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Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates (Random/Spiegel & Grau)

Coates's book, presented as a letter to his teenage son, is brief but immense in its scope, traversing his own youth, recent concerns about police violence against African-Americans, and the legacy of American racism. It will be remembered as a classic.

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The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

Andrea Wulf (Knopf)

Though his name is scattered across the geography of the Americas and his ideas are now commonplace, Prussian-born naturalist, explorer, and writer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) is a nearly forgotten figure. Wulf restores the man who first posited the concept of human-induced climate change.

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The Story of the Lost Child

Elena Ferrante, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)

For the second straight year, we're including an installment of Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels in our top 10. The series wraps up with The Story of the Lost Child, which finds protagonist Elena using biographical details from her fiery friend Lila's life in her own work. A much-anticipated entry and well worth the wait.

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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

William Finnegan (Penguin Press)

In this panoramic and fascinating memoir, longtime New Yorker staff writer Finnegan pays tribute to the ancient art of surfing in a revealing and magisterial account of a beautiful obsession.

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Delicious Foods

James Hannaham (Little, Brown)

Hannaham's novel is both inventive (one of the main narrators is Scotty, the literal personification of crack) and terrifying: the mysterious titular farm, located somewhere in the American South, will leave readers shaken. But at its heart, this is the story of a mother and her son, and of overcoming addiction and pain with forgiveness and love.

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Imperium

Christian Kracht, trans. from the German by Daniel Bowles (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

An oddball masterpiece that begins with thumb-sucking nudist August Engelhardt fleeing Germany in 1902 to establish a South Seas utopia—one in which coconuts are the only food. Disaster predictably strikes the idealistic, naïve Engelhardt (a real historical figure) in this strange, engrossing tale, by turns slapstick, philosophical, and suspenseful.

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Beauty Is a Wound

Eka Kurniawan, trans. from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (New Directions)

An epic of magic and murder, Kurniawan's astounding novel traces the tragic history of his native Indonesia through the fortunes of the fictional coastal town of Halimunda. Kurniawan's momentous, darkly humorous chronicle—moving from the last days of Dutch rule to the mass killings of the 1960s—brilliantly captures Indonesia's spirit.

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Crow Fair

Thomas McGuane (Knopf)

The best story collection of the year, Crow Fair shows McGuane's total mastery of the English language. Set in his Montana terrain, it's packed with perfect lines, laughs, and unforgettable characters. This, McGuane's 16th book, is arguably his best.

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The Argonauts

Maggie Nelson (Graywolf)

In a fast-shifting terrain of "homonormativity," Nelson plows ahead with an intelligent and disarmingly candid memoir about trying to simultaneously embrace her identity, her marriage with nomadic transgender filmmaker Harry, and motherhood.

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Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Timothy Snyder (Crown/Duggan)

Snyder responds to critics of 2010's Bloodlands with a detailed analysis of how the collapse—rather than the excess—of Central and Eastern European nation-state power (instigated by both the Nazis and Soviets) led to the Holocaust. He also offers Hitler's concept of lebensraum as an example of the way ecological crises—imagined or real—are perpetual sources of socio-political conflict.

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