It’s that time of year, when book people look back over the year’s offerings and select their “top books of the year” lists. Here are some of our favorite lists and some links to others…enjoy!
The 10 Best Books of 2012
Selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
BRING UP THE BODIES
By Hilary Mantel.
A John Macrae Book/ Henry Holt & Company, $28.
Taking up where her previous novel, “Wolf Hall,” left off, Mantel makes the seemingly worn-out story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn newly fascinating and suspenseful. Seen from the perspective of Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless maneuverings of the court move swiftly to the inevitable executions. Both this novel and its predecessor were awarded the Man Booker Prize. Might the trilogy’s forthcoming conclusion, in which Cromwell will meet his demise, score Mantel a hat trick?
By Chris Ware.
Pantheon Books, $50.
Ware’s innovative graphic novel deepens and enriches the form by breaking it apart. Packaged in a large box like a board game, the project contains 14 “easily misplaced elements” — pamphlets, books, foldout pages — that together follow the residents of a Chicago triplex (and one anthropomorphized bee) through their ordinary lives. In doing so, it tackles universal themes including art, sex, family and existential loneliness in a way that’s simultaneously playful and profound.
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
By Dave Eggers.
McSweeney’s Books, $25.
In an empty city in Saudi Arabia, a middle-aged American businessman waits day after day to close the deal he hopes will redeem his forlorn life. Eggers, continuing the worldly outlook that informed his recent books “Zeitoun” and “What Is the What,” spins this spare story — a globalized “Death of a Salesman” — into a tightly controlled parable of America’s international standing and a riff on middle-class decline that approaches Beckett in its absurdist despair.
By Zadie Smith.
The Penguin Press, $26.95.
Smith’s piercing new novel, her first in seven years, traces the friendship of two women who grew up in a housing project in northwest London, their lives disrupted by fateful choices and the brutal efficiency of chance. The narrative edges forward in fragments, uncovering truths about identity and money and sex with incandescent language that, for all of its formal experimentation, is intimate and searingly direct.
THE YELLOW BIRDS
By Kevin Powers.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.
A veteran of the Iraq war, Powers places that conflict at the center of his impressionistic first novel, about the connected but diverging fates of two young soldiers and the trouble one of them has readjusting to life at home. Reflecting the chaos of war, the fractured narrative jumps around in time and location, but Powers anchors it with crystalline prose and a driving mystery: How did the narrator’s friend die?
BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS
Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.
By Katherine Boo.
Random House, $27.
This National Book Award-winning study of life in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, is marked by reporting so rigorous it recalls the muckrakers, and characters so rich they evoke Dickens. The slum dwellers have a skillful and empathetic chronicler in Boo, who depicts them in all their humanity and ruthless, resourceful glory.
FAR FROM THE TREE
Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.
By Andrew Solomon.
For more than a decade, Solomon studied the challenges, risks and rewards of raising children with “horizontal identities,” traits that they don’t share with their parents. As he investigates how families have grown stronger or fallen apart while raising prodigies, dwarfs, schizophrenics, transgendered children or those conceived in rape, he complicates everything we thought we knew about love, sacrifice and success.
THE PASSAGE OF POWER
The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
By Robert A. Caro.
Alfred A. Knopf, $35.
The fourth volume of Caro’s prodigious masterwork, which now exceeds 3,000 pages, explores, with the author’s signature combination of sweeping drama, psychological insight and painstaking research, Johnson’s humiliating years as vice president, when he was excluded from the inner circle of the Kennedy White House and stripped of power. We know what Johnson does not, that this purgatory is prelude to the event of a single horrific day, when an assassin’s bullet placed Johnson, and the nation he now had to lead, on a new course.
The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.
By David Nasaw.
The Penguin Press, $40.
Nasaw took six years to complete this sprawling, arresting account of a banker-cum-speculator-cum-moviemaker-cum-ambassador-cum-dynastic founder. Joe Kennedy was involved in virtually all the history of his time, and his biographer persuasively makes the case that he was the most fascinating member of his large, famous and very formidable family.
WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST?
An Existential Detective Story.
By Jim Holt.
Liveright Publishing/W. W. Norton & Company, $27.95.
For several centuries now, thinkers have wondered, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” In search of an answer, Holt takes the reader on a witty and erudite journey from London to Paris to Austin, Tex., as he listens to a varied cast of philosophers, scientists and even novelists offer solutions that are sometimes closely reasoned, sometimes almost mystical, often very strange, always entertaining and thought-provoking.
A version of this article appeared in print on December 9, 2012, on page BR11 of the Sunday Book Review
|Best Books 2012: Biography and History
Margaret Heilbrun Reid, Jan. Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards. Univ. of Texas. Oct. 2012. 460p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780292719644. $27. BIOG
Reid presents a colorful, warts-and-all portrayal of this unique, one-term progressive Texas governor and feminist who served as a role model for Hillary Clinton. The author’s friendship with Richards adds a warm personal dimension to the story of this governor who included in large numbers women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and gays in her administration and who also overcame her own personal demons of addictions to prescription drugs and alcohol. (LJ 8/15/12)Read More›››
|Best Books 2012: Business
Elizabeth Nelson Grind, Kirsten. The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual: The Biggest Bank Failure in American History. S. & S. ISBN 9781451617924. $27; eISBN 9781451617948.
With the U.S. economy still struggling from the Great Recession, this story of the history, players, and failure of Washington Mutual is well timed and smartly told by one of the journalists who followed the bank’s story through its fall and fire sale. (LJ 5/15/12)Read More›››
|Best Books 2012: Consumer Health
Barbara Bibel Broad, William J. (text) & Bobby Clennell (illus.). The Science of Yoga: The Myths and the Rewards. S. & S. ISBN 9781451641424. $26; eISBN 9781451641448.
Science writer and yoga practitioner Broad looks at the evidence surrounding the practice and explains what’s good, what’s false, and what can be dangerous about yoga. (LJ 1/12)Read More›››
|Best Books 2012: Memoir
Therese Purcell Nielsen Busch, Benjamin. Dust to Dust. Ecco: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062014849. $25.95; eISBN 9780062096784.
Busch addresses the sustaining value of art in the face of life and death from the perspective of one who has been to war. (LJ 3/1/12)Read More›››
|Best Books 2012: Poetry
Barbara HoffertGreenbaum, Jessica. The Two Yvonnes. Princeton Univ. (Series of Contemporary Poets). ISBN 9780691156620. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9780691156637. $12.95.
While Greenbaum finds it “odd that just one key/ let me in my front door/ and into my life every day,” her fluidly, even propulsively written second collection is itself a splendid key to everyday experience. (LJ 10/1/12)
|Best Books 2012: Science and Technology
Margaret DominyBejan, Adrian & J. Peder Zane. Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385534611. $27.95; eISBN 9780385534628.
Learn, with the help of mechanical engineer Bejan and journalist Zane, how the mapping of repetitive models in nature—river basins, cardiovascular systems, and bolts of lightning—develops into a principle of physics. (LJ 2/15/12)
|Best Books 2012: Spiritual Living
Graham ChristianAbdul, Rauf F. Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America. Free Pr: S. & S. ISBN 9781451656008. $24; eISBN 9781451656022.
Moving the Mountain belongs to the class of spirituality titles that are not only growthful for the individual soul but a necessity for the body politic. Abdul, named one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” last year, shows how Islam, rightly applied, can support the rights of women, as well as a full life in contemporary America. (LJ 5/1/12)
|Best Books 2012: DIY
LJ Reviews Plowman, Randal. The Collage Workbook: How to Get Started and Stay Inspired. Lark Crafts: Lark Books. 2012. c.132p. illus. index. ISBN 9781454701996. pap. $17.95.
Chock full of vibrant examples of collage work, this book encourages readers to experiment, explore, and establish a daily creative practice using found materials. This book can inspire readers to see possibilities in mundane and unusual places.
|Best Books 2012: Cookbooks
Lisa Campbell101 Cookbooks: 501 Classic Recipes. Rizzoli. Oct. 2012. 688p. ed. by Marvin J. Taylor & Clark Wolf. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780847837939. $40.
Essential for cookbook lovers and food historians, this curated collection offers signature recipes from 20th-century classics, from Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, to James Beard’s American Cookery, to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. (LJ 01/15/13)