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Book World Raves

"The Choosing of the Jewels," one of the many tapestries shown in "Luxury Arts of the Renaissance," by Marina Belozerskaya (J. Paul Getty Museum, $100) (Muse Du Moyen Age (Cluny), Paris)

--Rodney Welch

Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch , by Dai Sijie (Knopf). Mr. Muo is a 40-year-old student of Freud, self-described as China's only psychoanalyst-at-large, a near-sighted klutz who has returned to his home country from his adopted Paris. --Elinor Lipman

My Jim , by Nancy Rawles (Crown). Whereas Mark Twain celebrates Huck's voice, Rawles celebrates the voice of Sadie Watson, the woman who was left in slavery when her husband, Jim, escaped down the Mississippi with Huck. --Renee Bergland

Nam-A-Rama , by Phillip Jennings (Forge). An acid satire about two Marines sent on a secret mission by the Prez to meet with Ho Chi Minh to stop the war.

--Tom Paine

On Beauty , by Zadie Smith (Penguin Press). Masterly on almost any level -- impressive in its command of every register of English, never tiresome and astonishingly sympathetic to all sorts of human frailties. Wow. --MD

Out of Season , by Robert Bausch (Harcourt). In Bausch's fictional terrain, family ties lash characters together even as they struggle with love and tragedy.

--Bruce Murkoff

The Painted Drum , by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins). A woman discovers an object that seems to throb with spiritual energy, and traces it to the reservation in North Dakota where her grandmother was born.

--Donna Rifkind

Passion , by Jude Morgan (St. Martin's). The women behind Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. A feat of language, a grab bag of delights.

--Nicholas Delbanco

Pearl , by Mary Gordon (Pantheon). On Christmas night in New York, 1998, Maria learns that her 20-year-old daughter has chained herself to a flagpole outside the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. --Donna Rifkind

The Portrait , by Iain Pears (Riverhead). Mesmerizing. An exiled Scottish painter accepts a commission from his critic and adversary to paint his portrait.

-- Howard Norman

The Position , by Meg Wolitzer (Scribner). In 1975, between PTA meetings, suburbanites Paul and Roz Mellow collaborate on a book that celebrates their own lovemaking. Wolitzer's stance toward her characters is the perfect blend of sympathy and bemusement. --Lisa Zeidner

Prep , by Curtis Sittenfeld (RH). This novel's heroine will be compared to Holden Caufield, and it's high time someone wrote the girl's boarding-school novel. --Caitlin Macy

72 Hour Hold , by Bebe Moore Campbell (Knopf). Makes the ordeal of living with a mentally ill relative painfully real as she guides readers through the hell of a child's disintegration. --Nancy Rawles

The Sea , by John Banville (Knopf). After his wife dies, Max retreats to a small town on the Irish coast where as a child he spent his summers. --John Crowley

Shalimar the Clown , by Salman Rushdie (RH). A dazzling novel about the roots of extremism, the fragile beauty of religious harmony and the twisted strands of personal and political motives. --RC

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan , by Lisa See (Random House). Writing in the style of a memoir, 80-year-old Lily Yi looks back on her life in a remote 19th-century Chinese village. --Judy Fong Bates

Specimen Days , by Michael Cunningham (FSG). These three novellas give loose rein to his playful genius for description and rollicking plot. --Ethan Canin

Tooth and Claw , by T.C. Boyle (Viking). These characters tell their stories in the slouchy dialogue we all use, they confront one another, break up and throw up, their flesh prickles, they slip, sink, fall, they brush lips with death, but somehow most escape the deep kiss. --Annie Proulx

Towelhead , by Alicia Erian (S&S). War, statutory rape, child abuse and racism are hardly the stuff of comedy, but she blends this weird and sometimes shocking mix into a funny, poignant and utterly readable novel. --Susan Coll

The Truth of the Matter , by Robb Forman Dew (LB). The second installment of her trilogy about the Scofields of Washburn, Ohio.

--Rachel Basch

Veronica , by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon). Alison was once beautiful; now she treats beauty like a card you either hold or lack. A complicated lament for a decaying ideal of bohemia. --David Jays

A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards , by Ann Bauer (Scribner). This triumph of good writing bears us so close to the feelings of the characters that we cannot set the book aside without anxiety for what will happen next.

-- Carrie Brown

The Wonder Spot , by Melissa Bank (Viking). If Holden Caufield had been a middle-class Jewish girl, he might have sounded something like Sophie Applebaum, the protagonist of this hilarious and clever novel.

--Jenny McPhee

The Year of Pleasures , by Elizabeth Berg (RH). What would life be like without my partner? A fantastical imagining of one woman's adventurous answer to the question. --Meredith Broussard

Zorro , by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins). The book has plenty of what Hollywood would call non-stop action, told with a pleasure so keen that it's difficult not to be swept up. --Craig Nova

Nonfiction

America's Constitution: A Biography , by Akhil Reed Amar (RH). Nothing less than a word-by-word examination of the controlling phrases in the Constitution. I expect to be taking it off my shelf for years to come as an indispensable reference.

-- Scott Turow

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer , by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (Knopf). Comprehensive, finely judged and sometimes revelatory. The story has been told many times, but Bird and Sherwin capture all its drama and exhilaration and ironic glory.

-- James Gleick

And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina , by Paul Blustein (PublicAffairs). Vividly documents the most recent economic mega-crash: Argentina's 2000-01 collapse. -- Moiss Nam

The Argumentative Indian: History, Culture and Identity , by Amartya Sen (FSG). An intellectual tour de force from an economist who can lay equal claim to the designations of sociologist, historian, political analyst and moral philosopher. A magisterial work. -- Shashi Tharoor

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq , by George Packer (FSG). Masterful. His reporting from Iraq was always good, but the book is even better, putting the reader at the side of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, watching helplessly as the wreckage unfolds at his feet. -- Gideon Rose

Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science , by M.G. Lord (Walker). I was blown away by this memoir: the story of a sad little girl who grew up with a largely absent father who was an aerospace engineer with Northrop Corporation. -- Carolyn See

Becoming Justice Blackmun , by Linda Greenhouse (Times). A graceful account, filled with well-chosen quotations, apt observations and elegant legal summaries.

-- Akhil Reed Amar

Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmelling, and a World on the Brink , by David Margolick (Knopf). A compelling new book about the legendary heavyweights in the days when a knockout punch could resonate deep into society at large.

-- Bruce Schoenfeld

Black Soldiers: The Unsung Heroes of World Ward II , by Christopher Paul Moore (Ballantine). An important, engaging book that brings to light the often harsh yet heroic experiences of a generation of soldiers. -- Yvonne Latty

Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking , by Malcolm Gladwell (LB). Features the fascinating case studies, skilled interweavings of psychological experiments and unexpected connections among disparate phenomena that are Gladwell's impressive trademark. -- Howard Gardner

Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America , by Fergus M. Bordewich (Amistad). Blending historical imagination with a novelist's sense of character, the book brings to life a small group of black and white Americans who defied popular opinion and the federal government to combat a fundamental moral evil. -- James T. Campbell

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944 , by Bill Sloan (S&S). You'll read it with sweaty palms and an aching heart, for this was not only one of the most savage battles in the Pacific but also one of the least necessary.

-- Wesley K. Clark

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves , by Adam Hochschild (HM). This riveting narrative reminds us that people who fancy themselves civilized can have the most uncivilized institutions. A splendid book. -- Steven Mufson

The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton , by Jerome Karabel (HM). Its special value lies in its stories, its always apt statistics and its analysis of backroom university politics. -- Jeffrey Kittay

Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character , by Richard P. Feynman (Norton). Feynman's great trait wasn't his intelligence but his passion to understand, his sheer doggedness, and this is what makes reading him so inspiring.

-- Michael Dirda

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed , by Jared Diamond (Viking). Extraordinarily panoramic. Diamond moves his wide lens to yet another telling phenomenon: failed nations, of both the distant and recent past. -- Robert D. Kaplan

Conspiracy of Fools , by Kurt Eichenwald (Broadway). A rollercoaster of a read whose style mirrors the wild ride of the Enron debacle it chronicles.

-- Barbara Ley Toffler

Copeland's Cure : Homeopathy and the War Betwen Conventional and Alternative Medicine , by Natalie Robins (Knopf). An absolutely dazzling account of the quarrel, over the course of some 150 years, between the AMA and alternative medicine. -- CS

A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law , by Mark Tushnet (Norton). A brave book. Tushnet isn't afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom, emanating now from both sides of the political spectrum, about the excessive powers of the high court and the doomsday that will follow any new appointments. -- Dahlia Lithwick

Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web , by Lynn H. Nicholas (Knopf). A thoroughly researched and incisively written account of horrendous crime, suffering, folly and indifference.

-- Ruth Kluger

DisneyWar , by James B. Stewart (S&S). An exhaustive study of corporate and personal neurosis during Michael D. Eisner's 21-year tenure as head of the Disney empire that is also a monumental achievement of in-depth reporting -- tough and scrupulous.

-- Bob Woodward

Divided by God , by Noah Feldman (FSG). In his brisk, balanced history of America's debates about God's public role, Feldman pokes one hole after another in the assumptions of activists on all sides of today's religious wars. -- E.J. Dionne Jr.

The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 , by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton (Viking). Far and away the most important contribution to U.S. military history to appear since this nation emerged as the world's sole superpower. A magnificent accomplishment.

-- Andrew J. Bacevich

Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, From Baghdad to Timbuktu , by Yaroslav Trofimov (Henry Holt). Trofimov is a master of microcosm. He is drawn to signifiers of time and place, as in, for instance, the tattered documents he discovered in the rubble of Uday Hussein's former Baghdad playpen. -- Steve Coll

First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan , by Gary C. Schroen (Presidio). Tells the story, in astounding detail, of how a handful of CIA agents led the initial post-9/11 charge against al Qaeda and its Taliban patrons. -- Warren Bass

The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets , by Michael Schmidt (Knopf). Loving, informed and deeply engaging. It would be difficult to imagine a better introduction to its subject. -- MD

Garbage Land , by Elizabeth Royte (LB). The information Royte relays piles up as fast as the trash she relentlessly tracks.

-- Jabari Asim

GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation , by Deborah Dash Moore (Belknap/Harvard). The great surprise of the season in World War II books. This wonderful book is a study of how one small segment of the American population dealt with the war. -- Kenneth M. Pollack

A History of the Jews in the Modern World , by Howard M. Sachar (Knopf). No other book attempts, as this one does, to recount the history of Jews in modern times in all its geographical variation and breathtaking disparity. -- Paula E. Hyman

Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy , by Moiss Nam (Doubleday). Documents a world of criminal networks flourishing just as corporate networks do -- side by side and often intertwined. Nam has gathered and sifted an astonishing range of information. -- Anne-Marie Slaughter

Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground , by Robert D. Kaplan (RH). For better or worse, the grunts Kaplan describes so brilliantly will be out there representing America in the chaotic zones of a dangerous world, and to understand them one is well-advised to read this book.

-- Eliot A. Cohen

Ireland , by Frank Delaney (HarperCollins). His detailed grasp of Irish history lends weight and authority to this long, discursive tale. -- Bill Sheehan

Istanbul: Memories and the City , by Orhan Pamuk (Knopf). Istanbul as shared melancholy, Istanbul as double, Istanbul as black-and-white images: All these attempts at definition become Istanbul as self-portrait, Istanbul as Pamuk himself.

-- Alberto Manguel

Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America , by Nick Kotz (HM). A fresh and vivid account of the two men's interactions. -- David J. Garrow

Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution , by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (Scribner). As riveting as a novel. A powerful indictment of Putin's years as president.

-- James M. Goldgeier

Liberty for Latin America , by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (FSG). This feisty book, which will provoke and annoy people across the political spectrum, is a great read.

-- Jorge I. Dominguez

The Life of David , by Robert Pinsky (Nextbook/Schocken). As this enriching book shows, the drama of David's life is not limited to his youth but extends throughout his 70 years: the upstart lad, the ambitious warrior, the capricious adulterer, the vengeful king, the conniving politician, the suffering father and finally the pathetic old man.

-- Ari L. Goldman

Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson , by Jonathan Coe (Continuum). A wonderful biography of Britain's one-man literary avant-garde of the 1960s.

-- MD

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness , by Joshua Wolf Shenk (HM). By treating Lincoln from this angle, Shenk gains a dimension that not all Lincoln books achieve: Looking at his subject's darkness also means approaching his depth.

-- William Lee Miller

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak , by Jean Hatzfeld (FSG). Harrowing. The reader is drawn in, in effect eavesdropping on a casual chat among murderers. -- Alison Des Forges

Marriage, A History , by Stephanie Coontz (Viking). Neatly, entertainingly and convincingly deconstructs a number of our most cherished and least examined beliefs about the bonds that tie men and women together, for better and for worse.

-- Judith Warner

Matisse the Master , by Hilary Spurling (Knopf). Spurling's absorbing biography celebrates a chronic insomniac who shocked the art world at the beginning of his career and then, as death approached, continued to create transcendent, life-affirming work. -- Phyllis Tuchman

Melville: His World and Work , by Andrew Delbanco (Knopf). Melville's story is dispiriting and consoling -- and told surpassingly well here. Delbanco sends us back to this writer's books with increased understanding and renewed excitement. -- MD

The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror , by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon (Times). Chilling. Written in clear and credible prose, this is one of the most helpful, challenging goads to serious discussion of terrorism in years. -- WB

Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War , by Anthony Shadid (Holt). Gives us, perhaps for the first time, a clear understanding of how and why the Iraqi people have reacted to the American invasion and occupation of their country. -- James Webb

No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society , by Robert O'Harrow Jr. (Free Press). We are constantly tagged, monitored, studied, sorted and tracked by a vast array of institutions and organizations. This revealing book makes clear that Americans need to think seriously about these issues now, before it's too late.

-- Geoffrey R. Stone

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer , by Nathaniel Fick (HM). A running account of unintended consequences, of shots fired and regretted in Iraq and elsewhere. -- Chris Bray

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn (Times). An unsparing, eloquent history that insists that truth supplant myth. -- John Farmer

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety , by Judith Warner (Riverhead). In a winner-take-all society, there's no place for the average kid who will become the average grown-up.

-- Stephanie Wilkinson

A Perfect Red , by Amy Butler Greenfield (HarperCollins). A fascinating history of dyeing, focusing on the social and economic importance of shades of red. -- Diane Ackerman

Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore , by James T. Patterson (Oxford). In this splendid and readable new book, Patterson has risen magnificently to the task of analyzing this rich and confused period. -- Paul Kennedy

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey , by Candice Millard (Doubleday). Roosevelt goes to the Amazon. A truly gripping tale.

-- Tahir Shah

The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde , by Neil McKenna (Basic). A superb new portrait. This book reads like the great tragedy Wilde's life was. -- Charles Kaiser

The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat , by Bob Woodward (S&S). Disarming. What The Secret Man does most of all is to raise questions about the motives of informants and the duties journalists owe their sources. -- Bill Emmott

1776 , by David McCullough (S&S). America's most celebrated popular historian has done it again -- written another engaging work of narrative history, this time on the birth-year of the United States.

-- Gordon S. Wood

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda , by Romo Dallaire (Carroll & Graf). Throughout this harrowing narrative, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping force strives desperately to protect terrified civilians. A profoundly sad and moving book. -- Madeleine K. Albright

Stalin: A Biography , by Robert Service (Belknap/Harvard Univ.). Gives us a portrait of a paranoid and murderous despot, not a one-dimensional, cartoonish baddie. -- Leon Aron

Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam , by Asra Q. Nomani (HarperSanFrancisco). A vibrant and engrossing account of the hajj , packed with interesting information about Muslims today. -- Leila Ahmed

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism , by James W. Loewen (New Press). The often shocking history of whites-only communities. Meticulous research, passionate chronicling. Deserves to become an instant classic.

-- Laura Wexler

The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House , by John F. Harris (Random House). Intelligent, judicious and surprisingly absorbing. Describes a man who was a moderate at heart and whose principal achievement was to move a floundering Democratic Party decisively toward the center. -- Alan Brinkley

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln , by Doris Kearns Goodwin (S&S). This immense, finely honed book is no dull bureaucratic history but a story of personalities. -- Allen C. Guelzo

The Tender Bar , by J.R. Moehringer (Hyperion). Desiring male guidance after his father ran off, Moehringer searched for it in a bar called Dickens.

-- Bob Ivry

Tete-a-Tete: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre , by Hazel Rowley (HarperCollins). An enthralling book, almost a highbrow Francophile edition of US Weekly. -- MD

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys From Sudan , by Judy A. Bernstein (PublicAffairs). One of the most riveting stories ever told of African childhoods, and a stirring tale of courage. -- Emily Wax

Too Late to Die Young , by Harriet McBryde Johnson (Holt). A transporting tale about a determined and attractive woman with congenital neuromuscular disease, who has never walked, who expected to die young and yet went on to a distinguished career in the law.

-- James Reston Jr.

Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic , by Redmond O'Hanlon (Knopf). What separates it from other hellishly funny travelogues is its vision of working conditions so extreme that trauma and shock are routine. -- Tony Horwitz

A Widow's Walk , by Marian Fontana (S&S). Gripping. Fontana's firefighter husband died in the World Trade Center. Her narrative skill draws the reader in. -- Ann Hood

A Woman in Berlin , by Anonymous (Metropolitan). An amazing and essential book. So deeply personal that it becomes universal, evoking not only the rapes of countless German women in 1945 but also the rape of every anonymous woman throughout war history. -- Ursula Hegi

The World Is Flat , by Thomas L. Friedman (FSG). Brings to vibrant life some beguiling characters and trends. More lively, provocative and sophisticated than the overwhelming bulk of foreign policy commentary these days. -- WB


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