December 7, 1997Notable Books of the Year 1997
Notable Books of the Year: A list of the high points in this year's fiction, poetry, nonfiction, children's books, mysteries and science fiction.
The best books in: Architecture | Art | Cooking | Gardening | Photography | Travel
Gifts of Gab for 1998How best to articulate your feelings of respect and affection in the holiday season? Let a book about words speak for you. William Safire lists what's new in the language dodge.
Click on the title for the full reviewTHE ADIRONDACKS: A History of America's First Wilderness. By Paul Schneider. (John Macrae/Holt, $25.) A readable, entertaining tour of New York's Adirondack Park and of the people -- some rich, some strange -- who made it.
AFRICAN EXODUS: The Origins of Modern Humanity. By Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie. (John Macrea/Holt, $25.) A literate, readable argument for the theory that modern humans arose in Africa alone.
ALFRED C. KINSEY: A Public/Private Life. By James H. Jones. (Norton, $39.95.) Kinsey, who took hell's own amount of abuse for his work on sexuality, turns out to have been a masochistic bisexual. So aha! But his science still endures.
ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN.' By Rick Bragg. (Pantheon, $25.) A moving memoir whose author rises from grim poor-white Alabama to a Pulitzer Prize, won by his reporting for The New York Times.
AMAZON JOURNAL: Dispatches From a Vanishing Frontier. By Geoffrey O'Connor. (Dutton, $25.95.) A modest report on an awesome region by a documentary filmmaker with much experience in situ but no pretense to expertise.
AMERICA IN BLACK AND WHITE: One Nation, Indivisible. By Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom. (Simon & Schuster, $32.50.) Two social scientists offer a survey of race relations to argue that race-conscious Government interventions are a mistake.
AMERICAN BANDSTAND: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire. By John A. Jackson. (Oxford University, $27.50.) A carefully researched and evenhanded account of the television program that made rock 'n' roll a cultural mainstay -- and its host a millionaire.
AMERICAN NOMAD. By Steve Erickson. (Holt, $25.) Campaign '96 as viewed by a writer of surreal fiction who became so fascinated with the awful scene he pursued it to the end, even after Rolling Stone had sacked him as a correspondent.
AMERICAN SPHINX: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. By Joseph J. Ellis. (Knopf, $26.) The winner of a National Book Award this year, this is a new, intelligent assessment of the shy, flawed man whose oracular pen framed the Declaration of Independence but who lacked eloquence in person.
AMERICAN VISIONS: The Epic History of Art in America. By Robert Hughes. (Knopf, $65.) A witty, impassioned history of American art from its beginnings, by an exacting critic with intuitions to spare; companion volume to a PBS series.
ANGEL IN THE WHIRLWIND: The Triumph of the American Revolution. By Benson Bobrick. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) A narrative written with verve and full of amazing stories and characters -- notably a made-to-order hero (Washington) and an absorbing scoundrel (Benedict Arnold).
ANYTHING YOUR LITTLE HEART DESIRES: An American Family Story. By Patricia Bosworth. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50.) A multilayered act of discovery and reconciliation directed at the author's fascinating father, the corporate lawyer and defender of leftist causes Bartley C. Crum.
THE ARCHITECTURE PACK. By Ron van der Meer and Deyan Sudjic. (Knopf, $50.) A pop-up book for grown-ups, illustrating thousands of years of architecture with paper models that spring from its pages. The text is eloquent as well.
THE ART OF SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS. By Helen Vendler. (Belknap/Harvard University, $35.) An ingenious, patient, learned examination of the sonnets in the light of the rhetorical conventions whose passing has left many readers alienated from these difficult poems.
AT HIS SIDE: The Last Years of Isaac Babel. By A. N. Pirozhkova. (Steerforth, $22.) A memoir by the woman with whom Babel, a great writer who refused to discuss writing, spent his last seven years; the hope and enthusiasm still possible, even under Stalin in the 1930's, often transpire.
THE BANKERS: The Next Generation. By Martin Mayer. (Truman Talley/Dutton, $29.95.) Nominally updating his 1975 best seller, the author surveys the impact of a barely understood technology on a barely understandable profession.
BATTLEGROUND BERLIN: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War. By David E. Murphy, Sergei A. Kondrashev and George Bailey. (Yale University, $30.) Former officials with the C.I.A. and K.G.B. join a writer on German affairs to chronicle the clash of spies East and West in Berlin during the Cold War.
BAYARD RUSTIN: TROUBLES I'VE SEEN. A Biography. By Jervis Anderson. (HarperCollins, $30.) The life of a magnetic gay black American of many identities who may be best remembered for his part in the 1963 March on Washington.
BELOW THE CONVERGENCE: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839. By Alan Gurney. (Norton, $27.50.) Great adventure stories of the pre-Scott era, when men under sail struggled to find a continent they well knew would be perfectly awful.
BERTRAND RUSSELL: The Spirit of Solitude, 1872-1921. By Ray Monk. (Free Press, $35.) An unforgiving portrait of a monstrously cruel man, this biography may be one-sided, but it contains the materials for a corrective to its hostile view.
BETWEEN WORLDS: The Autobiography of Leo Lionni. (Knopf, $35.) A richly populated memoir by a restless artist, born in Amsterdam in 1910 and active almost ever since as lecturer, teacher, panelist, idea man and author of children's books.
BEYOND ALL REASON: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law. By Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry. (Oxford University, $25.) Two law professors argue that truth is under assault by advocates of trendy radical theories in the nation's law schools.
THE BIG TEN: The Big Emerging Markets and How They Will Change Our Lives. By Jeffrey E. Garten. (Basic Books, $24.) The dean of the Yale School of Management argues that 10 countries are rapidly becoming dominant forces in the world's economy.
BIG TROUBLE: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America. By J. Anthony Lukas. (Simon & Schuster, $32.50.) An encompassing, impassioned account of increasingly powerful capital and increasingly confident labor in early-20th-century Idaho.
BLACK DOG OF FATE: A Memoir. By Peter Balakian. (Basic Books, $24.) An affecting recollection, by an American poet of Armenian descent, of his awakening to his ethnicity and to the persecution of the Armenians in Turkey.
BLACK JACKS: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. By W. Jeffrey Bolster. (Harvard University, $27.) A historian (and licensed master mariner) pulls together 200 years of fascinating black history, from the coffles to the quarter-deck.
THE BLACK NOTEBOOKS: An Interior Journey. By Toi Derricotte. (Norton, $21.95.) The author, a light-skinned black woman, sternly examines her desire for escape, her indulgence in ''passing'' and the self-incomprehension of white privilege.
BLOOD RITES: Origins and History of the Passions of War. By Barbara Ehrenreich. (Metropolitan/Holt, $25.) An essay proposing that the propensity to war derives from the prehistoric experience of being hunted by predators who might be appeased with gruesome rituals.
BOYHOOD: Scenes From Provincial Life. By J. M. Coetzee. (Viking, $22.95.) A South African novelist's memoir of agonizing sensitivity to childhood's unequal transactions of power, growing up in a land more unequal than most.
THE BOYS: The Untold Story of 732 Young Concentration Camp Survivors. By Martin Gilbert. (Holt, $30.) Painful, vivid recollections of being alive, told to one of the most seasoned custodians of the memory of the catastrophe.
BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS: Inside the American Campus Today. By Anne Matthews. (Simon & Schuster, $23.) Matthews, who reported from the barricades at the 1990 convention of the Modern Language Association, observes the contemporary academy and finds it quiet and comfortable.
BURNING THE DAYS: Recollection. By James Salter. (Random House, $24.) A memorable book about the affairs of life by a liver of remarkable variety -- fighter pilot, film writer, novelist -- and a dangerous, chance-taking handler of prose.
BYRON: The Flawed Angel. By Phyllis Grosskurth. (Peter Davison/Houghton Mifflin, $40.) A psychoanalytically informed study of its exorbitantly gifted and self-dramatizing subject, whose extravagant life and verse fed each other.
CASANOVA: The Man Who Really Loved Women. By Lydia Flem. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) No mere sexual athlete, the virtuosic, optimistic, energetic Casanova embodies, in this biographical essay by a Belgian scholar and critic, the equally virtuosic, optimistic, energetic Enlightenment.
CHANGING ENEMIES: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany. By Noel Annan. (Norton, $27.50.) Lord Annan's gift for anecdote, portraiture and aphorism is well displayed in this memoir of his service in British intelligence in World War II and in a conquered Germany.
CHE GUEVARA: A Revolutionary Life. By Jon Lee Anderson. (Grove, $35.) A freelance journalist's exhaustively researched biography of the complex, volatile, ultimately tragic figure who died trying to export Cuba's revolution abroad.
CIVIL RIGHTS CHRONICLE: Letters From the South. By Clarice T. Campbell. (University Press of Mississippi, cloth, $45, paper, $17.) A collection of letters written from Mississippi between 1960 and 1965 offer a ground's-eye view of the civil rights movement.
THE COLONEL: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, 1880-1955. By Richard Norton Smith. (Houghton Mifflin, $35.) A life of the publisher of The Chicago Tribune, a man whose hermetically sealed mind never inhibited his paper's growth.
COLOR-BLIND: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World. By Ellis Cose. (HarperCollins, $24.) Cose, who is black, reasons that since race relations have improved, they could get still better; he offers a number of thoughtful proposals.
THE COMING CONFLICT WITH CHINA. By Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro. (Knopf, $23.) Two experienced Beijing correspondents argue that on the whole toughness, not accommodation, should govern America's policy toward a rapidly ascending great power.
THE COMMISSAR VANISHES: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia. By David King. (Metropolitan, $35.) When reality didn't please Stalin, he altered it. This history shows how he had pictures and artworks doctored to enhance his image or obliterate someone else's.
A COMMOTION IN THE BLOOD: Life, Death, and the Immune System. By Stephen S. Hall. (Holt, $30.) There's no ''magic bullet'' in sight, but much thoughtful analysis, in this history of immunotherapy as a weapon against cancer.
THE COMPLEAT CONDUCTOR. By Gunther Schuller. (Oxford University, $49.95.) A conductor himself, Schuller laments that the art of conducting too often does violence to the sacredness of the score.
CONSTANTINOPLE: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924. By Phillip Mansel. (St. Martin's, $35.) A chronicle of the city when it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
THE CORNER: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. By David Simon and Edward Burns. (Broadway, $27.50.) An unblinking and agonizingly intimate report from two writers who camped out daily for over a year on a single corner in a drug-choked Baltimore ghetto.
A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS: Blacks and Whites in America. By David K. Shipler. (Knopf, $30.) An engaging book by a former correspondent of The Times who has talked to a lot of people and found that the races in this country know tragically little about each other.
THE COURAGE TO STAND ALONE: Letters From Prison and Other Writings. By Wei Jingsheng. (Viking, $23.95.) Bold, obstinate, compassionate observations, dedicated to democratic and humane principles, by the former political prisoner.
CRAZY RHYTHM: My Journey From Brooklyn, Jazz, and Wall Street to Nixon's White House, Watergate, and Beyond. . . . By Leonard Garment. (Times Books/Random House, $27.50.) An astute memoir by an atypical adviser and confidant (Jewish, arty, psychoanalyzed) of Richard Nixon.
THE DARK LADY FROM BELORUSSE: A Memoir. By Jerome Charyn. (St. Martin's, $18.95.) Essentially a portrait of the author's brave and beautiful mother, but also an evocation of Bronx civilization from the viewpoint of a little boy.
THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT. By Seymour M. Hersh. (Little, Brown, $26.95.) The veteran investigative reporter concentrates on exposing the warts of John F. Kennedy but also provides documentation historians will find useful.
DARWIN'S DREAMPOND: Drama in Lake Victoria. By Tijs Goldschmidt. (MIT, $25.) A Dutch fish taxonomist's reflective, literary, even amusing account of being present at the extinction of a large portion of Victoria's unusual population.
DEADLY FEASTS: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague. By Richard Rhodes. (Simon & Schuster, $24.) An exploration of the family of scary diseases (including mad cow) that may be due to nonliving biological agents.
THE DEATH OF THE BANKER: The Decline and Fall of the Great Financial Dynasties and the Triumph of the Small Investor. By Ron Chernow. (Vintage, paper, $12.) The author of histories of the Morgan and Warburg financial dynasties distills the causes for the decline of such giant merchant banks.
THE DEATH OF INNOCENTS. By Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan. (Bantam, $24.95.) A scarcely bearable account of a mother who killed five children and, with the unwitting help of scientists, escaped detection for over 20 years.
DIARIES. Volume 1: 1939-1960. By Christopher Isherwood. (Michael di Capua/HarperCollins, $40.) When Isherwood fled Britain for California in 1939, he took with him the self-made ''camera'' that provides this amused, amusing record of the cares and pleasures of exile.
DINOSAUR LIVES: Unearthing an Evolutionary Saga. By John R. Horner and Edwin Dobb. (HarperCollins, $24.) Dinosaur remains, unknown as little as 200 years ago, are now understood well enough for a leading researcher to offer a few conclusions about how they lived and how they changed.
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. By Jean-Dominique Bauby. (Knopf, $20.) An astonishing memoir, both tough and lyrical, by a victim of ''locked-in syndrome'' who conveys the experience of being totally alert yet unable to move (except the left eyelid, by means of which he wrote the book through an alphabetical code).
DOG'S BEST FRIEND: Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship. By Mark Derr. (Holt, $25.) A survey of the long symbiosis between two remarkable species, containing practical advice and informed speculation as well (female trainers, softer of heart than men, may be producing better results).
DOO-DAH! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture. By Ken Emerson. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) A vigorous, chatty, informative tour through the life and times (1826-64) of the first professional American songwriter to attain cultural independence from Europe.
DOROTHY DANDRIDGE: A Biography. By Donald Bogle. (Amistad, $27.95.) An exhaustive study of the difficult and finally tragic life and career of the beautiful woman who was Hollywood's first black female movie star.
DRAWING LIFE: Surviving the Unabomber. By David Gelernter. (Free Press, $21.) A professor nearly killed by the Unabomber challenges the moral assumptions (attributed to intellectuals and the news media) that tolerance is the highest principle, not to be violated by judgment.
ECHOES OF A NATIVE LAND: Two Centuries of a Russian Village. By Serge Schmemann. (Knopf, $27.50.) A correspondent for The New York Times assembles the history of his ancestral village with the help of its inhabitants, who suffered much under Communism, and nearly as much before.
EGYPT'S ROAD TO JERUSALEM: A Diplomat's Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East. By Boutros Boutros-Ghali. (Random House, $27.50.) A memoir by the former Secretary General of the United Nations recounting his service as a minister of state in Egypt's Foreign Ministry during the birth of the Egyptian-Israeli accord.
THE END OF THE NOVEL OF LOVE. By Vivian Gornick. (Beacon, $20.) In this collection of essays, the critic ponders the cultural consequences of the lapsed faith in the transformative power of passion.
ERNIE PYLE'S WAR: America's Eyewitness to World War II. By James Tobin. (Free Press, $25.) A biography of the beloved war correspondent that also illuminates the conflicts between propaganda and honest reportage.
EUROPE ADRIFT. By John Newhouse. (Pantheon, $27.50.) A sagacious and experienced scholar and consultant sees a Europe all adrift, led by leaders who won't lead or can't, especially since German reunification shifted the balance eastward.
EVERYTHING FOR SALE: The Virtues and Limits of Markets. By Robert Kuttner. (20th Century Fund/Knopf, $27.50.) A contrarian argument by a well-armed economics journalist who longs to demolish the view that government can do nothing right and markets nothing wrong.
THE FABRIC OF REALITY: The Science of Parallel Universes -- and Its Implications. By David Deutsch. (Allen Lane/Penguin, $29.95.) A literate, refreshing argument that quantum theory describes how things really are, not just how they may be mathematically described.
FATHER, SOLDIER, SON: Memoir of a Platoon Leader in Vietnam. By Nathaniel Tripp. (Steerforth, $26.) A close-up examination of terrible things and of the author's efforts to work out his manhood in love and family.
FAUBUS: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal. By Roy Reed. (University of Arkansas, $22.) This biography of Orval Faubus struggles to come to grips with the one-time Arkansas governor notorious for precipitating the Little Rock school integration crisis of 1957.
FERMAT'S ENIGMA: The Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem. By Simon Singh. (Walker, $23.) A narrative that conveys the excitement of mathematicians over this conundrum and the difficulty of solving it, even to readers who can't hope to understand it.
THE FILE: A Personal History. By Timothy Garton Ash. (Random House, $23.) A British historian's search of his East German secret police file teaches him a lot about himself and about the final impotence of Communism.
FINDING A FORM: Essays. By William H. Gass. (Knopf, $26.) Occasional pieces, reviews and contemplations, both literary and philosophical, offered up by a writer of distinguished fiction and an honored academic.
FIREWALL: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up. By Lawrence E. Walsh. (Norton, $29.95.) A useful record of the Iran-contra affair in which its prosecutor charges that Congress, conservative judges and the Reagan administration inhibited justice.
THE FIRE WITHIN THE EYE: A Historical Essay on the Nature and Meaning of Light. By David Park. (Princeton University, $29.95.) A graceful sifting of tons of material, from Greek atomism to the nuts-making paradoxes of quantum theory.
THE FIRST MODERNS: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought. By William R. Everdell. (University of Chicago, $29.95.) The smooth is illusory, the author says, tracing the idea of discontinuity, with its infinitely divisible dabs of reality, through math, physics and painting.
FLIGHT OF THE GIN FIZZ: Midlife at 4,500 Feet. By Henry Kisor. (Basic Books, $25.) Middle-aged, frustrated, bald newspaper editor buys light plane, re-enacts first flight across America. To make it harder, he's deaf. Who could resist?
FRAGMENTS: Memories of a Wartime Childhood. By Binjamin Wilkomirski. (Schocken, $20.) A Latvian Jew who spent his early childhood in death camps reflects thoughtfully on how that perverted education distorted his life afterward.
THE FRANCHISE: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine. By Michael MacCambridge. (Hyperion, $24.95.) An exhaustively researched account of the generation of a successful magazine by good writing, good photography and loads of cash.
FRANCIS BACON: Anatomy of an Enigma. By Michael Peppiatt. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) Careful research and 30 years of acquaintance inform this biography of the flamboyant, unforgettable British painter.
FRITZ LANG: The Nature of the Beast. By Patrick McGilligan. (St. Martin's, $30.) A passionate and thorough life of the maker of ''M'' and ''Metropolis,'' a born Viennese who developed a more-than-Prussian perfectionism in film and an elegant immoralism in private life.
GEORGE ELIOT: A Life. By Rosemary Ashton. (Allen Lane/Penguin, $32.95.) A lively, revisionist account of the novelist's life, with close analysis of her fiction as well.
GIRLS ONLY. By Alex Witchel. (Random House, $23.) Accounts of many all-woman excursions and expeditions by a style reporter for The Times with a gift for the joys and perils of female bonding.
GLADSTONE: A Biography. By Roy Jenkins. (Random House, $35.) The long life (1809-98) of the toweringly righteous, frighteningly omniscient four-time liberal Prime Minister, by a British ex-minister who himself understands and can deliver the cut-and-thrust of speech and debate.
GLASS, PAPER, BEANS: Revelations on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things. By Leah Hager Cohen. (Currency/Doubleday, $22.95.) Informed, meticulous historical and economic reflections on a tumbler, a newspaper and a cup of coffee, and the evocative power of each.
GOD & THE AMERICAN WRITER. By Alfred Kazin. (Knopf, $25.) An impassioned reader sees our classical writers as seekers, propelled in their work by spiritual ardors, persistent though vague and frustrated, somewhat resembling his own.
GROOMING, GOSSIP, AND THE EVOLUTION OF LANGUAGE. By Robin Dunbar. (Harvard University, $22.95.) We're chatterers and snoops, every one of us, according to this fresh, witty book, and there's an evolutionary reason: gossip, like primate grooming, helps cement social ties.
GROUND ZERO: The Gender Wars in the Military. By Linda Bird Francke. (Simon & Schuster, $25.) A severe indictment of American military practice and policy concerning women, particularly their exclusion from combat.
GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL: The Fates of Human Societies. By Jared Diamond. (Norton, $27.50.) A courageous venture in polymathy by a professor of physiology who traces the historical dominance of Western society to cultural advantages donated long ago by geography.
HIS FATHER'S SON: The Life of Randolph Churchill. By Winston S. Churchill. (Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar Square, $40.) A readable, scholarly biography (by his own son) of the brave, articulate, self-destructive offspring of Sir Winston Churchill (a very hard act to follow).
A HISTORY OF THE BREAST. By Marilyn Yalom. (Knopf, $29.95.) An enlightening examination of cultural, political and artistic attitudes through the ages toward womankind's most symbolically freighted body part.
HOGARTH: A Life and a World. By Jenny Uglow. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $45.) A study as much literary and social as artistic of 18th-century England and of the hard-nosed, vespine little genius who depicted mainly its corruptions.
HOUDINI!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. By Kenneth Silverman. (HarperCollins, $35.) A richly detailed new biography of the fiercely driven escape artist whose terrifying stunts have preserved his name as a household word.
HOWARD HAWKS: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. By Todd McCarthy. (Grove, $35.) A fluent biography of the great director, a frequently rotten guy but one whose artistic independence and standards of film morality never failed.
HOW THE MIND WORKS. By Steven Pinker. (Norton, $29.95.) There's no blank slate, this M.I.T. psychologist believes; we are born with programmed learning modules, without which we'd flounder computationally, never acquiring impossible skills like talking and walking.
HUNGRY GHOSTS: Mao's Secret Famine. By Jasper Becker. (Free Press, $25.) A journalist's re-creation of the famine of 1959-61, in which perhaps 30 million Chinese perished because of the ignorance and obstinacy of their ideologically ensorcelled leaders. Gruesome details.
IMAGINING ROBERT. My Brother, Madness, and Survival: A Memoir. By Jay Neugeboren. (Morrow, $24.) A novelist's liberating development of two real-life themes: his brother's illness and his own struggle to manage it.
INDIA: From Midnight to the Millennium. By Shashi Tharoor. (Arcade, $25.95.) An expatriate's views on his paradoxical country, where parliamentary democracy has done little to improve the lives of the voters.
INTIMATE ENEMIES: The Two Worlds of the Baroness de Pontalba. By Christina Vella. (Louisiana State University, $29.95.) A scholar's meticulously reconstructed biography of the woman at the middle of an excessive 19th-century scandal in France and Louisiana.
INVENTING KINDERGARTEN. By Norman Brosterman. (Abrams, $39.95.) The story of the man who invented kindergarten and a plea that it remain the domain of play rather than academics.
THE ISLAND OF THE COLORBLIND: And Cycad Island. By Oliver Sacks. (Knopf, $24.) Once more in search of ingenious adaptations to bizarre conditions, the neurological explorer visits the Pacific in search of populations with runaway frequencies of color-blindness and parkinsonism.
JACKIE ROBINSON: A Biography. By Arnold Rampersad. (Knopf, $27.50.) A rigorous, level-headed, meticulously documented account of a life of decisive significance inside baseball and out.
JANE AUSTEN: A Life. By David Nokes. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.) Eventful this life was not; but Nokes shows that Austen's moral penetration of the stifling society she nevertheless supported was as acute in her letters as in her novels.
JAPAN: A Reinterpretation. By Patrick Smith. (Pantheon, $27.50.) A journalist's polemical reading of Japan that contradicts the popular Western conception of a corporation-state content in conformity, bureaucracy and dependency.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: A Public Life, a Private Life. By Paul C. Nagel. (Knopf, $30.) The best single-volume biography of the statesman; it successfully depicts both his wide-ranging career in government and the rather grim private man.
JOHN WAYNE'S AMERICA: The Politics of Celebrity. By Garry Wills. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) A heavy-hitting polymath zeroes in on Wayne, society and the exchange between them. Lots of smoke and noise, but the target is struck.
A JOURNEY WITH ELSA CLOUD. By Leila Hadley. (Books & Company/Turtle Point, $28.) Invited by her hippie daughter, the author went to India and by golly if she didn't find epiphanies and self-discoveries, all quite credible! And all sustained by a keen writer's eye for every scene.
JUST AS I AM: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. By Billy Graham. (HarperSanFrancisco/Zondervan, $28.50.) The evangelist tells the story of his life and faith.
THE KENNEDY TAPES: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis. Edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. (Belknap/Harvard University, $35.) A thrilling but scholarly transcription, with connecting text and explanatory interpolations, showing Kennedy and his advisers as surprisingly wise and effectual.
THE LANGUAGE OF NAMES. By Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays. (Simon & Schuster, $22.) An exploration of why names matter and how they are used to alter or preserve personal identities.
THE LAST GIFT OF TIME: Life Beyond Sixty. By Carolyn G. Heilbrun. (Dial, $19.95.) Encouraging reflections by a scholar and feminist pioneer who found her 60's unexpectedly pleasant and useful.
LEGENDS OF THE AMERICAN DESERT: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest. By Alex Shoumatoff. (Knopf, $30.) A frothy, unkempt, beguiling omnium-gatherum that ranges from Mexico City to southern Colorado.
THE LETTERS OF NANCY MITFORD AND EVELYN WAUGH. Edited by Charlotte Mosley. (Houghton Mifflin, $40.) The correspondence of the English socialite and the English satirist shows their talent for insult, caricature and disguised affection.
LIFE ITSELF: Exploring the Realm of the Living Cell. By Boyce Rensberger. (Oxford University, $30.) A science writer for The Washington Post guides the reader through the mechanisms of the cell, where biology's real tricks are performed.
A LIFE OF MATTHEW ARNOLD. By Nicholas Murray. (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $27.95.) An affectionate, timely (in our day of a thousand shibboleths) biography of a great Victorian whose mind was capacious, agile, witty and humane.
LOCKED IN THE CABINET. By Robert B. Reich. (Knopf, $25.) President Clinton's former Secretary of Labor delivers delightful and clever observations about the often confusing and mendacious workings of Washington.
LOIE FULLER: Goddess of Light. By Richard Nelson Current and Marcia Ewing Current. (Northeastern University, $29.95.) A meticulous biography of the dancer and choreographer whose stage effects influenced the visual arts of the turn of the century.
MAKING CAPITALISM WORK. By Leonard Silk and Mark Silk with Robert Heilbroner, Jonas Pontusson and Bernard Wasow. (20th Century Fund/New York University, $24.95.) An inspection of capitalisms nice and nasty, undertaken by The Times's longtime economics columnist, finished by his son and three collaborating specialists.
MAKING MIRACLES HAPPEN. By Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh. (Little, Brown, $22.95.) How, by industriously taking control of his medical treatment, one of the authors (Smith) has evaded for a decade the death sentence passed on him by doctors who diagnosed his brain tumor.
MAKING WAVES. By Mario Vargas Llosa. Edited and translated by John King. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.50.) This collection of essays charts the intellectual journey of the Peruvian man of letters, which has travelled the political spectrum from left to right.
MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields. By Simon Louvish. (Norton, $29.95.) Digging past the tall tales, this biography fills in the facts on the comic's life with emphasis on his career in vaudeville.
THE MANSION ON THE HILL: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce. By Fred Goodman. (Times Books/Random House, $25.) A former editor at Rolling Stone chronicles the metamorphosis of rock-and-roll from a quasi-moral force to a money machine.
MAN WITHOUT A FACE: The Autobiography of Communism's Greatest Spymaster. By Markus Wolf with Anne McElvoy. (Times Books/Random House, $25.) The former chief of East German intelligence describes more than three decades of playing the great game.
MEMOIRS. By Sir Georg Solti. (Knopf, $25.95.) A twinkling charm suffuses the recollections of the celebrated conductor, who died this year at the age of 84.
MEMORIES OF SUMMER: When Baseball Was an Art, and Writing About It a Game. By Roger Kahn. (Hyperion, $23.95.) The celebrated sportswriter looks back on his career, noting the changes in journalism as well as in his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.
THE MERRY HEART: Reflections on Reading, Writing and the World of Books. By Robertson Davies. (Viking, $27.95) A posthumous collection of essays by the Canadian novelist that serve his reflections on books, readers and matters of humane concern.
MEXICO. Biography of Power: A History of Modern Mexico, 1810-1996. By Enrique Krauze. (HarperCollins, $35.) An ambitious study that connects modern politics to the quasi-sacred authority of both Aztec and Spanish Mexico.
MIRIAM'S KITCHEN: A Memoir. By Elizabeth Ehrlich. (Viking, $24.95.) A meditative chronicle of relations between the author and her mother-in-law, a Holocaust survivor whose cooking and housework are the elements of a righteous life.
MISFIT: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley. By Jonathan Yardley. (Random House, $23.) A life (the first) of the author of ''A Fan's Notes,'' a brilliant, cunning stylist both hard-boiled and mandarin, and a small-town drunk and show-off.
THE MONKEY'S BRIDGE: Mysteries of Evolution in Central America. By David Rains Wallace. (Sierra Club, $25.) A densely informative inquiry into the wonders of this comparatively minuscule, geologically recent land bridge.
MONSTER: Living Off the Big Screen. By John Gregory Dunne. (Random House, $21.) Dunne reveals how two hardened veterans (he and Joan Didion, his wife) wrote a Hollywood screenplay while otherwise leading normally productive lives.
MRS. KEPPEL AND HER DAUGHTER. By Diana Souhami. (St. Martin's, $25.95.) A joint biography of Alice Keppel, the charming mistress of King Edward VII, and her daughter, Violet, whose heart was severely battered when her affair with Vita Sackville-West failed to last.
MUTUAL CONTEMPT: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade. By Jeff Shesol. (Norton, $32.50.) A thoroughly researched account of the longstanding enmity between two men who sought to lead the Democratic Party.
MY BROTHER. By Jamaica Kincaid. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $19.) A bold memoir about death and family in Antigua that strives to render memory -- and death itself -- as they really are, not as they might conveniently be.
MY NAME ESCAPES ME: The Diary of a Retiring Actor. By Alec Guinness. (Viking, $23.95.) At 83, this most versatile and most lovable of actors is still a totally agreeable companion (and if he's not, he knows how to create the illusion).
NAZI GERMANY AND THE JEWS. Volume I: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. By Saul Friedlander. (HarperCollins, $30.) A historian's account of the years leading up to the Final Solution argues that many Germans, Jews as well as gentiles, believed that segregation would be the limit of Hitler's policies.
NEARER, MY GOD: An Autobiography of Faith. By William F. Buckley Jr. (Doubleday, $24.95.) A book-length essay, talking down to nobody, that celebrates and propounds a political intellectual's Christian faith and his Roman Catholicism.
NEVER EAT YOUR HEART OUT. By Judith Moore. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) A writer and editor (one who, you might say, looks on life with a hungry eye) couches her memoir in terms of the food she cooked.
NEWS OF A KIDNAPPING. By Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (Knopf, $25.) A journalistic account, by the 1982 Nobel laureate in Literature, of a series of crimes committed by Pablo Escobar's Colombian cocaine cartel in an attempt to thwart American drug enforcement efforts.
NIAGARA: A History of the Falls. By Pierre Berton. (Kodansha, $27.) A Canadian historian tells how this sublime natural wonder has been used and misused, admired and corrupted.
NO MERCY: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo. By Redmond O'Hanlon. (Knopf, $27.50.) Written chiefly in digressions, this wild, elegant, half-unhinged account of a lunatic expedition in search of a living dinosaur pays off in revelations about how different people perceive different worlds.
ONCE A DANCER. . . . By Allegra Kent. (St. Martin's, $26.95.) One of George Balanchine's finest ballerinas tells the story of her life and career, and how she managed to sabotage both.
THE ONE BEST WAY: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. By Robert Kanigel. (Viking, $34.95.) A biography of one man (1856-1915) and his idea (still around): that knowledge gained by minute inspection and rightly applied is the key to increased industrial production.
''ONE HELL OF A GAMBLE'': Khruschev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964. By Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali. (Norton, $27.50.) Two historians, one Russian, one American, tell the story of the Cuban missle crisis, making use of archival material from official Soviet sources.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOCIALISM: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. By Donald Sassoon. (Free Press, $39.95.) A massive work of scholarship charts a century of agitation that has created the social safety net common in the West today.
ONE MAN'S AMERICA: A Journalist's Search for the Heart of His Country. By Henry Grunwald. (Doubleday, $30.) Anecdote, insight and charm inform this memoir by a onetime refugee who as editor in chief at Time Inc. occupied a fabulous lookout post on the American century.
ONE WORLD, READY OR NOT: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. By William Greider. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50.) Reporting that captures the sins of the great economic beast and proposes reasonable reforms, together with some unlikely interpretations and prognostications.
THE ORDEAL OF INTEGRATION: Progress and Resentment in America's ''Racial'' Crisis. By Orlando Patterson. (Civitas Counterpoint, $24.50.) A distinguished black sociologist argues that extremists who deny the recent gains of blacks in America make further gains all the harder.
THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. By Matt Ridley. (Viking, $24.95.) How (maybe) selfish genes construct unselfish conduct; a journalist's guide to the state of what was once called sociobiology.
ORNAMENT AND SILENCE: Essays on Women's Lives. By Kennedy Fraser. (Knopf, $25.) Closer to stories than essays, these rounded and resonant pieces are so personal and so closely observed that their subjects (Woolf, Wharton, Louise Colet and others) seem to have bodily presence.
OUR GUYS: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb. By Bernard Lefkowitz. (University of California, $29.95.) This calm, methodical account of a gang rape and its legal consequences implies that young men in America are still greatly advantaged over young women.
PASS THE BUTTERWORMS: Remote Journeys Oddly Rendered. By Tim Cahill. (Villard, $24.) Another winning collection of travel pieces by the author of ''Jaguars Ripped My Flesh,'' a writer whose mind is always in motion somewhere.
PATCHES OF FIRE: A Story of War and Redemption. By Albert French. (Anchor/Doubleday, $22.95.) An unflinching examination of his own service in Vietnam and failure in business by a black novelist whose grim past, he believes, has driven his creative present.
A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY: A History of the Russian Revolution. By Orlando Figes. (Viking, $39.95.) A marvelous account of a great disaster, this chronicle distills an enduring lesson from the Soviet experiment: it was doomed to fail because it sought ultimately to change human nature.
THE PERFECT STORM: A True Story of Men Against the Sea. By Sebastian Junger. (Norton, $23.95.) An account of a 1991 fishing voyage that encounters a violent northeaster, consigning the crew of six to a watery hell.
PERSONAL HISTORY. By Katharine Graham. (Knopf, $29.95.) The autobiography of the former publisher of The Washington Post tells the story of an ugly duckling who grew up to become a powerful swan.
THE PHANTOM FATHER: A Memoir. By Barry Gifford. (Harcourt Brace, $23.) The novelist reconstructs his here-today, gone-tomorrow father and the lowlife milieu he inhabited in Chicago in the 1950's.
PHILIP OF SPAIN. By Henry Kamen. (Yale University, $35.) A historian's biography of Philip II as Renaissance prince, refuting the Elizabethan propaganda picture of the spider of the Escorial.
PHILIPPE, DUC D'ORLEANS: Regent of France. By Christine Pevitt. (Atlantic Monthly, $30.) A sensitive, readable chronicle of the complex, surprisingly enlightened man who led France from the death of Louis XIV until the ascenscion of Louis XV.
A PLACE OF MY OWN: The Education of an Amateur Builder. By Michael Pollan. (Random House, $24.) How a writer, eager to cope, for once, with material entities, built a 104-square-foot ''writing house'' (and wrote this book about it).
PLANET QUEST: The Epic Discovery of Alien Solar Systems. By Ken Croswell. (Free Press, $25.) A lucid introduction to a booming, exciting, impractical exercise of astronomical science.
THE PLATYPUS AND THE MERMAID: And Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination. By Harriet Ritvo. (Harvard University, $29.95.) How scientists and others in the 19th century struggled to categorize the creatures, particularly in respect of man and his culinary entitlements.
THE PRITCHETT CENTURY. By V. S. Pritchett. (Modern Library, $23.) A rich, comfortably large anthology of work by one of the most versatile and consistently satisfying writers of the century (nearly all of it, too; born 1900, died 1997).
PRIVATE MATTERS: In Defense of the Personal Life. By Janna Malamud Smith. (Addison-Wesley, $22.) A psychotherapist, daughter of Bernard Malamud, ruminates elegantly on the emergence and fragile sanctity of the modern creative self.
THE PROSPECT BEFORE HER: A History of Women in Western Europe. Volume 1, 1500-1800. By Olwen Hufton. (Knopf, $35.) A historian's synthesis, drawn from many sources, of the travails of women in early modern Europe.
THE QUEEN: A Biography of Elizabeth II. By Ben Pimlott. (John Wiley & Sons, $30.) A professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of London offers a judicious account of Britain's monarch.
RABIN: Our Life, His Legacy. By Leah Rabin. (Putnam, $24.95.) The wife of the slain Israeli Prime Minister reflects on his life and his importance to his nation.
RACE AND HUMAN EVOLUTION. By Milford Wolpoff and Rachel Caspari. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) A husband-and-wife team of anthropologists argues for the (currently) minority thesis that modern humans evolved from prehuman stocks in more places than one.
RACE, CRIME, AND THE LAW. By Randall Kennedy. (Pantheon, $30.) A Harvard law professor, radically devoted to racial neutrality, absolves whites of none of their past sins while observing that race relations have improved and therefore may well continue improving.
RACHEL CARSON: Witness for Nature. By Linda Lear. (Holt, $35.) An exhaustively detailed narrative biography of the author of ''Silent Spring'' and ''The Sea Around Us.''
RAGE FOR FAME: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce. By Sylvia Jukes Morris. (Random House, $30.) The first of a projected two-volume biography depicts the rise of a woman who mastered an astonishing number of careers: writer, magazine editor, playwright, legislator.
RAYMOND CHANDLER: A Biography. By Tom Hiney. (Atlantic Monthly, $26.) A skillful treatment, by a British journalist, of the frequently muddled life of the writer who elevated crime fiction to widely acknowledged eminence.
THE REICHMANNS: Family, Faith, Fortune, and the Empire of Olympia & York. By Anthony Bianco. (Times Books/Random House, $30.) A nicely balanced study, by a Business Week writer, of an ultra-Orthodox and ultra-rich Jewish family.
A REPORTER'S LIFE. By Walter Cronkite. (Knopf, $26.95.) A modest man who gained success by remaining himself, the venerated broadcaster tells the story of his life and recounts the history of television news, as well as offering some sharp comments about its deterioration.
REQUIEM. By the photographers who died in Vietnam and Indochina. Edited by Horst Faas and Tim Page. (Random House, $65.) Stunning work by brave photojournalists on both sides.
REQUIRED READING: Why Our American Classics Matter Now. By Andrew Delbanco. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) A defense of the standard Greats that meets their political detractors with a liberal politics of its own.
RESURRECTION: The Struggle for a New Russia. By David Remnick. (Random House, $25.95.) A thorough, discouraging report on the effective seizure of power in Russia by newly rich uglies.
THE RETURN OF THE WOLF TO YELLOWSTONE. By Thomas McNamee. (Holt, $27.50.) An informed account of the reconstitution of wolf packs, by a writer who can sympathize with both lovers and haters of wolves.
THE RISE AND FALL OF GAY CULTURE. By Daniel Harris. (Hyperion, $24.95.) A meditation on the fate of male gay culture as homosexuals become more accepted into the mainstream.
RISING TIDE: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. By John M. Barry. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50.) A hair-raising disaster story that is also an accomplished social history of exacerbated ignorance and bigotry.
ROADS TO SANTIAGO. By Cees Nooteboom. (Harcourt Brace, $25.) Meditations on Spain and its position on the good old/bad new axis animate these essays on the great pilgrimage route by a Dutch novelist of Roman Catholic antecedents.
ROBERT PENN WARREN: A Biography. By Joseph Blotner. (Random House, $35.) A shapely and illuminating life -- likely to remain the definitive one -- of a man who embodied the restless, ravening American imagination.
RUSSIA: People and Empire, 1552-1917. By Geoffrey Hosking. (Harvard University, $29.95.) A historian argues that building the Russian empire impeded the development of a national identity.
SAMUEL BECKETT: The Last Modernist. By Anthony Cronin. (HarperCollins, $30.) A work of real novelistic flair by an Irish writer whose deft characterization and critical insights make Beckett and his austerities accessible.
SARATOGA: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War. By Richard M. Ketchum. (Holt, $30.) Why Burgoyne was unable to control the Hudson in 1777, and why it mattered so much, vividly described from a vast range of sources.
SECRET MUSES: The Life of Frederick Ashton. By Julie Kavanagh. (Pantheon, $35.) An intelligent, gossipy biography of the minor dancer and major choreographer who was for so long the creative mainstay of Britain's Royal Ballet.
SECRETS: A Writer in the Cold War. By Paul Brodeur. (Faber & Faber, $24.95.) A memoir by a New Yorker staff writer who covered three decades of toxic symbiosis between America's political leadership and its corporate structure.
THE SELECTED LETTERS OF MARIANNE MOORE. Edited by Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller. (Knopf, $35.) Moore wrote some 30,000 letters; the prevailing tone of this selection is excitement at coming of age in the era of Pound, Eliot, H.D. and Williams.
A SENSE OF REALITY: Studies in Ideas and Their History. By Isaiah Berlin. Edited by Henry Hardy. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) In this collection of nine essays, the philosopher and historian of ideas argues that the search for a utopian society is the pursuit of an illusion.
SERIOUS BUSINESS: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America From Betty Boop to Toy Story. By Stefan Kanfer. (Scribner, $27.50.) Social, historical and esthetic insights into one of the more exclusively American of modern art forms.
SEX ON THE BRAIN: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women. By Deborah Blum. (Viking, $24.95.) Scrupulous reporting on a fraught subject concerning which the author remains appropriately cautious and skeptical.
SHTETL: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. By Eva Hoffman. (Houghton Mifflin, $25.) An examination of the village of Bransk and its Jewish population (once more than half), in the light of a history that deprived the inhabitants of common interests.
SIMENON: A Biography. By Pierre Assouline. (Knopf, $32.50.) A sober, dispassionate, historically informed life of the nasty, opportunistic, priapically extravagant creator of Inspector Maigret and of several hundred novels.
THE SLAVE TRADE. The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870. By Hugh Thomas. (Simon & Schuster, $37.50.) Rather than spend ink condemning what nobody now defends, Thomas examines the trade itself, its development as a business and its final end in the 19th century.
SLEEPING WITH THE MAYOR: A True Story. By John Jiler. (Hungry Mind, $25.) A balanced and insightful account of New York's struggles with the issue of the homeless during the past decade.
A SLENDER THREAD. By Diane Ackerman. (Random House, $24.) A writer well known for her willingness to try almost anything relates her conversations with persons unseen as she worked the phones at a crisis-intervention center.
SNAKES: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. By Harry W. Greene. (University of California, $45.) A wonderfully lurid and compendious guide to nature's legless wonders, gorgeously illustrated.
SNAKES AND LADDERS: Glimpses of India. By Gita Mehta. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $22.95.) Frank and incisive essays, by an affectionate observer, that amount to a quick course in Indian society and politics.
THE SOLDIERS' TALE: Bearing Witness to Modern War. By Samuel Hynes. (Allen Lane/ Penguin, $24.95.) A meditation on war and warriors, and a fine survey of 20th-century war literature, by a scholar who was there himself.
SPECTRAL EVIDENCE. The Ramona Case: Incest, Memory and Truth on Trial in Napa Valley. By Moira Johnston. (Houghton Mifflin, $25.) A sympathetic journalistic account of the successful court case accusing a therapist of inducing phony memories of incest.
THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. By Anne Fadiman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) A tragic case of misunderstanding between physicians and a family barely removed from tribal life.
SOUTHERN CROSS: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. By Christine Leigh Heyrman. (Knopf, $27.50.) The history of Southern evangelicalism from the 1740's to the 1830's shows how Baptist and Methodist churches gradually abandoned their opposition to white supremacy and male dominance in order to gain adherents.
STAND FACING THE STOVE: The Story of the Women Who Gave America ''The Joy of Cooking.'' By Anne Mendelson. (Holt, $29.95.) An engaging biography of Irma Rombauer and her daughter, authors of ''The Joy of Cooking'' (first edition, 1931): women far ahead of their time in the kitchen but innocent as squabs about publishing.
STENDHAL. By Jonathan Keates. (Carroll & Graf, $28.) A fine life of the novelist who participated so passionately in the Napoleonic drama, which he both conveyed and deflated in ''The Red and the Black'' and ''The Charterhouse of Parma.''
STILL LIFE IN HARLEM. By Eddy L. Harris. (Holt, $20.) An anguished, eloquent meditation on the soul of black America by a writer who returned to absorb and interpret the Harlem he left as a child 30 years ago.
STUFF: The Materials the World Is Made Of. By Ivan Amato. (Basic Books, $25.) An enthusiastic exploration of materials science, from the stone ax to the handmade molecules of modern physics.
STUTTERING: A Life Bound Up in Words. By Marty Jezer. (Basic Books, $23.) An encouraging memoir by a far worse than average stutterer who has learned to live with it while acquiring a marvelous fund of painful anecdote.
THIN ICE: Coming of Age in Canada. By Bruce McCall. (Random House, $24.) A writer and illustrator's angry, amusing memoir of the boredom and frustration that ruled his first 27 years (at present he is living in New York).
THE TIME BIND: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work. By Arlie Russell Hochschild. (Metropolitan/Holt, $22.50.) A sociologist reports at first hand on a company where workdays easily run to 11 hours and where there's more fun and personal satisfaction than there is at home (which, slighted, gets even worse).
TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL: The New War on Breast Cancer. By Karen Stabiner. (Delacorte, $25.95.) A journalist's scary account of tumult in a cancer center, where treatments, careers and hopes are in constant, unmanageable flux.
LE TON BEAU DE MAROT: In Praise of the Music of Language. By Douglas R. Hofstadter. (Basic Books, $30.) The author of ''Godel, Escher, Bach'' offers his ''ruminations on the art of translation,'' taking as his text a 16th-century French poem.
TO THE HOOP: The Seasons of a Basketball Life. By Ira Berkow. (Basic Books, $23.) How basketball, as participant and observer, has obsessed a sports columnist for The New York Times.
TRAIL FEVER: Spin Doctors, Rented Strangers, Thumb Wrestlers, Toe Suckers, Grizzly Bears, and Other Creatures on the Road to the White House. By Michael Lewis. (Knopf, $25.) A deep, funny, edifying report on the 1996 campaign, in which the American people appear far wiser and braver than those who aspire to lead them.
TREASURE HUNT: A New York Times Reporter Tracks the Quedlinburg Hoard. By William H. Honan. (Fromm, $24.95.) The true tale of a treasure looted in Germany, transported to Texas and run to earth by shoe leather and Sitzfleisch.
T. REX AND THE CRATER OF DOOM. By Walter Alvarez. (Princeton University, $24.95.) A geologist (who happens to be a kind of working philosopher) gives a deft, readable explanation of the extinction of the dinosaurs.
ULYSSES S. GRANT: Soldier & President. By Geoffrey Perret. (Random House, $35.) A lucid biography that is superb on the campaigns of a general the author considers a military genius.
UNCROWNED KING: The Life of Prince Albert. By Stanley Weintraub. (Free Press, $27.50.) A sympathetic portrait of Queen Victoria's consort that paints him as one of the now unsung heroes of his age.
UNDERBOSS: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia. By Peter Maas. (HarperCollins, $25.) The adventures of the Mafia defector who brought down John Gotti.
THE UNIVERSE BELOW: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea. By William J. Broad. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) A readable and reliable guide to the last and biggest wilderness on earth, by a science reporter for The New York Times.
UTOPIA PARKWAY: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. by Deborah Solomon. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) A detailed, informative biography of the secretive maker of those amazing little boxes.
VIRGIL THOMSON: Composer on the Aisle. By Anthony Tommasini. (Norton, $30.) A biography, written by a music critic for The New York Times, that deftly evokes the Midwesterner stirred by the hymns and band concerts of his childhood as well as the cruel misanthrope.
VIRUS HUNTER: Thirty Years of Battling Hot Viruses Around the World. By C. J. Peters and Mark Olshaker. (Anchor/Doubleday, $23.95.) How Dr. Peters and other scientists identify and combat exotic plagues like hantavirus and Ebola.
WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR: A Memoir. By Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Simon & Schuster, $25.) Endearing recollections of a feisty girlhood in the prefeminist, prosperous, confident 1950's on Long Island, in the orbit of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
WALKER PERCY: A Life. By Patrick H. Samway. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.) A biography of the philosophical novelist that brings to life the many sides of an Ameican original.
WALKING IN THE SHADE: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-1962. By Doris Lessing. (HarperCollins, $27.50.) And an energetic, ambitious, socially and professionally successful life it has been, relived here, from arrival in London to ''The Golden Notebook,'' through an exceptional memory and rare facility as a writer.
‘NINA CHANEL ABNEY: ROYAL FLUSH’ Edited by Marshall N. Price (Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University). Although captions are poorly placed, this is otherwise an exemplary catalog from a small museum. Its plentiful reproductions vividly trace the headlong first decade of the work of Nina Chanel Abney, a promising painter whose bright, stenciled surfaces draw equally from dire current events and modernist art. (Her shows are on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, through Dec. 20, and Mary Boone Gallery, through Dec. 22.) Mr. Price dissects the works’ iconography; the curator Jamillah James interviews the artist; and “Social Insurrection and Racial Justice in the Twilight of the Obama Years,” an essay by the accomplished journalist Natalie Y. Moore, adds painful context, ending with James Baldwin’s exhortation that artists should disturb the peace. (Read the review.)
‘WARTIME QUILTS: APPLIQUÉS AND GEOMETRIC MASTERPIECES FROM MILITARY FABRICS’ By Annette Gero (The Beagle Press). Brilliantly colored quilts from the 18th and 19th centuries made by soldiers and tailors alike using military fabrics were not well known in this country. Then the American Folk Art Museum opened “War and Pieced,” a splendid exhibition (through Jan. 7) drawn mostly from the collection of Annette Gero, an Australian textile scholar, collector and author of this volume. Covering more ground than the exhibition, it should appeal to anyone even mildly obsessed with quilts, or the history of geometric abstraction outside painting. (Read the review.)
‘BLACK DADA READER’ By Adam Pendleton (Koenig Books). In 2011 the artist Adam Pendleton began producing “Black Dada Reader,” a photocopied spiral-bound selection of essays, and circulated them among friends and interested parties a little like samizdat. Now a handsome, more permanent version has arrived, 16 essays, poems and artist’s statements, one interview and one screenplay, sandwiched between introductions by five writers and curators and two manifestoes by Mr. Pendleton. The writers are unlikely bookmates — Hugo Ball, W.E.B. Du Bois, Adrian Piper, Gertrude Stein, Sun Ra, Joan Jonas — who give the collection its own shape and urgency. The subtitle asks “what can black dada do for me?” It behooves the entire art world to find out.
‘JASPER JOHNS: PICTURES WITHIN PICTURES, 1980-2015’ By Fiona Donovan (Thames & Hudson, New York). It’s hard to believe that this simple but encompassing idea is not already a book. The artist, who began making paintings of flat, easily identified motifs (the American flag, targets), moved in the 1980s to trompe l’oeil collagelike compositions of images from other art and his personal mementos. This turn toward the autobiographical continues, whether explicitly as with the floor plan of his grandfather’s house, or implicitly, with such surrogates as renderings of photographs of suffering young men or a damaged painting by Manet. The richness of the subject is demonstrated by lavish color photographs, and a text that provides new access to Mr. Johns’s often hermetic themes.
‘40 YEARS NEW’ By Lisa Phillips (Phaidon and New Museum). The New Museum reviews its history in this thick if slightly too tall book, from its founding in 1977 by Marcia Tucker to the white Sanaa-designed building on the Bowery it moved to in 2007, growing up if not old while maintaining its run of provocative exhibitions, performances and lectures. The tale is told in essays by curators past and present, myriad photographs and a well-annotated chronology. A valiant story and an excellent reference book.
‘MONOGRAPH’ By Chris Ware (Rizzoli, New York). The great cartoon artist, MacArthur genius and Omaha-born Chicagoan tells the story of his life in comic form, accompanied by family photographs, New Yorker covers, his toylike wood sculpture, and the wonderful dollhouse-like models he builds of some of his characters’ homes. There’s also a class syllabus full of self-deprecating asides and useful artistic advice. The book is not without challenges. It has neither a table of contents nor page numbers; it’s bigger than the tops of most side tables and the print is small. But Mr. Ware has always written as well as he draws, especially here, when he knows his subject well.
‘POSTMODERN DESIGN COMPLETE’ By Judith Gura (Thames & Hudson, New York). Whether you love or hate postmodern architecture and design this book — the heaviest on my list — will remind you why. The introduction is by Charles Jencks, a pioneer of postmodernism, and devotes a full spread to his 2011 chart, “Evolutionary Tree of Postmodernisms,” which makes its masses of tiny names legible. Over 480 pages it covers architecture, design, graphic design and edited design in the work of more than 60 adherents. It includes a section on living with postmodernism and another on its aftermath. As a very infrequent admirer, I was surprised by how much I liked.
I always read the catalogs of exhibitions I see, but just as important are the catalogs of shows I miss. If it’s done right, these books can be every bit as engrossing as a museum presentation — and these days, in a global art world where none of us can catch every show, they offer an essential guide to cities and institutions abroad. Here are the art books I’ve spent the most time with this year, with art from Mexico to Russia, West Africa to East Asia — plus, if you’ll indulge me, one novel.
‘POSTWAR: ART BETWEEN THE PACIFIC AND THE ATLANTIC, 1945-1965’ Edited by Okwui Enwezor, Katy Siegel and Ulrich Wilmes (Prestel). To the end of my days I will curse myself for missing this epochal exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, which offered a true global history of art from 1945 to 1965. The 800-page catalog is its own monument, weighing in at more than 10 pounds, and its dozens of contributors reground postwar art in the cataclysm of the Holocaust, the rise of the Iron Curtain, African decolonization movements, and nationalist reforms from Latin America to Southeast Asia. In “Postwar,” Jackson Pollock, Frank Stella and other American all-stars have no more or less prominence than Socialist Realist painters from the Soviet Union and the new People’s Republic of China, or than artists from beyond the great powers, like the ghoulishly brilliant Mozambican muralist Malangatana Valente Ngwenya. More important, this titanic book grounds these artists within the circumstances that shaped them. As Ms. Siegel writes, globalism is no good if it “occludes history itself — the relations and conflicts among nations and cultures that shaped the postwar world.”
‘PAINTED IN MEXICO, 1700–1790: PINXIT MEXICI’ Edited by Ilona Katzew (Prestel). This blindsiding show travels to the Met in April, but whether you see it at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (where it is on view through March 18) or catch it in New York, the catalog for this extravagant showcase of 18th-century Mexican painting has its own allure. (One of the most valuable features of Pacific Standard Time, which is showcasing this exhibition, is its funding for catalogs of this quality.) Along with superlative essays on the force of religion, the authority of portraiture, the use of ornament and the circulation of paintings between Mexico and Spain, the book details more than 130 masterpieces from an age of opulence.
‘CANDIDA HÖFER IN MÉXICO’ Edited by Uta Grosenick and Herbert Burkert (Gestalten). A more contemporary vision of Mexico appears in this handsomely printed overview of an exhibition I saw this summer at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. The German photographer Candida Höfer, best known for her exacting images of libraries, traveled across the country to shoot these stately photographs of colonial, neoclassical and contemporary architecture. Her glacial gaze and precise framing give an added force to five views of the Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara, whose carmine stalls are topped by a fresco of religious ecstasy, or the spectacular Iglesia de San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya in Oaxaca, with a barrel-vault ceiling festooned with flowers.Continue reading the main story