2006 booklist editors choice adults


Arts & Literature

Brothers, Thomas. Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans. Norton, $26.95 (0-393-06109-4).

Exploring how a boy from the poorest of the poor became the central figure in the most significant musical development in U.S. history, Brothers reveals the uniquely deep and broad musical culture of the historically most multicultural American city.

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile. Knopf, $16.95 (0-679-40728-6).

Popular New York Times nature writer Klinkenborg writes with mischievous wit from the point of view of an observant and skeptical tortoise living in the garden of the eighteenth-century British curate and author Gilbert White.


Allgor, Catherine. A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation. Holt, $30 (0-8050-7327-2).

This engaging and informative biography of the wife of fourth U.S. president James Madison stresses the importance of Dolley’s making the office of First Lady her own.

Angell, Roger. Let Me Finish. Harcourt, $25 (0-15-101350-0).

This collection of autobiographical essays from New Yorker editor and writer Angell unfolds like memories do, a single image crystallizing a traumatic event or encapsulating a period of years. Elegant yet simple writing, shot through with self-deprecating irony and bemused surprised that so much could be remembered so fondly.

Brown, Frederick. Flaubert. Little, Brown, $35 (0-316-11878-8).

Brown’s landmark biography deftly limns the turns—psychological, artistic, amorous—by which Flaubert turned away from what he feared would be a destiny of dull conformity.

Dunlop, Nic. The Lost Executioner: A Journey to the Heart of the Killing Fields. Walker, $24 (0-8027-1472-2).

Irish photographer Dunlop steps out from behind the camera to render this visceral account of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and the regime’s chief executioner, Comrade Duch. The story of one of the twentieth century’s most notorious mass murderers concludes with Dunlop’s chilling 1999 encounter with Duch, who had assumed the role of a lay pastor.

Feinstein, Elaine. Anna of All Russias: The Life of Anna Akhmatova. Knopf, $26.95 (1-4000-4089-2).

In the first biography of the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in decades, Feinstein chronicles, with exceptional political and literary expertise, the life of the legendary beauty and regal stoic whose defiance of the Soviet regime gave hope to a tyrannized land.

Fergusson, Maggie. George Mackay Brown. John Murray, $45 (0-7195-5659-7).

Fergusson’s rainwater-fresh biography tells the quietly fascinating and moving story of one of the great twentieth-century writers least well known outside his homeland, poet and novelist Brown, a lifelong resident of the Norse-Scottish Orkney Islands.

Fraser, Antonia. Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $32.50 (0-385-50984-7).

From a highly regarded popular biographer comes an account of France’s Sun King focusing on the loves of his life; the king fairly steps off these detail-rich pages as the high-heeled but decidedly masculine and forceful personality he was.

Hutchinson, George. In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line. Harvard/Belknap, $39.95 (0-674-02180-0).

Primarily through Larsen’s relationships and correspondence with luminary figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Hutchinson brings the author to life in all her glorious complexity in this sparkling examination of a critical period in American racial and literary development.

Li, Laura Tyson. Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China’s Eternal First Lady. Atlantic Monthly, $25 (0-87113-933-2).

As with so many glamorous women allied with powerful men, there is much more to Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s story than it seems, and biographer Li’s access to newly opened files and fluency in Chinese and international history make for a riveting portrait.

Perry, Michael. Truck: A Love Story. HarperCollins, $24.95 (0-06-057117-9).

A love story about fixing up an old pickup truck? Yes, indeed. Perry makes the resurrection of a truck into an epic adventure of self-exploration, but he tells it in a wonderfully ironic voice. Motorcycle maintenance for the twenty-first century.

Peterson, Dale. Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man. Houghton, $35

Goodall is admired all around the world for her revolutionary work with chimpanzees, but as Peterson reveals in this vivid and insightful biography, the hardships she faced and the extent of her accomplishments as a scientist and humanist are far greater than most imagine.

Spinner, Jackie and Spinner, Jenny. Tell Them I Didn’t Cry: A Young Journalist’s Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq. Scribner/Lisa Drew, $23 (0-7432-8853-X).

In this intensely personal account of her experiences as a rookie reporter in Iraq, including escape from a terrifying kidnapping attempt, Jackie Spinner offers a very human look at war in a nation that she openly declares she loves and admires.

Welland, Sasha Su-Ling. A Thousand Miles of Dreams: The Journeys of Two Chinese Sisters. Rowman & Littlefield, $24.95 (0-7425-5313-2).

An anthropologist with a novelist’s eye, Welland weaves biography, memoir, genealogy, social history, literary criticism, and theoretical reflection together beautifully in the stories of two extraordinary siblings, physician Amy Ling Chen (Welland’s grandmother) and writer and artist Ling Shuhua.

White, Richard D. Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P.Long. Random, $25.95

White’s careful, straightforward, and sound picture of the famous Louisiana governor and U.S. senator—who was, to say the least, a true American original—will do nothing less than fascinate readers.


Brown, Daniel James. Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. Lyons, $22.95 (1-59228-863-4).

On September 1, 1894, a firestorm consumed timber-boomtown Hinckley, Minnesota, and three nearby hamlets. Brown, grandson of an 11-year-old survivor, makes riveting, affecting, white-knuckle reading of that horrifying, internationally reported day’s lethal passage.

Bruinius, Harry. Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity. Knopf, $30 (0-375-41371-5).

From the 1927 case of Carrie Buck to that of a woman known only as Lucille in 1942, Bruinius reveals one of America’s dirtiest secrets and warns that “Darwinian reductionism and the myth of human progress” must not again overpower inalienable rights and human dignity.

Delaney, Frank. Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea. Random, $24.95 (1-4000-6524-0).

On Christmas Day 1951, the Liberty ship Flying Enterprise began splitting apart in a North Atlantic gale. Possibly guarding a secret cargo, the captain stayed aboard almost to the end, and a media blitz made him a hero. One of the great sea stories of the twentieth century.

Hunt, Tristram. Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City. Holt/Metropolitan, $32 (0-8050-8026-0).

Hunt’s account of the building of the Victorian city is awash in fascinating details about Dickensian London and the history of architectural style, but at its compelling core, it offers a thought-provoking look at how to create a humane urban world. An enlightening historical context for urgent current issues.

Kauffman, Bill. Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists. ISI, $25 (1-932236-87-2).

Praising to the skies such marginalized and underappreciated figures as Dorothy Day, Eugene McCarthy, Wendell Berry, Grant Wood, Carolyn Chute, and Millard Fillmore, Kauffman also notes their (and, incidentally, his) shortcomings and even vices in these smart, frequently funny forays down America’s historical byways.

Kirsch, Jonathan. A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization. HarperSanFrancisco, $25.95 (0-06-081698-8).

In a compulsively readable style, Kirsch shows how the Book of Revelation, which almost didn’t make it into the New Testament, has been used as a justification for culture wars from the earliest times to the present. A fascinating and controversial mix of history, current events, and religion.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. Viking, $29.95 (0-670-03760-5).

Philbrick recounts the story of the Pilgrims with a good deal of narrative suspense and a deep understanding of motivations: piety, wrath, gratitude, duplicity—a panorama of human character and historical portent is on display in this skillful rendering.

Purkiss, Diane. The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewomen, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain. Basic, $25.95 (0-465-06756-5).

Addressing the upheaval in 1640s Britain, Purkiss’ fluently written history is superbly sensitive to the human personality making its way through great and apocalyptic times.

Tolan, Sandy. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. Bloomsbury, $24 (1-58234-343-8).

To see in human scale the tragic collision of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Tolan focuses on one small stone house in Ramla. The saga of how Jewish and Arab children have together planted seeds salvaged from a desiccated lemon tree behind the house becomes a much-needed antidote to the cynicism of realpolitik. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction.)

Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Doubleday, $27.95 (0-385-50993-6).

Washington, a medical journalist, offers the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on and mistreatment of black Americans in this stunning work, which is both broad in scope and well documented.


Balaban, John. Path, Crooked Path. Copper Canyon, paper, $15 (1-55659-238-8).

Poet, memoirist, and translator of Vietnamese poetry, Balaban is a traveling bard taking stock of the radiance and sorrow of life in potent and searching lyrics set in lonely stretches of the U.S., Vietnam, Greece, and Romania.

Creech, Morri. Field Knowledge. Dufour, paper, $15.95 (1-904130-23-2).

The first winner of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize contains formal poetry of uncommon grace and profundity that touches betimes upon the infusion of the sacred into the profane, modernity’s willful alienation from the sacred, and the delights of verbal wit.

Stevenson, Anne. Poems, 1955–2005. Bloodaxe, $64.95 (1-85224-721-5); paper, $29.95 (1-85224-699-5).

An American born and long resident in Britain, Stevenson conjures New England as vividly as Wales and Cumbria. She is an outstanding poet of the family and an intelligent elegist. Every lover of poetry in English should know her work.

Social Sciences

Albright, Madeleine. The Mighty & the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. HarperCollins, $25.95 (0-06-089257-9).

Albright brings considerable experience as a former diplomat, history professor, and child of Czech immigrants to this utterly absorbing look at the intersection of world politics and world religion.

Baker, James A. The Iraq Study Group Report. Random/Vintage, paper, $10.95 (9780307386564).

A government document that is concisely, even beautifully, written? Indeed, this one is, and whether history will find that this controversial report’s suggestions about the war in Iraq were adopted by the Bush administration or not, it is nevertheless a vastly significant document of lasting importance for all public library collections.

Conyers, A. J. The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture. Spence, $27.95 (1-890626-68-6).

Conyers recalls the pre-modern conception of responding to a divine calling to service rather than choosing a line of work out of self-oriented considerations, seeing in it solutions to personal alienation, social fragmentation, and even overweening political power.

Fessler, Ann. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade. Penguin, $24.95 (1-59420-094-7).

Fessler, who was herself adopted, offers an incredible and deeply moving look at the personal cost suffered by women who gave up their babies for adoption between 1945 and 1973, when unwed motherhood was considered shameful and abortion was generally illegal.

Grossman, Elizabeth. High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxins, and Human Health. Island, $25.95 (1-55963-443-1).

Where do all our discarded computers and cell phones go, and what happens to the toxic substances they contain? Environmental journalist Grossman provides clear and thoroughly documented answers.

Hulot, Nicolas. One Planet: A Celebration of Biodiversity. Abrams, $55 (0-8109-5534-2).

French journalist Hulot presents an eloquent survey of the beauty, diversity, and interconnectivity of earthly life illustrated with breathtaking color photographs that embrace the tiniest creatures to the most dramatic vistas.

Hurley, Dan. Natural Causes: Death, Lies, and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry. Doubleday, $23.95 (0-7679-1439-2).

In 1994, Congress exempted “dietary supplements” from FDA testing. Hurley tells true horror stories that the law’s hands-off policy has allowed, shows how and why products labeled natural may be neither safe nor effective, and notes the high proportion of convicted felons in the supplement industry.

Kammen, Michael. Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture. Knopf, $35 (1-4000-4129-5).

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Kammen presents a unique survey of art considered shocking in America as well as art made to shock, revealing much about the evolution of art and society, and the good old American disdain for censorship.

Maathai, Wangari. Unbowed. Knopf, $24.95 (0-307-26348-7).

Nobel Peace Prize winner Maathai tells the unforgettable story of her Kenya girlhood, struggles as a biologist and professor, and founding of the Green Belt Movement to restore Kenya’s decimated forests and provide women with work.

Press, Eyal. Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict That Divided America. Holt, $26 (0-8050-7731-6).

Press, the son of a Buffalo, New York, doctor who performed abortions, offers a very personal look at the violence surrounding the abortion debate as protests outside a local clinic escalated to vandalism, threats, bombings, and the murder of one of his father’s colleagues.

Wilson, Edward O. The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion. Norton, $21.95 (0-393-06217-1).

One of the world’s most forward-looking, eloquent, and concerned scientists, Wilson issues a commonsensical yet deeply moving call for unity between science and religion in the increasingly pressing effort to preserve living nature.


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half a Yellow Sun. Knopf, $24.95 (1-4000-4416-2).

Adichie’s commanding second novel, set in 1960s Nigeria, brilliantly exposes the tragedies of civil war as a compelling cast of characters is drawn into the battle over the doomed breakaway state of Biafra.

Adrian, Chris. The Children’s Hospital. McSweeney’s, $24 (1-932416-60-9).

In this elegant and enormously wondrous novel, the world has come to an end. A devastating, transformative tale.

Allende, Isabel. Ines of My Soul. HarperCollins, $25.95 (0-06-116157-8).

An exquisite handler of historical detail, Allende presents an absorbing novel based on the life of an actual historical figure, a female conquistador who helped forge the nation of Chile.

Baker, Kevin. Strivers Row. HarperCollins, $26.95 (0-06-019583-5).

Baker offers the last installment of his compelling and resonant City of Fire series about the history of New York City; this concluding volume is set in 1940s Harlem.

Boyle, T. C. Talk Talk. Viking, $25.95 (0-670-03770-2).

Boyle sculpts his bold but meticulous novel out of a frightening premise, a case of identity theft, which he develops into a breathtaking thriller.

Cox, Michael. The Meaning of Night: A Confession. Norton, $26.95 (0-393-06203-1).

In this masterful debut, which is set in London in 1854, cast as a confession, and written in the dense and formal style of a Victorian novel, Cox invokes emotions on a grand scale and gives them an equally impressive backdrop.

Doig, Ivan. The Whistling Season. Harcourt, $25 (0-15-101237-7).

In his best novel since English Creek, Doig tells the story of the pivotal seventh-grade year in the life of Paul Milliron, a precocious student in a Montana one-room school. Digging the details of his historical moment from the dirt in which they thrived, Doig re-creates an entrancing chapter in the literature of the American West.

Eggers, Dave. What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. McSweeney’s, $26 (1-932416-64-1).

Deng is a Sudanese “Lost Boy,” and his story is one of unimaginable suffering. Reworking Deng’s powerful tale with both deep feeling and subtlety, Eggers finds humanity and even humor, creating something much greater than a litany of woes or a script for political outrage.

Ford, Richard. The Lay of the Land. Knopf, $26.95 (0-679-45468-3).

In Ford’s smart, moving, and very funny third novel featuring realtor Frank Bascombe, the author brilliantly dissects life in America in the late twentieth century.

Fuentes, Carlos. The Eagle’s Throne. Random, $26.95 (1-4000-6247-0).

The plot of this novel by the esteemed Mexican master centers on the question of who is to succeed an ineffectual incumbent president of Mexico; Fuentes immerses himself fully in the politics of his homeland.

Hempel, Amy. The Collected Stories. Scribner, $27.50 (0-7432-8946-3).

These short stories gathered from Hempel’s previous collections emphatically demonstrate that she has never imitated, that she is an original, having found and kept her unique way of expressing her deeply penetrating vision.

Horn, Dara. The World to Come. Norton, $24.95 (0-393-05107-2).

An actual art heist inspires this tale of former child prodigy Benjamin Ziskind, who steals a Chagall sketch from a New York museum. A compelling collage of history, mystery, theology, and scripture, Horn’s narrative tour de force crackles with conundrums and dark truths.

Kittredge, William. The Willow Field. Knopf, $24.95 (1-4000-4097-3).

Kittredge’s luminous first novel follows the life of Ronnie Benasco, who turns his back on school and family in the 1930s and goes off “to become his own man with horses.” This transcendent love story is set against two imposing landscapes, Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains and the Nevada Desert, both of which demand allegiance from their inhabitants’ hearts and minds.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. Knopf, $24 (0-307-26543-9).

In this stunning departure from his previous work, McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic scenario. A man and boy, father and son, walk a road in “the ashes of the late world.” (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction.)

McDermott, Alice. After This. Farrar, $24 (0-374-16809-1).

Exquisitely written, McDermott’s Long Island–rooted family saga spanning the second half of the twentieth century is witty and resonant, astutely taking measure of social change and the emotional, moral, and spiritual evolution of her intriguing characters.

Meno, Joe. The Boy Detective Fails. Akashic/Punk Planet, paper, $14.95 (1-933354-10-0).

Meno has shifted from the rock-and-roll earthiness of Hairstyles of the Damned (2004) to comic-book fantasy in a strangely beautiful and emotionally authentic tale about a boy detective, his sister’s suicide, and the nature of grief and escapism.

Powers, Richard. The Echo Maker. Farrar, $25 (0-374-14635-7).

In this remarkable novel, Powers explores how humans as a species smooth out the rough spots in their lives, tuning out the natural world and straying from instincts that might keep us alive.

Pynchon, Thomas. Against the Day. Penguin, $35 (9781594201202).

Pynchon is as erudite, inventive, satirical, and trenchant as ever in this many-faceted, globe-circling novel about family, love, exploration, technological advances, metaphysical conundrums, greed, and conquest in the years leading inexorably to World War I.

Saunders, George. In Persuasion Nation. Riverhead, $23.95 (1-59448-922-X).

MacArthur fellow Saunders writes nervy speculative fiction, here presenting surreal satirical stories about diabolically high-tech forms of persuasion in a world dominated by advertising.

See, Carolyn. There Will Never Be Another You. Random, $24.95 (0-679-46317-8).

This novel’s deep resonance lies in the author’s imaginative yet meaningful juxtaposition of global issues (terrorism in the form of environmental disaster) and domestic ones (marital breakup).

Turner, Frederick. Redemption. Harcourt, $24 (0-15-101470-1).

The authentic details from which Turner fashions this swiftly paced narrative, set in the early-twentieth-century red-light district of New Orleans, perfectly conjure that city’s atmosphere, which is at once peculiar in America and peculiarly American.

Tyler, Anne. Digging to America. Knopf, $24.95 (0-307-26394-0).

Tyler’s tale of two families serves as a microcosm of our times, and a wily inquiry into inheritance and culture, as the Donaldsons, white middle-class Americans, and the Yazdans, Iranian Americans, each adopt a Korean baby girl.

Umrigar, Thrity. The Space between Us. Morrow, $24.95 (0-06-079155-1).

The bond between Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife, and her domestic servant, Bhima, intensifies when Sera helps arrange an abortion for Bhima’s adopted daughter. Sadness suffuses this eloquent novel, whose heart-stopping plot reveals the ferocity of fate.

Updike, John. Terrorist. Knopf, $25 (0-307-26465-3).

This marvelous novel is a carefully nuanced building up of the psychology of those who traffic in terrorism. Timely and topical, poised and passionate.

Woodrell, Daniel. Winter’s Bone. Little, Brown, $22.95 (0-316-05755-X).

Woodrell, who has made a career of finding poetry in the beat-up souls of Ozark rednecks, does it again with the saga of 16-year-old Ree Dolly, who needs to track down her bail-jumping daddy right quick in order to save the family house. Woodrell mixes tough and tender so thoroughly yet so delicately that we never taste a hint of false bravado, on the one hand, or sentimentality, on the other.

Awards Won

Title Year
Booklist Editors' Choice: Adult Books
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public-library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.
2006 - Selection(s)