Snuggling up with a good book this winter just got easier, as our editors reveal their favorite reads of 2006.

Best Fiction

Best Nonfiction: Arts | Biography | Culture and Society
Current Events | Foreign Affairs | History | Literature | Memoir
Politics | Religion | Science and Environment | Sports | Travel

Here are excerpts from our most favorable fiction reviews of the past year.
Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart (Random House). The 325-pound son of a wealthy Russian assassin longs to return to America, where he was educated, but to get a phony passport he must pass through Absurdistan. Rich satire. -- Josip Novakovich
The Accidental, by Ali Smith (Pantheon). When Amber, a blonde, brazen houseguest, strolls into the Smarts' home, she profoundly shakes up each family member before wearing out her welcome. -- Jeff Turrentine
After: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield (HarperCollins). Open-hearted and marvelously conceived. -- Steven Ratiner
Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin). A sprawling story chiefly concerned with the adventures of three brothers from 1893 to the 1920s. -- Steven Moore
The Alchemist's Daughter, by Katharine McMahon (Crown). A beautifully crafted historical novel about the shift from the medievalism of alchemy to the deductive logic of the scientific method. -- Diana Gabaldon
Ancestor Stones, by Aminatta Forna (Atlantic Monthly). This miraculous novel about Sierra Leone gives a portrait of an indelibly resilient family. -- Carolyn See
Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes (Knopf). Ostensibly an account of how the creator of Sherlock Holmes came to interest himself in a miscarriage of justice, this book is in fact more subtly playful than that. -- Michael Dirda
Baby Brother's Blues, by Pearl Cleage (One World). Reads like an African American, Southern version of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. An exciting, fast-moving thriller. -- Thrity Umrigar
Behold the Many, by Lois-Ann Yamanaka (FSG). A dazzling display of language that reveals the author's roots as a poet. Her text sings with myriad cultural voices that have claimed their place in Hawaii's immigrant history. -- Tan anarive Due
Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell (Random House). After the sprawling scope and pyrotechnic style of Cloud Atlas, Mitchell delivers a charming, quiet novel about a 13-year-old boy. -- Ron Charles
Brothers, by Da Chen (Shaye Areheart). Two half-brothers live parallel but entirely different lives during the Cultural Revolution: One is a beloved and honored heir, the other a spurned and abused bastard. -- Brigitte Weeks
Cellophane, by Marie Arana (Dial). An eccentric inventor swaps his home in the prosperous town of Trujillo, Peru, for a paper factory on the Amazon River. -- Chris Moss
Challenger Park, by Stephen Harrigan (Knopf). An ambitious shuttle astronaut is torn between her career and her family. -- Ron Charles
Company, by Max Barry (Doubleday). A funny take on organizational life, inspired by the author's experience at Hewlett-Packard. -- Stanley Bing
The Crimes of Jordan Wise, by Bill Pronzini (Walker). While sitting in a Caribbean bar, Wise tells a stranger that he has committed three perfect crimes. -- Kevin Allman
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler (Knopf). Tyler delivers the blithely insular, suburban Baltimore characters we expect, but the people at the heart of this novel come from Korea, China and Iran. -- Ron Charles
A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore (Morrow). Charlie must raise Sophie, perform his duties as a Death Merchant and thwart a trio of sewer-dwelling harpies. -- Paul Di Filippo
Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love, by Dan Rhodes (Canongate). In these eerie stories, Rhodes quietly, inexorably ratchets up the reader's anxiety. -- Michael Dirda
The Eagle's Throne, by Carlos Fuentes (Random House). In Fuentes's 2020, the United States has invaded Colombia, and the Mexican president has called for an end to the occupation. -- Francisco Goldman
The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (FSG). As a young meatpacker slowly recovers from an automobile accident, he suffers from Capgras Syndrome, in which patients refuse to believe that those closest to them are who they claim to be. -- Seba stian Faulks
The Edge of Pleasure, by Philippa Stockley (Harcourt). A devilish brew of art and sex about a famous painter, fallen on hard times. -- Leila Ruckenstein
English, August, by Upamanyu Chatterjee (New York Review). An affectionate yet unsparing slacker view of modern India. -- Michael Dirda
The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud (Knopf). Young Marina and her smart Manhattan friends think they'll conquer the world, but they're too trapped in the bubble of their own vanity. -- Ron Charles
Everyman, by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin). A marvel of brevity, admirable for its elegant style but remarkable for its insight on one of the least agreeable subjects: the natural deterioration of the body. -- Norman Rush
Forgetfulness, by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin). Thomas once worked for the CIA, doing minor surveillance jobs behind his work as an artist. Despite his efforts to remove himself from that world, someone has struck down his wife. -- Ron Charles
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, by Neil Gaiman (Morrow). Gaiman writes in different registers: comedy, satire, pastiche, deadpan, lyrical or whimsical, but almost invariably dark. -- Graham Joyce
The Fugitive Wife, by Peter C. Brown (Norton). A lyrical evocation of a gold-prospecting town on the wild Alaskan coast in 1900. -- Margar et Elphinstone
Gentlemen & Players, by Joanne Harris (Morrow). Surprising and wickedly funny, this revenge tale is told by two narrators at a boarding school for boys. -- Ron Charles
Get a Life, by Nadine Gordimer (FSG). Paul is, literally, radioactive from medicine administered to arrest cancer of the thyroid. He has chosen to leave his wife and son in order to live with his parents. -- Ward Just
Grief, by Andrew Holleran (Hyperion). Set in Washington, D.C., this haunting novel takes Holleran's themes -- loss, desire, the joy and solace humans derive from their homes and surroundings -- and distills them into a heady, bittersweet apertif. -- Elizabeth Hand
Intuition, by Allegra Goodman (Dial). A cancer researcher appears to discover a remarkable cure, but can his results be trusted? -- Geraldine Brooks
The Judas Field, by Howard Bahr (Henry Holt). A wrenching recreation of the Battle of Franklin, a seminal moment in American history. -- Jeffrey Lent
L'America, by Martha McPhee (Harcourt). L'America is dizzyingly hypnotic as it roams back and forth across time. When the shadow of 9/11 falls on the story, its power becomes almost unbearable. -- Caroline Leavitt
Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse (Putnam). Juggles two compelling story lines, unscrambling chunks of medieval history and offering a wealth of information about the Languedoc. -- Ross King
The Last Jew, by Yoram Kaniuk(Grove). A man mourning the loss of his son, Menahem, in Israel's 1948 War for Independence meets a veteran who offers him a poem that he says Menahem wrote. -- Dara Horn
The Last Witchfinder, by James Morrow (Morrow). Morrow's novel about early American witchcraft pulls off so many feats of literary magic that in a different century he'd have been burned at the stake. -- Ron Charles
The Law of Dreams, by Peter Behrens (Steerforth). A fearsome story about a young man fleeing the Potato Famine of 1847. -- Ron Charles
The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford (Knopf). The final, brilliant volume of the Frank Bascombe trilogy. -- Jeff Turrentine
The Lightning Keeper, by Starling Lawrence (HarperCollins). A deeply satisfying novel of love and electricity set against the development of American industry before World War I. -- Bruce Murkoff
Lisey's Story, by Stephen King (Scribner). When a famous horror writer dies, his widow is left to deal with his papers -- and his insane fans. An audacious meditation on marriage and the creative process. -- Ron Charles
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, by Ayelet Waldman (Doubleday). Emilia's infant daughter has recently died, exiling Emilia from the camaraderie of mothers and leaving her marriage in danger of collapse. -- Kim Edwards
Malicious Intent, by Kathryn Fox (Harper). Oddball but brilliant, set in the world of internal medicine. -- Philippa Stockley
The Meaning of Night: A Confession, by Michael Cox (Norton). A study of psychological obsession, this complicated tale of deception touches on nearly every aspect of Victorian society. -- Michael Dirda
The Ministry of Pain, by Dubravka Ugresic (Ecco). A shiningly weird and powerful novel that examines the "angry little war" involving Serbs, Croats and Bosnians. -- Carolyn See
The Mission Song, by John le CarrE (Little, Brown). A translator at a meeting between Congolese warlords and a shadowy Western syndicate realizes something is dangerously amiss. -- Philip Caputo
Moral Disorder: Stories, by Margaret Atwood (Doubleday). Autobiographical stories that concentrate on gritty or glittering episodes from the 1930s to the present. -- A.S. Byatt
My Latest Grievance, by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin). The precocious daughter of two kindly professors is ready for rebellion in this witty satire. -- Fay Weldon
The Night Gardener, by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown). His evocations of the "other" Washington -- geographically proximate but also a world away from K Street, Georgetown and Capitol Hill -- are superb. -- Stephen Amidon
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters (Riverhead). Told backward, allowing us to know the outcome of unrequited love before it falls apart, this is a sophisticated, beautifully written novel about London during World War II. -- Tracy Chevalier
Nowhere Is a Place, by Bernice McFadden (Dutton). McFadden takes on the subject she does best: the layered lives of strong, courageous black women. -- Rosalyn Story
One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown). Relentlessly inventive. A fender-bender on a crowded street quickly escalates into shocking public violence. -- Stephen Amidon
On Agate Hill, by Lee Smith (Algonquin). Set among the ashes of the Civil War, this novel presents artifacts that divulge the tale of a girl orphaned in North Carolina in the late 1860s. -- Donna Rifkind
Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski (Pantheon). Two teens fall in love at first sight and begin a journey. Each page contains 180 words, and you have to flip the book to read both sides. -- Steven Moore
The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard (HarperCollins). Bayard carries off the miserable locale of the Hudson Valley with an atmospheric darkness worthy of his illustrious subject: Edgar Allan Poe. -- Jasper Fforde
The People's Act of Love, by James Meek (Canongate). Evokes the douceur de vivre among the bourgeoisie in those final days before the Russian Revolution. -- Michael Dirda
Puccini's Ghost, by Morag Joss (Delacorte). A world-class creeper. The message is that sometimes the stupid mistakes you make when you're very young wreck things forever. -- Maureen Corrigan
Restless, by William Boyd (Bloomsbury). A gripping and smartly crafted spy thriller set against a fascinating and largely hidden episode in U.S.-British relations. -- John Dalton
The Royal Ghosts, by Samrat Upadhyay (Mariner). These stories take us straight to the heart of the troubled and enchanting kingdom of Nepal, where it appears that the ghosts -- of royalty or stubborn tradition -- are not really subdued at all. -- Wendy Law-Yone
The Ruins, by Scott Smith (Random House). Four college grads on a fling in Cancun confront a carnivorous vine. -- Douglas E. Winter
The Ruins of California, by Martha Sherrill (Penguin Press). A novel for those who love their family, even though that family appears bound straight for Hell in several different handbaskets. This novel gives me hope. -- Carolyn See
Saving the World, by Julia Alvarez (Algonquin). A writer named Alma finds her story -- and her salvation -- in a little known historical event: the Royal Expedition of the Vaccine. -- Diana Gabaldon
The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (Canongate). A moving and exciting story of Australia's colonization. -- Ron Charles
The Secret Supper, by Javier Sierra (Atria). Father Leyre is a hermit living in an Egyptian desert. He seeks to ease his conscience by leaving behind a full account of a story never told: of art, religion and murder. -- Brigitte Weeks
Seeing, by José Saramago (Harcourt). His 12th novel is a hilarious, gripping exploration of the inept (but brutal) working of power. -- Gustavo Pérez Firmat
Shorts: Stories, by Alberto Fuguet (Rayo). A crime committed in an early story has horrible consequences in a later one; love betrayed is (almost) redeemed a hundred pages later. Superb storytelling. -- Alberto Manguel
The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar (Morrow). A story intimately and compassionately told against the background of everyday life in Mumbai. -- Frances Itani
A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon (Doubleday). Haddon's take on marital and domestic strife makes us laugh as we follow the upheavals of the tormented Hall family spinning out of control. -- Michael Dirda
The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue (Doubleday). It's the 1950s, and a 7-year-old boy is abducted by fey creatures from the woods who replace him with a changeling. -- Graham Joyce
A Student of Living Things, by Susan Richards Shreve (Viking). An adored older brother is gunned down on the steps of George Washington University. -- Valerie Sayers
Suite FranAaise, by IrEene NEmirovsky (Knopf). This extraordinary work of fiction about the German occupation of France is embedded in a real story as gripping as the invented one. -- Ruth Kluger
Talk Talk, by T.C. Boyle (Viking). Boyle's new novel about identity theft is so perfectly aligned with the day's news that the FBI should search his house for stolen credit cards. -- Ron Charles
Theft, by Peter Carey (Knopf). A gorgeous young woman emerges from the Outback on a stormy night and asks a formerly famous artist for help with her car. That encounter alters their lives. -- Ron Charles
Thanksgiving Night, by Richard Bausch (HarperCollins). In the autumn of 1999, the marriage of Will and Elizabeth is starting to fray. Bausch is a companionable writer, and his characters are consistently genuine. -- Chris Bohjalian
There Never Will Be Another You, by Carolyn See (Random House). Among the most potent and poignant novels to address post-9/11 America. -- Chris Bohjalian
Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers (Morrow). The author imagines Einstein's daughter maturing into a New Age eccentric with a talent for elementary particle physics. Genre-scrambling philosophical hijinks. -- James Morrow
Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile, by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Knopf). An extraordinary book that rescues us from dailyness and makes our world wondrous as it swings from funny to wise to sad. -- James Sallis
To the Edge of the World, by Harry Thompson (MacAdam/Cage). What could be more Patrick O'Brian-esque than Darwin's world-changing voyage on the Beagle alongside a dashing and talented young man-of-action captain? --Ken Ringle
The Translation of Dr Apelles, by David Treuer (Graywolf). Treuer wants to do for Native American culture and literature what James Joyce did for the Irish: haul it into the mainstream of Western culture through sheer nerve and verve. -- Brian Hall
The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro (Knopf) . Stories based on the author's family's Scottish immigrant history. -- Geraldine Brooks
What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth George (HarperCollins). The ultimate whydunit. George is in top form here. -- Rosemary Herbert
When Madeline Was Young, by Jane Hamilton (Doubleday). Injured in a bike accident, Madeline becomes the brain-damaged ward of her young husband and, eventually, of his second wife. -- Carrie Brown
The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig (Harcourt). He writes about a one-room schoolhouse on the Western plains with an irony-free nostalgia that seems downright courageous in these ironic times. -- Ron Charles
White Ghost Girls, by Alice Greenway (Black Cat). Set in Hong Kong, this is a gut-wrenching exploration of the complexities of sisterly love, delivered with vividness and poignancy. -- Judy Fong Bates
White Guys, by Anthony Giardina (FSG). Novels chronicling yuppie angst are thick on the vine, but few writers have charted the move from the working class to the gilded suburbs with such evocative precision. -- Stephen Amidon
The Widow's War, by Sally Gunning (Morrow). Gunning illuminates a fascinating moment in our past: the years just prior to the War of Independence, when ideas of rebellion -- for men and women -- were fermenting. -- Anita Shreve
Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Pantheon). Daunting in its ambition and scale, this epic African political satire is probably the crowning glory of Ngugi's life work. -- Aminatta Forna
A Woman in Jerusalem, by A.B. Yehoshua (Harcourt). The heroine is a corpse. This may sound gloomy, but this dreamlike book turns out to be anything but. -- Warren Bass
The Woman Who Waited, by Andrei Makine (Arcade). In structure, polish and theme recalls one of Turgenev's novellas in which a middle-aged man remembers an episode from his youth. -- Michael Dirda
The Wrong Man, by John Katzenbach (Ballantine). The ultimate stalker novel. -- Patrick Anderson.
The Zero, by Jess Walter (Regan). A dark (and darkly comic) thriller set in the often surreal post-9/11 world, with a conscience and also full of dead-on insights. -- John McNally
Here are excerpts from our most favorable non-fiction reviews of the past year.

Arts

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism, by Ross King (Walker). A fluent account of an era that was anything but uncomplicated. -- Jonathon Keats
Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry, by Mel Watkins (Pantheon). A window into a fascinating but unsettling world of the first black movie star. -- Jill Watts
The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera, by Joseph Volpe (Knopf). Will delight readers for whom opera is not only an art but also an endless fount of good gossip. -- Tim Page

Biography

Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar, by Edvard Radzinky (Free Press). Finally we have a highly readable biography of one of the most arresting figures ever to sit on the Russian throne. -- Peter Baker
Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova, by Elaine Feinstein (Knopf). A highly engaging biography of a great poet and determined woman. -- Michael Dirda
England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton, by Kate Williams (Ballantine). Divertingly and instructively illuminates a time and culture both far away and intriguingly like our own. -- Amanda Vaill
George Mason: Forgotten Founder, by Jeff Broadwater (Univ. of North Carolina). An exemplary biography: sympathetic but dispassionate. -- Jonathan Yardley
A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, by Michael Kazin (Knopf). It would be difficult to imagine a biography of any early 20th-century political leader more relevant to the early 21st century than this one. -- Alan Wolfe
In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line, by George Hutchinson (Belknap/Harvard Univ.). A definitive biography of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance writer. -- Evelyn C. White
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julie Phillips (St. Martin's). Her work blazed a trail that other women have followed. Phillips does an excellent job in telling Sheldon's story. -- Martin Morse Wooster
LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, by Randall B. Woods (Free Press). A fresh, probing interpretation of the influences that shaped Johnson and his presidency. -- Nick Kotz
The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend, and Italian Opera's Impresario in America, by Rodney Bolt (Bloomsbury). His life may have been as melodramatic as a grand opera, but it has taken Bolt's masterful biography to transform him, 168 years later, from stage character to historical figure. -- Jonathon Keats
Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, by Richard Carwardine (Knopf). Focuses revealing light on some dim corners of the Civil War story. -- Edwin M. Yoder Jr.
Mellon: An American Life, by David Cannandine (Knopf). Accomplishes the rare feat of describing in meticulous detail the personality of someone one can admire and even feel sympathy for, who is nevertheless not very likable. -- Meryle Secrest
The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, by Debby Applegate (Doubleday). One of the many great American figures who dominated an era just before slipping forgotten into history. Illuminating and thorough. -- Jon Meacham
President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination, by Richard Reeves (Simon & Schuster). Entertaining, deeply reported and revealing. This book puts us in the room with a president who had a remarkable capacity to recast reality to suit his emotional and political purposes. -- Jon Meacham

Culture and Society

Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother, by Sonia Nazario (Random House). The stuff of myth: A lone child embarks on a terrible journey through a landscape of monsters and villains. -- Luis Alberto Urrea
Happiness: A History, by Darrin M. McMahon (Atlantic Monthly). Erudite and detailed without being pedantic, this book is lively, lucid and enjoyable. -- Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, by Bill Buford (Knopf). Delightful. Buford never directly explains why the chef's life seemed so irresistible to him, but he shows you, page by delicious page, why the whole enterprise is so seductive. -- Warren Bass
My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots, by Thulani Davis (Basic). Davis provides a vivid portrait of her African American and white forebears. -- Denise Nicholas
The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, by Daniel Golden (Crown). Provocative. Makes a powerful case that the number of well-to-do whites given preference to highly selective colleges dwarfs that of minorities benefiting from affirmative action. -- Jerome Karabel
Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert (Knopf). Gilbert is a professor by trade, but he's every bit as funny as Larry David. -- Lisa Zeidner
Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, by Peniel E. Joseph (Henry Holt). An engaging revisionist narrative that reveals a hidden world of black intellectual ferment. -- Raymond Arsenault

Current Events

Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security, by Christopher Cooper and Robert Block (Times). The best in-depth contemporary analysis we are going to get -- and a call to arms. -- Stephen Flynn
Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends On Getting It Right, by Michele Wucker (PublicAffairs). Forcefully argued and informative. The overarching argument is both correct and important. -- Tamar Jacoby
Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families, edited by Andrew Carroll (Random House). This resonant and beautiful anthology relives five tumultuous years through the eyes of the men and women who've done the fighting. -- Nathaniel Fick

Foreign Affairs

The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, by Gershom Gorenberg (Times). Great detail and much critical empathy. Gorenberg's thesis is simple: Contrary to conventional wisdom, Israel's post-1967 settlement policy was not the result of a planned, well thought out strategy. -- Shlomo Avineri
Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq, by T. Christian Miller (Little, Brown). Fills in the missing piece of the Iraq puzzle: the incompetence and corruption of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort, which may have done almost as much as anything else to turn the Iraqi population against its occupiers. -- Michael Hirsh
Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China, by John Pomfret (Henry Holt). A rich, firsthand account of modern Chinese history as it was lived and experienced by five of the author's 1981 classmates at Nanjing University. Compulsively readable. -- Karl Taro Greenfield
Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor (Pantheon). Centers not on Beltway deliberations but on the dash to Baghdad by the Army and the Marines. -- Andrew F. Krepinevich
The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, by Fouad Ajami (Free Press). This important book represents the well-informed and deeply personal reflections of a major Arab-American intellectual -- certainly the one most carefully listened to by the Bush administration. -- R. Stephen Humphreys
Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam, by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly). Classic Bowden: meticulous reporting backed by a compelling narrative. Skillfully evokes the era and the ordeal of the Iran hostage crisis, putting a human face on the yellow ribbons. -- Afshin Molavi
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Knopf). Indispensable. Full of jaw-dropping tales of the myriad large and small ways in which the U.S. viceroy L. Paul Bremer and his team poured fuel into the lethal cauldron that is today's Iraq. -- Moisés Naím
Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, by Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni (Random House). A riveting account of a brave, lonely struggle to take Tehran's Islamist jurists to task for betraying the promises of their own revolution. -- Nora Boustany
The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan (Bloomsbury). Extraordinary. He uses one encounter to convey a sweeping history of the Palestinian-Israeli conundrum. -- Kai Bird
Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited by Bruce Lawrence (Verso). A sort of Mein Kampf for the age of global jihad. This ugly but necessary book reminds us of the rhetorical talent and ideological ambition of America's most dangerous foe. -- Warren Bass
Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present, by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins). Hessler's tales are fragments that acquire meaning when taken together. Only gradually does the reader gain an understanding of the people trying to find their way in this vast country at a time of almost unfathomable change. -- Steven Mufson
The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader, by Peter L. Bergen (Free Press). Bergen has written what will long be a "go-to" resource. -- Richard A. Clarke
The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt). Important and instructive. Through his descriptions of his day-to-day struggles to manage his patch of Iraq, he lays bare the complexity of America's and Britain's mission. -- Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, by Jeffrey Goldberg (Knopf). Goldberg's sensitive, forthright and perceptive account of his years as a soldier and journalist in Israel -- and of his long-running conversation with a Palestinian whom he once kept under lock and key. -- Haim Watzman
Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, by Anna Politkovskaya (Metropolitan). A courageous investigative journalist makes her case against the Kremlin by focusing on the dark dramas of individuals in the Putin era. She was gunned down on Oct. 7 in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building -- Michael McFaul
State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster). This chronicle of the Iraq adventure feels all the more outraged for its measured, nonpartisan tones and relentless reporting. It is nothing less than a watershed. -- Ted Widmer
The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly (Penguin Press). His list of well-meaning villains stretches from Jeffrey Sachs to Bono. Easterly's dissection of the interventionist impulse is powerful. -- David Ignatius

History

The Awful End of Prince William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State With a Handgun, by Lisa Jardine (HarperCollins). This fascinating, amusing, scholarly little book traces the rise of the wheel-lock pistol, a weapon that allowed the shooter to load as many as three bullets ahead of time. -- Carolyn See
Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, by Hampton Sides (Doubleday). Sides has taken an implausibly broad canvas of time, people and events and created a brilliantly realized epic. -- Jeffrey Lent
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68, by Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster). A deeply researched book that completes a superior narrative trilogy of America's civil rights struggles between 1954 and 1968. -- James T. Patterson
The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis. Boils down the history of the entire conflict to a sometimes brilliant 266 pages of text, in trenchant, lucid prose intended not for specialists but for ordinary readers. -- James Mann
Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War, by Bruce Levine (Oxford Univ.). A scholarly, well-written demolition of the invented tradition of "black Confederates." -- David W. Blight
Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After the Holocaust, by Jan T. Gross (Random House). Shows the horror of the 1946 Kielce pogrom in all its aspects. Hatred for Jews seemed to render the whole world blind; old and young, men and women, soldiers and police -- even boy scouts -- took part in the lynchings. -- Elie Wiesel
Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Raymond Arsenault (Oxford Univ.). A superb rendering of the great saga. -- Roger Wilkins
Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad, by Robert Asahina (Gotham). A remarkable account of the Japanese Americans who fought in the U.S. Army against the Axis, and a timely reminder of the dangers of the popular prejudices that can be thrown up by emergencies. -- Richard Overy
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn (HarperCollins). A vast, highly colored tapestry in which each witness has a face and each face a story and destiny. At once tender and exacting. -- Elie Wiesel
Mao's Last Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals (Belknap/Harvard Univ.). Enthralling. By making sense out of the Cultural Revolution, the authors have provided the most definitive roadmap to date of China's odyssey through that tumultuous time. -- Orville Schell

History continued...

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking). We like our history sanitized and self-congratulatory, not bloody and unflattering. If this book achieves the wide readership it deserves, perhaps a few Americans will be moved to reconsider all that. -- Jonathan Yardley
Mussolini's Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945, by F.J.B. Bosworth (Penguin Press). An absorbing book about the country Il Duce ruled. Bosworth's deep knowledge of Italy, based on wide archival and primary study, is continually illuminating. -- Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, by Nicholas Lemann (Farrar Straus Giroux). An important contribution to the rewriting of Southern history. -- Jonathan Yardley
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, by Gordon S. Wood (Penguin Press). A splendid collection of essays from one of our leading scholars of the American Revolution. -- Robert Middlekauff
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, by Caroline Weber (Henry Holt). As richly imagined as the gowns it describes. -- Suzanne D'Amato
The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj, by David Gilmour (FSG). Paints an arresting portrait of how the British ruled 19th-century India -- with unshakeable self-confidence buttressed by protocol, alcohol and a lot of gall. -- Shashi Tharoor
Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War, by Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss (Little, Brown). Not for the squeamish. Adds a graphic, frightening dimension to our knowledge of the Vietnam tragedy. -- Stanley Karnow
To Dare and To Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, from Achilles to Al Qaeda, by Derek Leebaert (Little, Brown). A book well worth reading for its take on questions that linger in the war on terror. -- Wesley K. Clark
Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis, by Nicholas Stargardt (Knopf). Recreates everyday life in the Nazi Reich with multilayered quotes that provide a sense of intimacy unmatched by any other narrative I know. -- Ruth Kluger
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin). Egan's searing history of the economic and ecological collapse of the southern Great Plains during the 1930s is an epic cautionary tale. -- Wendy Smith

Literature

Regards: The Selected Nonfiction of John Gregory Dunne (Thunder's Mouth). Just about everything he wrote is, in one way or another, immensely funny, with an undercurrent of anger. -- Jonathan Yardley
Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, edited by Caroline Moorehead (Henry Holt). Fascinating. Her stories from Spain were much better than Hemingway's. -- Marc Weingarten
A Temple of Texts: Essays, by William H. Gass (Knopf). No one is better than Gass at communicating the rapturous excitement of reading. -- Michael Dirda
Written Lives, by Javier Marias (New Directions). Delightful. Though he acknowledges the artistic greatness of his chosen writers, he prefers to relish their personal oddities. -- Michael Dirda

Memoir

Fragile Innocence: A Father's Memoir of his Daughter's Courageous Journey, by James Reston Jr. (Harmony). Dread settles in from the first sentence and hovers over this carefully crafted memoir. When Reston's daughter Hillary fell to the floor one morning, eyes rolling back, limbs flailing, the terror began in earnest. A page-turning read. -- Suki Casanave
Five Germanys I Have Known, by Fritz Stern (FSG). One of the most distinguished historians of Germany in this country has produced an essentially autobiographical book. -- Anne Applebaum
Girls of Tender Age, by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Free Press). With intelligence, humor and affection for the families and the neighborhoods of the 1950s, it speaks eloquently on behalf of children and confronts the silences that damage us in any era. -- Reeve Lindbergh
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron (Knopf). Wry and amusing, as you'd expect, but also a bit strained and sad. Despite the elegiac tone of this collection, it would be nice to think that we'll have her around for a long time. -- Bunny Crumpacker
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, by Nando Parrado with Vince Rause (Crown). A Uruguayan rugby player who survived an awful plane crash paints the terrible tale in vivid colors for the first time. Charged with sheer humanity. -- Tahir Shah
Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s, by Margaret Sartor (Bloomsbury). Parents should give this book to their kids, kids to their parents. It's youth served up to us once again on a golden plate. -- Carolyn See
My Battle of Algiers, by Ted Morgan (Smithsonian). A prose map of the ruin of war, a love song for a ruined city and a damaged people, and an anthem to youth, sex and vigor. -- Anthony Swofford
My Father Is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud, by Janna Malamud Smith (Houghton Mifflin). An intimate recollection of a very decent and very complicated man. -- Jonathan Yardley
My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme (Knopf). Our last communication from Julia Child can double as a tour book. Quelle joie! Child couldn't have planned it any better had she tried. -- Nancy McKeon
My Lives: An Autobiography, by Edmund White (Ecco). A sad, fascinating memoir about homosexuality, described explicitly enough to curl your hair into a frizz. White is a master of tone and evocation. -- Carolyn See
A Piece of Cake, by Cupcake Brown (Crown). Dazzles you with the amazing change that is possible in one lifetime. We see a woman trying to overcome horrendous circumstances. Poetic in its simplicity. -- Patrice Gaines
Sweet and Low: A Family Story, by Rich Cohen (FSG). An addictive, high-octane narrative. Cohen sashays with boisterous panache from the history of the sugar trade to the tale of grandmother Betty's brooch. -- John Barlow
A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas (Harcourt). After her husband suffers a brain injury so severe that he has, essentially, disappeared, Thomas is learning to live -- and her dogs are teaching her how. -- Suki Casanave
Untold Stories, by Alan Bennett (FSG). There is probably no other distinguished English man of letters more instantly likable than Bennett. -- Michael Dirda
A Writer's Life, by Gay Talese (Knopf). These wonderful stories, borne on gossamer threads of inspiration and serendipity, are less a summing up than an introduction to a body of nonfiction that is a signal triumph of American literature. -- Trevor Butterworth
You Must Set Forth at Dawn, by Wole Soyinka (Random House). As a chronicle of Africa and its troubles from the continent's foremost literary giant, it triumphs. -- Keith B. Richburg

Politics

The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein (Oxford Univ.). Useful to both parties: to the Democrats as a cautionary tale and a blueprint, to the Republicans as an insight into where they went wrong. -- Robert G. Kaiser
Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power, by Thomas B. Edsall (Basic). Nicely weaves together the strands of contemporary politics, moving from descriptions of electoral strategy to broader cultural currents to demographic shifts. -- John Dickerson
The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, by Peter Beinart (HarperCollins). This deliberately provocative book argues that liberals' inability to articulate a foreign policy vision has been their Achilles' heel. -- James M. Lindsay
The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina, by Frank Rich (Penguin Press). A gripping, witty and devastating indictment of President Bush's reliance on public relations to market his policies. -- David Greenberg
Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid, by Joe Klein (Doubleday). A highly entertaining tour of how political consultants have hijacked the presidential campaigns of the last 40 years. -- Peter Beinart

Religion

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, by Karen Armstrong (Knopf). Armstrong at her best, translating and distilling complex history into lucid prose that will delight scholars and armchair historians alike, drawing connections between the distant past and our own religious practices. -- Lauren F. Winner
The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America, by Ray Suarez (Rayo). A deeply religious person is offended by the Christian right's efforts to identify the country with its faith and has no problem saying so. A powerful reaffirmation of America's greatest contribution to human liberty: the separation of church and state. -- Alan Wolfe
My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood, by Christine Rosen (PublicAffairs). Delightful. Rosen presents an account of what it's like to be immersed in fundamentalist ideas as a child, slowly sort out your own beliefs and learn to balance faith and inquiry. -- Amy Sullivan

Science and Environment

The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, by Debora L. Spar (Harvard Business School). As smart and sensible a book as you could hope to find about the charged subject of infertility. -- David Plotz
The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine (Morgan Road). In a breezy, playful style, Brizendine follows the development of women's brains from birth to courting and child-rearing, and on to menopause and beyond. -- Deborah Tannen
An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It, by Al Gore (Rodale). Gore may have missed his calling: He would have made a fine science writer. His frightening, galvanizing book will convince plenty of readers that Earth genuinely does hang in the balance. -- Warren Bass
The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, by Michael Grunwald (Simon & Schuster). No one has nailed this story as dramatically. A brilliant work of research and reportage about the evolution of a reviled bog into America's most valuable wetland. -- John G. Mitchell
The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, by Tim Flannery (Atlantic Monthly). Confident knowledge joined to a storyteller's gifts and a writer's determination to get it just right. -- Thomas Hayden

Sports

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis (Norton). Tells the amazing story of an offensive left tackle's odyssey from a near street-person existence to big-time college football. -- Allen Barra
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster). A masterful piece of reporting and writing. -- Bruce Schoenfeld
The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World, by Joshua Prager (Pantheon). With novelistic detail and cinematic sweep, he situates a legendary October 1951 homer amid the daily lives of ordinary fans and against the backdrop of the Cold War. -- Elliott Vanskike
Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, by William C. Rhoden (Crown). Brilliant. Chronicles the sagas of numerous black male athletes who have toiled on America's athletic plantations and shows how their promise has been restricted by the forces of racism on and off the field. -- David Leonard
Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship, by Dave Kindred (Free Press). Muhammad Ali, the most controversial heavyweight champion of all time, and Howard Cosell, the most distinctive voice in broadcast history. This book touches the heart. -- James Rosen
A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports, by Brad Snyder (Viking). Captivating. He places Flood's challenge to baseball squarely where it belongs, as the final radical act of the 1960s civil rights movement. -- Bruce Schoenfeld

Travel

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, by Jason Roberts (HarperCollins). He traveled a quarter of a million miles -- by cart, by carriage, by sledge, by ship and by foot -- and he did it intermittently crippled and permanently blind. Vibrant prose and meticulous recreation. -- Rachel Hartigan Shea
Tigers in Red Weather: A Quest for the Last Wild Tigers, by Ruth Padel (Walker). Occasionally you open a new book, read a few pages and just know: This is special. -- Michael Dirda
Our editors reveal their favorite reads of 2006.

Fiction

After This, by Alice McDermott (Farrar Straus Giroux). There are no excesses, no look-at-me pyrotechnics in this story of a family over several decades in the middle of the 20th century. With the mastery of a fine poet, McDermott distills each life to its essence.

All Aunt Hagar's Children, by Edward P. Jones (Amistad). With this collection of 14 short stories about African Americans in Washington, D.C., Jones has established himself as one of the most important writers of the present day.

The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin (Putnam). A sophisticated, ironic and witty story about the midlife crisis of a Soviet art critic on the eve of glasnost.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf). An unnamed man and his young son -- two of the last survivors on Earth -- walk through an incinerated wasteland foraging for food and hiding from gangs of cannibals. A frightening, profound tale.

Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (Viking). A new translation, by Dick Davis, of the great epic of ancient Persia, opening with the creation of the universe and closing with the Arab Muslim conquest. A violent and beautiful work.

Nonfiction

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian, by Robin Lane Fox (Basic). With erudition, drive and wit, an Oxford scholar triumphantly brings the Greeks' and Romans' civilizations to life.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press). A reporter's bristling, unflinching account shows that the war soured because of blunders made by a thousand fathers.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright (Knopf). A chilling, beautifully written exploration of the rise of Osama bin Laden, his fanatical deputies and their murderous milieu.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press). This enthralling explanation of the sources of our diet persuades us that we are what we eat.

Stravinsky: The Second Exile -- France and America, 1934-1971, by Stephen Walsh (Knopf). The masterful, elegant conclusion to an epic biography of one of the 20th century's most influential composers.

PHOTOS: Courtesy, Newscom, Steve McCurry from "Work: The World in Photographs"

© 2006 The Washington Post Company