
Elise Broach (Holt)
With overtones of The Borrowers and Chasing Vermeer, this inventive mystery about a boy, a beetle and an art heist is packed with seductive themes: hidden lives and secret friendships, miniature worlds lost to disbelievers.
Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
An exquisitely drawn romance, political intrigue, a take-charge heroine and a magnificently imagined fantasy realm—this riveting debut offers something for almost everyone, adults as well as teens.
The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
In a dystopian fantasy that blends elements of classical mythology, a kill-or-be-killed competition and reality television, the author explodes a series of surprises, all the while challenging readers to consider how far her heroine can go while retaining her humanity.
Cory Doctorow (Tor)
Filled with sharp dialogue and detailed descriptions of how to counteract real-life surveillance, this techno-thriller imagines a teen arrested and held in a Guantanamo-like setting by an out-of-control Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack.
Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling)
The discovery of a child’s ancient corpse launches this multilayered novel about moral choices, set in Northern Ireland amid the Troubles in 1981.
Oscar Hijuelos (Atheneum)
The smooth, jazzy flow of the narration—along with very funny writing—sweeps readers through a ’60s-era story about a Cuban-American teenager in search of his identity.
Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
Dense, atmospheric prose holds readers to a cautious pace in an often dark fantasy that explores the savage and gentlest sides of human nature and how they coexist.
Ingrid Law (Dial)
A cinematic and vibrant debut novel introduces a family whose members are each endowed with a different supernatural gift, or “savvy,” on their 13th birthdays.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
E. Lockhart (Hyperion)
Big ideas—about class and privilege, feminism and romance, wordplay and thought—are an essential part of the fun in this sparkling, mischievous novel, an NBA finalist, about a sophomore girl who decides to infiltrate an all-male secret society at an elite boarding school.
Sunrise over Fallujah
Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic)
Written from the point of view of the rank-and-file, this pointed novel allows American teens to grapple intelligently and thoughtfully with the war in Iraq.
Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)
In a superb mix of alternate history and fantasy, Pratchett balances the somber and the wildly humorous as his protagonists, lone survivors of disasters, suffer profound crises of faith.
The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir
Cylin Busby & John Busby (Bloomsbury)
No one with even a marginal interest in true crime writing should miss this page-turner, by turns shocking and almost unbearably sad, alternately narrated by an ex-cop who, in 1979, narrowly escaped assassination in an underworld-style hit, and his daughter, Cylin, then nine.
What the World Eats
Faith D’Aluisio, photos by Peter Menzel (Tricycle)
Visiting 25 families in 21 countries around the world, D’Aluisio and Menzel photograph each surrounded by a week’s worth of food and groceries, then use these as a way to investigate different cultures, diets and standards of living as well as the impact of globalization—issues introduced conversationally and examined memorably.
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out
National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance, intro. by David McCullough
An all-star roster of more than 100 children’s authors and illustrators, as well as a few scholars and former White House employers and residents, offers a history of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in entries that range from poems to presidential speeches, satirical cartoons to stately portraits; a blue-ribbon choice for family sharing.
The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West
Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)
Amusingly illustrated with period engravings, newspaper cartoons and ephemera, this stylish biography is top-notch entertainment.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Kadir Nelson (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun)
No baseball fan should be without this sumptuous volume, a history of the Negro Leagues delivered in folksy vernacular by a fictional player. While this handsome, square book could sit proudly on a coffee table by virtue of Nelson’s muscular paintings, it soars as a tribute to individual athletes.
Ain’t Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry
Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson (National Geographic)
Nelson models the study of history as an active and passionate pursuit as he shows readers how he pieced together a panoply of facts and anecdotes to find the real-life subject of the folk song “John Henry.”
Notable Children’s Books of 2008
By Mark Reibstein. Illustrated by Ed Young.
Little, Brown & Company Books for Young Readers. (Ages 3 to 6)
In this book of ingeniously layered text — both narrative and haiku — and gorgeous collage art, a cat named Wabi Sabi sets out to discover the meaning of her name. Chosen by The Times as a Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2008.
THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 2.
By M. T. Anderson.
Candlewick Press. (Ages 14 and up)
This sequel completes the story of race and revolution told in “The Pox Party.” As Octavian Nothing, escaped from slavery, joins up with British forces in Boston, his story encompasses both the comic and the tragic with sweeping ambition.
SUNRISE OVER FALLUJAH
By Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Press. (Ages 12 and up)
An idealistic young soldier lands in Iraq’s deadly hall of mirrors, in a kind of sequel to Myers’s 1988 Vietnam novel, “Fallen Angels.” In this powerful new book, laced with violence but also warmth and humor, the narrator faces humanitarian missions that turn into deadly ambushes (a detonator is concealed in a tub of flour) and bears witness to the killing of friend and enemy alike.
THE HUNGER GAMES
By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press. (Ages 12 and up)
A brilliantly plotted tale that begins after North American society has been decimated by climate change and war. In this world, children fight to the death in ritual games — a form of both repression and entertainment in the country of Panem. When her younger sister is picked to compete, Katniss Everdeen, a skilled hunter, makes the fateful choice to take her place.
By Cory Doctorow
Tor/Tom Doherty Associates. (Ages 13 and up)
A near-future terrorist attack hits San Francisco, and Marcus Yallow, 17, playing hooky from high school, is detained in the crackdown that follows. The experience leads him into an ingenious program of resistance and civil rights activism in a novel that is at once an entertaining thriller, a thoughtful polemic and a practical handbook of digital-age self-defense.
By Marion Bataille
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press (Ages 5 and up)
A simple but sophisticated idea animates this small, chunky pop-up book, which does wonders with the letters A through Z. In Bataille’s paper engineering, B doubles as 3, C flips over to become a D, U is a perfect parabola, and so on, all in bold black, white and red. This stylish and interactive work of art can be read again and again.
TEN LITTLE FINGERS AND TEN LITTLE TOES
By Mem Fox. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Harcourt Children’s Books. (Ages 3 to 5)
A witty and winsome look at babies around the world that has a toe-tapping refrain: the words sound easy and familiar, as though they have been handed down to children forever. And the story ends with a pitch-perfect moment: one little baby who is “mine, all mine.”
THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS
By E. Lockhart
Hyperion. (Ages 12 and up)
A nominee for a National Book Award in young people’s literature, E. Lockhart’s latest concerns “a nice girl” who remakes herself as a “near-criminal mastermind,” with pranks that upend her school’s oppressive power structure (created by and for boys). It’s a homage to girl power, with a protagonist who is fearless.
100 Notable Books of 2008
The Book Review has selected this list from books reviewed since Dec. 2, 2007, when we published our previous Notables list.
Fiction & Poetry
AMERICAN WIFE. By Curtis Sittenfeld. (Random House) The life of this novel’s heroine — a first lady who comes to realize, at the height of the Iraq war, that she has compromised her youthful ideals — is conspicuously modeled on that of Laura Bush.
ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES. By Rivka Galchen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) The psychiatrist-narrator of this brainy, whimsical first novel believes that his beautiful, much-younger Argentine wife has been replaced by an exact double.
BASS CATHEDRAL. By Nathaniel Mackey. (New Directions) Mackey’s fictive world is an insular one of musicians composing, playing and talking jazz in the private language of their art.
BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN. By Charles Bock. (Random House) This bravura first novel, set against a corruptly compelling Las Vegas landscape, revolves around the disappearance of a surly 12-year-old boy.
BEIJING COMA. By Ma Jian. Translated by Flora Drew. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Ma’s novel, an important political statement, looks at China through the life of a dissident paralyzed at Tiananmen Square.
A BETTER ANGEL: Stories. By Chris Adrian. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) For Adrian — who is both a pediatrician and a divinity student — illness and a heightened spiritual state are closely related conditions.
BLACK FLIES. By Shannon Burke. (Soft Skull) A rookie paramedic in New York City is overwhelmed by the horrors of his job in this arresting, confrontational novel, informed by Burke’s five years of experience on city ambulances.
THE BLUE STAR. By Tony Earley. (Little, Brown) The caring, thoughtful hero of Earley’s engrossing first novel, “Jim the Boy,” is now 17 and confronting not only the eternal turmoil of love, but also venality and the frightening calls of duty and war.
THE BOAT. By Nam Le. (Knopf) In the opening story of Le’s first collection, a blocked writer succumbs to the easy temptations of “ethnic lit.”
BREATH. By Tim Winton. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Surfing offers this darkly exhilarating novel’s protagonist an escape from a drab Australian town.
DANGEROUS LAUGHTER: Thirteen Stories. By Steven Millhauser. (Knopf) In his latest collection, Millhauser advances his chosen themes — the slippery self, the power of hysterical young people — with even more confidence and power than before.
DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES. By Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Mifflin) Miles’s fine first novel takes the form of a letter from a stranded traveler, his life a compilation of regrets, who uses the time to digress on an impressive array of cultural issues, large and small.
DIARY OF A BAD YEAR. By J. M. Coetzee. (Viking) Coetzee follows the late career of one Señor C, who, like Coetzee himself, is a South African writer transplanted to Australia and the author of a novel titled “Waiting for the Barbarians.”
ELEGY: Poems. By Mary Jo Bang. (Graywolf) Grief is converted into art in this bleak, forthright collection, centered on the death of the poet’s son.
THE ENGLISH MAJOR. By Jim Harrison. (Grove) A 60-year-old cherry farmer and former English teacher — an inversion of the classic Harrison hero — sets out on a trip west after being dumped by his wife.
FANON. By John Edgar Wideman. (Houghton Mifflin) Wideman’s novel — raw and astringent, yet with a high literary polish — explores the life of the psychiatrist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon.
THE FINDER. By Colin Harrison. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux) A New York thriller, played out against the nasty world of global capitalism.
FINE JUST THE WAY IT IS: Wyoming Stories 3 . By Annie Proulx. (Scribner) These rich, bleak stories offer an American West in which the natural elements are murderous and folks aren’t much better.
THE GOOD THIEF . By Hannah Tinti. (Dial) In Tinti’s first novel, set in mid-19th-century New England, a con man teaches an orphan the art of the lie.
HALF OF THE WORLD IN LIGHT: New and Selected Poems. By Juan Felipe Herrera. (University of Arizona,) Herrera, known for portrayals of Chicano life, is unpredictable and wildly inventive.
HIS ILLEGAL SELF. By Peter Carey. (Knopf) In this enthralling novel, a boy goes underground with a defiant hippie indulging her maternal urge.
HOME. By Marilynne Robinson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Revisiting the events of her novel “Gilead” from another perspective, Robinson has written an anguished pastoral, at once bitter and joyful.
INDIGNATION. By Philip Roth. (Houghton Mifflin) Marcus Messner is a sophomore at a small, conservative Ohio college at the time of the Korean War. The novel he narrates, like Roth’s last two, is ruthlessly economical and relentlessly deathbound.
THE LAZARUS PROJECT. By Aleksandar Hemon. (Riverhead) This novel’s despairing immigrant protagonist becomes intrigued with the real-life killing of a presumed anarchist in Chicago in 1908.
LEGEND OF A SUICIDE. By David Vann. (University of Massachusetts) In his first story collection, Vann leads the reader to vital places while exorcizing demons born from the suicide of his father.
LIFE CLASS. By Pat Barker. (Doubleday) Barker’s new novel, about a group of British artists overtaken by World War I, concentrates more on the turmoil of love than on the trauma of war.
LUSH LIFE. By Richard Price. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Chandler — and Bellow, too — peeps out from Price’s novel, in which an aspiring writer cum restaurant manager, mugged in the gentrifying Lower East Side of Manhattan, himself becomes a suspect.
A MERCY. By Toni Morrison. (Knopf) Summoning voices from the 17th century, Morrison performs her deepest excavation yet into America’s history and exhumes the country’s twin original sins: the importation of African slaves and the near extermination of Native Americans.
MODERN LIFE: Poems . By Matthea Harvey. (Graywolf) Harvey is willing to take risks, and her reward is that richest, rarest thing, genuine poetry.
A MOST WANTED MAN . By John le Carré. (Scribner) This powerful novel, centered on a half-Russian, half-Chechen, half-crazy fugitive in Germany, swims with operatives whose desperation to avert another 9/11 provokes a slow-burning fire in every line.
MY REVOLUTIONS. By Hari Kunzru. (Dutton) Kunzru’s third novel is an extraordinary autumnal depiction of a failed ’60s radical.
NETHERLAND. By Joseph O’Neill. (Pantheon) In the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction yet about post-9/11 New York and London, the game of cricket provides solace to a man whose family disintegrates after the attacks.
OPAL SUNSET: Selected Poems, 1958-2008. By Clive James. (Norton) James, a staunch formalist, is firmly situated in the sociable, plain-spoken tradition that runs from Auden through Larkin.
THE OTHER. By David Guterson. (Knopf) In this novel from the author of “Snow Falling on Cedars,” a schoolteacher nourishes a friendship with a privileged recluse.
THE ROAD HOME. By Rose Tremain. (Little, Brown) A widowed Russian emigrant, fearfully navigating the strange city of London, learns that his home village is about to be inundated.
THE SCHOOL ON HEART’S CONTENT ROAD. By Carolyn Chute. (Atlantic Monthly) In Chute’s first novel in nearly 10 years, disparate characters cluster around an off-the-grid communal settlement.
SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT: A New Verse Translation. By Simon Armitage. (Norton) One of the eerie, exuberant joys of Middle English poetry, in an alliterative rendering that captures the original’s drive, dialect and landscape.
SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY: Poems, New and Selected. By August Kleinzahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Kleinzahler seeks the true heart of places, whether repellent, beautiful or both at once.
TELEX FROM CUBA. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner) In this multilayered first novel, international drifters try to bury pasts that include murder, adultery and neurotic meltdown, even as the Castro brothers gather revolutionaries in the hills.
2666. By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) The five autonomous sections of this posthumously published novel interlock to form an astonishing whole, a supreme capstone to Bolaño’s vaulting ambition.
THE UNFORTUNATES. By B. S. Johnson. (New Directions) This novel, first published in 1969, dovetails theme (the accidents of memory) with eccentric form (unbound chapters to be read in any order).
WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? By Kate Atkinson. (Little, Brown,) Jackson Brodie, the hero of Atkinson’s previous literary thrillers, takes the case of a mother and baby who suddenly disappear.
THE WIDOWS OF EASTWICK. By John Updike. (Knopf) In this ingenious sequel to “The Witches of Eastwick,” the three title characters, old ladies now, renew their sisterhood, return to their old hometown and contrive to atone for past crimes.
AMERICAN LION: Andrew Jackson in the White House . By Jon Meacham. (Random House) Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, discerns a democratic dignity in the seventh president’s populism.
BACARDI AND THE LONG FIGHT FOR CUBA: The Biography of a Cause. By Tom Gjelten. (Viking) An NPR correspondent paints a vivid portrait of the anti-Castro clan behind the liquor empire.
THE BIG SORT: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. By Bill Bishop with Robert G. Cushing. (Houghton Mifflin) A journalist and a statistician see political dangers in the country’s increasing tendency to separate into solipsistic blocs.
BLOOD MATTERS: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene. By Masha Gessen. (Harcourt) Hard choices followed Gessen’s discovery that she carries a dangerous genetic mutation.
CAPITOL MEN: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen. By Philip Dray. (Houghton Mifflin) A collective biography of the pioneers of black political involvement.
THE CHALLENGE: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight Over Presidential Power. By Jonathan Mahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) An objective, thorough study of a landmark case for Guantánamo detainees.
CHAMPLAIN’S DREAM. By David Hackett Fischer. (Simon & Schuster) Fischer argues that France’s North American colonial success was attributable largely to one remarkable man, Samuel de Champlain.
CHASING THE FLAME: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. By Samantha Power. (Penguin Press) Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Iraq in 2003, embodied both the idealism and the limitations of the United Nations, which he served long and loyally.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE. An American Life: A Biography. By Elisabeth Bumiller. (Random House) A New York Times reporter casts a keen eye on Rice’s tenure as a policy maker, her close ties to George Bush, and her personal and professional past.
THE DARK SIDE: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. By Jane Mayer. (Doubleday) A New Yorker writer recounts the emergence of the widespread use of torture as a central tool in the fight against terrorism.
DELTA BLUES: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. By Ted Gioia. (Norton) Gioia’s survey balances the story of the music with that of its reception.
DESCARTES’ BONES: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. By Russell Shorto. (Doubleday) Shorto’s smart, elegant study turns the early separation of Descartes’s skull from the rest of his remains into an irresistible metaphor.
DREAMS AND SHADOWS: The Future of the Middle East. By Robin Wright. (Penguin Press) This fluent and intelligent book describes the struggles of people from Morocco to Iran to reform or replace long-entrenched national regimes.
THE DRUNKARD’S WALK: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. By Leonard Mlodinow. (Pantheon) This breezy crash course intersperses probabilistic mind-benders with profiles of theorists.
AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION: A Memoir. By Elizabeth McCracken. (Little, Brown) An unstinting account of the novelist’s emotions after the stillbirth of her first child.
FACTORY GIRLS: From Village to City in a Changing China. By Leslie T. Chang. (Spiegel & Grau.) Chang’s engrossing account delves deeply into the lives of young migrant workers in southern China.
THE FOREVER WAR. By Dexter Filkins. (Knopf) Filkins, a New York Times reporter who was embedded with American troops during the attack on Falluja, has written an account of the Iraq war in the tradition of Michael Herr’s “Dispatches.”
FREEDOM’S BATTLE: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. By Gary J. Bass. (Knopf,) Bass’s book is both a history and an argument for military interventions as a tool of international justice today.
A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books. By Alex Beam. (PublicAffairs) The minds behind a curious project that continues to exert a hold in some quarters.
HALLELUJAH JUNCTION: Composing an American Life. By John Adams. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Adams’s wry, smart memoir stands with books by Hector Berlioz and Louis Armstrong among the most readably incisive autobiographies of major musical figures.
HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America. By Thomas L. Friedman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) The Times columnist turns his attention to possible business-friendly solutions to global warming.
THE HOUSE AT SUGAR BEACH: In Search of a Lost African Childhood. By Helene Cooper. (Simon & Schuster) Cooper, a New York Times reporter who fled a warring Liberia as a child, returned to confront the ghosts of her past — and to look for a lost sister.
HOW FICTION WORKS. By James Wood. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Concentrating on the art of the novel, the New Yorker critic presents a compact, erudite vade mecum with acute observations on individual passages and authors.
MORAL CLARITY: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists. By Susan Neiman. (Harcourt) Neiman champions Enlightenment values with no hint of oversimplification, dogmatism or misplaced piety.
THE NIGHT OF THE GUN: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. By David Carr. (Simon & Schuster) Carr, a New York Times culture reporter, sifts through his drug- and alcohol-addicted past.
NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. By Rick Perlstein. (Scribner) Perlstein’s compulsively readable study holds that Nixon’s divisive and enduring legacy is the “notion that there are two kinds of Americans.”
NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF. By Julian Barnes. (Knopf) With no faith in an afterlife, why should an agnostic fear death? On this simple question, Barnes hangs an elegant memoir and meditation, full of a novelist’s affection for the characters who wander in and out.
NUREYEV: The Life. By Julie Kavanagh. (Pantheon) The son of Soviet Tatars could never get enough of anything — space, applause, money, sex — but he attracted an audience of millions to the art form he mastered.
PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. By Mark Harris. (Penguin Press) The best-picture nominees of 1967 were a collage of America’s psyche, and more.
PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. By Dan Ariely. (Harper/HarperCollins,) Moving comfortably from the lab to broad social questions to his own life, an M.I.T. economist pokes holes in conventional market theory.
THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse. By Richard Thompson Ford. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Ford vivisects every sacred cow in “post-racist” America.
RETRIBUTION: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45. By Max Hastings. (Knopf) In this masterly account, Hastings describes Japanese madness eliciting American ruthlessness in the Pacific Theater.
A SECULAR AGE. By Charles Taylor. (Belknap/Harvard University) A philosophy professor thinks our era has been too quick to dismiss religious faith.
SHAKESPEARE’S WIFE. By Germaine Greer. (Harper/HarperCollins) With a polemicist’s vision and a scholar’s patience, Greer sets out to rescue Ann Hathaway from layers of biographical fantasy.
THE SUPERORGANISM: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies. By Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. (Norton) The central conceit of this astonishing study is that an insect colony is a single animal raised to a higher level.
TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq. By Linda Robinson. (PublicAffairs) A probing, conscientious account of strategy and tactics in post-surge Iraq.
THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. By David Hajdu. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) A worthy history of the midcentury crusade against the comics industry.
THEY KNEW THEY WERE RIGHT: The Rise of the Neocons. By Jacob Heilbrunn. (Doubleday) A journalist traces the neoconservative movement from its origins at the City College of New York in the 1940s.
THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: Death and the American Civil War. By Drew Gilpin Faust. (Knopf) The lasting impact of the war’s immense loss of life is the subject of this extraordinary account by Harvard’s president.
THE THREE OF US: A Family Story. By Julia Blackburn. (Pantheon) Searingly and unflinchingly, Blackburn describes an appalling upbringing at the hands of her catastrophically unfit parents.
THRUMPTON HALL: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House. By Miranda Seymour. (Harper/HarperCollins) Seymour’s odd and oddly affecting book instantly catapults her father into the front rank of impossible and eccentric English parents.
TRAFFIC: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). By Tom Vanderbilt. (Knopf) A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of the human beings behind the steering wheels.
THE TRILLION DOLLAR MELTDOWN: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash. By Charles R. Morris. (PublicAffairs) How we got into the mess we’re in, explained briefly and brilliantly.
A VOYAGE LONG AND STRANGE: Rediscovering the New World. By Tony Horwitz. (Holt) An accessible popular history of early America, with plenty of self-tutoring and colorful reporting.
WAKING GIANT: America in the Age of Jackson. By David S. Reynolds. (Harper/HarperCollins) Reynolds excels at depicting the cultural, social and intellectual currents that buffeted the nation.
WHILE THEY SLEPT: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family. By Kathryn Harrison. (Random House) Harrison’s account brings moral clarity to the dark fate of the family of Jody Gilley, who was 16 when she survived a rampage by her brother in 1984.
WHITE HEAT: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. By Brenda Wineapple. (Knopf) The hitherto elusive Higginson was the poet’s chosen reader, admirer and advocate.
THE WILD PLACES. By Robert Macfarlane. (Penguin) Macfarlane’s unorthodox British landscapes are furrowed with human histories and haunted by literary prophets.
THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul. By Patrick French. (Knopf) French has created a monument fully worthy of its subject, elucidating the enduring but painfully asymmetrical love triangle at the core of Naipaul’s life and work.
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