100 Notable Books of 2010
Published: November 24, 2010
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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.
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.