Best books of 2009: nonfiction

The nonfiction books we liked best in 2009.

A World of Trouble:
The White House and the Middle East – from the Cold War to the War on Terror
By Patrick Tyler
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
628 pp., $30
New York Times correspondent Patrick Tyler presents an erudite and unusually eloquent analysis of 50 years of US policy in the Mideast. (Reviewed in the Monitor on 1/5/09.)

The Ascent of Money:
A Financial History of the World
By Niall Ferguson
442 pp., $29.95
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson offers an engaging and convincing exploration of the links between money and human progress. (Monitor review 1/6/09)

The Somme:
The Darkest Hour on the Western Front
By Peter Hart
Pegasus Books/Norton
624 pp., $35
Historian Peter Hart relies on personal accounts to add a new dimension to this stirring history of the Great War’s bloodiest battle. (Monitor review 1/30/09)

A. Lincoln:
A Biography
By Ronald C. White Jr.
Random House
816 pp. $35
In this lively, informative biography, historian Ronald C. White traces the spiritual and intellectual evolution of Abraham Lincoln.(Monitor review 2/10/09)

The Lost City of Z:
A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
By David Grann
352 pp., $27.50
Journalist David Grann follows the lost trail of a yet unsolved mystery: What happened to Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett? (Monitor review 2/25/09)

A Life
By Blake Bailey
784 pp., $35
This expansive, wonderfully written biography illuminates both the gifts and the struggles of author John Cheever. (Monitor review 3/9/09)

The Third Reich at War
By Richard J. Evans
Penguin Press
926 pp., $40
Historian Richard J. Evans’s history of World War II from a German perspective is a superb study of a society at war. (Monitor review 4/11/09)

The First Tycoon:
The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
By T.J. Stiles
736 pp., $37.50
A man of brutal force, Cornelius Vanderbilt – for better and worse – helped to shape American business culture. This examination of his life is a 2009 National Book Award winner. (Monitor review 5/1/09)

Fingerprints of God:
The Search for the Science of Spirituality
By Barbara Bradley Hagerty
Riverhead Books
323 pp., $26.95
National Public Radio reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty uses journalism’s tools to explore the intersection of spirituality and science.  (Monitor review 5/19/09)

Shop Class as Soulcraft:
An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
By Matthew B. Crawford
Penguin Press
246 pp., $25.95
A philosopher-turned-motorbike mender meditates on the rewards and joys of manual labor. (Monitor review 6/16/09)

Tears in the Darkness:
The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
By Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman
Farrar, Staus and Giroux
464 pp., $30
This balanced, beautifully written book about the horrors of the Bataan death march is the definitive account of this exceptionally grim chapter of human history. (Monitor review 7/8/09)

How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
By Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo
Penguin Press
352 pp., $26.95.
The preposterous yet true tale of one of the most audacious scams in the history of art makes an intoxicating page turner. (Monitor review 8/11/09)

The Age of Wonder:
How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and the Terror of Science
By Richard Holmes
576 pp., $40
In this sprawling, dazzling account, biographer and historian Richard Holmes examines the close company shared by scientific discovery and artistic creation during the 19th century. (Monitor review 8/12/09)

Strength in What Remains:
A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness
By Tracy Kidder
Random House
277 pp., $26
Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder’s tells the true story of a Tutsi medical student who fled the genocide in his country, battled fearsome odds to become a physician in the US, and then found himself ready to return home. (Monitor review 8/24/09)

The Snakehead:
An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream
By Patrick Radden Keefe
432 pp., $27.50
Journalist Patrick Radden Keefe turns the story of the boss of a human smuggling ring into a masterwork of narrative nonfiction. (Monitor review 8/26/09)

The Sisters of Sinai:
How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels
By Janet Soskice
304 pp., $26.95
The unlikely tale of the pair of wealthy, erudite, identical twins who made one of the most significant scriptural discoveries in history. (Monitor review 8/31/09)

Horse Soldiers:
The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan
By Doug Stanton
416 pp., $28
This carefully detailed account of the US Army Special Forces who slipped into Afghanistan on horseback fills in the gaps of what is known about the war’s most successful campaign. (Monitor review 9/8/09)

A Paradise Built in Hell:
The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
By Rebecca Solnit
353 pp., $27.95
Writer/essayist Rebecca Solnit presents evidence that when disaster strikes, ordinary human beings very often do extraordinary things. (Monitor review 9/14/09)

Green Metropolis:
Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability
By David Owen
Riverhead Books
357 pp., $25.95
New Yorker magazine writer David Owen examines that civic paragon of green living: New York City. (Monitor review 9/16/09)

The Good Soldiers
By David Finkel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
285 pp., $25
In this powerful, graphic account, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel records what he saw of the ‘surge’ during eight months in Iraq with an American Army battalion. (Monitor review 9/24/09)

The Clinton Tapes:
Wrestling History with the President
By Taylor Branch
Simon & Schuster
720 pp., $35
Renowned historian Taylor Branch had 79 taped conversations with Bill Clinton during his tenure as US president. The result is a book that offers an unusual, compelling insider’s look at a presidency. (Monitor review 9/30/09)

The Big Burn:
Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America
By Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
324 pp., $27
National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan tells the story  of the largest wildfire in US history. (Monitor review 10/5/09)

The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind
By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
William Morrow
288 pp., $25.99
William Kamkwamba is the Malawian boy who taught himself physics in order to bring a windmill to his village. His autobiography makes an inspiring read. (Review 10/15/09)

A Memoir
By Mary Karr
386 pp., $25.99
Memoirist Mary Karr tells the story of her failed marriage, her struggles with alcohol and mental illness, and the peace she finally found in prayer. (Monitor review 11/4/09)

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