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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 Baroque World of Fernando Botero. By John Sillevis. Yale, $65 (9780300123593).
The amplitude of Colombian artist Botero’s figures embodies his humanitarian concerns and empathy, two of many aspects of his much loved work sensitively explored in this superb volume.
Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. By Jonathan Gould. Harmony, $35 (9780307353375).
Long on history, short on gossip, Gould examines the cultural and historical stages on both sides of the Atlantic onto which the world’s most admired rock band emerged.
One Drop: A True Story of Family, Race, and Secrets. By Bliss Broyard. Little, Brown, $24.99 (0-316-16350-3).
Anatole Broyard, longtime book critic for the New York Times, died without revealing his black heritage to his children, leading daughter Bliss to conduct an in-depth inquiry into Creole culture, African American history, and the psychology of race.
The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. By Judith Jones. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307264954).
In her entertaining, wondrously informative remembrance of her rich life, this important cookbook editor (discoverer of Julia Child) recounts experiences that food and book lovers will admire and envy.
Treasures of Islam: Artistic Glories of the Muslim World. By Bernard O’Kane. Sterling/Duncan, $35 (1-84483-483-2).
This gorgeous and illuminating overview of Islamic art, from monumental architecture to delicate calligraphy, encompasses the sweep of Islamic history and the intricacy and grandeur of its artistic masterpieces.
Vanishing Point: Fifty Years of Photography. By David Plowden. Norton, $100 (9780393062540).
The definitive selection of the work of the foremost photographer of America’s fast-fading industrial landscape—pictures that demand to be seen again and again.
African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus. By Rachel Holmes. Random, $22.95 (1-4000-6136-9).
Holmes offers a compelling portrait of a woman whose public display and ultimate study by scientists long ago gained her iconic status as a symbol of European fascination with African sexuality. A probing look at historical racism and sexual exploitation.
Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America. By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Random, $24.95 (1-4000-6281-0).
Amerigo Vespucci—pimp, flimflam man, diplomat, and inventive writer—is brightly animated in this compelling biography.
Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. By Daniel Tammet. Free Press, $22.95 (9781416535072).
Belying the conception of autism as incapacitating, Tammet’s astonishingly precise and personal autobiography is the awe-inspiring yet ingratiating record of the growth of a mind.
Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle. By Lars Anderson. Random, $24.95 (1-4000-6600-X).
A forgotten football game in 1912, between Carlisle, led by Jim Thorpe and coached by the legendary Pop Warner, and Army, led by Dwight Eisenhower, becomes the launching point for a fascinating look at multiple levels of American popular culture.
Edith Wharton. By Hermione Lee. Knopf, $35 (0-375-40004-4).
Lee’s tremendous biography of one of the most important American writers achieves landmark status; the formidable Mrs. Wharton is given great humanity here. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction.)
With rare clarity and drama, Isaacson delves into Einstein’s private failings, valiant advocacy for peace and human rights, and deep resistance to his own scientific discoveries.
An Illuminated Life: Bella da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege. By Heidi Ardizzone. Norton, $26.95 (0-393-05104-8).
This is a rich and fabulous look at an amazing woman who understood the limitations that black blood presented and took full advantage of her appearance, intelligence, vivacity, and drive to create a dazzling life among the wealthy.
Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. By Laurence Bergreen. Knopf, $27.95 (1-4000-4345-X).
An impressively researched and deftly composed biography of the famous thirteenth-century Italian explorer, who enjoyed remarkable experiences as a guest in the realm of Kublai Khan.
Nureyev. By Judith Kavanagh. Pantheon, $37.50 (0-375-40513-5).
Sexy and audacious, Russian defector Nureyev utterly transformed dance in the age of rock and roll, a story of artistic revolution expertly told in Kavanagh’s consummate biography.
Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. By Michael J. Neufeld. Knopf, $35 (0-307-26292-8).
In the most comprehensively researched and judicious biography of von Braun yet published, Neufeld argues that von Braun’s great strengths were his abilities to spot talent, motivate, and persuade.
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. By Joseph J. Ellis. Knopf, $26.95 (0-307-26369-X).
Ellis displays outstanding acuity about the successes and failures of the Founders as he selects key moments from the American Revolution and early republic, dramatizes them, and analyzes their crucial ramifications for America’s future.
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. By David Halberstam. Hyperion, $35 (1-4013-0052-9).
The late Halberstam’s commanding and evocative final work displays his signature style: a combination of deep-drilling interviewing with thorough research, a detached awareness of historical trends, and “a respect for the nobility of ordinary people.”
Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. By Clive James. Norton, $35 (9780393061161).
Erudite and intrepid critic James presents more than 100 electrifying biographical essays of seminal twentieth-century figures. A lively and unpredictable work of cultural history and preservation.
The Discovery of France: A Historical Biography from the Revolution to the First World War. By Graham Robb. Norton, $27.95 (9780393059731).
Robb penetrates so skillfully into the murky, often misunderstood history of France that we would be tempted to think he had somehow secured a time machine; the result is a staggering wealth of fascinating revelations.
Head and Heart: American Christianities. By Garry Wills. Penguin, $25.95 (9781594201462).
The history of Christianity in the U.S. is a dialectic of the intellect and the emotions, Wills maintains, in a sweeping chronicle that stands four-square on church-state separation as the anchor of religious liberty.
In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century. By Geert Mak. Tr. by Sam Garrett. Pantheon, $35 (0-375-42495-4).
Sweeping in scope, brimming with luxurious detail, electric in prose style, and deeply comprehending of the subject, this Dutch writer’s magnum opus is a record of his year-long travel through Europe, drawing meaningful parallels between past and present.
The Politics of Heaven: America in Fearful Times. By Earl Shorris. Norton, $25.95 (9780393059632).
Shorris eloquently offers a penetrating and unsettling look at American fear birthed by the horrors of the atom bomb and nurtured by 9/11 that promises to have an enduring impact on global and domestic policy for generations to come.
The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story. By Diane Ackerman. Norton, $23.95 (9780393061727).
Ackerman’s fascination with the bond between humankind and animals led her to the dramatic story of how Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Jan, director of the Warsaw Zoo, saved the lives of several hundred imperiled Jews during the Nazi occupation.
Captivity. By Laurie Sheck. Knopf, $25 (9780307265395).
Sheck muses over the many forms captivity can assume in fresh and intriguing poems that conflate mindscapes with landscapes and look to science and history for keys to understanding both body and soul.
Poincaré’s Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve One of Math’s Greatest Puzzles. By George S. Szpiro. Dutton, $24.95 (9780525950240).
Szpiro’s remarkable book recounts the story of how a geometrical puzzle worthy of the most voracious sphinx finally yielded to an eccentric Russian genius who has since refused the honors proffered by an astonished world. Never has mathematics provided more fascinating human drama.
Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Old Ecosystem and the Threats That Now Put It at Risk. By Michael Novacek. Farrar, $27 (0-374-27325-1).
Paleontologist Novacek vividly recounts the formation of the miraculous ecosystem that has sustained human life, and reports on how our habits of consumption are now jeopardizing its balance and our future.
The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture. By Brink Lindsey. Collins, $25.95 (9780060747664).
With breathtaking analysis, Lindsey offers a dizzying look back at American economics, politics, and culture to examine the complexities of prosperity.
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. By Paul Hawken. Penguin, $24.95 (9780670038527).
Environmentalist Hawken presents a unique, avidly detailed, and encouraging chronicle of the great global surge in activist groups dedicated to social justice and ecological sustainability.
Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. By Joe Bageant. Crown, $25 (0-307-33936-X).
In this wise, tender, and acerbic look at life among America’s working poor, Bageant mixes a reporter’s keen analysis, a storyteller’s color, and a native son’s love of his roots.
Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer. By Shannon Brownlee. Bloomsbury, $25.95 (9781582345802).
The reason for what amounts to a national delusion that more care is better care is rooted, Brownlee argues, in a build-it-and-they-will-come paradigm that rewards doctors and hospitals for how much care they deliver rather than how effective it is.
Why Marines Fight. By James Brady. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $24.95 (9780312372804).
Ex-jarhead Brady establishes beyond doubt that the U.S. Marines can find and bring out the warrior in any man who has it in him, and that undergoing that transformation creates a lasting bond among marines.
The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland. By Bill Holm. Milkweed, $22 (9781571313027).
Middle-aged Minnesotan Holm found a place in Iceland on the shore of a fjord to be “the fulfillment of a lifetime of longing,” and he contrasts what he loves there with an America he increasingly has difficulty recognizing.
The Big Girls. By Susanna Moore. Knopf, $24 (1-4000-4190-2).
In this compelling jail-house drama, Moore blurs the lines between criminals and their jailers, emphasizing their common humanity.
Bridge of Sighs. By Richard Russo. Knopf, $26.95 (9780375414954).
Coursing with humor and compassion, this rich novel offers multilayered portraits of a trio of childhood friends and, by extension, their quintessentially American hometown.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. By Junot Diaz. Riverhead, $24.95 (1-59448-958-0).
Diaz’s powerful, inventive, and big-hearted family saga takes measure of the Dominican Republic’s cruel history as he tells the story of immigrant “ghetto nerd” and boy of conscience Oscar Wao and his wild and heroic mother and sister.
By George. By Wesley Stace. Little, Brown, $24.95 (9780316830324).
This multilinear, multigenerational saga follows the backstage failures behind the onstage success of a wildly eccentric, dysfunctional family of ventriloquists. Narrated in part by a sardonic ventriloquist’s dummy, Stace’s uproarious tragicomedy begs the question, “Who’s in control, the puppet or the puppet master?”
Cheating at Canasta. By William Trevor. Viking, $24.95 (9780670018376).
In his latest collection of stunning short stories, his twenty-sixth book of fiction, Irishman Trevor remains at his peak, demonstrating the folly of labeling him old- fashioned.
Divisadero. By Michael Ondaatje. Knopf, $25 (9780307266354).
In a complex novel that nevertheless proves an irresistible read, the author tells the story of how two sisters grew up with a young man their father practically adopted and how a horrible event in their youth became the determining factor in how the three of them led the rest of their lives.
Exit Ghost. By Philip Roth. Houghton, $26 (9780618915477).
The ninth novel to feature famous writer Nathan Zuckerman finds Roth’s alter ego in the “winter” of his life; this is a beautifully conceived tale of acceptance of one’s irreversible descent into oblivion.
Falling Man. By Don DeLillo. Scribner, $26 (1-4165-4602-2).
With a brilliant command of language, DeLillo parses the tragedy and heartbreak of 9/11 in a devastating novel that follows a lawyer from the moment he emerges from the World Trade Center through the succeeding months, which offer moments of both true connection and profound alienation. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction.)
Foreigners. By Caryl Phillips. Knopf, $24.95 (1-4000-4397-2).
Phillips, a novelist who draws deeply from history’s well, fictionalizes the lives of three black men in England to form an indelible triptych depicting the suffering of individuals condemned to the status of aliens and undesirables.
A Free Life. By Ha Jin. Pantheon, $26 (9780375424656).
The horrors of Tiananmen Square, a faltering marriage, and a poet’s need to write complicate the already daunting obstacles facing immigrants striving to achieve the American dream in this tender and penetrating novel about a Chinese family reinventing home.
The Gathering. By Anne Enright. Grove/Black Cat, paper, $14 (0-8021-7039-0).
With an intense lyrical style, Irish novelist Enright depicts a woman in the grip of grief following her wayward brother’s suicide.
How the Dead Dream. By Lydia Millet. Soft Skull, $22 (1-593761-84-8).
A reclusive, money-obsessed L.A. real-estate developer abruptly awakens to the suffering of animals in brilliant and compassionate satirist Millet’s riveting journey into the heart of extinction.
In the Driver’s Seat. By Helen Simpson. Knopf, $22 (0-307-26522-6).
In a stunningly imaginative collection of short short stories, this English author offers hard-edged but soft-centered perceptions of real life from her unique, even odd perspective.
The Italian Lover. By Robert Hellenga. Little, Brown, $23.95 (0-316-11763-3).
This sort-of sequel to Hellenga’s much-loved Sixteen Pleasures (1994) delivers another sumptuous, sensual story of love lost and found, again set in Florence but this time merging the facts of fictional and real-life publishing history.
The Maytrees. By Annie Dillard. HarperCollins, $24.95 (9780061239533).
With Cape Cod as her setting and free-spirited characters as her envoys, Dillard parlays her philosophical outlooks and keen attunement to the natural world into a mythic and rhapsodic tale of love and life’s metamorphoses.
The Ministry of Special Cases. By Nathan Englander. Knopf, $25 (9780375404931).
This staggering first novel is set in 1970s Argentina during the so-called dirty war, carried out by the military regime against real or imagined insurrectionaries; the author sensitively follows the plight of a husband and wife who lose their son in the military crackdown.
A Miracle of Catfish. By Larry Brown. Algonquin, $26.95 (1-56512-536-3).
Brown died in 2004, leaving behind his sixth novel: a rugged, masterful work about a crotchety old man who builds a catfish pond on his property and eagerly awaits fishing season.
Mister Pip. By Lloyd Jones. Dial, $24 (0-385-34106-7).
In this eloquent homage to the power of storytelling, a group of young islanders, caught in the middle of a civil war, become entirely riveted by their teacher’s recitation of Great Expectations.
New England White. By Stephen L. Carter. Knopf, $26.95 (9780375413629).
When Julia Carlyle is drawn into the murder investigation of a brilliant black economist, she uncovers connections between a powerful black social club and three former college roommates. A sharp, absorbing look at the black elite, academia, and power politics.
On Chesil Beach. By Ian MacEwan. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $22 (9780385522403).
This achingly beautiful narrative peers behind closed doors, but never lasciviously, at a young married couple on their disastrous wedding night in the early 1960s; an ingenious exploration of addled psychology.
Orpheus Lost. By Janette Turner Hospital. Norton, $24.95 (9780393065527).
Hospital explores how terrorism and its manifestations affect the lives of ordinary people. The story of Leela-May Magnolia Moore, her lover Mishka, and her old friend Cobb reveals a perfect storm of conflicted personal lives crashing against a run-amok external world where individual identity has no value.
Outcast. By Shimon Ballas. Tr. by Ammiel Alcalay. City Lights, paper, $13.95 (9780872864818).
Iraqi civil engineer and historian Haroun Soussan left Judaism, embraced Islam, and fought Zionism, fracturing family and friendships. With the Iran-Iraq War looming, he now feels outcast even within his homeland.
Petropolis. By Anna Ulinich. Viking, $24.95 (9780670038190).
This brave blend of satire, farce, and heart-wrenching realism charts an immigrant’s journey in which a mixed-race Russian Jew, desperate for escape, decamps to America but finds an even more absurd reality than the one she left behind.
The Rebels. By Sandor Marai. Tr. by George Szirtes. Knopf, $24.95 (9780375407574).
This late Hungarian novelist wrote historical fiction rooted in the politics, manners, and events of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire; the third of his splendid novels to be translated into English is set in a provincial Hungarian town during World War I.
The Seventh Well. By Fred Wander. Tr. by Michael Hofmann. Norton, $23.95 (9780393065381).
In this slim, overwhelmingly powerful Holocaust novel, written by a concentration camp survivor, the narrator, in ironically beautiful prose, tells the stories of the men whom he knew during his long months of incarceration.
Skylark Farm. By Antonia Arslan. Tr. by Geoffrey Brock. Knopf, $23.95 (9781400044351).
Arslan conjures the Armenian Holocaust of 1915 in the story of her immediate family forebears—all but one of them female—who survived it. Related as if it were a legend, charged with suspense, this is a soul-shaking novel.
Strange as This Weather Has Been. By Ann Pancake. Shoemaker & Hoard, paper, $14.95 (9781593761660).
A Thousand Splendid Suns. By Khaled Hosseini. Riverhead, $25.95 (1-59448-950-5).
Following his best-selling The Kite Runner (2003), Hosseini views the plight of modern Afghanistan through the eyes of two very different women to create an unforgettably sad and beautiful tale.
Tree of Smoke. By Denis Johnson. Farrar, $27 (0-374-27912-8).
Johnson is a gifted writer with a knack for erudite and colorful dialogue, and his sense of time is immaculate and visceral. With this worthy addition to Vietnam War literature, he confidently joins the ranks of Tim O’Brien, Larry Heinemann, and Michael Herr.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. By Michael Chabon. HarperCollins, $26.95 (9780007149827).
Drawing on the conventions of the Chandlerian private-eye novel, Chabon creates an epic-scale alternate history in which Alaska, not Israel, is the embattled Jewish homeland. Chabon manipulates his bulging plot masterfully, but what allows the novel to soar is its humor and humanity.
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