Books of the Year 2010

Benjamin Schwarz picks the five best of the crop.

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg
Deborah Eisenberg
Picador

This collection of 20 years’ worth of stories—their milieus vividly defined, their dialogue unsettlingly real, their characters hyperobservant—establishes Eisenberg’s place at the pinnacle of American fiction.

A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers
Will Friedwald
Pantheon

Friedwald chronicles the Great American Songbook, its creators, and its interpreters—a body of work that stands at the apogee of this nation’s civilization. Quirky, opinionated, shaped by exquisite taste and judgment, this feat of musical and cultural criticism offers an exuberant glimpse into the American character.

Private Life: A Novel
Jane Smiley
Knopf

A heartbreaking, bitter, and gorgeous epoch-spanning novel of a woman’s life stunted by marriage, this is Smiley’s best book yet. Making dazzling and meticulous use of her historical scope, she has written a work at once majestic and gemlike.

The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind
Melvin Konner
Harvard

This monumental book—more than 900 pages long, 30 years in the making, grand and intricate, breathtakingly inclusive and painstakingly particular—probes the biological evolution of human behavior and specifically the behavior of children. It is the flower of an astoundingly productive and innovative period of scholarship.

What Becomes: Stories
A. L. Kennedy
Knopf

Kennedy’s approach in these lapidary stories is off-kilter and desolate—most of them involve unions unhappy or unraveling, and violence animates several. The author, a supremely refined stylist, leaves the reader shaken, but not in despair. Humor, albeit of a particularly hard-won variety, suggests Kennedy (a sometime stand-up comic), is necessary for fortitude.

See the 15 runners-up here

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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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