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 the author of a forthcoming book on Winston Churchill.

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