A Student of History

November 23, 2007

Top Books

Filed under: Great books,New books — John Maass @ 4:35 pm

Below are the non-fiction selections in the “Top 100 Books” list from the NYT Book Review:

AGENT ZIGZAG: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal. By Ben Macintyre. (Harmony, $25.95.) The exploits of Eddie Chapman, a British criminal who became a double agent in World War II.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE: A Life. By Hugh Brogan. (Yale University, $35.) Brogan’s combative biography takes issue with Tocqueville’s misgivings about democracy.

ALICE: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. By Stacy A. Cordery. (Viking, $32.95.) A biography of Theodore Roosevelt’s shrewd, tart-tongued older daughter.

AMERICAN CREATION: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. By Joseph J. Ellis. (Knopf, $26.95.) This history explores an underappreciated point: that this country was constructed to foster arguments, not to settle them.

THE ARGUMENT: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. By Matt Bai. (Penguin Press, $25.95.) An exhaustive account of the Democrats’ transformative efforts, by a political reporter for The New York Times Magazine.

ARSENALS OF FOLLY: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. By Richard Rhodes. (Knopf, $28.95.) This artful history focuses on the events leading up to the pivotal 1986 Reykjavik summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. (Review will be available Friday evening, Nov. 23.)

THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER: Who Killed the Bishop? By Francisco Goldman. (Grove, $25.) The novelist returns to Guatemala, a major inspiration for his fiction, to try to solve the real-life killing of a Roman Catholic bishop.

BROTHER, I’M DYING. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $23.95.) Danticat’s cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an undercurrent of melancholy in this memoir of her Haitian family.

CIRCLING MY MOTHER. By Mary Gordon. (Pantheon, $24.) Gordon’s deeply personal memoir focuses on the engaged and lively Catholicism of her mother, a glamorous career woman who was also an alcoholic with a body afflicted by polio.

CLEOPATRA’S NOSE: 39 Varieties of Desire. By Judith Thurman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.95.) These surgically analytic essays of cultural criticism showcase themes of loss, hunger and motherhood.

CULTURAL AMNESIA: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts. By Clive James. (Norton, $35.) Essays on 20th-century luminaries by one of Britain’s leading public intellectuals.

THE DAY OF BATTLE: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy. By Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $35.) A celebration of the American experience in these campaigns.

THE DIANA CHRONICLES. By Tina Brown. (Doubleday, $27.50.) The former New Yorker editor details the sordid domestic drama that pitted the Princess of Wales against Britain’s royal family.

THE DISCOVERY OF FRANCE: A Historical Geography From the Revolution to the First World War. By Graham Robb. (Norton, $27.95.) Robb presents France as a group of diverse regions, each with its own long history, intricate belief systems and singular customs.

DOWN THE NILE: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff. By Rosemary Mahoney. (Little, Brown, $23.99.) Mahoney juxtaposes her solo rowing journey with encounters with the Egyptians she met.

DRIVEN OUT: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. By Jean Pfaelzer. (Random House, $27.95.) How the Chinese were brutalized and demonized in the 19th-century American West — and how they fought back.

DUE CONSIDERATIONS: Essays and Criticism. By John Updike. (Knopf, $40.) Updike’s first nonfiction collection in eight years displays breathtaking scope as well as the author’s seeming inability to write badly.

EASTER EVERYWHERE: A Memoir. By Darcey Steinke. (Bloomsbury, $24.95.) A minister’s daughter confronts her own spiritual rootlessness.

EDITH WHARTON. By Hermione Lee. (Knopf, $35.) This meticulous biography shows Wharton’s significance as a designer, decorator, gardener and traveler, as well as a writer.

THE FATHER OF ALL THINGS: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. By Tom Bissell. (Pantheon, $25.) Bissell mixes rigorous narrative accounts of the war and emotionally powerful scenes of the distress it brought his own family.

THE FLORIST’S DAUGHTER. By Patricia Hampl. (Harcourt, $24.) In her fifth and most powerful memoir, Hampl looks hard at her relationship to her Midwestern roots as her mother lies dying in the hospital.

FORESKIN’S LAMENT: A Memoir. By Shalom Auslander. (Riverhead, $24.95.) With scathing humor and bitter irony, Auslander wrestles with his Jewish Orthodox roots.

GOMORRAH: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System. By Roberto Saviano. Translated by Virginia Jewiss. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) This powerful work of reportage started a national conversation in Italy when it was published there last year. (Review will be available Friday evening, Nov. 23.)

THE HOUSE THAT GEORGE BUILT: With a Little Help From Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty. By Wilfrid Sheed. (Random House, $29.95.) A rich homage to Gershwin, Berlin and other masters of the swinging jazz song.

HOW DOCTORS THINK. By Jerome Groopman. (Houghton Mifflin, $26.) Groopman takes a tough-minded look at the ways in which doctors and patients interact, and at the profound problems facing modern medicine.

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. By James L. Kugel. (Free Press, $35.) In this tour through the Jewish scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament, more or less), a former professor of Hebrew seeks to reclaim the Bible from the literalists and the skeptics.

HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ. By Pierre Bayard.Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. (Bloomsbury, $19.95.) A French literature professor wants to assuage our guilt over the ways we actually read and discuss books.

IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. By Rajiv Chandrasekaran. (Knopf, $25.95.) The author, a Washington Post journalist, catalogs the arrogance and ineptitude that marked America’s governance of Iraq.

THE INVISIBLE CURE: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS. By Helen Epstein. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Rigorous reporting unearths new findings among the old issues.

LEGACY OF ASHES: The History of the CIA. By Tim Weiner. (Doubleday, $27.95.) A comprehensive chronicle of the American intelligence agency, from the days of the Iron Curtain to Iraq, by a reporter for The New York Times.

LENI: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. By Steven Bach. (Knopf, $30.) How Hitler’s favorite director made “Triumph of the Will” and convinced posterity that she didn’t know what the Nazis were up to.

LEONARD WOOLF: A Biography. By Victoria Glendinning. (Free Press, $30.) Glendinning shows Virginia Woolf’s accomplished husband as passionate, reserved and, above all, stoical.

A LIFE OF PICASSO: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. By John Richardson. (Knopf, $40.) The third, penultimate installment in Richardson’s biography spans a dauntingly complicated time in Picasso’s life and in European history.

LITTLE HEATHENS: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. By Mildred Armstrong Kalish. (Bantam, $22.) Kalish’s soaring love for her childhood memories saturates this memoir, which coaxes the reader into joy, wonder and even envy.

LONG WAY GONE: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. By Ishmael Beah. (Sarah Crichton/-Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22.) A former child warrior gives literary voice to the violence and killings he both witnessed and perpetrated during the Sierra Leone civil war.

THE NINE: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. By Jeffrey Toobin. (Doubleday, $27.95.) An erudite outsider’s account of the cloistered court’s inner workings.

THE ORDEAL OF ELIZABETH MARSH: A Woman in World History. By Linda Colley. (Pantheon, $27.50.) Colley tracks the “compulsively itinerant” Marsh across the 18th century and several continents.

PORTRAIT OF A PRIESTESS: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece. By Joan Breton Connelly. (Princeton University, $39.50.) A scholar finds that religion meant power for Greek women.

RALPH ELLISON: A Biography. By Arnold Rampersad. (Knopf, $35.) Ellison was seemingly cursed by his failure to follow up “Invisible Man.”

THE REST IS NOISE: Listening to the Twentieth Century. By Alex Ross. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) In his own feat of orchestration, The New Yorker’s music critic presents a history of the last century as refracted through its classical music.

SCHULZ AND PEANUTS: A Biography. By David Michaelis. (Harper/ Harper-Collins, $34.95.) Actual “Peanuts” cartoons movingly illustrate this portrait of the strip’s creator, presented here as a profoundly lonely and unhappy man.

SERVICE INCLUDED: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. By Phoebe Damrosch. (Morrow, $24.95.) A memoir about waiting tables at the acclaimed Manhattan restaurant Per Se.

SOLDIER’S HEART: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point. By Elizabeth D. Samet. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) A civilian teacher at the Military Academy offers a significant perspective on a crucial social and political force: honor.

STANLEY: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer. By Tim Jeal. (Yale University, $38.) Of the many biographies of Henry Morton Stanley, Jeal’s, which profits from his access to an immense new trove of material, is the most complete and readable.

THE STILLBORN GOD: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. By Mark Lilla. (Knopf, $26.) With nuance and complexity, Lilla examines how we managed to separate, in a fashion, church and state.

THOMAS HARDY. By Claire Tomalin. (Penguin Press, $35.) Tomalin presents Hardy as a fascinating case study in mid-Victorian literary sociology.

TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton. By Sara Wheeler. (Random House, $27.95.) The story of the man immortalized in “Out of Africa.”

TWO LIVES: Gertrude and Alice. By Janet Malcolm. (Yale University, $25.) Sharp criticism meets playful, absorbing biography in this study of Stein and Toklas.

THE WHISPERERS: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia. By Orlando Figes. (Metropolitan, $35.) An extraordinary look at the gulag’s impact on desperate individuals and families struggling to survive. (Review will be available Friday evening, Nov. 23.)

THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. By Saul Friedländer. (HarperCollins, $39.95.) Individual testimony and broader events are skillfully interwoven.

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