Books of the Year 2009

ATLANTIC LITERARY EDITOR BENJAMIN SCHWARZ PICKS THE 25 BEST IN A CROWDED FIELD

By Benjamin Schwarz

December 2009 Atlantic

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The Top Five

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A Life 
By Michael Burlingame 
JOHNS HOPKINS

Measured, psychologically astute, authoritative when it can be, Michael Burlingame’s exhaustive narrative (2,024 pages!) is unafraid of ambiguity and indeterminacy. This is the life of Lincoln for our times.

THE CHILDREN’S BOOK: A Novel 
By A. S. Byatt 
KNOPF

Byatt has wrought a richly detailed, decade-spanning, at once Olympian and pointillist masterpiece. To read this gorgeous bolt of fiction is to fully enter a world.

THE THIRD REICH TRILOGY (Concluding With The Third Reich at War
By Richard J. Evans 
PENGUIN

Evans’s cool, crisply argued three-volume chronicle will be for a generation the definitive general history of Nazi Germany in English.

IT’S BEGINNING TO HURT: Stories 
By James Lasdun 
FSG

This collection of short stories illuminates the everyday agonies of the mind, its anxieties, obsessions, doubts, and yearnings. Lasdun pins each observation to the page with grace and exactitude.

MRS. WOOLF AND THE SERVANTS: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury 
By Alison Light 
BLOOMSBURY

In her elegant, sparkling book, Light marries social and literary criticism as she probes the deeply intimate, often sordid, always fraught relationship between women servants and their female employers.


The Runners Up

TOO MUCH HAPPINESS: Stories 
By Alice Munro 
KNOPF

[Read the full review from the November Atlantic]

Dominion from Sea to Sea
Bruce Cumings 
YALE

The Art Instinct
Denis Dutton 
BLOOMSBURY

The Hundred Years War, vol 3
Jonathan Sumption 
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

The Hindus
Wendt Doniger 
PENGUIN PRESS

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic
Gordon Wood 
OXFORD

The New Old World
Perry Anderson
VERSO

The Thirty Years War
Peter H. Wilson 
HARVARD

This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
Carmen M. Reinhart and Keneth Rogoff 
PRINCETON

Florence Nightingale
Mark Bostidge 
FSG

Flannery: A Life
Brad Gooch 
LITTLE BROWN

Samuel Johnson: A Biography
Peter Martin 
HARVARD

In the Kitchen
Monica Ali
SCRIBNER

Reading Dance
ed. Robert Gottlieb 
PANTHEON

Words in the Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell
ed. Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton 
FSG

Charles Dickens
Michael Slater 
YALE

Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel 
HENRY HOLT

The Arabs
Eugene Rogan 
BASIC

Northern Arts: The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art, from Ibsen to Bergman
Arnold Weinstein 
PRINCETON

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life
Frances Wilson 
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire
Brendan Simms 
BASIC

Collected Stories
Lydia Davis 
FSG

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