Best nonfiction 2006

In 2006, headlines were grim and the year's best books were not about to let us forget that. Several popular titles focused on Iraq ("State of Denial," "Fiasco," and "The Prince of the Marshes"), while others tackled the aftermath of 9/11("The One Percent Doctrine," "The Looming Tower," and "The Emperor's Children").

That's not all. Globalization ("The Inheritance of Loss"), the Middle East ("Gate of the Sun," "The Lemon Tree"), the AIDS crisis in Africa ("There Is No Me Without You"), and even identity theft ("Talk, Talk") all turned up on bookshelves.

But that doesn't mean 2006 left no room for fantasy ("The Ladies of Grace Adieu"), whimsy ("Cellophane"), warm humor("The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid"), and just plain good writing ("Green Swan, Black Swan").

Below is a list of all that Monitor reviewers liked best in 2006 – everything from fact to fiction, poetry to politics, history to personal story. It's a lively mix, one that we hope will offer ideas for you and everyone else on your gift list.
Marjorie Kehe, Monitor book editor

General nonfiction

The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin, $28)

This gripping tale of life in the Depression-era Dust Bowl was the 2006 National Book Award winner for nonfiction. (Reviewed 1/10/06)

Oracle Bones: A Journey between China's Past and Present, by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins, $26.95)

New Yorker Beijing correspondent Peter Hessler insightfully describes a new China, one no longer rooted in its traditional rural past. (5/2/06)

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan (Bloomsbury, $24.95)

The is the true story of the unexpected friendship that grows between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian family connected by a house they both have lived in and each claim to own. (5/9/06)

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin Group, $29.95)

Bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick brings to life the story of the Plymouth Colony. (5/30/06)

Uncommon Carriers, by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24)

From trucks to tugboats to coal trains, John McPhee examines the world of transit in delightful and quirky detail. (6/6/06)

The Good Good Pig, by Sy Montgomery (Ballantine Books, $21.95)

Animal expert Sy Montgomery tells the true and touching tale of the happiness an unwanted runt piglet brought her. (6/6/06)

Heat, by Bill Buford (Knopf, $25.95)

New Yorker writer Bill Buford delights with sketches of his experiences in various kitchens, including that of celebrity chef Mario Batali. (6/20/06)

The One Percent Doctrine, by Ron Suskind (Simon & Schuster, $27)

Journalist Ron Suskind explores the state of security in the United States in the years since 9/11 in this flawed but revelatory and chilling book. (7/11/06)

The Prince of the Marshes, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt, $25)

As a member of the coalition forces, a young Scotsman tackles the government of a province in the Iraqi marshlands and narrates his experiences with both disturbing insight and rueful humor. (8/8/06)

The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright (Knopf, $27.95)

From New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, a thorough, accessible, and compelling account of some of the people, politics, and roiling theology behind Islamic terrorism. (9/5/06)

There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children, by Melissa Fay Greene (Bloomsbury, $25.95)

National Book award nominee Melissa Fay Greene wonderfully chronicles the true story of an Ethiopian woman who took in AIDS orphans. (9/19/06)

Tigers in Red Weather, by Ruth Padel (Walker & Co., $26.95)

Ruth Padel, poet and great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, gorgeously writes of her hunt for wild tigers. (10/03/06)

The Shakespeare Wars, by Ron Rosenbaum (Random House, $35)

With humor and insight, journalist Ron Rosenbaum examines the impassioned debates that rage between scholars over the works of Shakespeare. (10/17/06)

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas Ricks (Penguin, $27.95)

The Washington Post's senior Pentagon reporter offers a detailed and devastating portrait of the run-up to and conduct of the war in Iraq. (10/17/06)

State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster, $30)

The man sometimes called America's dean of journalism uses his remarkable access to continue his chronicle of the George W. Bush administration and the war in Iraq. (10/24/06)

Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York, by Adam Gopnik (Knopf, $25)

This charming collection of essays by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik focuses on life in New York City, with a particular interest in urban parenting. (10/31/06)

The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain de Botton (Pantheon, $25)

The wide-ranging Alain de Botton turns his attention to architecture in this superb examination of buildings and how they make us feel. (11/14/06)


Operation Yao Ming, by Brook Larmer (Gotham Books, $26)

This well-crafted biography of basketball great Yao Ming is also a compelling tale of globalization. (Reviewed1/3/06)

Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (Knopf, $27.50)

A British scholar offers a penetrating view of Abraham Lincoln and his peculiar gifts as a politician. (1/24/06)

At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68, by Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster, $35)

This nuanced biography serves up a detailed portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. and the events of his time. (2/7/06)

Modigliani: A Life, by Jeffrey Meyers (Harcourt, $27)

This crisp, thoughtfully written examination of the life of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani helps to clarify his place in art history. (3/21/06)

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields (Henry Holt, $25)

Charles J. Shields, an English teacher, has produced the first full-scale biography of the reclusive author of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (6/13/06)

LBJ: The Architect of American Ambition, by Randall B. Woods (Simon & Schuster, $35)

This detailed biography of LBJ paints him as one of the most complex and fascinating of US presidents. (8/1/06)

The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music, by Dunstan Prial (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27)

A man born with golden ears, Hammond jumpstarted the careers of music greats Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. (10/3/06)


Let Me Finish, by Roger Angell (Harcourt, $25)

New York grandee Roger Angell gracefully recounts his own life story. (Reviewed 6/6/06)

My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'Homme (Knopf, $25.95)

Julia Child writes of some of the happiest years of her life – those she spent in France. (6/20/06)

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History, by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22)

"Corrections" author Jonathan Franzen probes his own past with an acuity that is alternately painful and funny. (9/5/06)

Things I Didn't Know, by Robert Hughes (Knopf, $27.95)

Time magazine's longtime art critic tells of his formative years and experiences in Australia, Europe, and the US. (10/17/06)

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson (Broadway, $25)

Writer Bill Bryson hilariously and tenderly recalls a 1950s childhood in Iowa. (10/31/06)


The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, by Cathleen Falsani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24)

A journalist queries celebrities about their ideas on God and receives some surprising answers. (Reviewed 3/14/06)

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, $30)

Popular religion writer Karen Armstrong chronicles the religious breakthroughs that took place worldwide between 900 and 200 BCE. (4/4/06)

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