Books of the Year 2011

The Atlantic’s literary editor picks the five best of the crop.

The Hare With Amber Eyes
Edmund de Waal
FSG

This rueful family memoir is also a vividly episodic history of 19th- and 20th-century Europe, and a plangent consideration of the pleasures and fleetingness of aesthetic and familial happiness.

Letters to Monica
Philip Larkin, edited by Anthony Thwaite
Faber and Faber

Even as this book chronicles an almost passionless and far from conventionally happy relationship, it yields moments of exquisite tenderness and acuity, while obliquely showing the civilizing effect that even the most trying woman can exert on even the most impossible man.

The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan
Richard Nickel and Aaron Siskind, with John Vinci and Ward Miller
Richard Nickel Committee

This publishing feat illuminates some of the most beautiful and influential art that America has produced. With painstaking clarity, it reveals the ways Adler and Sullivan balanced the severe, massive elegance of their façades with the rhythmic grace of their exuberant, often whimsical ornament.

Saints and Sinners: Stories
Edna O’Brien
Back Bay

In prose as rich as loam, O’Brien discerns the various drives that coexist amid the welter of human behavior. The world she summons is a piercingly beautiful combination of yearning and disappointment, violence and endurance.

Emily, Alone
Stewart O’Nan
Viking

With this quietly devastating, precisely observed novel that traces the course of three-quarters of a year near the end—but decidedly not at the end—of a widow’s long life, O’Nan, too long overlooked, has firmly established his place as one of our finest and most humane novelists.

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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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