As a political, cultural, and literary critic, Hitchens stands alone, as demonstrated by this major collection of mostly recent essays and reviews covering a range of topics, from America's founding fathers to the state of the English language. You don't always have to agree with this fearless polemicist to appreciate his erudite mind.
We know Fey's wit from her writing (and acting) in SNL, 30 Rock, and whatever movie she stars in, but she adds to her wit a disarmingly frank and uncensored account of her life, stitching together the serious and the comic.
Pulitzer-winning biographer Massie—of Nicholas and Alexandra and of Peter the Great—now relates the life of a German princess, Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress Catherine II of Russia. Once again Massie delivers, with this masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch.
Pulitzer finalist Baker (In Extremis) unravels the often contradictory life of an American woman who became one of the pre-eminent voices of Islamic revivalism, in this stellar biography (an NBA finalist) that doubles as a meditation on the fraught relationship between America and the Muslim world.
Novelist Cercas wields his considerable narrative skills in deconstructing a failed coup in Spain in 1981. From 35 minutes of TV tape of the attempted coup, Cercas profiles crucial figures, re-creates Spanish history back to the Civil War, and pulls apart the threads of Spain's burgeoning democracy.
The Beautiful and the Damned:A Portrait of the New India
Siddhartha Deb (Faber and Faber)
Deb offers a powerful rejoinder to the feel-good narratives about India's economic ascent in these gritty profiles of growing numbers of destitute farmers, factory workers, and migrants—the casualties of India's economic "miracle."
In this subtly crushing memoir about the untimely death of her daughter, Quintana Roo, in 2005, Didion, as she did in The Year of Magical Thinking, turns face forward to the harsh truth: "When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children."
Dubus shuffled and punched his way through a childhood and youth full of dysfunction, desperation, and determination, and in this gritty and gripping memoir, he bares his soul in powerful and page-turning prose.
With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another, beginning with African tribes' use of drums and moving through scientists like Samuel B. Morse, who invented the telegraph.
A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
Michael Holroyd (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Novelist Violet Trefusis and Rodin's muse Eve Fairfax are among the women, masterfully portrayed by Holroyd, who had the misfortune of being entangled in the life of Ernest Beckett, second Baron Grimthorpe.
Lewis's offbeat travelogue examines the recent global financial crisis, dissecting how the unique culture and history of each locale he visits (Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, California) contributed to its response to the boom and bust.
There's never been a biography quite like this one. Hendrickson covers Papa's rise and fall by focusing on his most steadfast companion: his boat, Pilar. She was the stage on which Hemingway fished, brawled, wrote his novels, ranted about his poor reviews, raised his sons, and seduced other men's wives. The stories are rich with contradiction and humanity, and so raw and immediate you can smell the salt air.
Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography
Errol Morris (Penguin Press)
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Morris revisits historical but still passionately alive controversies in photography (like accusations of photographers working for the Depression-era Farm Security Administration staging scenes). His powerful account puts him in the plot of a detective novel: he's a Hercule Poirot of the photographic world searching for the convolutions between art and truth telling.
Orlean follows up her bestselling The Orchid Thief with another tale of dedication in the face of adversity, disbelief, even common sense—this one centering on Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd responsible for a film and TV dynasty.
In this eloquent, somber memoir about the death of her mother and grieving aftermath, poet and journalist O'Rourke ponders the eternal human question: how do we live with the knowledge that we will one day die?
In this engrossing exploration of psychiatry's attempts to understand and treat psychopathy, Ronson embarks on a tour of the "madness business," interviewing possible psychopaths in asylums and corporate boardrooms to reveal the difficulties in diagnosing and treating the disorder. Droll, disturbing, and unforgettable.
The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity
Jeffrey D. Sachs (Random House)
Economist Sachs surveys an America where the rich get richer and the rest grow poorer—and makes a compelling case for an activist state that redistributes wealth and makes life fairer and more productive for everyone.
A Kenyan Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this sublime word-drunk memoir from the Caine Prize–winning author describes a coming-of-age rent by political troubles and suffused by a love affair with language.