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The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

Wilkerson's sprawling study of the flight of six million blacks from the humiliation of Jim Crow to uncertain destinies in the American North and West is expansive in scope, pointillist in focus, and a triumph of scholarship and empathy. Anchoring her narrative in the suspenseful stories of three who made the journey, Wilkerson humanizes the migration that reshaped American demographics, art, and politics.


They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin)

A powerful study of the development of the Ku Klux Klan, from its formation to the present day, Bartoletti's accessible and chilling work makes use of letters and other writings of some of the group's founders, as well as her own firsthand research, including a visit to a Klan gathering. A searing examination of fear, hate, violence, and an organization that, despite progress, persists to this day.



Laura Hillenbrand (Random)

Readers of this soul-stirring narrative will never forget Louis Zamperini, who after a career as a runner served in WWII only to be captured and held prisoner by the Japanese; a more horrific internment would be difficult to imagine. Zamperini's physical and spiritual sufferings both during and after WWII and his coming out the other side become the story of a true American hero from that greatest generation.


The Big Short

Michael Lewis (Norton)

Lewis has written the briskest and brightest analysis of the crash of 2008. Other books might provide a more exhaustive account of what went wrong, but Lewis's character-driven narrative reveals the how and why with peerless clarity and panache. When will they ever learn?


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot (Crown)

Medical history is grippingly told through the life of one African-American woman and her family, which begins at the "colored" ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s. Skloot, who hit the road in her beatup old car to relentlessly follow this story, explores issues of race, poverty, the ethics of medical research and its sometimes tragic, unintended consequences.


Just Kids

Patti Smith (Ecco)

Smith's beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by a passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe's life and work.


The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Elif Batuman (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Batuman displays a fresh, quirky, voice in this account of her love affair with Russian literature and her travels through the former Soviet Union.


Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

Gail Caldwell (Random)

In this quiet, fierce work, Caldwell creates a memorable offering of love to her best friend, the writer Caroline Knapp, who died in 2002. Caldwell is unflinching in depicting her friend's last days, and writes of this desolating time with moving grace.


Composed: A Memoir

Rosanne Cash (Viking)

This work is a rare treat, since Cash, first-born of country music legend Johnny Cash, is not only a hereditary celebrity musician, having made scores of albums and #1 singles, but a terrific writer.


Washington: A Life

Ron Chernow (Penguin Press)

Chernow is back with another epic examination of another influential American founder. Thanks to a recent "explosion of research," Chernow produces the most complete and complex portrait of George Washington on record.


About a Mountain

John D'Agata (Norton)

D'Agata, after moving his mother to Las Vegas, becomes haunted by a proposed plan to house nuclear waste in a nearby mountain and by the suicide of a local boy. A genre-busting disquisition on place, consciousness, and culpability.


Travels in Siberia

Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Drawn to what he calls "the incomplete grandiosity of Russia," Frazier combines the personal travelogue with in-depth history and gives readers a firsthand account of a place that calls up, for many, the terrifying unknown.


The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance

David V. Herlihy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Set in the 1880s during the American cycling craze, this lively story follows cyclist-adventurer William Sachteleben as he retraces the path of Franz Lenz, a man whose attempt to cycle around the world ended with his disappearance near Turkey.


Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet

Jennifer Homans (Random)

In an important and groundbreaking work of dance history, Homans restores ballet to its rightful place among the performing arts.


Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

Michael Korda (Harper)

This biography of British soldier and adventurer T.E. Lawrence celebrates a life spent subverting authority in the most glamorous-and bizarre-ways.


The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood

Jane Leavy (Harper)

With storytelling bravado and fresh research, Leavy weaves around her own story the milestone dates in the Mick's career. In Leavy's hands, the life of Mantle no longer defies logic: it seems inevitable.


Colonel Roosevelt

Edmund Morris (Random)

Morris's concluding volume in his accomplished biography narrates Roosevelt's postpresidential life with the same insight and style he displayed in his Pulitzer-winning first volume.


The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner)

Mukherjee's sweeping account of the long war on cancer pits an army of dedicated doctors and scientists, impassioned activists and courageous patients against a wily enemy whose secrets are at last being uncovered.


The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

Michele Norris (Pantheon)

In this eloquent and affecting memoir on race, Norris, cohost of NPR's All Things Considered, examines her childhood growing up in Minneapolis, as well as her family's Alabama roots and secrets.


Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed

Judy Pasternak (Free Press)

An unforgettable exposé of a sorrowful-and unresolved-chapter in American history: how uranium mining on Native American territory in the 1970s has led to horrifying cancer rates and birth defects among four generations of Navajos-and how the U.S. government (who funded the mining) long abdicated responsibility.


Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran-A Journey Behind the Headlines

Scott Peterson (Simon & Schuster)

A veteran reporter on the region brings us the best account we have of Iran-its rich history, artistic legacies, profound internal contradictions-in a copious, balanced, and readable narrative.


Listen to This

Alex Ross (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Music critic Ross utilizes a wide musical scale-classical music in China; opera as popular art; sketches of Schubert, Björk, Kiki and Herb-as a way of understanding the world.


Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error

Kathryn Schulz (Ecco)

A mirthful and wise diagnosis of what ails us: Schulz dances us through science, psychology, and literature in a sparkling history of (and ode to) human error.


Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

James Shapiro (Simon & Schuster)

Shapiro looks at why people believe Shakespeare was not Shakespeare, while delivering up sly portraits of self-delusion and how not to read great literature.


Bomber County: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War

Daniel Swift (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Swift tells the story of his grandfather, an RAF bomber pilot shot down in 1943, washed up on a beach, and buried twice, as a way to examine the iconography of war and the popular notion that WWII failed to produce great poetry.


Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. I

Mark Twain (Univ. of California)

The great American humorist is his own best character in this first volume of his unexpurgated autobiography that doubles as a razor-sharp portrait of the human comedy.


The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

John Vaillant (Knopf)

When a Siberian tiger begins attacking hunters with a savagery that seems personal, Vaillant launches a thrilling investigation into the conflict between man and nature, and life in post-perestroika Russia.


Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the American Woman

Sam Wasson (HarperStudio)

Wasson highlights Blake Edwards's memorable Breakfast at Tiffany's, recapturing the era's sexual ploitics, fashion, and Hollywood glamour.


The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

Tim Wu (Knopf)

Wu dazzles in his history-cum-manifesto as he reveals how fiercely corporate empires have vied to control communication and information technology-and why we must keep the Internet free and open.


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