Holiday Gift Guide
100 Notable Books of 2010
Published: November 24, 2010
FICTION & POETRY
AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE. By David Goodwillie. (Scribner, $25.) A bombing unites a blogger and a beautiful eco-terrorist in this literary thriller, an exploration of what motivates radicalism in an age of disillusion.
ANGELOLOGY. By Danielle Trussoni. (Viking, $27.95.) With a smitten art historian at her side, the young nun at the center of this rousing first novel is drawn into an ancient struggle against the Nephilim, hybrid offspring of humans and heavenly beings.
THE ASK. By Sam Lipsyte. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) A deeply cynical academic fund-raiser fighting for his job is the protagonist of this darkly humorous satire, a witty paean to white-collar loserdom.
BOUND. By Antonya Nelson. (Bloomsbury, $25.) For Nelson’s complacent heroine, the death of an estranged friend elicits memories of their reckless youth.
COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY. By Hans Keilson. Translated by Damion Searls. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22.) Set in Nazi-occupied Europe, this novel, appearing only now in English, is a mid-century masterpiece by the centenarian Keilson, who served in the Dutch resistance.
DOUBLE HAPPINESS: Stories. By Mary-Beth Hughes. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $14.) Hughes likes to juxtapose her characters’ relative passivity with the knife edge of evil within or, more often, outside them.
FOREIGN BODIES. By Cynthia Ozick. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.) This nimble, entertaining homage to Henry James’s late work “The Ambassadors,” in which an American heads to Paris to retrieve a wayward son, brilliantly upends the theme, meaning and stylistic manner of its revered precursor.
FREEDOM. By Jonathan Franzen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) Like Franzen’s previous novel, “The Corrections,” this is a masterly portrait of a nuclear family in turmoil, with an intricately ordered narrative and a majestic sweep that seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life.
FUN WITH PROBLEMS: Stories. By Robert Stone. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.) Our enduring central struggle — the battle between the head and the heart — is enacted again and again in Stone’s collection.
GIRL BY THE ROAD AT NIGHT: A Novel of Vietnam. By David Rabe. (Simon & Schuster, $23.) In this tale of war and eros, two young people from opposite ends of the earth are caught up in events far beyond their control.
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST. By Stieg Larsson. (Knopf, $27.95.) In the third installment of the pulse-racing trilogy featuring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the pair are threatened by an adversary from deep within the very government that should be protecting them.
GREAT HOUSE. By Nicole Krauss. (Norton, $24.95.) In this tragic vision of a novel, Nadia, a writer in New York, faces a wrenching parting when a girl shows up to claim an enormous desk that has been in her safekeeping for decades.
HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE. By Charles Yu. (Pantheon, $24.) Yu wraps his lonely story of a time machine repairman in layers of gorgeous meta-science-fiction.
HOW TO READ THE AIR. By Dinaw Mengestu. (Riverhead, $25.95.) Mengestu’s own origins inform this tale of an Ethiopian-American tracing the uncertain road once taken by his parents.
I CURSE THE RIVER OF TIME. By Per Petterson. Translated by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson. (Graywolf, $23.) This novel’s lonely Scandinavian protagonist grapples with divorce, death and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
ILUSTRADO. By Miguel Syjuco. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) A murder mystery punctuated with serious philosophical musings, this novel traces 150 years of Filipino history, posing questions about identity and art, exile and duty.
THE IMPERFECTIONISTS. By Tom Rachman. (Dial, $25.) This intricate novel is built around the personal stories of staff members at an improbable English-language newspaper in Rome, and of the family who founded it in the 1950s.
THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE. By Julie Orringer. (Knopf, $26.95.) Orringer’s protagonist is a Jewish architecture student in late-1930s Paris forced to return home to Hungary ahead of the Nazi invasion there.
LISA ROBERTSON’S MAGENTA SOUL WHIP. By Lisa Robertson. (Coach House, paper, $14.95.) In these intellectual poems, the experimental curtains suddenly part to reveal clear, durable truth.
THE LIVING FIRE: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2010. By Edward Hirsch. (Knopf, $27.) Hirsch’s “living fire” is an irrational counterforce with which he balances his dignified quotidian.
THE LONG SONG. By Andrea Levy. (Frances Coady/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Levy’s high-spirited, ambitious heroine works on a plantation in the final days of slavery in Jamaica.
THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY. By Zachary Mason. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) The conceit behind the multiple Odysseuses here (comic, dead, doubled, amnesiac) is that this is a translation of an ancient papyrus, a collection of variations on the myth.
THE LOTUS EATERS. By Tatjana Soli. (St. Martin’s, $24.99.) The photojournalist heroine of Soli’s Vietnam War novel ponders whether those who represent war merely replicate its violence.
MATTERHORN: A Novel of the Vietnam War. By Karl Marlantes. (El León Literary Arts/Atlantic Monthly, $24.95.) In this tale, 30 years in the creation, bloody folly envelops a Marine company’s construction, abandonment and retaking of a remote hilltop outpost.
MEMORY WALL: Stories. By Anthony Doerr. (Scribner, $24.) These strange, beautiful stories all ask: What, if anything, will be spared time’s depredations?
MR. PEANUT. By Adam Ross. (Knopf, $25.95.) In this daring first novel, a computer game designer suspected of murdering his obese wife is investigated by two marriage-savvy detectives, one of whom is Dr. Sam Sheppard.
THE NEAREST EXIT. By Olen Steinhauer. (Minotaur, $25.99.) The C.I.A. spy in this thriller is sick of his trade’s duplicity, amorality and rootlessness.
THE NEW YORKER STORIES. By Ann Beattie. (Scribner, $30.) This collection of tales dating back to 1974 lets readers imagine their way into a New Yorker fiction editor’s moment of discovery.
ONE DAY. By David Nicholls. (Vintage, paper, $14.95.) Nicholls’s nostalgic novel checks in year by year on the halting romance of two children of the ’80s, she an outspoken lefty, he an apolitical toff.
THE PRIVILEGES. By Jonathan Dee. (Random House, $25.) In this contemporary morality tale, a family stumbles along, rich and dysfunctional, without ethical or moral responsibility.
ROOM. By Emma Donoghue. (Little, Brown, $24.99.) Donoghue’s remarkable novel is narrated by a 5-year-old boy, whose entire world is the 11-by-11-foot room in which his mother is being held against her will.
THE SAME RIVER TWICE. By Ted Mooney. (Knopf, $26.95.) In this nuanced literary thriller, a deal to acquire Soviet-era cultural artifacts puts a Parisian clothing designer and her filmmaker husband in peril.
SELECTED STORIES. By William Trevor. (Viking, $35.) These stories, gathered from Trevor’s last four collections, are frequently melancholy, concerned with loss and disappointment, but warmed with radiant moments of grace or acceptance.
SHADOW TAG. By Louise Erdrich. (Harper/HarperCollins, $25.99.) Erdrich’s portrait of a marriage on its way to dissolution appears to be seeded with deliberate allusions to her own relationship with the writer Michael Dorris.
SOLAR. By Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.95.) In McEwan’s funniest novel yet, a self-deluding physicist cheats on his wives, sends an innocent man to jail and tries to cash in on another scientist’s plans against global warming.
SOMETHING RED. By Jennifer Gilmore. (Scribner, $25.) Gilmore’s contemplative second novel explores the lost ideals and lingering illusions of a family once politically committed to bettering the world.
SOURLAND: Stories. By Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $25.99.) Oates explores the idea that the bereaved wife is a kind of guilty party who deserves everything — most of it violent — that comes her way.
THE SPOT: Stories. By David Means. (Faber & Faber, $23.) Like Beckett, Means reveals a God-like inclination to see his characters as forsaken case studies.
SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY. By Gary Shteyngart. (Random House, $26.) Exhilarating prose illuminates the horrors of a future America in this satire.
THE SURRENDERED. By Chang-rae Lee. (Riverhead, $26.95.) As death draws near, Lee’s heroine, a Korean War orphan now living in New York, sets off for Europe to look for her estranged son.
THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET. By David Mitchell. (Random House, $26.) Mitchell’s historical novel about a young Dutchman in Edo-era Japan is an achingly romantic story of forbidden love and something of an adventurous rescue tale.
THE THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESTPORT. By Cathleen Schine. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Two Manhattan sisters, one wildly emotional, one smartly sensible, come to the aid of their beloved aging mother.
TO THE END OF THE LAND. By David Grossman. Translated by Jessica Cohen. (Knopf, $26.95.) Two friends are deeply involved with the same woman in this somber, haunting novel of love and loyalty in time of conflict, set in Israel between 1967 and 2000.
VIDA. By Patricia Engel. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $14.) Engel’s understated stories are told from the perspective of a daughter of Colombian immigrants.
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. By Jennifer Egan. (Knopf, $25.95.) In her centrifugal, unclassifiably elaborate narrative, Egan creates a set of characters with assorted links to the music business and lets time have its way with them.
WHAT BECOMES: Stories. By A. L. Kennedy. (Knopf, $24.95.) Though the characters in her harrowing fourth collection buckle under the weight of misfortune, Kennedy can go from darkness to humor in a heartbeat.
WHITE EGRETS: Poems. By Derek Walcott. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) The Nobel Prize winner’s latest collection is intensely personal, an old man’s book, craving one more day of light and warmth.
WILD CHILD: Stories. By T. Coraghessan Boyle. (Viking, $25.95.) In these tales, Boyle continues his career-long interest in man’s vexed tussles with nature.
ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis. By Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. (Portfolio/Penguin, $32.95.) More than offering a backward look, this account of the disaster of 2008 helps explain today’s troubling headlines and might help predict tomorrow’s.
APOLLO’S ANGELS: A History of Ballet. By Jennifer Homans. (Random House, $35.) The question of classical ballet’s very survival lies at the heart of this eloquent, truly definitive history, which traces dance across four centuries of wars and revolutions, both artistic and political.
BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women. By Rebecca Traister. (Free Press, $26.) A colorful, emotional argument that 2008 gave feminism a thrilling “new life.”
THE BOOK IN THE RENAISSANCE. By Andrew Pettegree. (Yale University, $40.) A thought-provoking revisionist history of the early years of printing.
THE BRIDGE: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. By David Remnick. (Knopf, $29.95.) This study of Obama before he became president, by the editor of The New Yorker, has many important additions and corrections to make to our reading of “Dreams From My Father.”
CHANGING MY MIND: Occasional Essays. By Zadie Smith. (Penguin Press, $26.95.) The quirky pleasures here are due in part to Smith’s inspired cultural references, from Simone Weil to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
CHARLIE CHAN: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History. By Yunte Huang. (Norton, $26.95.) The urbane presentation of Earl Derr Biggers’s fictional Chinese sleuth, in print and in film, ran counter to the racism of his era.
CHRISTIANITY: The First Three Thousand Years. By Diarmaid MacCulloch. (Viking, $45.) MacCulloch traces the faith’s history through classical philosophy and Jewish tradition, fantastical visions and cold calculations, loving sacrifices and imperial ambitions.
CLEOPATRA: A Life. By Stacy Schiff. (Little, Brown, $29.99.) It’s dizzying to contemplate the ancient thicket of personalities and propaganda Schiff penetrates to show the Macedonian-Egyptian queen in all her ambition, audacity and formidable intelligence.
COLONEL ROOSEVELT. By Edmund Morris. (Random House, $35.) The final volume of Morris’s monumental life of Theodore Roosevelt vividly covers the eventful nine years after he left office.
COMMON AS AIR: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. By Lewis Hyde. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Hyde draws on the American founders for arguments against the privatization of knowledge.
CONTESTED WILL: Who Wrote Shakespeare? By James Shapiro. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) Shapiro is particularly interested in what “the authorship question” says about successive generations of readers.
COUNTRY DRIVING: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory. By Peter Hessler. (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Hessler chronicles the effects of an expanding road network on the rapidly changing lives of individual Chinese.
THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer. By Siddhartha Mukherjee. (Scribner, $30.) Mukherjee’s powerful and ambitious history of cancer and its treatment is an epic story he seems compelled to tell, like a young priest writing a biography of Satan.
EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. By S. C. Gwynne. (Scribner, $27.50.) The story of the last and greatest chief of the tribe that once ruled the Great Plains.
ENCOUNTER. By Milan Kundera. Translated by Linda Asher. (Harper/HarperCollins, $23.99.) Illuminating essays on the arts in the context of a “post art” era.
THE FIERY TRIAL: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. By Eric Foner. (Norton, $29.95.) Foner tackles what would seem an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and sheds new light on it.
FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. By Stephen Sondheim. (Knopf, $39.95.) Sondheim’s analysis of his songs and those of others is both stinging and insightful.
FOUR FISH: The Future of the Last Wild Food. By Paul Greenberg. (Penguin Press, $25.95.) Even as Greenberg lays out the grim and complicated facts about the ravaging of our seas, he manages to sound some hopeful notes about the ultimate fate of fish.
HITCH-22: A Memoir. By Christopher Hitchens. (Twelve, $26.99.) When the colorful, prolific journalist shares a tender memory, he quickly converts it into a larger observation about politics, always for him the most crucial sphere of moral and intellectual life.
THE HONOR CODE: How Moral Revolutions Happen. By Kwame Anthony Appiah. (Norton, $25.95.) A philosopher traces the demise of dueling and slavery among the British and of foot-binding in China, and suggests how a fourth horrific practice — honor killings in today’s Pakistan — might someday meet its end.
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. By Rebecca Skloot. (Crown, $26.) Skloot untangles the ethical issues in the case of a woman who unknowingly donated cancer cells that have been the basis for a vast amount of research.
INSECTOPEDIA. By Hugh Raffles. (Pantheon, $29.95.) In this beautifully written, slyly humorous encyclopedia, Raffles seeks to redress the speciesism that has cast insects as creatures to be regarded with distrust and disgust.
KOESTLER: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. By Michael Scammell. (Random House, $35.) Scammell wants to put the complex intelligence of Koestler (“Darkness at Noon”) back on display and to explain his shifting preoccupations.
THE LAST BOY: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. By Jane Leavy. (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Many biographies of Mantle have been written, but Leavy connects the dots in new and disturbing ways.
LAST CALL: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. By Daniel Okrent. (Scribner, $30.) A remarkably original account of the 14-year orgy of lawbreaking that transformed American social life.
THE LAST HERO: A Life of Henry Aaron. By Howard Bryant. (Pantheon, $29.95.) Amid all the racism, Aaron approached his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record more as grim chore than joyous mission.
THE LAST STAND: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. By Nathaniel Philbrick. (Viking, $30.) The author of “Mayflower” gives appropriate space to Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and others who fought that day, but Custer steals the show.
LIFE. By Keith Richards with James Fox. (Little, Brown, $29.99.) Reading Richards’s autobiography is like getting to corner him in a room to ask everything you always wanted to know about the Rolling Stones.
LONG FOR THIS WORLD: The Strange Science of Immortality. By Jonathan Weiner. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) The English gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, a proselytizer for radical life extension, is the main figure in this engaging study.
THE MIND’S EYE. By Oliver Sacks. (Knopf, $26.95.) In these graceful essays, the neurologist explores how his patients compensate for the abilities they have lost, and confronts his own ocular cancer.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory. By Ben Macintyre. (Harmony, $25.99.) An entertaining spy tale about the British ruse that employed a corpse to cover up the invasion of Sicily.
ORIGINS: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. By Annie Murphy Paul. (Free Press, $26.) Paul’s balanced, common-sense inquiry into the emerging field of fetal origins research is structured around her own pregnancy.
PARISIANS: An Adventure History of Paris. By Graham Robb. (Norton, $28.95.) This series of character studies — some of familiar figures, some not — is arranged to give meaning to a volatile, complicated city.
PEARL BUCK IN CHINA: Journey to “The Good Earth.” By Hilary Spurling. (Simon & Schuster, $27.) The vast historical backdrop of this biography informs but never overwhelms its remarkable, elusive subject.
POPS: A Life of Louis Armstrong. By Terry Teachout. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) This biography maintains that discomfort with Armstrong’s public persona has led detractors to minimize his enormous contributions to music and to civilization.
THE POSSESSED: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. By Elif Batuman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, paper, $15.) An entertaining memoir-cum-travelogue of a graduate student’s improbable education in Russian language and literature.
THE PRICE OF ALTRUISM: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. By Oren Harman. (Norton, $27.95.) Harman surveys 150 years of scientific history to examine the theoretical problem at the core of behavioral biology, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology: Why do organisms sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others?
THE PROMISE: President Obama, Year One. By Jonathan Alter. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) This appraisal by a Newsweek columnist is mercifully free of the sensationalistic tone of other recent campaign books.
THE PUBLISHER: Henry Luce and His American Century. By Alan Brinkley. (Knopf, $35.) The creator of Time and Life used his magazines to advance political favorites, paint an uplifting portrait of the middle class and promote American intervention in the world.
RATIFICATION: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. By Pauline Maier. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) Maier’s history lays out the major issues, the arguments, the local context, the major and minor players, and lots of political rough stuff.
THE SABBATH WORLD: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. By Judith Shulevitz. (Random House, $26.) This wide-ranging meditation is part spiritual memoir, part religious history, part literary exegesis.
SCORPIONS: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices. By Noah Feldman. (Twelve, $30.) A group portrait of Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, Hugo Black and William O. Douglas.
SECRET HISTORIAN: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. By Justin Spring. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $32.50.) A sad, dangerous, astonishingly eccentric 20th-century life, recounted in absorbing detail.
SUPREME POWER: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court. By Jeff Shesol. (Norton, $27.95.) Contention over Roosevelt’s proposal to transform the court nearly paralyzed his administration for over a year and severely damaged fragile Democratic unity.
THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith. By Joan Schenkar. (St. Martin’s, $40.) A witty biography of the manipulative, secretive and obsessive creator of Tom Ripley, a character who was a version of Highsmith herself.
THE TENTH PARALLEL: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. By Eliza Griswold. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) A journey along a latitude line where two religions meet and often clash.
TRAVELS IN SIBERIA. By Ian Frazier. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) Dubious meals, vehicle malfunctions and relics of the Gulag fill Frazier’s uproarious, sometimes dark account of his wanderings.
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. By Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House, $30.) This consummate account of the exodus of blacks from the South between 1915 and 1970 explores parallels with earlier European immigration.
WASHINGTON: A Life. By Ron Chernow. (Penguin Press, $40.) Chernow brings his considerable literary talent to bear on the continued hunger of many Americans for more tales of the first president’s exploits.
THE WAVE: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean. By Susan Casey. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Brainy scientists, extreme surfers and mountains of water mix it up in Casey’s vivid, kinetic narrative.
WILLIE MAYS: The Life, the Legend. By James S. Hirsch. (Scribner, $30.) In his long, fascinating account, Hirsch concentrates mostly on the baseball brilliance, reminding us of a time when the only performance-enhancing drug was joy.