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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.
Arts & Literature
The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. By David Thomson. Farrar, $35 (9780374191894).
In this compelling collection of thematically linked essays, veteran film historian Thomson defines screen as encompassing everything from early nickelodeons through tablets and smart phones.
Leonardo and the Last Supper. By Ross King. Walker, $28 (9780802717054).
King’s uniquely detailed and engrossing chronicle of the creation of Leonardo’s revolutionary masterpiece, The Last Supper, brings to vibrant life wizardly Leonardo, his cunning patron and conniving rivals, and the glorious and miraculous mural.
American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama. By Rachel L. Swarns. Amistad, $27.99 (9780061999864).
Drawing on two years of research, including interviews with two elderly women—one black, the other white—Swarns presents the complicated story of race in the U.S. through the prism of Michelle Obama’s family history.
And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countée Cullen. By Charles Molesworth. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (9780226533643).
Molesworth rescues Harlem Renaissance poet and novelist Countée Cullen from obscurity in this scrupulous and vivid biography, celebrating his work and pondering the mysteries of his life.
Barack Obama: The Story. By David Maraniss. Simon & Schuster, $32.50 (9781439160404).
A thoroughly fascinating, multigenerational biography that explores broader social and political changes even as it highlights the elements that shaped one man’s life.
The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King. By Rich Cohen. Farrar, $27 (9780374299279).
In this gripping biography—it’s as page-turningly exciting as any thriller—Samuel Zemurray, once the most powerful banana importer in America, comes off as a sort of real-world Charles Foster Kane.
I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. By Sylvie Simmons. Ecco, $27.99 (9780061994982).
In this compelling biography, Simmons chronicles the career of courtly, elegant, and influential singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Cohen and illuminates his impressive body of work.
James Joyce: A New Biography. By Gordon Bowker. Farrar, $35 (9780374178727).
In tracing the evolution of Joyce’s art, Bowker also hints at the dark recesses of the artist’s psyche, defending his psycho-reading of Joyce’s fiction as the only way to plumb the turbid inner life of an often mystifying man.
Joseph Anton. By Salman Rushdie. Random, $30 (9780812992786).
In his forthright, gripping, and darkly humorous memoir, Rushdie tells the full story of his life under siege after the Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death and reminds us of why artistic and intellectual freedoms are essential to human life.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill; Defender of the Realm, 1940–1965. By William Manchester and Paul Reid. Little, Brown, $40 (9780316547703).
The late Manchester was one of the best Churchill biographers, and this third volume in the series is the capstone to his magnum opus.
Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya. By Ethan Mordden. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (9780312676575).
This author presents the best book on the foremost couple in twentieth-century musical theater, who depended on one another for 25 years.
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. By Robert A. Caro. Knopf, $35 (9780679405078).
Wedged between LBJ’s triumphant Senate career and his presidency, this riveting fourth volume in Caro’s acclaimed series addresses the 1960 presidential campaign, the three frustrating years as vice president, and the transition between the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. A fascinating character study. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction.)
Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948. By Madeleine Albright and Bill Woodward. Harper, $29.99 (9780062030313).
Accessing political history for a wide readership, Albright renders a powerfully somber accounting of the fates of her extended family during the Holocaust. No reader will close her memoir unmoved.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. By Timothy Egan. Houghton, $28 (9780618969029).
Ace popular historian Egan tells the suspenseful and heroic story of master photographer Edward Curtis and the sacrifices he made to document North American Indian life in what stands as an essential body of work.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. By Jon Meacham. Random, $35 (9781400067664).
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion (2008) brings to bear his focused and sensitive scholarship, rich prose style, and acute sense of the need to ground his subject in time and place and observe him in his natural habitat.
Thornton Wilder. By Penelope Niven. Harper, $39.99 (9780060831363).
A definitive biography of the distinguished American playwright and novelist, author of such works as Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Ray.
The Mansion of Happiness. Jill Lepore. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307592996).
In this witty, provocative, and deeply informed essay collection, Lepore considers how perceptions about life and death in all their weighty complexity have evolved over time in the realms of religion, law, and politics.
New Collected Poems. By Wendell Berry. Counterpoint, $30 (9781582438153).
Though Berry is best known for his fiction and essays, his poetry is the radiant heart of his prophetic art as he writes about life, death, and his Kentucky farming community, illuminating the virtue of living in harmony with the land and its creatures.
Stag’s Leap. By Sharon Olds. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307959904).
Olds, a poet of indomitable candor, continues to follow the arc of her life in her searing poetry, here chronicling the sudden end of her long marriage, moving from the personal to the cosmic in a hard-won artistic victory over anguish.
Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future. By Climate Central. Pantheon, $22.95 (9780307907301).
Climate Central, a nonpartisan collective of ecological experts, presents a succinct yet comprehensive overview of how human-generated CO2 pollution is contributing to the crises we’re experiencing as climate change accelerates.
The Social Conquest of Earth. By Edward O. Wilson. Norton/Liveright, $27.95 (9780871404138).
In this passionate analysis of the human condition, renowned biologist Wilson guides us through the great maze of evolutionary adaptations that led to our ancestors’ “advanced social life,” the biological wellspring for tribalism, art, and morality.
The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body. By Frances Ashcroft. Norton, $28.95 (9780393078039).
Our ability to move, perceive, think, and speak depends on continuously occurring electrical events in nerve and muscle cells, which are explained by physiologist Ashcroft with scientific precision, levity, and sometimes shocking tidbits.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. By David Quammen. Norton $30 (9780393066807).
Quammen’s vital, in-depth inquiry into the fascinating if alarming facts about animal infections that sicken humans, such as Ebola, influenza, SARS, and AIDS, is aimed at helping prevent future pandemics.
The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom. By Marcus Rediker. Viking, $27.95 (9780670025046).
Rediker offers a totally enthralling account of the Amistad rebellion and its place in the broader American story of revolt against those who would threaten liberty.
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. By Charles Murray. Crown Forum, $27 (9780307453426).
In this timely analysis, Murray argues that a worsening class divide has resulted in the segregation of elites, living in “SuperZips,” from those with little education, eking out a living in poor neighborhoods.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. By Philip Pullman. Viking, $27.95 (9780670024971).
Celebrated British author Pullman retells what he calls the “cream” of the brothers’ 210 tales. In a straightforward, conversational style, Pullman delivers a wonderfully rich reading experience for all ages.
Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years among the Poorest Children in America. By Jonathan Kozol. Crown, $27 (9781400052462).
This is an engaging look at the broader social implications of ignoring poverty as well as a very personal look at individuals struggling to overcome it.
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul Tough. Houghton, $27 (9780547564654).
Tough argues that disadvantaged children would be best served by learning such skills as grit, conscientiousness, curiosity, and optimism in this very hopeful look at promising new research in education.
The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. By Jeffrey Toobin. Doubleday, $28.95 (9780385527200).
Legal analyst Toobin offers a vividly revealing inside look at the personalities and politics behind the fractious relationship between Chief Justice Roberts and President Obama.
The People’s Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security since Reagan. By Eric Laursen. AK, $27 (9781849351010).
In this breathtakingly comprehensive and compelling analysis, Laursen shows how American economics and politics evolved to the point at which Social Security, once considered nearly sacrosanct, has come to be viewed as a government entitlement.
Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. By Chrystia Freeland. Penguin, $27.95 (9781594204098).
Freeland offers an engaging, deeply analytical look at the history, politics, and economics behind the rise of the super-elites, drawing parallels between current inequality and the Gilded Age of the late 1800s.
Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets behind Big Coal. By Peter A. Galuszka. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (9781250000217).
Galuszka investigates the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in this bracing inquiry into the corporate culture at Massey Energy and how the coal industry conquered a landscape’s body and soul.
Angelmaker. By Nick Harkaway. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307595959).
In this sublimely intricate and compulsively readable tour de force of Dickensian bravura and genre-blending splendor, Harkaway tells the tale of a mild-mannered London clockmaker faced with saving humanity from extinction.
Arcadia. By Lauren Groff. Hyperion/Voice, $25.99 (9781401340872).
This beautifully crafted novel invokes the fragility of community as it follows Bit Stone, the first child to be born in the late 1960s on an upstate New York commune called Arcadia, from childhood through the year 2018.
Astray. By Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown, $24.95 (9780316206297).
Inspired by newspaper stories from the last four centuries, Donoghue’s masterful short story collection explores the unexpected in people’s lives in such varied settings as Victorian England, Civil War–era Texas, and early twentieth-century New York City.
The Bartender’s Tale. By Ivan Doig. Riverhead, $27.95 (9781594487354).
Doig’s latest historical novel set in the fictional Two Medicine Country in northern Montana stars an affable bartender and his precocious 12-year-old son, whose coming-of-age takes place in a saloon. Rich in character and detail.
Beautiful Ruins. By Jess Walter. Harper, $25.99 (9780061928123).
In 1962, an American movie starlet arrives at a small hotel on the Italian coast, there to recuperate from a disaster on the set of the movie Cleopatra. A sparkling reimagining of history.
The Beginner’s Goodbye. By Anne Tyler. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307957276).
Tyler’s sparkling, covertly philosophical tale about a man who refuses to be defined by his disability or denied communication with his deceased wife reveals how ill-prepared we are for life’s contrary demands.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. By Ben Fountain. Ecco, $25.99 (9780060885595).
Written in a voice that is at once hopeful, cautious, and completely lost yet utterly knowing, Fountain’s novel delivers a brilliant, powerful examination of how modern warfare affects soldiers who have returned home.
Bring Up the Bodies. By Hilary Mantel. Holt, $28 (9780805090031).
This second volume in the author’s planned trilogy brilliantly reconstructing the life of Henry VIII’s secretary Thomas Cromwell follows Wolf Hall (2009) and tells the story of the fall of Anne Boleyn.
By Blood. By Ellen Ullman. Farrar, $27 (9780374117559).
A disgraced professor becomes obsessed with the client of a psychiatrist working next to him. This poetic and mysterious story suggests both Poe and Kafka.
The Cove. By Ron Rash. Ecco, $25.99 (9780061804199).
In a powerful novel that skillfully overlays its tragic love story with pointed social commentary, Rash effortlessly summons the rugged Appalachian landscape as well as the xenophobia of a country in the grip of patriotic fervor.
Dear Life. By Alice Munro. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307596888).
Her latest collection advances the widely held conviction that Munro reigns as the best short story writer in English today.
The Dream of the Celt. By Mario Vargas Llosa. Tr. by Edith Grossman. Farrar, $28 (9780374143466).
The ever-creative Peruvian novelist takes as his subject Roger Casement, an Irishman in the British diplomatic service executed for treason during WWI.
Flight Behavior. By Barbara Kingsolver. Harper, $28.99 (9780062124265).
In this passionate novel on global warming, feisty, funny Dellarobia Turnbow gains new and galvanizing insight into her life when a fluke of nature draws hordes of reporters, scientists and tourists to her Appalachian town.
Gods without Men. By Hari Kunzru. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307957115).
Kunzru’s lively, hugely ambitious novel explores humans’ desperate search for meaning—whether it be through drugs, religion, computer programming, or UFOs—within the chaos of life, both modern and ancient.
Home. By Toni Morrison. Knopf, $24 (9780307594167).
With the economical presentation of a short story, the rhythms and cadence of a poem, and the total embrace and resonance of a novel, Morrison writes a cogent story about a black Korean War veteran.
In One Person. By John Irving. Simon & Schuster, $28 (9781451664126).
Irving’s charming and audacious novel about the confusing coming-of-age of a bisexual boy in a small Vermont town features a glorious cast of misfit characters, an intricately constructed plot, and a call to celebrate human sexuality.
The Lower River. By Paul Theroux. Houghton, $25 (9780547746500).
When his marriage and clothing store fail, a sixtysomething man returns to Africa to rekindle the intense feeling of his days in the Peace Corps. A gripping and vital novel that reads like Conrad or Greene. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction.)
The Round House. By Louise Erdrich. Harper, $26.99 (9780062065247).
Erdrich’s profound intimacy with her characters, beginning with 13-year-old Ojibwe Joe Coutts, electrifies this stunning and wise novel of family bonds, hate crimes, and vengeance set within a web of history, cruel loss, and bracing realizations.
Skagboys. By Irvine Welsh. Norton, $26.95 (9780393088731).
Nearly 20 years after Trainspotting, Welsh delivers a stunning prequel that shows how his characters got hooked on heroin. As before, it’s the remarkable characterizations that give this haunting work its devastating impact.
Sutton. By J. R. Moehringer. Hyperion, $27.99 (9781401323141).
Moehringer relays, in electrifying prose, the highs and lows of bank robber Willie Sutton’s dramatic life, from the thrill of the heist to the brutal interrogations by cops and the hell of years spent in solitary confinement.
Sweet Tooth. By Ian McEwan. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $26.95 (9780385536820).
McEwan goes back in time to enter the spy world of British intelligence in the early 1970s, and in the book’s heroine, he has created a resonant female character.
Telegraph Avenue. By Michael Chabon. Harper, $27.99 (9780061493348).
Chabon’s exuberantly alive novel of two families, one African American, the other Jewish, and a beloved but imperiled used record store is an intricate, funny, and revelatory saga of family and friendship and the soul of American life.
The Testament of Mary. By Colm Tóibín. Scribner, $23 (9781451688382).
Irishman Tóibín delivers a stunning interpretation of the life and role of the mother of Jesus that is as beautiful in its presentation as it is provocative in intention.
That’s Not a Feeling. By Dan Josefson. Soho, $15.95 (9781616951887).
This remarkable debut novel follows the growing friendship between students at the Roaring Orchards School for Troubled Teens. The matter-of-fact prose, studded with perfectly phrased gems, provides a cool surface to a work that is rich in feeling.
This Is How You Lose Her. By Junot Díaz. Riverhead, $26.95 (9781594487361).
Each tale of unrequited and betrayed love and family crises is electric with passionate observations and off-the-charts emotional and social intelligence as MacArthur fellow Díaz charts the struggles of Yunior, a beleaguered Dominican American.
True Believers. By Kurt Andersen. Random, $27 (9781400067206).
A onetime Supreme Court nominee sets out to reveal a deadly truth from her radical past but manages to do much more. An ambitious and remarkable novel, wonderfully voiced, about memory, secrets, guilt, and the dangers of certitude.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. By Rachel Joyce. Random, $25 (9780812993295).
Joyce’s debut novel about a new retiree who embarks on a mission of mercy involving a solitary 500-mile walk across the north of England is quirky and charming but also haunting in its examination of love and devotion.
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