The Best Lives of 2009


The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

T. J. Stiles


Thoroughly deserving of its National Book Award for Nonfiction, Stiles’s biography captures a huge life and pivotal epoch. Of humble origins, Cornelius Vanderbilt grew into a six-foot, 200 pound, rock-fisted dynamo, a ruthless competitor who transformed this nation through technological and business inventiveness. Fast-paced and filled with arresting personal and historical detail, the biography is an absolute triumph.





Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel


Winner of the Man Booker Prize and (nonetheless) a joy, a wonder, and a truly engrossing read, this elegantly constructed novel brilliantly conjures up of one of history’s dark horses. Thomas Cromwell, watchful, shrewd, and in this telling, compassionate, rises to power in the turmoil surrounding Henry VIII’s obsessions with the Tudor succession and Anne Boleyn. The book is a peerless mixture of biography, history, and fiction.






Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

Larry Tye


Egocentric, high-living, outspoken, and flamboyant, Satchel Paige was exactly the sort of player prudish, tight-fisted Branch Rickey did not have in mind to break major-league baseball’s color bar. Jackie Robinson got the nod, but Paige, the all-round showman, was a powerful force in moving toward integration: popularizing black baseball and playing off season with white major leaguers. That story gets the treatment it demands in this fine biography.





Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life

Michael Greenberg


These 44 short, impeccably wrought pieces portray the life and times of the son of a Brooklyn scrap merchant hell-bent on being a writer. Greenberg’s trials are grueling, sometimes very odd, often mordantly funny. His prose is direct and precise; his observation of others ruthless; and his sensibility stark and ironic. These are darkly glinting gems of the examined life.





Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House

Miranda Seymour


A decaying Jacobean pile obsessively venerated by the author’s father is the setting for this bizarre anatomy of a driven man and four generations of three unhappily merged families. Cool and wry, ghoulish and poignant, it is an ingeniously assembled memoir of misplaced passion and eccentricity; and teems with upper-class monsters, working-class upstarts, and loyal retainers.



April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.