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 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangledeshi mathematician and the haunting crime he's committed barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and ravaged Afghanistan with vinegar-steeped prose recalling the best of George Orwell and Joseph Conrad.

The People's Platform

Why is the Internet - once touted as the democratizer of the future - ruled by a few corporate giants, while countless aspirants work for free? Astra Taylor diagnoses why the web has failed to be a utopian playing field, and offers compelling ways we can diversify the marketplace and give voice to the marginalized.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.