Blood in the Water (2016), by Heather Ann Thompson

A monumental work of reporting, this book is an exhaustive (and exhausting) account of the four-day Attica Prison rebellion that took nearly four decades to resolve*. Indeed, by the time the uprising ends and the prison has been violently retaken, there is still well more than half the book left, given to a mind-numbing parade of lawsuits and legal machinations. That Thompson is able to make this half as dramatic as the first is remarkable.

*If in fact it ever has been resolved. Despite some modest payouts to victims, the state has never admitted any wrongdoing in its calamitous decision to retake the prison with such fatal, arbitrary force, nor was any law enforcement official involved in the retaking ever indicted.

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The Best Books Read in 2016

Here is my annual round-up of the 12 best books I read this year, one for every month. The list is alphabetical by author. For the first time since I started keeping annual lists (about 11 years, I believe), I cannot pick a single book to be my favorite. Several of them vied at times for the top spot, but I couldn’t settle on one, so I will not choose one absolute favorite this year*. Hey, if it’s good enough for the Pulitzer board, it’s good enough for me.

Happy reading!

*Though I do reserve the right to retroactively anoint one later.

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What It Takes (1992), by Richard Ben Cramer

Is there such a thing as being too definitive?

The late Richard Ben Cramer’s titanic deep dive into the 1987-88 presidential primary season is rightly regarded as the last word on the crazy-making rigors of electoral politics in this country. Hard to argue: books like Game Change, which purport to tell us what the candidates are really thinking, are but superficial imitators to the throne in comparison.

 

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The level of commitment from Cramer here is awe-inspiring, likely rivaled only by Robert A. Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson in the category of total immersion. But at least Caro has been writing for nearly 40 years about one man; Cramer somehow managed to follow six different campaigns around in real time over a two-year stretch, apparently leaving no stone unturned and unpacking each candidate’s life story in indelible detail (at great cost to his own health, it turns out).
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The Best Books I Read in 2015

Here’s my annual round-up of the 12 best books I read over the past year, one for every month. They are presented here alphabetically by title, with my favorite of all of them, which I saw on virtually no other list, saved until last. Happy reading!

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After Birth, by Elisa Albert (2015)

 

Ball: Stories, by Tara Ison (2015)

 

 

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                             The Cartel, by Don Winslow (2015)

 

The Cult of the Presidency, by Gene Healy (2008)

 

 

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The First Bad Man, by Miranda July (2015)

 

I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (2014)

 

 

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               A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)

 

                      Mr. Bridge, by Evan S. Connell (1969)

 

 

 

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Purity, by Jonathan Franzen (2015)

 

Strangers Drowning, by Larissa McFarquhar (2015)

 

 

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                                                          Terms of Service, by Jacob Silverman (2015)

 

 

 

 

And my selection for Favorite Book of the Year is…

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Go Set a Watchman (2015), by Harper Lee

This is a review of Harper Lee’s highly-ancticipated second novel/prequel/abandoned debut Go Set a Watchman. For some thoughts on its more famous predecessor, To Kill a Mockingbird, click here.

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Let’s put aside the unsavory circumstances surrounding this book’s publication, which become more contemptible the more you read about them. Let’s also put aside the sturm und drang about this alternate side of Atticus Finch and what it means for us and our collective image of him as a faultless paragon of virtue.

Let’s focus instead on what we have in front of us, which is an artistic tragedy, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

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