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Cheever: A Life

Blake Bailey (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

Bailey, who was given access to the journals Cheever kept throughout his life, shines a new light on Cheever's literary output, making possible a fresh reappraisal of his achievement. In addition, Bailey offers up juicy, appalling, hilarious and moving anecdotes with verve, sensitivity and perfect timing.

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Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

David Grann (Doubleday)

In this classic adventure tale, New Yorker writer Grann--who gets winded climbing the stairs of his New York City walkup--follows in the footsteps of early--20th-century Amazon jungle explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared along with his son on a 1925 expedition. Grann expertly and energetically weaves the story of Fawcett's explorations with that of his own.

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A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

Neil Sheehan (Random House)

The development of the ICBM as a key part of the cold war arsenal wasn't inevitable. In a splendidly reported and narrated account, Sheehan credits Air Force Gen. Bernard Schriever with the foresight and shrewdness to triumph over powerful Pentagon opponents and develop the crucial and terrifying weapon.

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The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Richard Holmes (Pantheon)

In a thrilling narrative of scientific discovery and the spirit of an age, Holmes illustrates how the great scientists of Britain's romantic era gripped the imaginations of their contemporaries and forever changed our understanding of the universe and our place within it.

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Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater

Frank Bruni (Penguin Press)

In this wonderfully honest memoir, former New York Times food critic Bruni admits to a lifelong battle with his weight. Detailing his life from baby bulimia to Weight Watchers, Bruni addresses desire, shame, identity and self-image.

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Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets

Cadillac Man (Bloomsbury)

In 16 years of living homeless in Manhattan, native New Yorker Cadillac Man has amassed a stunning collection of stories regarding a population and culture most people never even consider, and a talent for rendering them with beauty, sympathy and brutal truth.

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Columbine

Dave Cullen (Hachette/Twelve)

After a decade on the Columbine beat, Cullen skillfully dismantles all the media myths about the 1999 school massacre in an edge-of-your-seat account of how two troubled boys terrorized a town.

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Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan)

This indictment of America's reigning ideology of positive thinking stretches from breast cancer culture through religion and politics into the business world, where it was likely at the root of last year's economic collapse.

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The Good Soldiers

David Finkel (Crichton/FSG)

Finkel's incredible fly-on-the-wall reporting gives an uncomfortably visceral sense of one army battalion's involvement in the Iraqi surge, with “the dust, the fear, the high threat level, the isolation....”

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Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape

Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti (Seal)

Activist writers Friedman and Valenti present an extraordinary, eye-opening essay collection that focuses on the importance of sexual identity and ownership in the struggle against rape in the U.S., as well as a number of related issues, including sexual pleasure, self-esteem and the mixed societal messages that turn “nice guys” bad.

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Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

Greg Grandin (Metropolitan)

Grandin presents a masterful and devastating account of Henry Ford's folly: his attempt to plant an idealized American town in the Amazon jungle alongside a rubber plantation.

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Food for Thought, Thought for Food

Richard Hamilton and Vincente Todolo (Actar)

This fascinating illustrated volume goes beyond standard food porn, looking at the refined artwork of Spain's chef Ferran Adrià, whose unmatched culinary innovation landed him in 2007's documenta, a prestigious annual international art exhibition.

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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Rhoda Janzen (Holt)

Janzen does the easy jokes about moving back in with her religious parents after her marriage falls apart, but she also conducts an unflinching self-examination that makes her emotional healing come across as all the more genuine.

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Morrow)

This exquisite story of struggle, ingenuity and hope, from a 14-year-old Malawi boy who saved his family by building an electricity-generating windmill, strips life to its barest essentials, challenging American readers with all they take for granted.

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The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday)

A propulsive, dramatic account of Chinatown's human smugglers and gangs behind the ill-fated 1993 voyage of the Golden Venture and its human cargo.

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True Compass: A Memoir

Edward M. Kennedy (Hachette/Twelve)

Kennedy's life, replete with well-known tragedies, triumphs and shameful episodes, is rendered in perfectly polished, witty and moving tales that follow two historic arcs: that of a remarkable American family and a half-century of American politics.

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Strength in What Remains

Tracy Kidder (Random)

Kidder’s transcendent tale of Deo, a Burundian refugee in New York, is a labor of profound compassion and enviable technique--his narrative finds fresh and crucial ways of depicting trauma and memory.

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Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

Jon Krakauer (Doubleday)

With access to Tillman’s diaries, Krakauer gives an unparalleled portrait of the football star turned army Ranger, who was the victim not only of lethal friendly fire but of a cynical government coverup.

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Half the Sky

Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf)

New York Times columnist Kristoff and his wife, WuDunn, collaborate on a vitally important book that locates women’s empowerment in the developing world as the central moral issue of our time. Their vignettes on women activists in Africa, India and China are heartbreaking, galvanizing and unforgettable.

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Gabriel García Márquez

Gerald Martin (Knopf)

The master receives his due in a sprawling and atmospheric biography with lush detail, a quick pace and a veritable Who’s Who of Latin American radical politics and literature.

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Green Metropolis

David Owen (Riverhead)

This iconoclastic manifesto is the sharpest environmental book of the year. Owen excoriates ecoconsumerism and trends, fells green goliaths Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins and celebrates Manhattan as the most sustainable city in the nation.

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Shop Class as Soulcraft

Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin Press)

Philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Crawford makes a brilliant case for the intellectual satisfactions of working with one's hands--and why white-collar work is the assembly line of the new millennium. Crawford is catholic in his tastes (references range from Aristophanes to Dilbert), unsentimental and irresistible as he extols the virtues of “knowing how to do one thing really well.”

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Larry’s Kidney

Daniel Asa Rose (Harper)

This bizarre, slapstick journey into medical tourism’s heart of darkness, with plenty of gonzo stops along the way, is a laugh-out-loud tribute to family ties and a less-than-subtle commentary on the state of U.S. health care.

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Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

Zadie Smith (Penguin Press)

Smith’s first nonfiction book--a collection of her essays on reading, writing and being--is erudite and shines with uncommon wit, warmth and generosity of spirit.

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Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan

Doug Stanton (Scribner)

This bestseller is a riveting, epic account of mounted U.S. soldiers fighting alongside the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan’s war-ravaged mountains.

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Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957--1965

Sam Stephenson (Knopf)

In 1957, legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith opened up his New York City loft to some of the great artists of mid-century jazz, including Thelonious Monk and Zoot Sims. These fantastic photos--taken of the musicians as well as scenes snapped outside Smith’s window--offer a rare glimpse into an important music scene as well as a neighborhood being itself when it thought no one was watching.

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Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

Terry Teachout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Teachout’s forceful reassertion of Louis Armstrong’s significance to 20th-century America is a model for writing serious biography about pop culture icons.

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Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789--1815

Gordon S. Wood (Oxford Univ.)

True to the outstanding quality of Oxford’s History of the United States series, Wood offers an account of the young nation’s development during its first decades.

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