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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
Beethoven: The Man Revealed. By John Suchet. Atlantic Monthly, $30 (9780802122063).
Suchet, eschewing musical analysis and the source references that academics demand, limns the life and personality out of which Beethoven’s music arose, presenting what should be considered an ideal “first book” on the subject.
In the Body of the World. By Eve Ensler. Holt/Metropolitan, $25 (9780805095180).
With lyricism, humor, and galvanizing insight, Ensler discerns profound connections between tortured women in the Congo, the corporate pillaging of African resources, her battle with uterine cancer, and the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Bolívar: American Liberator. By Marie Arana. Simon & Schuster, $35 (9781339110195).
This meticulous new account of the South American liberator Simón Bolívar’s exciting, consequential life is a robust, dynamic, and, more importantly, easily accessible biography that goes to great lengths to rectify readers’ unfamiliarity with him.
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. By Jill Lepore. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307958341).
Lepore brings Ben Franklin’s smart, witty, hardworking sister, Jane, out of the shadows; contrasts the loving siblings’ opposite lives; and casts new light on our nation’s early days.
Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. By Richard Rodriguez. Viking, $26.95 (97806700253050.
In these wide-ranging, erudite, and passionate personal essays, Rodriguez examines his continuing belief in God and the Catholic Church in the context of his life as a gay man in the early years of the twenty-first century.
The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince. By Jane Ridley. Random, $35 (9781400062553).
King Edward VII of Great Britain was an absolute style icon and knew how to enjoy a good party and a robust liaison with a pretty—and willing—woman. Significant research stands behind the author’s more judicious understanding of the man: that the “dissipated prince evolved into a model king.”
Jack London: An American Life. By Earle Labor. Farrar, $30 (9780374178482).
Labor’s vivid, often outright astonishing biography vibrantly chronicles Jack London’s exceptionally daring and wildly contradictory life and reconsiders his complete body of work.
Jim Henson. By Brian Jay Jones. Ballantine, $35 (9780345526113); e-book (9780345526137).
With verve and insight, Jones illuminates Muppets creator Henson’s phenomenal genius and constant productivity, complex private life, zeal to do good, and astronomical influence.
Anderson’s thoroughly researched and smoothly written history of T. E. Lawrence strikes the perfect balance between scope and detail about a remarkable and mysterious character.
Health and Medicine
Catching Cancer: The Quest for Its Viral & Bacterial Causes. By Claudia Cornwall. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (9781442215207); e-book, $35.99 (9781442215221).
Cornwall vividly portrays researchers and cogently explicates their important discoveries revealing the link between infections and cancer.
In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness in America. By Laurie Edwards. Walker, $26 (9780802718013).
In this remarkably far-reaching mix of research, literature, and personal stories, Edwards addresses the complex medical and social issues facing the nearly 130 million Americans who suffer from chronic illness.
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. By Doris Kearns Goodwin. Simon & Schuster, $40 (9781416547860).
Goodwin, the acclaimed historian, offers a superb re-creation of the Progressive movement in the U.S. in the early twentieth century, when many politicians, journalists, and citizens of differing political affiliations viewed government as a force for public good.
The Great War: July 1, 1916, the First Day of the Battle of the Somme. By Joe Sacco and Adam Hochschild. Illus. by Joe Sacco. Norton, $35 (9780393088809).
Illustrated across a single, wordless, 24-foot-long, accordion-fold page, Sacco’s graphic novel details—and detail is the right word—what happened on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Unfurled, this condensed picture of the western front is one of staggering grandeur and inescapable doom.
The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari. By Paul Theroux. Houghton, $27 (9780618839339).
In Theroux’s latest travel book, his ability to map new terrain, both interior and exterior, and to report from places that seldom make the news remains undiminished.
One Summer: America, 1927. By Bill Bryson. Doubleday, $28.95 (9780767919401).
In this glorious look at one summer in America, Bryson offers delicious detail and breathtaking suspense about events whose outcomes are already known.
Thank You for Your Service. By David Finkel. Farrar/Sarah Crichton, $27 (9780374180669).
With heartbreaking clarity, Finkel (The Good Soldiers, 2009) continues the story of the men of the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry Regiment as they return home, plagued with physical and psychological wounds, only to confront cruel realities.
Wilson. By A. Scott Berg. Putnam, $40 (9780399159213).
Berg renders President Woodrow Wilson with an astute, sensitive understanding of the man and his presidency, backed by deep and thorough research and comfortably couched in a graceful, smooth presentation.
Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected Poems, 1950 to 2011. By Robert Bly. Norton, $35 (9780393240078).
This comprehensive selection presents Bly as the great successor to Whitman and Pound whose mission has been to demonstrate that all lives are linked by metaphor.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. By Mary Roach. Norton, $26.95 (9780393081572).
Intrepid and hilarious science writer Roach takes readers on an insightful voyage down the alimentary canal, reveling in all that is wonderfully weird and marveling over the fine-tuned workings and “wisdom” of the human body.
Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker through the Wild Sierra Madre. By Tim Gallagher. Atria, $26 (9781439191521).
In this powerful chronicle of a quest for the possibly extinct imperial woodpecker in Mexico, where birders cross paths with drug traffickers, Gallagher combines natural and human history to profound effect.
Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know. By Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax. Knopf, $25.95 (9780307959690).
In this stellar, wide-ranging investigation, Gale and Lax delineate the too-little-known and truly fascinating facts about the omnipresence, danger, and value of radiation, both natural and man-made.
Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe. By Lee Smolin. Houghton, $28 (9780547511726).
Daring to suggest that Einstein was dead wrong in his understanding of time, Smolin takes general readers on a thrilling ride based on the radical assumption that time is real.
Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. By Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld. Basic, $26.99 (9780465018772).
This fascinating book cautions against the overheated promises of neuroscience that have crept into commerce, law, sociology, and science itself.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. By Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown, $29 (9780316204361).
Gladwell’s previous best-sellers have altered the way we think about sociological changes and the factors that contribute to high levels of success, and in his latest book, he examines and challenges our concepts of “advantage” and “disadvantage.”
Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. By Craig Steven Wilder. Bloomsbury, $30 (9781596916814).
This well-researched and revealing book documents the uncomfortable truth of the inextricable tie between slavery and the ivory tower.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. By Sheri Fink. Crown, $26 (9780307718969).
Fink, a Pulitzer Prize winner for her reporting on Hurricane Katrina’s effect on New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital in the New York Times Magazine, offers a stunning re-creation of the storm and its aftermath.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. By Lawrence Wright. Knopf, $28.95 (9780307700667).
Wright offers a fascinating look behind the curtain of the Church of Scientology and the influence, riches, and controversy that have followed the organization since its founding in 1954.
Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation. By Jonathan Rieder. Bloomsbury, $25 (9781620400586).
On the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Rieder offers a sparkling reconsideration of King and this landmark, universally influential civil rights document.
Hope against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children. By Sarah Carr. Bloomsbury, $27 (9781608194902).
Education reporter Carr chronicles the lives of students and faculty at three New Orleans charter high schools, deftly exploring the complexities of school reform and the resulting clash of cultures and ideas.
A House in the Sky. By Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. Scribner, $27 (9781451645606); e-book (9781451645620).
In this crisp, frank, and harrowing memoir, courageous Lindhout, with coauthor Corbett, recounts her 15 months in captivity at the hands of young, brutal Somalian kidnappers.
In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide. By Cameron Stauth. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $27.99 (9781250005793); e-book, $14.99 (9781250037602).
Faith and the law tangle in this powerful account of a court battle in Oregon City, Oregon, over the right of parents who believe in faith healing to deny medical treatment to their children.
Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home. By Sheri Booker. Gotham, $26 (9781592407125).
In this darkly comic memoir of life and death in urban America, Booker recounts her time working in a funeral home.
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care. By Cris Beam. Houghton, $26 (9780151014125).
Beam offers historical background and keen analysis of the factors shaping foster-care policies in this moving look at a system charged with caring for nearly half a million children across the U.S.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. By George Packer. Farrar, $27 (9780374102418).
Packer focuses on the lives of a North Carolina evangelist; a Youngstown, Ohio, factory worker; and a Washington lobbyist, among others, to present a broad and compelling perspective on a nation in crisis.
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight against Muslim Fundamentalism. By Karima Bennoune. Norton, $27.95 (9780393081589).
Bennoune’s candid interviews with Muslims who are bravely standing up to Islamist groups all around the world deconstruct false views of Islam and form a significant and compelling record of modern Muslim life.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. By Reza Aslan. Random, $27 (9781400069224).
Aslan brings a fine popular style, shorn of all jargon, to bear on the presentation of Jesus of Nazareth as only a man; the result is an absorbing, reader-friendly book. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction.)
All the Dead Yale Men. By Craig Nova. Counterpoint, $26 (9781582438283).
Nova’s follow-up to his acclaimed 1982 novel The Good Son brings forward his account of the Mackinnon family. A gripping and intelligent chronicle of love, legacy, and betrayal.
All the Land to Hold Us. By Rick Bass. Houghton, $25 (9780547687124).
With rhapsodic and cosmic imagination, Bass turns salt- and oil-rich West Texas into a land of “strange and powerful happenings” that forever mark the desert’s loners and seekers.
Americanah. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307271082).
Adichie’s tale of the adventures of a young Nigerian woman in America, astounded by what she calls racial-disorder syndrome, is a world-class novel about what it takes to become a “full human being.”
And the Mountains Echoed. By Khaled Hosseini. Riverhead, $28.95 (9781594631764).
In this spellbinding saga of family bonds and unlikely pairings forged in Afghanistan by chance, choice, and necessity, Hosseini maps the damage wrought by betrayal, tyranny, and war.
Archangel. By Andrea Barrett. Norton, $24.95 (9780393240009).
Barrett revels in the drama, wonder, and politics of pioneering scientific inquiries in intellectually stimulating and lushly emotional historical short stories of family, ambition, discovery, and war.
The Childhood of Jesus. By J. M. Coetzee. Viking, $26.95 (9780670014651).
With this powerful and puzzling novel, Nobel laureate Coetzee returns to the allegorical focus that defined his early works. This book is a curious tapestry of biblical themes, modern social commentary, and ambivalent humanism.
The Circle. By Dave Eggers. Knopf, $27.95 (9780385351393).
Eggers’ ambitious, terrifying, and eerily plausible new novel posits a totalitarian world in which we are complicit in our own oppression. A brilliant depiction of social media run amok.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. By Anthony Marra. Hogarth, $26 (9780770436407).
Marra homes in on rural Chechnya, a region that barely registers with most Americans, and, in heartrending prose, makes us feel every misfortune endured by the people there. An extraordinary look at the ways we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure.
Death of the Black-Haired Girl. By Robert Stone. Houghton, $25 (9780618386239).
Set on campus, Stone’s novel features Maud, smart, beautiful, and brimming with passion for her convictions and her married professor; the world Stone creates here is full of ominous foreboding and populated by characters familiar to readers of his novels: lost souls who have lost their faith and others with false faith.
The First of July. By Elizabeth Speller. Pegasus, $25.95 (9781605984971).
Utterly gripping and completely immersing, Speller’s historical novel of WWI captures the experiences of four very different young men during the war’s early years, leading up to the horrific Battle of the Somme.
Fools. By Joan Silber. Norton, $25.95 (9780393088700).
Doing good has been a hot topic in fiction, but rarely has it been treated with such subtlety as in this collection of interrelated stories, which together create a memorable meditation on work, religion, love, and the search for personal integrity.
Golden Boy. By Abigail Tarttelin. Atria, $24.99 (9781476705804).
Sixteen-year-old Max is a golden boy with a secret: he is intersex, literally half male and half female. His desperate search for identity is gripping, emotionally engaging, and genuinely unforgettable.
The Goldfinch. By Donna Tartt. Little, Brown, $30 (9780316055437).
In Tartt’s capacious novel of survival, beauty, and obsession, an act of terrorism yokes young New Yorker Theo to a priceless painting and catapults him into a dizzying world bereft of certainty, meaning, or love.
The Good Lord Bird. By James McBride. Riverhead, $27.95 (9781594486340).
By dramatizing John Brown’s fight for racial freedom and belief in his own divine infallibility through the eyes of a child fearful of becoming a man, McBride brings fresh immediacy to a sobering chapter in American history.
A Guide for the Perplexed. By Dara Horn. Norton, $25.95 (9780393064896).
Juggling the contemporary story of a software designer who has created a program that allows its users to keep the past alive with an account of the real-life discovery of a repository of ancient Hebrew manuscripts, Horn delivers a richly textured blend of history, religion, psychology, and human emotion.
Life after Life. By Kate Atkinson. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $27.99 (9780316176484).
In this wildly inventive novel about a woman born in 1919 and doomed to die and be reborn again and again, Atkinson is working at the top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking book.
The Lowland. By Jhumpa Lahiri. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307265746); e-book, $13.99 (9780385350402).
Lahiri encompasses two realms of emotional upheaval and moral conundrums as she portrays the clever Mitra brothers, from their entwined Calcutta boyhoods through Udayan’s plunge into extreme politics and Subhash’s escape to America.
Maya’s Notebook. By Isabel Allende. Tr. by Anne McLean. Harper, $28.99 (9780062105622).
Allende explores cultural collisions, political terror, and healing in this bone-shaking tale of a young American woman who barely survives a descent into the drug underworld of Las Vegas and is granted sanctuary on an island off the coast of Chile.
Merivel: A Man of His Time. By Rose Tremain. Norton, $26.95 (9780393079579).
In this sequel to Restoration (1990), set 16 years later, Tremain’s lovingly flawed protagonist, Sir Robert Merivel, pens a second riveting memoir, and it’s an absolute pleasure to once again spend time in his company.
Monument Road. By Charlie Quimby. Torrey House, $16.95 (9781937226251).
In prose that reads so true it breaks the heart, Quimby tells the story of an aging Colorado rancher who sets out to fulfill the promise he made to his dying wife to release her ashes on Monument Road.
Night Film. By Marisha Pessl. Random, $28 (9781400067886).
Pessl’s maelstrom of a story starts with a reclusive film director and his daughter, an apparent suicide, but quickly expands from a seemingly straightforward mystery into a densely byzantine yet hypnotically compelling exploration of truth and illusion.
The Panopticon. By Jenni Fagan. Crown/Hogarth, $22 (9780385347860); e-book (9780385347877).
Tough, fiery 15-year-old Anais, debut novelist Fagan’s heartbreakingly intelligent and sensitive narrator, ends up in the Panopticon, a halfway house for truant teens, convinced that she’s part of a sinister experiment.
The Signature of All Things. By Elizabeth Gilbert. Viking, $28.95 (9780670024858).
Gilbert returns to fiction for the first time in 13 years and tells the rich, satisfying story of Alma Whitaker, who comes to embody the questing spirit of the nineteenth century. Imbued with a reverence for science and learning.
Snapper. By Brian Kimberling. Pantheon, $24.95 (9780307908056).
In those awkward postcollege years, when many young men find themselves working behind a counter, Nathan Lochmueller learns he has a gift for tracking songbirds. In his delightful debut, Kimberling writes gracefully about absurdity, showing a rich feeling for the whole range of human tragicomedy.
The Sound of Things Falling. By Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Tr. by Anne McLean. Riverhead, $26.95 (9781594487484).
Killed by Colombian drugs, Ricardo Laverde leaves behind a friend who accepts the daunting task of deciphering the hidden meaning of Ricardo’s life. A deft translation delivers the searing trauma and the tender intimations of a masterpiece.
Stories II. By T. C. Boyle. Viking, $45 (9780670026258).
The first volume of this always exciting writer’s collected short fiction (Stories, 1998) drew refreshed interest his incontestable mastery of the short form; the second volume, containing 58 stories written since, generates further enthusiasm.
A Tale for the Time Being. By Ruth Ozeki. Viking, $27.95 (9780670026630).
This intriguing, beautiful novel is remarkable for its unusual but attentively structured plot: a writer living in coastal British Columbia, currently thwarted by writer’s block, one day finds a collection of materials contained in a lunchbox that has washed up on the beach, and what’s inside envelops her in the details of someone else’s life.
The Way of the Dog. By Sam Savage. Coffee House, $14.95 (9781566893121).
Savage tells the story of an elderly, dying artist who judges himself as having “failed at art and life.” This unforgettable portrait of alienation and regret, told in short passages as rich as koans, delivers a powerful meditation on living life and facing its end.
The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. By Bob Shacochis. Atlantic Monthly, $28 (9780802119827).
Shacochis’ first novel in 20 years combines a searing love story with a brilliant treatise on international politics, secret wars, espionage, and terrorism. With echoes of Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and Norman Mailer, Shacochis has produced a Big Book as satisfying as it is ambitious. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction.)
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