Every year at this time the New York Times, and many other media, online and off, provide us with lists of the books they thought were the best of the previous 12 months. The other day the NYT posted the following list of their choices, about 50 each of fiction and nonfiction. Here are my comments on the non-fiction they chose.
Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss. I bought this book for my Kindle because I think Maraniss is as close to an unbiased political writer we have these days. I liked the beginning of it but for some reason I forgot about it and didn't finish. I may go back to it because it's well done.
The Black Count by Tom Reiss. This is about the person who was purportedly the "real" Count of Monte Cristo. Since I've read and re-read that novel umpteen times I suppose I should find this book and give it a try, especially as the NY Times considers it one of the best of the year and they are much more reliable with nonfiction than with fiction.
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray. This book I pre-ordered and I think it was both one of the best books I read this year and one of the depressing. Murray presents a convincing argument, based on census data, that we in America self-select by income, education, class, and political opinion. We have even chosen where we live according to our political views. And the condition of the poorly educated and those who have illegitimate children is reinforced by all of this.
The Obamas by Jodi Kantor. Again, a relatively unbiased book about the Obama family and especially Michelle's influence over her husband and his entire administration.
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. This is the fourth volume of what is now projected to be a five-volume trilogy. The math is a little off but that's fine with me. These books are so extraordinary I hope they go on forever. And Lyndon Johnson is such a quintessential American character and he was so outrageous that the biography makes for extremely entertaining reading. The NY Times chose this as one of their 10 Best Books of 2012 and rightly so. This is indeed one of the best books of this year or any year.
The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P Kennedy by David Nasaw. I'm reading this excellent biography right now. What a despicable character the elder Kennedy was. No wonder his boys were so messed up.
Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey. Benfey is another author whose books I buy without looking at reviews. He's a brilliant writer whether he chooses to write about Degas in New Orleans, Emily Dickinson, Japanese eccentrics, or as in this book, his youth and family history in North Carolina pottery country.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. This is another book that I would put on my list of the best of 2012. Well organized, well written, and with a fascinating and very important story to tell.
Thomas Jefferson by Jon Meachm. I bought this for myself as a birthday present and I'm reading it right now. It read like a novel. Jefferson was a Renaissance man and, Meacham contends, a crafty and successful politician. A first-rate biography.
The rest of the NY Times 100 Best list is here.