ACT OF CONGRESS: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t

By Robert G. Kaiser (Knopf)

The contentious and often tawdry negotiations that went into passing the Dodd-Frank financial reform act in 2010 are at the heart of this book by an associate editor of The Washington Post. — Jesse Eisinger

THE ALCHEMISTS: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire

By Neil Irwin (Penguin)

The author, a Washington Post economics columnist, tells how the central bankers of the United States, Britain and Europe handle their ongoing financial crises. — Bethany McLean

BEYOND BELIEF: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions

Edited by Susan Tive and Cami Ostman (Seal)

A former Orthodox Jew and a former conservative Christian have collated rich and tantalizing essays by 26 women describing their entries into, immersions in and exits from communities in which religion permeates all aspects of life.
Rachel Newcomb

THE BILLIONAIRE’S APPRENTICE: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund

By Anita Raghavan (Business Plus)

Whodunit financial reporting meets cultural analysis in this story of an immigrant from Sri Lanka who built a $7 billion financial empire before being convicted on multiple counts of insider trading. — Steven Pearlstein

BLACKETT’S WAR: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare

By Stephen Budiansky (Knopf)

Budiansky brings to light a relatively unknown war hero: the darkly handsome, bohemian Patrick Blackett, whose eccentric crew of operational researchers devised ingenious ways to sink German subs. — Evan Thomas

THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide

By Gary J. Bass (Knopf)

A Princeton professor delivers this profoundly disturbing account of the role played by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people during the 1971 civil war that split Bangladesh from Pakistan. — Neil Sheehan

BRILLIANT BLUNDERS: From Darwin to Einstein — Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

By Mario Livio (Simon & Schuster)

Scientists make mistakes, but as the astrophysicist author puts it, “The blunders of genius are often indeed the portals of discovery.” — Marcia Bartusiak

BOLÍVAR: American Liberator

By Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster)

A former editor of The Post’s Book World chronicles the life of the man who almost single-handedly ended Spanish rule in South America — only to be reviled by those he liberated. — Joseph J. Ellis

THE BULLY PULPIT: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

By Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had very different relationships with the muckraking journalists of their time. As Goodwin tells the story, that meant that one launched the Progressive Era and the other was destroyed by it.
Heather Cox Richardson

BUNKER HILL: A City, a Siege, a Revolution

By Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking)

A tightly focused and richly detailed narrative of the Boston-area skirmishes that sparked the American Revolution — a story that resonates with leadership lessons for all times. — Walter Isaacson

A CRUEL AND SHOCKING ACT: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination

By Philip Shenon (Henry Holt)

This study of the Kennedy assassination starts with the back-office wrangling that produced the Warren Commission report, then grafts on a spy drama involving Cuban diplomats and the love affairs of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Beverly Gage

COLLISION 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America

By Dan Balz (Viking)

The Post’s chief correspondent explains how the Obama campaign’s technical model will be standard operating procedure for both sides in 2016 — and how, in 2012, the Romney team never knew what hit it. — Howell Raines

COOKED: A Natural History of Transformation

By Michael Pollan (Penguin)

Earth, air, fire and water: that is, fermentation, bread-baking, barbecue and braising. Thus the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” organizes his exploration of how human beings transform nature into food and drink — and how important that is. — Joe Yonan

DAYS OF FIRE: Bush and Cheney in the White House

By Peter Baker (Doubleday)

One of the first efforts to set out the history of the Bush administration, this is a distinguished work, notable for its scope and ambition. It should become a standard reference for historians.
James Mann

THE DEATH OF SANTINI: The Story of a Father and His Son

By Pat Conroy (Doubleday)

Don Conroy was originally outraged by, but later embraced, the thinly disguised portrait his son Pat painted of him in “The Great Santini.” Pat tells the story of their reconciliation and reveals the secret, often tragic histories of a complex family. — Bill Sheehan

THE DRUNKEN BOTANIST: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks

By Amy Stewart (Algonquin)

Spoiler alert: No actual botanists get drunk in this book. It’s a compendium of titillating tidbits about the people who find the plants, the plants that go into the drinks and the way the drinks should be drunk. — Rick Nichols

END OF DAYS: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

By James Swanson (Morrow)

By distilling rather than rehashing what we know, and focusing on the less-remembered but critical facts about Lee Harvey Oswald’s activities, Swanson makes a fresh contribution to one of the most heartbreaking and well-chronicled crimes in history. — Lisa Scottoline

THE END OF POWER: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be

By Moises Naim (Basic)

It’s not just that power shifts from one country to another, from one political party to another, from one business model to another, Naim argues; it’s this: “Power is decaying.”
Gordon M. Goldstein

THE EVERYTHING STORE: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

By Brad Stone (Little, Brown)

Stone charts the rise of Amazon from low-margin retailer to behemoth consumer destination, its ups and down along the way, and the evolution of its massive technology business that provides storage and computing power to other companies. — B.M.

A FORT OF NINE TOWERS: An Afghan Family Story

By Qais Akbar Omar (Farrar Straus Giroux)

The tale begins in an idyllic Kabul you’ve never seen in the news — roses, almond trees, kites, a doting, wealthy family. But then Omar’s memoir careens through the arrival of the mujahideen and the Taliban, violence and flight, exile and massacres. Throughout, this immensely talented writer conveys a quiet optimism amid horrors. — R.N.

FREEDOM NATIONAL: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

By James Oakes (Norton)

A detailed account of the complex maneuvering by which Abraham Lincoln, who believed the Constitution protected slavery as a state’s right, used every means at his disposal to wipe it out forever. — H.R.

GABRIELE D’ANNUNZIO: Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War

By Lucy Hughes-Hallett (Knopf)

Compulsively readable, this biography brings to flamboyant life perhaps the finest Italian writer of his time (1863-1938). D’Annunzio was innovative and decadent, sadistic and charming.
Michael Dirda

GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

By Mary Roach (Norton)

A lively narrative about the gross and engrossing subject of digestion, starting with the mouth and moving on to, well, the other end. — Amy Stewart

HOTHOUSE: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

By Boris Kachka (Simon & Schuster)

Perhaps only those in the publishing world know the elegant literary reputation long enjoyed by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, but a wider readership also would enjoy this strikingly unexpurgated history of the firm. — M.D.

THE HOUR OF PERIL: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War

By Daniel Stashower (Minotaur)

Investigating railroad sabotage, legendary detective Allan Pinkerton stumbled upon a plot to kill Lincoln during a train tour stop in Baltimore. A suspenseful and engaging narrative.
Del Quentin Wilber

I AM MALALA: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

By Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb (Little, Brown)

Before she survived an attempted assassination, the daughter of a Pakistani schoolmaster read “Twilight” and Stephen Hawking, wrote a BBC blog and gave public speeches on behalf of education. Her riveting story should be read not only for its vivid drama but also for its urgent message about the untapped power of girls. — Marie Arana

THE INTERNAL ENEMY: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

By Alan Taylor (Norton)

Written with an ease that belies its sophistication, this book shows how some of the most libertarian impulses of the American Revolution deepened Virginia’s attachment to slavery, and how the British offer of freedom to slaves during the war of 1812 had a lasting, divisive effect on American society.
James Oakes

INVISIBLE ARMIES: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present

By Max Boot (Liveright)

A magisterial overview of insurgency and counterinsurgency, peppered with fascinating personalities. The author counts 442 insurgencies since the American Revolution, 25.2 percent of which were successful. — Gerard DeGroot

LEAN IN: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

By Sheryl Sandberg (Knopf)

Facebook’s chief operating officer tells women to act more like men in the workplace and not to base all career decisions on future plans for a family. The fabulously wealthy Sandberg is too often tone-deaf to her voice of privilege, but her ideas are worth hashing out.
Connie Schultz

MARGARET THATCHER: From Grantham to the Falklands

By Charles Moore (Knopf)

Unexpectedly sparkling, riveting and fresh, this biography describes Thatcher as a politician who was popular and admired until she attained real power as an opposition leader, becoming the most divisive prime minister of the 20th century. — Elaine Showalter


By Sonia Sotomayor (Knopf)

It didn’t take a village to raise Sonia Sotomayor; it took a country. The Supreme Court justice’s big-hearted autobiography discloses little about her jurisprudential views, but a lot about growing up in public housing and thriving with the aid of extended family, friends and mentors. — Dahlia Lithwick

1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War

By Charles Emmerson (PublicAffairs)

Almost forgotten behind the terrible images of World War I is the glittering civilization that preceded it, when much of the globe was linked in a benign web of trade and technology. To evoke the era, the author presents a glorious mosaic of 23 cities around the world.
Michael F. Bishop


By J. Michael Lennon (Simon & Schuster)

The priapic, frenetic Mailer comes alive in this great wallop of a book.
David Kirby

THE PATRIARCH: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

By David Nasaw (Penguin)

Nasaw delves deep into the archives to construct a multifaceted and ambiguous portrait of a figure who was for decades near the center of power, parlaying his wealth and influence into roles in government, finance and diplomacy.
David Greenberg

QUEEN BEE OF TUSCANY: The Redoubtable Janet Ross

By Ben Downing (Farrar Straus Giroux)

This sunny garden-party of a book recounts the life of an Englishwoman who was born in 1842 into a dazzling intellectual and artistic world, moved to Egypt, and lived 60 years in Italy, where she became a curmudgeonly yet beloved grande dame. — M.D.

THE ROBERTS COURT: The Struggle for the Constitution

By Marcia Coyle (Simon & Schuster)

With thorough and balanced reporting, Coyle gives a nuanced sense of how conservative and libertarian lawyers strategically litigated four high-profile cases. — Jeffrey Rosen

REVOLUTIONARY SUMMER: The Birth of American Independence

By Joseph J. Ellis (Knopf)

Ellis focuses on a few months in 1776 — exploring the political work of John Adams and the early military blunders of George Washington. — David O. Stewart

THE SHORT, STRANGE LIFE OF HERSCHEL GRYNSZPAN: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris

By Jonathan Kirsch (Liveright)

On Nov. 7, 1938, a troubled Jewish teenager walked into an embassy in Paris, got in to see a low-level Nazi attache and shot him dead — a killing that gave Hitler a pretext for the savage, anti-Semitic orgy of Kristallnacht. — Scott Martelle

THE SLEEPWALKERS: How Europe Went to War in 1914

By Christopher Clark (Harper)

Clark has produced easily the best book ever written on the outbreak of World War I.
A work of rare beauty that combines meticulous research with sensitive analysis and elegant prose. — G.D.


By Amanda Ripley (Simon & Schuster)

Following American students as they attend foreign school systems with better test scores than ours, the author leads us into classrooms full of surprises in Finland, Poland and South Korea.
Jay Mathews

THE SPARK: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

By Kristine Barnett (Random House)

Doctors told the author that her son was autistic, and teachers assumed that he would never read — but with creative home-schooling, she mainstreamed him into kindergarten. Soon Jake became a prodigy. — Maureen Corrigan

THE SPORTS GENE: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

By David Epstein (Current)

A senior writer for Sports Illustrated examines the role of nature and nurture in the development of star athletes — and, to his credit, does not flinch from difficult issues such as racial distinctions and genetic testing. — Steven V. Roberts


By Leanne Shapton (Blue Rider)

In a series of sharp snapshots of her life as a competitive swimmer and after, the author not only conveys the heady highs of racing, but illuminates the swimmer’s strange and solitary life. — Nicola Joyce

THE TERROR COURTS: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay

By Jess Bravin (Yale)

A Wall Street Journal reporter names names and pulls no punches in a gutsy, finely wrought narrative about Guantanamo military commissions.
Dina Temple-Raston

THIS TOWN: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital

By Mark Leibovich (Blue Rider)

A longtime Washington reporter paints the nation’s capital as a land driven by insecurity and hypocrisy, where friendships are transactional and acts of public service apparently accidental.
— Carlos Lozada

THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New America

By George Packer (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Following characters from Ohio, North Carolina and the District, and issues from the fast-food-obesity nexus to the housing collapse, a reporter opens a window on a disillusioned nation in this National Book Award winner. — Marc Fisher

THE WAY OF THE KNIFE: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth

By Mark Mazzetti (Penguin)

A well-reported and crisply written account of the shift in the way the United States deploys its military and intelligence forces. — Peter Bergen

WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST? An Existential Detective Story

By Jim Holt (Liveright)

The author takes on the origin of everything in this wonderfully ambitious book encompassing mathematics, theology, physics, ethics and more.
Michael S. Roth

THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN: A Father, a Son, and the CIA

By Scott C. Johnson (Norton)

“Scotty, I’m a spy,” Keith Johnson told his 14-year-old son in 1987 — and so began the boy’s entanglement in a life of fibs and evasions. A rare look at the inside of the CIA from inside a family. — Jeff Stein

THE WORLD’S STRONGEST LIBRARIAN: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family

By Josh Hanagarne (Gotham)

At the heart of this unconventional memoir is Hanagarne’s love of libraries, where he learned that he could ask any question — and also that there might not always be an answer. — Evelyn Small


Notable fiction of 2013

Best audiobooks of 2013

The year in literary news