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FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2006

Nonfiction

December 10, 2006

A Godly Hero

The Life of William Jennings Bryan

Michael Kazin

Alfred A. Knopf

On the Democratic populist, orator and perennial presidential candidate whose legacy was forever tarnished by his ignominious swan song at the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial." Kazin's biography is a balanced and contextual account of Bryan's prodigious political career.

*

Andrew Carnegie

David Nasaw

The Penguin Press

A fresh and thorough assessment of the character and career of the founder of the Carnegie Steel Company, the richest tycoon of America's Gilded Age. According to one of his business rivals, this captain of industry "radiated warmth and light.... He was the most consistently happy man I ever knew."

*

At Canaan's Edge

America in the King Years, 1965-68

Taylor Branch

Simon & Schuster

The final volume of Taylor Branch's trilogy on the U.S. civil rights movement recounts the struggles of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the last three years of his life, beginning with the voting-rights campaign in Selma, Ala., and ending with King's assassination in Memphis, Tenn.

*

Blood Money

Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq

T. Christian Miller

Little, Brown

The L.A. Times reporter's chronicle of the war profiteering and fraud that have hindered U.S. efforts at the reconstruction of Iraq. Our reviewer wrote that Miller "describes naivete, incompetence, corruption and venality on a scale so colossal as to make it impossible to blame the results on any single figure."

*

Blue Arabesque

A Search for the Sublime

Patricia Hampl

Harcourt

An anecdotal history of Henri Matisse's painting "Femme et poissons rouges" (its English title is "Woman Before an Aquarium"), Hampl's book is also part memoir and part meditation on the images of women in Western art. She uses "each of the painting's compositional elements as a springboard for exploration, weaving together autobiography and art history."

*

The Din in the Head

Essays

Cynthia Ozick

Houghton Mifflin

A new collection of essays from one of our foremost literary critics, including trenchant commentary on Lionel Trilling, Susan Sontag, Isaac Babel and Saul Bellow's "Ravelstein." Our reviewer described Ozick as an "arch defender of the independent rights and powers of literature, and of the novel in particular."

*

Gay L.A.

A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians

Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

Basic Books

In this "meticulously researched history" of Los Angeles from its earliest days to the present, the authors maintain that this city has had a greater influence than other major American metropolises -- San Francisco and New York, for instance -- on the gay movement's development over the years.

*

Ghost Hunters

William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death

Deborah Blum

The Penguin Press

An account of the investigations by the eminent philosopher and psychologist and his fellows in the Society for Psychical Research of seances and other supernatural phenomena at the turn of the 20th century. Blum demonstrates the extent to which James risked his professional reputation in his dogged pursuit of proof of life after death.

*

The Great Black Way

L.A.'s Central Avenue in the 1940s and the Lost Negro Renaissance

RJ Smith

PublicAffairs

A cultural and musical chronicle of Los Angeles' vibrant African American community and its principal thoroughfare in its heyday. "Central Avenue was like a river, like the Amazon or the Nile," Smith writes (quoting musician Clifford Solomon), "and downtown was the mouth."

*

The Greatest Story

Ever Sold

The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina

Frank Rich

The Penguin Press

The New York Times columnist dissects what he calls the Bush administration's "truthiness" (a word, Rich explains, that describes a situation in which "what matters most is whether a story can be sold as true, preferably on television") about the Iraq War, as well as its response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the destruction of New Orleans.

*

Hotel California

The True-life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends

Barney Hoskyns

Wiley

Hoskyns' entertaining account of how American popular music had, by the early 1970s, become dominated by mellow rock musicians from Topanga and Laurel canyons -- and, our reviewer wrote, "how so many groovy hyper-literate songwriters turned into pretentious, backstabbing, coke-sniffing lunatics."

*

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Inside Iraq's Green Zone

Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Alfred A. Knopf

An account by the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post of the "myopia and arrogance" endemic within the fortified enclave of palaces and villas that serve as the headquarters of the U.S. occupation.

*

Justice for All

Earl Warren and the Nation He Made

Jim Newton

Riverhead Books

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