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Washington Post: 10 Best Books of 2015

By Book World Reviewers | Illustrations by Julia Rothman

In our annual roundup of best books, you’ll find 10 that we think are exceptionally rewarding.

Reviews below by Washington Post

Staff Pick Badge
Between the World and Me Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780812993547
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: One World - July 14th, 2015

Between the World and Me” is a riveting meditation on the state of race in America that has arrived at a tumultuous moment in America’s history of racial strife. What it does better than any other recent book is relentlessly drive home the point that “racism is a visceral experience. . . . It dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.” To be black in the ghetto of Coates’s youth “was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease.” Throughout the book, Coates describes being in numb-inducing fear for the safety of his own body. This work, which won the National Book Award in nonfiction, is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers when national events most conform to his vision.


Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS Cover Image
$28.95
ISBN: 9780385538213
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Doubleday - September 29th, 2015

The Islamic State, whose radical Islamic warriors have inflicted their brutality across the globe from the Middle East to Paris, was founded as al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 by a Jordanian thug known by his nom de guerre, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In “Black Flags,” Joby Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The Washington Post, explains the importance of this gangster and analyzes his continuing influence on the Islamic State long after his death in 2006. There have been a number of previous biographies of Zarqawi, but Warrick takes the story much deeper. Most important, he shows in painful but compulsively readable detail how a series of mishaps and mistakes by the U.S. and Jordanian governments gave this unschooled hoodlum his start as a terrorist superstar and set the Middle East on a path of sectarian violence that has proved hard to contain.


The Book of Aron Cover Image
$23.95
ISBN: 9781101874318
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - May 12th, 2015

In the summer of 1942, German soldiers expelled almost 200 starving children from an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and packed them into rail cars bound for Treblinka. Drawing on his imagination and dozens of historical sources, Shepard brings the Warsaw orphanage to life in this remarkable novel about a poor Polish boy and his friendship with the caretaker of the orphans, the pediatrician Janusz Korczak. The novel hangs on the delicate tension in the adolescent narrator’s deadpan voice — never cute, never cloying. Aron relays his world just as he experiences it: “The next morning my father told me to get up,” he says, “because it was war and the Germans had invaded.” And with that news, his town slides into hell. Although relentless in its portrayal of systematic evil, “The Book of Aron” is nonetheless a story of such candor about the complexity of heroism that it challenges us to greater courage.


Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9781400067657
Availability: Backordered
Published: Random House - November 10th, 2015

Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H.W. Bush accomplishes a neat trick. It completes the historical and popular rehabilitation of its subject, though it does by affirming, not upending, common perceptions of America’s 41st president. In Meacham’s telling, Bush indeed lacked an ideological vision, was as overmatched in domestic policy as he was masterful on the global stage, benefited from his family’s influence, and remains overshadowed “by the myth of his predecessor and the drama of his sons’ political lives.” What Meacham so skillfully adds to this understanding — through extraordinary detail, deft writing and, thanks to his access to Bush’s diaries, an inner monologue of key moments in Bush’s presidency — is the simple insight that none of these supposed flaws hindered the man from meeting the needs of the nation and that, if anything, they helped him. Bush sought power less to pursue a particular agenda, the author writes, than to fulfill “an ideal of service and an ambition — a consuming one — to win.” The story of how he did it is worth every page of this hefty volume.


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Fates and Furies: A Novel Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9781594634475
Availability: Backordered
Published: Riverhead Books - September 15th, 2015

Spanning decades, oceans and the whole economic scale from indigence to opulence, “Fates and Furies,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, holds within its grasp the story of one extraordinary marriage. The book’s first half concocts the blessed life of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite, the adored son of a wealthy Florida family who has great ambitions to be an actor. His wife, Mathilde, so long impoverished and alone, willingly takes on the chore of encouraging this self-absorbed, quick-to-despair young man. Groff’s flexible style can be impressionistic enough to convey the high points of passing years or lush enough to embody Lotto’s melodramatic sense of himself. And halfway through, Groff turns from “Fates” to “Furies,” and we see Mathilde’s life unmediated by Lotto’s idealized vision of her. Here’s a woman as determined as Antigone, as ferocious as Medea.


Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It Cover Image
$29.95
ISBN: 9780385539005
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Doubleday - February 24th, 2015

Welcome to the brave new world of criminal technology, where robbers have been replaced by hackers and victims include all of us on the Web. Goodman, a former beat cop who founded the Future Crimes Institute, wrote his book to shed light on the latest in criminal and terrorist tradecraft and to kick off a discussion. He presents myriad cybercrime examples: There’s the Ukraine-incorporated start-up that sold what it called an “entirely new class” of antivirus software, which turned out to be crimeware — software that is written to commit crimes. Even the human body is hackable. Researchers successfully broke into a pacemaker and were able to read confidential patient information and could have delivered jolts of electricity to the patient’s heart. In the last two chapters, Goodman suggests how to limit the impact of this new brand of crime and calls for us to tackle cybersecurity in much the same way we treat epidemics and public health.


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A Little Life: A Novel Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780385539258
Availability: Backordered
Published: Doubleday - March 10th, 2015

Hanya Yanagihara’s novel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, illuminates human suffering pushed to its limits, drawn in extraordinary, eloquent detail. At the opening, four young men move to New York City. They are devoted to one another, each with bright paths glimmering before them. Despite the brothers-in-arms setup, however, the narrative quickly concentrates on one of the men, Jude, an orphan with a mysterious past who becomes an assistant prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. Jude’s desire to maintain a veneer of control, despite being haunted by sexual and psychological abuse, creates the book’s major drama. As “A Little Life” paints it, his friends’ love is the thing that could save Jude, if only he would let it. Through her decade-by-decade examination of these people’s lives, Yanagihara draws a deeply realized character study that inspires as much as devastates.


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Negroland: A Memoir Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9780307378453
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Pantheon - September 8th, 2015

Margo Jefferson was an African American girl from a good family that had money, connections and expectations of excellence. She attended Chicago’s private, progressive Lab School, graduated from Brandeis and Columbia universities, and eventually worked at the New York Times, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. She was (mostly) protected from the sting of racism and its pernicious hacking away at self-esteem, opportunity and hope. Her father was a pediatrician, and she describes her mother as a socialite. But her armor was thin, and over the years she has nursed her discomfort with being a child of privilege. “Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered,” she writes. In Negroland, residents were mindful that being perceived as too successful by whites risked provoking their wrath. So they walked through life proudly but with care, treading cautiously so as never to offend. “Negroland” is not about raw racism or caricatured villains. It is about subtleties and nuances, presumptions and slights that chip away at one’s humanity and take a mental toll.


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Purity: A Novel Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780374239213
Availability: Backordered
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - September 1st, 2015

As he did in “The Corrections” (2001) and “Freedom” (2010), Franzen once again begins with a family, and his ravenous intellect strides the globe, drawing us through a collection of cleverly connected plots infused with major issues of our era. That Dickensian ambition is cheekily explicit in “Purity,” which traces the unlikely rise of a poor, fatherless child named Pip. At least partially to escape her mother’s neediness, Pip accepts an internship with a rogue Web site in the jungles of Bolivia that exposes the nasty secrets of corporations and nations. Its leader is an Internet activist whose back story in East Germany reads like a cerebral thriller. Sustaining this for almost 600 pages requires an extraordinarily engaging style, and in “Purity,” Franzen writes with perfectly balanced fluency. From its tossed-off observations to its thoughtful reflections on nuclear weapons and the moral compromises of journalism, this novel offers a constantly provocative series of insights.


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Welcome to Braggsville: A Novel Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780062302137
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - September 8th, 2015

This shockingly funny story pricks every nerve of the American body politic. D’aron Little May Davenport, a polite white teen from Braggsville, Ga., arrives at the hypersensitive University of California at Berkeley as if he’s a Southern-fried Candide. The whole novel turns on a moment in one of his history classes when D’aron mentions that his home town stages a Civil War reenactment every year during its Pride Week Patriot Days Festival. A too clever, incredibly offensive, potentially disastrous plan is born: D’aron and three friends travel back to Braggsville and stage a mock lynching, “a performative intervention.” Johnson is a master at stripping away our persistent myths and exposing the subterfuge and displacement necessary to keep pretending that a culture built on kidnapping, rape and torture was the apotheosis of gentility and honor. But “Welcome to Braggsville” is not just a broadside against the South; it’s equally irritated with liberalism’s self-righteousness.


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