The Best Nonfiction of 2012
I continue my quest to track down the best books of the year by looking at the nonfiction lists (Please see my previous post for best fiction.). The following is compiled from the 2012 best lists from Amazon, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Barnes & Noble, Book Page and the Washington Post. While several books stand out, no book made all seven compilations. For more information about the following books, click on the title to go to our library catalog.
Four books were mentioned five times:
1) Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. The Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post spent three years among the poor residents of a slum near the Mubai International Airport. The New York Times called it an “exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. …. Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted.”
2) "Mortality'' by Christopher Hitchens. When the author/journalist learned he had esophageal cancer, he spent the next 18 months until his death writing about the disease and his pending death. Kirkus Reviews described it as “a jovially combative riposte to anyone who thought that death would silence master controversialist Hitchens.’’
3) "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power'' by Jon Meacham. This is the latest biography of the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence. The author won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2009 for “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Joyce Appleby for the Washington Post wrote that Meacham “accomplishes something more impressive than dissecting Jefferson’s political skills by explaining his greatness, a different task from chronicling a life, though he does that too — and handsomely. Even though I know quite a lot about Jefferson, I was repeatedly surprised by the fresh information Meacham brings to his work. Surely there is not a significant detail out there, in any pertinent archive, that he has missed.’’
4) "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail'' by Cheryl Strayed. An Oprah Book Club pick, the author, who is devastated by her mother’s death and the end of her marriage, decides to hike more than 1,000 miles over three months. The Library Journal wrote that “She takes readers with her on the trail, and the transformation she experiences on its course is significant: she goes from feeling out of her element with a too-big backpack and too-small boots to finding a sense of home in the wilderness and with the allies she meets along the way.’’
Four books were listed four times:
1) “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity’’ by Andrew Solomon. The author, who won the National Book Award for “The Noonday Demon’’ in 2001, interviewed more than 300 families that have exceptional children. Publisher’s Weekly writes, “Profoundly moving…Solomon’s own trials of feeling marginalized as gay, dyslexic, and depressive, while still yearning to be a father, frame these affectingly rendered real tales about bravely playing the cards one’s dealt.”
2) “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956’’ by Anne Applebaum. The author, who won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for “Gulag’’, provides a sequel about the spread of communism after World War II. The Washington Post wrote, “One of the most compelling but also serious works on Europe’s past to appear in recent memory…In her relentless quest for understanding, Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity.”
3) “Joseph Anton: a Memoir’’ by Salman Rushdie. When novelist Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death in 1989 by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the writer spent the next nine years in hiding, using the alias “Joseph Anton. “A harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie’s work throughout his career,’’ wrote Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times.
4) “Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon Johnson’’ by Robert A. Caro. Caro’s fourth book in his LBJ series follows years 1958-1964. Neal Thompson from Amazon wrote, “Lyndon Johnson finally reaches the White House. At 600-plus pages, it’s a brick of a book, but it reads at times like a novel, and a thriller, and a Greek tragedy. Caro's version of JFK's assassination is especially chilling, and the characters—not just LBJ, but the Kennedys and the power brokers of Washington --are downright Shakespearean.’’
Eight books were named three times:
1) “Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama’’ by Alison Bechdel: A graphic novel follow-up to Fun Home with humorous stories about the author's mother.
2) “Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies’’ by Ben Macintyre: The work of six double agents helped Allied troops across the Channel on D-Day.
3) “End of Your Life Book Club’’by Will Schwalbe: A touching story about how a son forms a book club with his dying mother.
4) “People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil that Swallowed Her Up'' by Richard Lloyd Parry: Follows a gruesome murder case in Japan.
5) “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis’’ by Timothy Egan: A biographical portrait of a famous photographer who photographed more than 80 Native American tribes.
6) “Social Conquest of Earth’’ by Edward O. Wilson: A groundbreaking book about evolution by a celebrated scientist.
7) “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic’’ by David Quammen: Tracks the animal origins of human diseases.
8) “Winter Journal’’ by Paul Auster: A memoir from an acclaimed novelist.
Thirty books made the cut two times:
2) “By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir’’ by Joe Blair
3) “Cronkite’’ by Douglas G. Brinkley
4) “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child’’ by Bob Spitz
5) “Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution’’ by Rebecca Stott
6) “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt’’ by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
7) “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power’’ by Rachel Maddow
8) “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars’’ by Kurt Eichenwald
9) “God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine’’ by Victoria Sweet
10) “Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies’’ by Mikey Walsh
11) “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History’’ by Laurent Dubois
12) “Hello, Goodbye, Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings'' by Craig Brown
13) “Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’’ by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer
14) “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan’’ by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
16) “Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death’’ by Jill Lepore
17) “On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson’’ by William Souder
19) “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - and Future’’ by Karen Elliott House
20) “Patagonian Hare: A Memoir’’ by Claude Lanzmann and John Gaffney
21) “Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy’’ by David Nasaw
23) “President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity’’ by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
24) “Quiet: Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’’ by Susan Cain
25) “Reinventing Bach’’ by Paul Elie
26) “Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age’’ by Richard Seaver, Jeannette Seaver and James Salter (not in catalog)
29) “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God’’ by T.M. Luhrmann
30) “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’’ by Jeanette Winterson
I hope this list gives you great reading and gift ideas. Do you have a nonfiction book that you think should have made the list?