Books of the Year

A "book of the year" is one from which you should be able to derive pleasure and profit a decade hence. That eliminates books that are important only for the moment—that is, most political and policy books (even such an important contribution to today's foreign-policy debate as Imperial Hubris, by Anonymous). It also eliminates a lot of really good books that aren't great or almost great (such as Muriel Spark's The Finishing School, William Trevor's A Bit on the Side, Edwin Williamson's Borges, the bloated but important final volume of Norman Sherry's life of Graham Greene, Ian Gilmour's The Making of the Poets, and Michael Redhill's regrettably neglected Fidelity); flawed but potentially great works in progress (for example, The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans); and also a lot of books that I think are getting undeserved attention and winning undue praise—among them Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. (I've also eliminated enduring scholarly books that are just too arcane.) So, yes, this is a serious list. And although everyone in the "serious" book business decries the lack of attention to literary fiction, I find the lack of attention to works of serious nonfiction to be an even bigger problem. As I write, only one of the nonfiction titles named here has been reviewed in The New York Times.

Finally, although this wasn't a dreadful year in books, it's one of the least good years for novels that I can remember. Readers will notice just two fiction titles—both short-story collections.

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Benjamin Schwarz is the former literary and national editor for The Atlantic. He is writing a book about Winston Churchill for Random House. More

His first piece for the magazine, "The Diversity Myth," was a cover story in 1995. Since then he's written articles and reviews on a startling array of subjects from fashion to the American South, from current fiction to the Victorian family, and from international economics to Chinese restaurants. Schwarz oversees and writes a monthly column for "Books and Critics," the magazine's cultural department, which under his editorship has expanded its coverage to include popular culture and manners and mores, as well as books and ideas. He also regularly writes the "leader" for the magazine. Before joining the Atlantic's staff, Schwarz was the executive editor of World Policy Journal, where his chief mission was to bolster the coverage of cultural issues, international economics, and military affairs. For several years he was a foreign policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where he researched and wrote on American global strategy, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and military doctrine. Schwarz was also staff member of the Brookings Institution. Born in 1963, he holds a B.A. and an M.A. in history from Yale, and was a Fulbright scholar at Oxford. He has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The Nation. He has lectured at a range of institutions, from the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School to the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. He won the 1999 National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in book criticism.

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