The Ayatollah Begs

to Differ

The Paradox of Modern Iran

By Hooman Majd


In the “best book yet written on the contradictions of contemporary Iran,” according to our reviewer, Majd dissects a paradox of a country both ancient and modern, Persian and Islamic, morally lax in private and supremely puritanical in public.

The Bin Ladens

An Arabian Family

in the American Century

By Steve Coll

Penguin Press

While the name “Bin Laden” stirs up but one image in people’s minds, Coll’s stirring history centers on the wealth, prestige and power that Osama’s family wields and its deep interaction and shared strict interpretation of Islam with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Saud family.

The Bishop’s


A Memoir

By Honor Moore

W.W. Norton

Moore tries to reconcile the public image of her father, a devoted family man and once Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New York, with her discovery that he led a secret existence as a gay man. In the end, she realized “that to me his living of his passion was heroic.”

Claim of Privilege

A Mysterious Plane Crash,

a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets

By Barry Siegel


The Pulitzer Prize-winning former Times reporter shows the vast implications of a 1953 Supreme Court case that ushered in the legal state secret. The decision enshrined the ability of the executive branch to refuse to turn over evidence to those suing the government simply by asserting that national security would be threatened.


A Journey Through Grief

By Ann Hood

W.W. Norton

Hood rejects the concept of “closure” after the sudden death of her 5-year-old daughter from a virulent form of strep. She does not miss her daughter any less as time goes by, though the heart must stretch to accommodate new love.


The Eaves of Heaven

A Life in Three Wars

By Andrew X. Pham


Pham’s story of his father’s fleeing occupation and war after a childhood of privilege in Vietnam is one of devastation and radiance, highlighting the history of a benighted land.

The Forever War

By Dexter Filkins

Alfred A. Knopf

In the witness tradition of combat journalism, Filkins’ meticulously constructed vignettes don’t claim to form a narrative but illuminate and humanize the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Hemingses

of Monticello

An American Family

By Annette Gordon-Reed

W.W. Norton

Starting with Thomas Jefferson and his slave and mistress Sally Hemings, Gordon-Reed explores master-slave relations in Virginia and the dichotomy of slavery’s presence in a society claiming to be based on freedom.

How Fiction Works

By James Wood

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Wood is our Edmund Wilson, unafraid to approach criticism with the seriousness and intention of art. Here, he looks at fiction’s mechanics and aesthetics, arguing in favor of literary realism.


The Biography of a Writer

By Fred Kaplan


Abraham Lincoln was, Kaplan tells us, “the Twain of politics.” In this charming and unexpected biography, he frames a part of the 16th president’s greatness in his having a “personality and a career forged in the crucible of language.”

Minders of


Idealists, Entrepreneurs,

and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature

By Leonard S. Marcus

Houghton Mifflin

In this enlightening, vivid history, Marcus unravels many of the myths about children’s literature. Children’s books, he writes, are “messages forged at the crossroads of commerce and culture.”


The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West

By Deanne Stillman

Houghton Mifflin

Inspired by the 1998 killing of 34 mustangs near Reno, Stillman’s tale of wild horses becomes a saga of the American West that blurs boundaries between essay and reporting, history and literature.


The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

By Rick Perlstein


Richard Nixon, Perlstein tells us, worked on the resentments of the so-called Silent Majority to achieve his power, thus helping facilitate a culture war that we’re still fighting in which what separates us, rather than what unites us, defines who we are.

Obscene in

the Extreme

The Burning and Banning

of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”

By Rick Wartzman


In 1939, the board of supervisors of Kern County banned John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” A former Times editor and columnist uses that story as a lens on California labor history.

Orange County

A Personal History

By Gustavo Arellano


Arellano, a contributing editor to The Times’ Op-Ed pages, grew up in Orange County and describes it as home to “Rep. Robert Dornan and Mickey Mouse, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and extraterrestrial basketballer Dennis Rodman, not to mention the largest community of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam.”

Pictures at

a Revolution

Five Movies and the Birth

of the New Hollywood

By Mark Harris

Penguin Press

Harris uses the five Academy Award nominees for best picture of 1967 as a window on a revolutionary moment in Hollywood, when the focus of the studios shifted, and film became more gritty and political.

Posthumous Keats

A Personal Biography

By Stanley Plumly

W.W. Norton

It took Plumly, an award-winning poet in his own right, more than 20 years to get a handle on this meditation on John Keats’ life, but the book is, as our reviewer noted, “very much worth the wait.”

The Soiling

of Old Glory

The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America

By Louis P. Masur


Many have seen the photograph: a white man, outside Boston City Hall during a 1976 anti-busing protest, about to spear a black lawyer with an American flag. Here, Masur tells the story behind that image.

The Suicide Index

By Joan Wickersham


In this understated memoir, Wickersham recalls the suicide of her father and her inability to come to terms with it. Her book resonates with the complexity of love and the inability of memory to sustain us, even (or especially) when it’s all we’ve got.

The Ten-Cent Plague

The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

By David Hajdu

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

The battle over comic books in the late 1940s and 1950s was really a battle over the soul of America, with the forces of tradition on one side and an anarchic youth culture on the other.

This Republic

of Suffering

Death and the American Civil War

By Drew Gilpin Faust

Alfred A. Knopf

The Civil War, Faust argues, was a turning point not just in the nation’s history, but also in the way we dealt with issues of “death and dying -- how Americans prepared for death, imagined it, risked it, endured it and worked to understand it.”

The Three of Us

A Family Story

By Julia Blackburn


The daughter of a poet and a painter, Blackburn was raised in a narcissistic household, rent by her parents’ battles. Here, she tells that story with an unflinching clarity.

Whatever It Takes

Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America

By Paul Tough

Houghton Mifflin

Tough offers an inspiring look at Geoffrey Canada, who created the Harlem Children’s Zone, a program to provide children with the support they need from birth until graduation from high school.

Words in Air

The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell

Edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Bishop and Lowell met in 1947 and remained confidants until Lowell’s death 30 years later. “Words in Air,” our reviewer wrote, is “not only an intimate, detailed history of American literary life . . . it’s also an exhilarating document on the art of friendship.”

The World

Is What It Is

The Authorized Biography

of V.S. Naipaul

By Patrick French

Alfred A. Knopf

French’s biography of the Nobel laureate may be authorized, but it is hardly sanitized. Rather, this is a candid account of the 20th century’s unlikeliest literary giant.