(Julia Rothman/For The Washington Post)

ARMS: The Culture and Credo of the Gun
by A.J. Somerset (Biblioasis)

What makes this book entertaining and ultimately an important addition to the limited canon on guns is that Somerset is a gun guy. He owns them, shoots them and loves them. And yet he is exasperated because gun owners, along with their culture and rhetoric, have “grown more radical,” leaving “anyone who breaks ranks” as a “traitor to the cause.” — Michael S. Rosenwald

THE ART OF GRACE: On Moving Well Through Life
by Sarah L. Kaufman (Norton)

Sarah L. Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic at The Washington Post, argues that grace is the quality of being at ease in one’s own skin, whether one is a lithe ballerina or a powerful athlete, or simply an ordinary person out doing errands who remembers to hold the door for someone. — Sarah Archer

by William Finnegan (Penguin Press)

Just as surfing has always been more than a form of recreation (some call it a religion, others simply a path), so this terrific memoir transcends its putative subject. Elegantly written and structured, the book is a riveting adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, and a restless, searching meditation on love, friendship and family. — John Lancaster

THE BATTLE OF VERSAILLES : The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History
by Robin Givhan (Flatiron)

Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic, focuses on a fashion show and fundraiser for the crumbling Versailles palace to illuminate a broad cultural shift from a past of Parisian couture to the future of American ready-to-wear. — Joanna Scutts

THE BILLION DOLLAR SPY: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal
by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday)

One of the best spy stories to come out of the Cold War, this true tale hits the sweet spot between page-turning thriller and solidly researched history and then becomes something more, a shrewd character study of spies and the spies who run them, the mixed motives, the risks, the almost inevitable bad end. — Joseph Kanon

BLACK EARTH: The Holocaust as History and Warning
by Timothy Snyder (Tim Duggan)

Hitler’s ideology is essential for understanding Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews, Timothy Snyder explains; the Führer’s worldview inspired Germans to become “entrepreneurs of violence,” encouraging them to show their allegiance to the new order by innovating new techniques of mass murder. — Michael S. Roth

THE CHINA COLLECTORS: America’s Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures
by Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac (Palgrave Macmillan)

As entertaining as it is eye-opening, this anecdote-filled narrative tracks the adventures of the learned and eccentric scholars, collectors and titans of industry who brought the treasures of the Middle Kingdom to the United States. — Michael Dirda

CUSTER’S TRIALS: A Life on the Frontier of a New America
by T.J. Stiles (Knopf)

Once celebrated as a tragic hero, George Armstrong Custer has become a punch line — even though the battlefield was the one arena of 19th-century America where he succeeded until the day he failed and died at Little Bighorn. In this excellent biography, Stiles observes the irony and restores Custer as a three-dimensional figure. — Michael A. Elliott

THE DAEMON KNOWS : Literary Greatness and the American Sublime , by Harold Bloom (Spiegel & Grau)

Tracing “the god within who generates poetic power” through the work of 12 canonical American authors, Bloom enters into complex meditations on literature while he delineates the subtle web of allusion and influence among the great writers of the past. — Michael Lindgren

THE DARK NET: Inside the Digital Underworld
by Jamie Bartlett (Melville)

The “darknet” is a digital den of iniquity as much as 500 times larger than what is captured by Google’s search engines. In this bracing tour, Jamie Bartlett, director of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media at the British think tank Demos, introduces us to the trolls, anarchists, perverts and drug dealers who seek unfettered freedom there. — Matthew Wisnioski

DEAD WAKE: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson (Crown)

Cunard officials defied the German U-boats patrolling the Atlantic, callling the Lusitania “the safest boat on the sea.” But Larson’s enthralling and richly detailed account of the 1915 sinking demonstrates there was far more going on beneath the surface than is generally known. — Daniel Stashower

DIETRICH & RIEFENSTAHL: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives
by Karin Wieland

Translated from the German by Shelley Frisch (Liveright)

Wieland focuses on two young women from traditional homes, Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl, who carved out groundbreaking careers and maintained unconventional private lives with similar audacity but who diverged on the crucial civic and moral decision of their day: to back Hitler or renounce him. — Michael Sragow

DISSENT AND THE SUPREME COURT: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue
by Melvin I. Urofsky (Pantheon)

A great legal historian masterfully takes up the topic of dissent — from the earliest days of the Supreme Court, when dissents were rare and strongly discouraged, to the modern era, when they often outnumber majority opinions. Urofsky concentrates on those pivotal lone dissents that first voiced what became evolutions in constitutional doctrine. — David Cole

DO NO HARM: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh (Thomas Dunne)

In his refreshingly frank memoir, neurosurgeon Henry Marsh shares his doubts and fears along with riveting case histories. Like the work of his fellow physicians Jerome Groopman and Atul Gawande, “Do No Harm” offers insight into the life of doctors and the quandaries they face as we throw our outsize hopes into their fallible hands. — Nora Krug

FORTUNATE SON: My Life, My Music
by John Fogerty with Jimmy McDonough (Little, Brown)

A natural storyteller, folksy and crusty, Fogerty chronicles the brief but brilliant success of his band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and its tragic collapse — not for the usual reasons of drug abuse or lack of talent, but because of sad little jealousies and a bad contract. — Greg Schneider

THE GAY REVOLUTION: The Story of the Struggle
by Lillian Faderman (Simon & Schuster)

Other books have purported to explain how the unruly LGBT movement achieved its triumphs. This one — compulsively readable, carefully anchored in the historical record, overflowing with riveting stories and thoughtful analysis — succeeds. — E.J. Graff

GHETTOSIDE : A True Story of Murder in America
by Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau)

A Los Angeles Times reporter who has spent more than a decade in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods brings them to life with grace, artistry, and bone-deep outrage. It’s no secret that America has a problem with black-on-black violence, but what Leovy understands is why. — David M. Kennedy

GIVE US THE BALLOT: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
by Ari Berman (Farrar Straus Giroux)

In a book that should be a primer for every American, an investigative reporter for the Nation documents the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act, its transformative effects and, most importantly, the ongoing counter-revolution aimed at stripping the act of its power. — John Lewis

by Helen Macdonald (Grove)

Traumatized by her father’s death, Macdonald takes refuge in falconry — and in a book by the late T.H. White, who, obsessed with his own demons, tried to train a goshawk. Her beautifully conceived and written memoir, intertwining their stories, reflects both the power of grief and the power of a violent wild world. — Guy Gavriel Kay

HE WANTED THE MOON : The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him
by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton (Crown)

In 1944, Mimi Baird’s father disappeared from her life. Decades later, she recovered a manuscript her father had written that explains his absence: he had been institutionalized for mental illness. An edited version of that document is the centerpiece of this fascinating memoir, which combines the elder Baird’s narrative — a cinematic tale featuring Ratched-like nurses and an escape scene straight out of “The Fugitive” — and his daughter’s poignant discovery of a lost parent. — N.K.

HOLD STILL : A Memoir with Photographs
by Sally Mann (Little, Brown)

Best known for her provocative photographs, Sally Mann seems to choose and compose her subjects for maximum provocation. Her memoir, a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction, is a sweeping tale of Mann’s coming of age, her family history, her artistic influences and choices, and it brims with arresting anecdotes and images. Is it shock for the sake of shock? Have a look and decide. — N.K.

HOW MUSIC GOT FREE: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt (Viking)

If you’re wondering where all the Tower Records stores went, or why your kids listen to music on YouTube, or what motivated J.K. Rowling to take down an operation called Oink’s Pink Palace, then you need to get hold of Stephen Witt’s jaundiced, whip-smart, superbly reported and indispensable “How Music Got Free.” — Louis Bayard

IF THE OCEANS WERE INK: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran
by Carla Power (Henry Holt)

This unique account of the Islamic faith, a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction, focuses on the perspective of an imam the author has known for more than 20 years. Power turns what could have been a dry account of a series of interviews into a vibrant tale of a friendship and of her search for meaning through the contemplation of another religious tradition. — Rachel Newcomb

ISIS: The State of Terror
by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger (Ecco)

This book should be required reading for every politician and policymaker. It paints a picture of the Islamic State as a sophisticated, adaptive organization with a clear blueprint for the future, an elaborate internal administrative structure and strong millenarian appeal but does not portray ISIS as “an existential threat to any Western country.” — Rosa Brooks

KILLING A KING: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel
by Dan Ephron (Norton)

To write the story of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder and its reverberations over the succeeding 20 years, Ephron had the cooperation of Rabin’s family as well as that of the gloating assassin, Yigal Amir. The result is a narrative that is carefully reported, clearly presented and gripping. — Matti Friedman

by Bob Woodward (S&S)

Alexander Butterfield, the Richard Nixon aide who revealed the existence of the White House taping system during the 1972 Watergate hearings, sat down for 40 hours of interviews with The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and turned over more than 20 boxes of documents for this latest look into the dysfunctional Nixon administration. — Evan Thomas

by Patti Smith (Knopf)

Patti Smith’s new memoir is as perceptive and beautifully written as “Just Kids,” her National Book Award winner set in the New York art scene of the 1960s and ’70s. But it’s less linear — the excursive record of a lifelong pilgrim over the 40 years since her groundbreaking debut album, “Horses.” — Elizabeth Hand

NAGASAKI: Life After Nuclear War
by Susan Southard (Viking)

Susan Southard’s riveting book tells five survivor’s stories from the U.S. bombing of Nagaski. These hibakusha (the “atomic-bomb-affected people”) fought a nuclear war for their entire lives; the only victory is in living long enough to share the experience. — Carlos Lozada

THE NUNS OF SANT’AMBROGIO: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal
by Hubert Wolf, translated from the German by Ruth Martin (Knopf)

Sister Maria Luisa was intelligent, charismatic and beautiful. She was also a rapist, embezzler, murderer — and, when her crimes came to light in 1858, a serious threat to the Vatican. Wolf, a scholar of great integrity, resists the temptation to sensationalize as he reconstructs the story from Inquisition transcripts. — Gerard DeGroot

by David Maraniss (S&S)

Maraniss, an associate editor at The Post, re-creates 18 months in Detroit in the mid-1960s, when the city was already shrinking and losing jobs, but was buoyed by the infectious optimism of Motown. The tragedy at the core of this gracious, generous book is that all that remains of that hopeful moment is a soundtrack. — Kevin Boyle

THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club
by Eileen Pollack (Beacon)

Some 40 years after graduating from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in physics, Pollack — now a university professor of creative writing — conducts a sort of academic “autopsy” of her experience and the barriers that still confront women in science. — Marcia Bartusiak

by Tracy K. Smith (Knopf)

A memoir about growing up in a loving, middle-class black family and the rites of passage a daughter endures to grow and break free. You don’t have to know Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry to appreciate her ability to write in a way that feels both unique and universal. — C.L.

THE PENTAGON’S BRAIN: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency
by Annie Jacobsen (Little, Brown)

A fascinating and sometimes uneasy exploration of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the high-tech incubator responsible for stealth technology, tank simulators and the M-16 rifle — as well as data-mining programs and the research behind harsh interrogation techniques used after 9/11. — Dina -Raston

THE PRIZE: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?
by Dale Russakoff (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Five years ago, the struggling public schools of Newark, N.J., got a sudden infusion of help from a star-studded consortium of politicians, Silicon Valley money and TV star power. What could go wrong? As Russakoff, a former Washington Post reporter, documents in her incisive, vivid account, just about everything. — Sarah Carr

SAM PHILLIPS : The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll
by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown)

Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, oversaw a series of recordings that made his label a central player in the rock-and-roll revolution of the 1950s. As Peter Guralnick shows in this exhaustive biography, Phillips believed that the records he made helped the United States become a freer and more equal place. — Charles Hughes

SCREENING ROOM : Family Pictures
by Alan Lightman (Pantheon)

This brilliantly observed and poignantly written memoir from the author of “Einstein’s Dreams” is about what really defines the South — the real common denominator in our contested little matrix of blacks and whites, Jews and gentiles: family. — Jack Hitt

SHAKY GROUND: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants
by Bethany McLean (Columbia Global Reports)

Writing in a free and easy, incisive style, McLean explodes three myths: that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis of 2008, that those government-sponsored enterprises are forces only for good, and that government guarantees are free and easy. — Simon Johnson

SHOWDOWN: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America
by Wil Haygood (Knopf)

With energy, humor and style, Haygood recounts how Thurgood Marshall won confirmation as the first African American Supreme Court justice, confronting a Senate Judiciary Committee lineup of staunch segregationists determined to scuttle his appointment. — Annette Gordon-Reed

SINATRA: The Chairman
by James Kaplan (Doubleday)

Toward the end of this second and concluding volume of James Kaplan’s magisterial biography of Frank Sinatra, I guarantee you’ll begin to weep over the death of a massive and unforgettable talent whose style of living helped define postwar America and for an America that no longer exists. — Sibbie O’Sullivan

SISTERS IN LAW: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World
by Linda Hirshman (Harper)

In this joint biography written with wit and the ability to succinctly explain the law, Hirshman’s stories of the first two women on the Supreme Court illuminate how the court went from condoning — and engaging in — sex discrimination to treating it as constitutionally prohibited. — Cary Franklin

SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle ,
by Kristen Green (Harper)

In 1959, Prince Edward County, Va., having been ordered to desegregate its public schools, shut them down for five years and used tax dollars to support a private, all-white academy. Green, a journalist who attended that academy, was drawn to write about the episode — and found lingering bitterness, but not much guilt, among white residents. — Glenn Frankel

THE SPEECHWRITER: A Brief Education in Politics
by Barton Swain (S&S)

“The Speechwriter” feels like “Veep” meets “All the King’s Men” — an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life. — C.L.

STALIN’S DAUGHTER: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva
by Rosemary Sullivan (Harper)

Among the manifold follies and suffocating tragedies in the life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Sullivan unlocks a beguiling and complex character — a woman possessing deep compassion and creative intellect as well as “something of the tyrant” that was her mass-murdering father. — G.D.G.

STONED: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana
by David Casarett (Current)

Does medical marijuana work? That question, posed in this illuminating new book by David Casarett, a hospice physician and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, sounds simple and turns out to be anything but. — Susan Okie

UNDERGROUND IN BERLIN: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany
by Marie Jalowicz Simon (Little, Brown)

As a Jew under the Nazis in Berlin, Marie Jalowicz realized her best hope for survival was to go underground, to disappear. Her extraordinary memoir of World War II provides fascinating insight into the psychology of those willing to help her: Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites and others who were addicted to the endorphin rush that comes from charity. — G.D.G

by Elvis Costello (Blue Rider)

Amid the litter of uneven (and largely ghosted) celebrity memoirs, Costello’s is a revelation. We get the artist when he’s old enough to have perspective but still young enough to remember every detail, and it’s delivered with drama, humor and grown-up humility. — Geoff Edgers

by Anne-Marie Slaughter (Random House)

Growing out of her controversial magazine article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Slaughter’s book is a radical manifesto. Her central thesis: “The discussion must move from being about work-life balance to discrimination against care and care-giving.” — Jill Abramson

THE WITCHES: Salem, 1692 ,
by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown)

Schiff’s contribution to the familiar story of the Salem witch trials is her penetrating evocation of the environment that engendered them: a Puritan society so bleak, colorless and cruel that children abducted by Indians often chose to remain with their captors. — Elaine Showalter

by David McCullough (S&S)

McCullough’s magical account of the early adventures of Wilbur and Orville Wright — enhanced by family correspondence, written records and his own deep understanding of the era — shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly. — Reeve Lindbergh

YOUNG ELIOT: From St. Louis to The Waste Land ,
by Robert Crawford (FSG)

Earlier biographies have somewhat scanted T.S. Eliot’s American childhood and youth, which is one reason why this book is so valuable. Robert Crawford tracks the poet’s young life in enthralling, exhaustive detail and nearly always relates his discoveries to the poetry. — M.D.


The 10 Best Books of 2015

Notable fiction books of 2015

Notable nonfiction of 2015

Best audiobooks of 2015

Best graphic novels of 2015

The best mystery books and thrillers of 2015

Best poetry collections of 2015

The best romance novels of 2015

The best science fiction and fantasy books of 2015

Book news 2015: Nostalgia, blockbusters and controversy

Best children’s books of 2015

Kwame Alexander picks his top five kids’ books