"Outside of a dog," Groucho Marx famously said, "a book is man's best friend." So consider this our take on the best of the best friends. PW's 100 Best Books of the Year are presented here, divided by review category and listed alphabetically. There are big books (The Road by Cormac McCarthy). and not so big books (Now Is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer), and books we wanted to call attention to because some of us—or all of us—loved them (The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories by Valerie Martin). We've included comics, religion, cookbooks, poetry and children's books that made us feel like children (The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey). Every week some 1,000 books come into our offices, and every week more than a hundred of those go back out again to our reviewers all over the country. Books get stars and books get boxes; others get signature reviews. Some books inspire us to look at the writer behind the page, with author profiles and q&as. This is our chance to revisit them all and audaciously proclaim a small portion of them "best." We expect you to agree and to disagree and to keep the lights on, remembering that Groucho Marx also said, "Inside a dog, it's too dark to read."
End of Story by Peter Abrahams (HarperCollins). Abrahams solidifies his reputation as one of the best contemporary thriller writers around with this psychologically astute page-turner evoking the classic noir of Cornell Woolrich.
The Littlest Hitler: Stories by Ryan Boudinot (Counterpoint). Sharp satire and scorching wit run through Boudinot's uproarious debut collection.
Theft by Peter Carey (Knopf). A fallen-from-grace Aussie artist and his mentally handicapped brother are drawn into a counterfeit art conspiracy in Carey's heartbreaking novel.
Brothers by Da Chen (Crown/Shaye Areheart). Maoist China and its aftermath come to life in Chen's beautiful imagining of two brothers' eventful, violent lives—which converge at Tiananmen Square.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (Atlantic Monthly). Love, politics and revolution drive this evocative ensemble novel that moves swiftly between Himalayan India and New York—and between comedy and changing consciousness.
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (Knopf). Frank Bascombe is back, entrenched in the "Permanent Period" and preparing for a Thanksgiving dinner with the remnants of his family.
The King of Lies by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur). Hart's stunning debut, an exceptionally deep and complex thriller set in the South, compares favorably to the best of Scott Turow.
The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories by Valerie Martin (Vintage). Art makes or (more often) breaks relationships in Martin's harsh, chiseled mosaic, where you are what you create.
The Alibi Club by Francine Mathews (Bantam). The impeccable period details of Alan Furst's novels about Paris during WWII combine with a cast straight out of Casablanca in this superior thriller.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf). A father and son try to survive starvation, the elements and cannibals in a postapocalyptic America.
The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty (Scribner). McKinty's literate, expertly crafted third crime novel about Irish terrorists confirms his place as one of his generation's leading talents.
The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown). Set in Washington, D.C., Pelecanos's dignified, character-driven thriller emphasizes the fallacy of "solving" a murder and explores the ripple effects of violent crime on society.
Now Is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer (Houghton Mifflin). Spanbauer's superb channeling of 17-year-old Rigby John Klusener's summer of love makes for an unforgettable bildungsroman.
Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart (MacAdam/Cage). The death of a woman's married lover propels this gorgeously kaleidoscopic view of a timber-baron family's history on an Ontario lake island.
A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua (Harcourt). A woman's death in a terrorist attack launches an ordinary man on a journey of moral redemption.
Averno by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Recasting the Persephone myth to tell a personal story about aging, loneliness and love, former poet laureate Glück is at the height of her powers in one of her best books yet.
Wind in a Box by Terrance Hayes (Penguin). In his hip, funny, yet no less high-stakes third collection, Hayes solidifies his reputation as one of the best poets—African-American or otherwise—now writing.
Grave of Light: Selected Poems by Alice Notley (Wesleyan Univ.). Notley developed her own ways of treating feminist thought, high and popular culture, and personal themes. This collection restores to print much of the unavailable work of this underground hero.
A Corpse in the Koryo by James Church (St. Martin's Minotaur). In an impressive debut, a former intelligence officer provides a rare look into one of the world's most closed societies, North Korea.
Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriason (St. Martin's Minotaur). The denouement of this astonishingly vivid and subtle novel from the CWA Golden Dagger Award winner is unexpected and immensely satisfying.
Two Time by Chris Knopf (Permanent). This superb mystery, set on the east end of Long Island, features strong plotting, solid characters and dialogue worthy of Elmore Leonard or John D. McDonald.
The Summer Snow by Rebecca Pawel (Soho). Set in fascist Spain shortly after WWII, Edgar-winner Pawel's fourth mystery to feature Gardia lieutenant Carlos Tejada is a triumph of characterization, suspense and atmosphere.
Impulse by Frederick Ramsay (Poisoned Pen). In this excellent, perfectly paced stand-alone, Phoenix mystery writer Frank Smith runs into trouble at his 50th prep school reunion.
All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur). Anthony-winner Spencer-Fleming's fifth mystery to feature Clare Fergusson, a helicopter pilot turned Episcopal priest, is her most captivating to date.
The Armies of Memory by John Barnes (Tor). Barnes splendidly wraps up the far-future cloak-and-psychological-dagger series that began with A Million Open Doors.
Pretender by C.J. Cherryh (DAW). A science fictional equivalent of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire sequence, this series represents contemporary SF at its finest.
The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford (Golden Gryphon). Ford uses incongruously lyrical phrases to infuse the everyday with a nebulous magic that erases the line between reality and belief in this outstanding collection of fantastic fiction.
Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge (Cemetery Dance). Set on Halloween night in 1963 in Anytown, U.S.A., this dark fantasy and coming-of-age parable holds its own with the best of contemporary American writing.
No Present Like Time by Steph Swainston (Eos). Swainston's scintillating prose, well-developed characters and talent for brilliant absurdities mark this as one of the more innovative fantasies of recent years.
Shadow Touch by Marjorie M. Liu (Dorchester/Love Spell). Rising star Liu ups the ante for supernatural-in-the-city romantic suspense with this rich, gritty tale of a clairvoyant PI and a neophyte healer.
Valley of Silence by Nora Roberts (Penguin/Jove). The culminating book in Roberts's first paranormal series flawlessly combines high romance and high adventure in a story that incorporates vampires, magic, 12th-century Irishmen and present-day New York City.
A Gentleman by Any Other Name by Kasey Michaels (HQN). The rollicking kickoff to the charming, tricky Beckets of Romney Marsh series is about a sprawling, secretive family of smugglers in Victorian England.
Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (Top Shelf). On the brink of WWI, Alice, Dorothy and Wendy, classic characters from children's literature now grown to adults, explore their sexuality and mythic pasts in this controversial erotic fantasy.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin). In this haunting memoir, Bechdel examines her closeted father's homosexuality and destructive lies while learning to accept her own lesbianism.
Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni Press). Indie slacker musician Scott Pilgrim must fight his former girlfriend's superpowered vegan bass-playing boyfriend in this hilarious sendup of video games, indie rock and comics.
Making Comics by Scott McCloud (HarperCollins). Completing his analytical trilogy, the guru of comics theory takes an in-depth look at how comics storytelling works, offering advice, how-tos and exercises.
Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics). In this complex and wistful tale, an older, now-divorced Maggie Chascarrillo manages a low-rent apartment complex full of oddball tenants while she struggles with her new life and her old lover, Hopey.
Curses by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly). Huizenga's spare but architectonic drawings highlight stories that slyly explore philosophic quandaries, often through the eyes of Glenn Ganges, an everyman protagonist who offers a thoughtful wonder at life's complexities.
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (Roaring Brook/First Second). The story of a Chinese-American kid in an all-white school is combined with the Chinese fable of the Monkey King and a hilarious racist stereotype in a delightful allegory on Chinese-American identity.
Can't Get No by Rick Veitch (DC/Vertigo). Corporate executive Chad Roe awakes after an all-night bender to find his entire body marked in indelible ink. After 9/11, he takes to the road, in an elliptical narrative that calls his life's choices into question through satirical verse.
The 9/11 Report:A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón (Hill & Wang). A comics adaptation of the original 9/11 Commission Report that retains all its content and recommendations.
Dragon Head Vol. 1 by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop). A Japanese schoolboy heading home by train is violently awakened when the train crashes in a dark tunnel, leaving him and others trapped underground amid the mangled and dead bodies.
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965—1968 by Taylor Branch (S&S). The final volume in Branch's brilliant trilogy, this magisterial work is a fitting tribute to a magisterial man.
Flaubert: A Biography by Frederick Brown (Little, Brown). A superb portrait of a literary master, full of passion and tragedy, overflows with keenly portrayed characters.
Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town and the Hidden History of White America by Cynthia Carr (Crown). A searing personal and journalistic investigation of the 1930 lynching of two African-American men in Marion, Ind., and its legacy.
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme (Knopf). This is a valuable record of gorgeous meals in bygone Parisian restaurants and the secret arts of a culinary genius.
Small Is the New Big and 193 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas by Seth Godin (Portfolio). This compilation from the marketing guru's popular blog showcases the spontaneous energy that makes his voice stand out so boldly.
There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene (Bloomsbury). Greene keeps the urgency of the Ethiopian AIDS orphans' crisis before us in this moving, impassioned narrative of adoption.
Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country by Steve Hendricks (Thunder's Mouth). A harsh and heart-thumping account of the American Indian Movement that significantly updates the neglected story of the effort to reclaim civil and treaty rights.
The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood by Rashid Khalidi (Beacon). A first-rate and up-to-date historical and political analysis of the Palestinian predicament.
Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn by William J. Mann (Holt). This outstanding, splendidly written biography will surely be the definitive version of Hepburn's life for decades to come.
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster). Maraniss presents a brilliant picture of a ballplayer more complicated than the encomiums would suggest.
Cross X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad by Joe Miller (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). For anyone who envisions nerdy teens when they think of high school debate, this engrossing story of Kansas City's central debate squad will be eye-opening.
Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton (Riverhead). The definitive biography for this generation of the chief justice of a pathbreaking Supreme Court.
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking). Another masterpiece from Philbrick, a myth-breaking narrative of American origins and the first, tragic colonial-Native clash.
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips (St. Martin's). An evenhanded, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of the elusive science fiction writer.
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Penguin). Pollan examines what he calls "our national eating disorder" in this remarkably clearheaded book.
The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thompson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World by Joshua Prager (Pantheon). Prager has written a brilliant narrative not only about the most famous home run in baseball history but also about the mystery that haunts it.
William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism by Robert D. Richardson (Houghton Mifflin). With authority and insight, Richardson brilliantly intertwines James's thought and character with the events of his life.
Fiasco by Thomas Ricks (Penguin Press). Solid reporting, deep knowledge of the U.S. military and willingness to name names make this account the most complete, incisive analysis yet of the Iraq quagmire.
Song for My Fathers: A New Orleans Story in Black and White by Tom Sancton (Other Press). In this beguiling coming-of-age memoir, a former Time Paris bureau chief takes a heartfelt look at his unusual Crescent City childhood during the 1950s and '60s.
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington (Doubleday). Washington offers a shocking, groundbreaking exposé of medical exploitation of African-Americans.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (Knopf). Combining exhaustive research with sinuous prose, this is one of the best books we've seen on the history of terrorism.
Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming Faith by Diana Butler Bass (Harper San Francisco). Bass showcases 10 thriving mainline Protestant churches, challenging conventional wisdom about the mainline churches' steady decline.
Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford). Ehrman teases out what is known about the biblical Peter, Paul and Mary from what is probably legend, asking important questions about how canon is formed.
Gonzo Judaism: A Fresh Path for an Ancient Faith by Niles Elliot Goldstein (St. Martin's). Call it "Judaism Unplugged": Rabbi Goldstein urges Jews who feel cynical or disappointed with organized religion to uncover a more personal, spiritual Jewish practice.
Overcoming Life's Disappointments by Harold S. Kushner (Knopf). Drawing on Moses' resiliency, Rabbi Kushner helps readers overcome challenges and disillusionment.
My Life with the Saints by James Martin (Loyola). An outstanding and sometimes hilarious memoir of one man's interactions with the saints of the Roman Catholic tradition.
Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene McGreight (Brazos). An Episcopal priest who suffers from depression and bipolar disorder asks piercing questions about theodicy, mental illness and the dark night of the soul.
A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed by Mark Pinsky (Westminster John Knox). Pinsky draws from his personal experience as an Orlando, Fla., religion reporter, offering a portrait of contemporary evangelicalism that is nuanced and diverse.
Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses by George Robinson (Schocken). An engaging overview of the Torah, exploring who wrote it and why, and also offering all 54 Torah portions with commentary.
Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman (FSG/North Point). In this provocative portrait, documentarian Shachtman chronicles Amish teens during and after the wild Rumspringa period of late adolescence.
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan). Yancey eschews pat answers in a balanced, thoughtful book on prayer as a conversational communion with God.
Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner (Bethany House). In her best novel in years, Christy Award—winning novelist Turner shows how even the most awkward and imperfect love, care and attention can yield meaningful results.
Dwelling Places by Vinita Hampton Wright (Harper San Francisco). This novel avoids hackneyed pietism in favor of an authentic portrait of people who do not completely regret their mistakes and are still learning how to accept God's consolation.
Music Lessons: Guide Your Child to Play a Musical Instrument by Stephanie Stein Crease (Chicago Review). Crease gently guides parents through the process of nurturing musical development in their children. The Lee Bros.
Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners by Matt Lee and Ted Lee (Norton). Classy, matter-of-fact and welcoming, this volume on Southern cooking deserves a permanent place on cooks' shelves by day and on bedside tables by night.
The Bon Appétit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild (Wiley). Mirroring the magazine on which it is based, this collection of 1,200 accessible recipes is a pure pleasure.
You: On a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz (Free Press). Back for another highly entertaining round of Biology 101, the team behind bestselling You: The Owner's Manual applies its signature wit and wisdom to food metabolism and nutrition.
Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker (Scribner). The new narrative and compilations of Joy is one of, well, joy.
Children's Picture Books
The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey (Knopf). The nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle" serves as prequel to this delightful swashbuckler, starring the title couple.
Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu, photos by Peter Greste (Scholastic). Glorious photos chart the growing bond between a hippo orphaned by the 2004 tsunami and a 130-year-old tortoise in this warm and memorable story.
Lilly's Big Day by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins/Greenwillow). Lilly, disappointed when her teacher makes her the "flower girl assistant" to his niece, winds up saving the day in her inimitable way.
Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illus. byChristopher Myers (Holiday). In this father-son team's aural and visual paean to jazz, the text's savvy syncopation sweeps readers up in its rhythms, while the artist conjures the lurid reflections of after-dark jazz clubs.
John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith (Hyperion). Smith profiles the founding fathers as the nonconformist kids they might have been (with a nod to the Beatles, for grown-up readers)..
Flotsam by David Wiesner (Clarion). New details swim into focus with every rereading of this immensely satisfying, wordless excursion to the beach and beyond.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick). In this stunningly well-researched novel set in a philosophers' society in Boston during the Revolution, narrator 16-year-old Octavian, son of an African princess, comes of age.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick). Subtle shifts in the narrative and breathtaking illustrations chronicle the gradual changes within Edward, an arrogant china rabbit—an unlikely and ultimately sympathetic hero.
Saint Iggy by K.L. Going (Harcourt). Iggy, born to an addicted mother in a New York City housing project, remains determined to do one heroic deed, and his disarming first-person narrative will turn readers' perceptions of the world upside-down.
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins). Hardinge's stylish way with prose gives her sprawling debut fantasy, set in a kingdom where reading is forbidden, a literate yet often humorous tone.
Incantation by Alice Hoffman (Little, Brown). Set during the Spanish Inquisition, this searing novel, narrated by a 16-year-old who learns the dangers of her true identity, echoes profoundly in present-day events.
Firestorm by David Klass (FSG/Foster). From the very beginning of this gripping environmental fantasy, Klass taps into universal themes of adolescence, as a high school senior discovers that everything he thought was true is false.
Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street). With elements of a medieval tale, this magical novel narrated by Keturah, the village storyteller, describes how she follows a mythical hart into the forest and meets Lord Death.
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins). Some readers may argue that this novel surpasses Levine's Ella Enchanted, as the author gives a visionary rendering of the Snow White tale that challenges conventional ideas of beauty.
Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion). Spare free-verse poems expose the plight of a 13-year-old Nepali girl sold into sexual slavery, and her gradual awakening to the harshness of the world around her.
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illus. by Marla Frazee (Hyperion). Readers meet an eight-year-old whose spirit rivals Ramona and Judy Moody, with an unfailing nose for trouble and a comical way with words.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Knopf). In this WWII novel narrated by Death, a nine-year-old girl develops a love of books and words, even as life in her small German town starts to unravel.
Pick Me Up by Jeremy Leslie, David Roberts, Roger Bridgman, and Philip Wilkinson (DK). With its eye-catching graphics, and a scope that covers everything from pop culture to politics and geography, this hefty volume has a tone that winks at the audience while respecting kids' intelligence.
Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman (HarperCollins/Greenwillow). Fleischman's childhood fascination with the legendary magician emanates from this accessible, attractively designed biography.
To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel, illus. by Mark Siegel (Atheneum/Jackson). In an innovative use of the graphic novel format, the Siegels fluidly balance autobiographical events in Siena's life with onstage action.