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10 best books of October: the Monitor's picks

A collection of Eleanor Roosevelt's advice columns and the latest novel by Haruki Murakami are two of the titles Monitor critics selected as the best to be released this month.

1  Reagan, by Bob Spitz

This comprehensive examination of America’s 40th president represents presidential biography at its best. Noted biographer Bob Spitz (previous subjects have included The Beatles and Julia Child) researches like a historian, writes like a novelist, does the hard work of providing ample and intelligent context, and remains able to take an evenhanded approach to his subject. He also provides excellent portraits of some of the lesser players in Ronald Reagan’s life.

2  If You Ask Me, edited by Mary Jo Binker

You owe yourself the treat of spending some time with Eleanor Roosevelt. While the former first lady is enshrined in public memory as a civil rights crusader and avant-garde feminist, it’s easy to forget that she was also an advice columnist for more than 20 years. This nicely curated collection pulls together examples of Roosevelt’s wit, warmth, and wisdom and allows those who miss her – along with those who never knew her – to sit down for a pleasant visit. 

3  Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

In her latest novel, celebrated author Barbara Kingsolver draws upon the past to illuminate the present as she tells the stories of two families set in different centuries. Each wrestles with the contentious issues of its day – politics, scientific theory, changing communities – as family members turn to truth and compassion to adapt and endure.

4  The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration, by Roger D. Launius

From the Babylonian astronomers to America’s first landing on the moon to plans for private space tourism, this comprehensive illustrated guide tells the story of mankind’s quest to investigate the planets. Space historian Roger Launius tells the story compellingly and clearly enough for both space buffs and more rudimentary learners. 

5  Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

Japanese megastar author Haruki Murakami isn’t to everyone’s taste, but for the hordes of fans who adore his complex, elusive, magical fiction, “Killing Commendatore” is more of an excellent thing. This story of a portrait artist who becomes obsessed with a painting found in an attic is quintessential Murakami. 

6  Gandhi, by Ramachandra Guha

This second and concluding volume of Indian academic and journalist Ramachandra Guha’s superb biography of the Indian leader picks up where Volume I (“Gandhi Before India,” published in 2013) left off, just before Mohandas Gandhi arrives in Bombay, and finishes with his assassination in 1948. Relying on previously untapped archival material, Guha tells the story of this unique thinker and statesman perhaps better than it has ever been told before. 

7  All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung

Born to ethnic Korean parents and adopted by a white US family, Nicole Chung believed she would never have more than a shadowy notion of her biological parents. This proves untrue, as Chung explains in her memoir, which offers a sharp, moving examination of the sometimes overlooked complexities of interracial adoption. 

8  The Big Fella, by Jane Leavy

Bestselling author and sports biographer Jane Leavy takes on one of the greatest sports icons of all time: Babe Ruth. From his contested racial roots to his still-staggering record of play to the swagger that enchanted a nation, Babe was the nation’s first sports celebrity, and Leavy does an excellent job of capturing his saga and his times.

9  Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

This captivating novel, based on the true love story of American writer Joy Davidman and British icon C.S. Lewis, follows the couple from their beginning as pen pals on to their soul-saving friendship, artistic partnership, and, eventually, marriage. Bonding over great literature, the two seek creative fulfillment. Treasuring faith and family, they find home. This novel depicts them with honesty and humor.

10  In the Hurricane’s Eye, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Pulitzer Prize finalist Nathaniel Philbrick (“Mayflower”) has crafted another compelling gem of popular history, this time focusing on George Washington and the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake. It’s a battle that Philbrick argues should be viewed as one of the most important naval engagements in history.

[Editor's noteAn earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the marital status of the birth parents in "All You Can Ever Know."]

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