LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Books 2012: Biography and History

Karl Helicher
Director, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA

Reid, Jan. Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards. Univ. of Texas. Oct. 2012. 460p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780292719644. $27. BIOG
Reid presents a colorful, warts-and-all portrayal of this unique, one-term progressive Texas governor and feminist who served as a role model for Hillary Clinton. The author’s friendship with Richards adds a warm personal dimension to the story of this governor who included in large numbers women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and gays in her administration and who also overcame her own personal demons of addictions to prescription drugs and alcohol. (LJ 8/15/12)

King, Gilbert. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. Harper: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. c.400p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780061792281. $26.99. CRIME
When four young black men are falsely accused by a white woman of raping her in 1949, a young Thurgood Marshall takes on their defense in a case that could have no happy outcome and nearly cost Marshall his life.  This deeply researched work grips the reader like a Grisham novel as it unravels the intricacies of the Florida legal system, a state that had more KKK members and more lynchings than any other during this era. (LJ 2/1/12)

McFarland, Philip. Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century. Rowman & Littlefield. 2012. c.456p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442212268. $28. HIST
No two men better captured the spirit of America as it emerged as an industrialized nation and international power during the last decade of the 19th century and the first one of the 20th century. This sweeping, engrossing narrative explores Twain’s and TR’s relationship, and how they became heroes of the “Gilded Age” and icons of American history and culture. (LJ 9/1/12)

David Keymer
LJ reviewer, Modesto, CA

Ferraro, Joanne M. Venice: History of the Floating City. Cambridge Univ. Aug. 2012. c.300p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780521883597. $27.99. HIST
Joanne M. Ferraro’s Venice: History of the Floating City (Cambridge) is the best single book written to date about the Venetian Republic’s exceptionally long (more than 600 years), rich history. Copiously illustrated, it supercedes Frederick C. Lanes’s classic Venice: A Maritime Republic (1975), expanding the topics covered with up to date discussions of subjects such as gender relations, social deviancy and marriage patterns, and how Venetians used the arts to advettise and define their social identities. (LJ 7/15/12)

Polo, Marco. Edited by Morris Rossabi. The Travels of Marco Polo. Sterling Signature. Nov. 2012. 377p. Translated by Henry Yule. illus. index. ISBN 9781402796302. $40.00.
is a joy to read. The text is vigorous and stately, the sumptuous illustrations enrich the text, and the footnotes alert the reader to the modern names and locations of Polo’s references. Polo’s account remains one of the best travel narratives ever, written by a man with a lively mind and acute eye.

Brian Odom
Reference librarian, Pelham P.L., AL

Minois, Georges. The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed. Univ. Chicago Press. (Oct 2012)
An insightful glimpse into disbelief (whether real or imagined) in the late medieval and early modern world

Steele, Brian D. Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood. Cambridge UP. (July 2012).
Steele peeks inside the enigmatic mind of the Sage of Monticello to find out what he believed made America “exceptional.”

Westad, Odd Arne. Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. Basic Bks: Perseus. Sept. 2012. 502p. maps. index. ISBN 9780465019335. $32. HIST
offers sound, scholarly information on China’s historical identity crisis and the internal problems posed by its relations with foreign nations.

Gould, Eliga H. Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire. Harvard UP (March 2012).
Gould underscores the difficulties encountered by the Revolutionaries in the post-colonial world as they attempted to make America a “treaty-worthy” nation.

Maria Bagshaw
Reference & instruction librarian, Elgin Community College Lib., IL

Albright, Madeleine with Bill Woodward. Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948. Harper: HarperCollins. May 2012. c.480p. illus. index. ISBN 9780062030313. $29.99. AUTOBIOG
Albright really tells the story of the Czech struggle, and also intersperses her own memories, and her family’s personal involvement.  Her writing style is engaging, and her story, and the story of her country, are moving, dramatic, and touching.  I was enlightened by her recounting of the brave people who tried to save their country, and of their post-war perserverence.

Margaret Heilbrun About Margaret Heilbrun

Margaret Heilbrun is a former Senior Editor, Library Journal Book Review.