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The Men (and Women) Who Knew Too Much: History's Most Notorious Spies

Nobody knows spies like Ben Macintyre. With Double Cross, Agent Zigzag, and Operation Mincemeat, the London-based author established himself as the master chronicler of spooks and subterfuge, a biographer of the most eccentric personalities ever to dwell in the shadows of diplomacy. (Macintyre is also a regular dweller of our Best of the Month lists.) His latest, A Spy Among Friends, tackles the story of the man who may have been the most damaging double-agent in history: Kim Philby, Britain's top spy-hunter charged with catching Soviet moles, who all the while spilled deadly secrets to the Soviets themselves.

We couldn't think of anyone more qualified than Ben Macintyre to ask for history's most notorious double-crossers, and unsurprisingly (spoiler alert) Philby made the list.

 

A Spy Among Friends

 

History's Five Most Notorious Double-Agents

by Ben Macintyre

The FBI has coined an acronym to describe the motivations of the spy: MICE, which stands for Money, Ideology, Coercion and Ego. Some spies are inspired by simple greed; others by pure conviction. But the greatest spies of all are a driven by something that defies categorization: a love of espionage, an addiction to the thrill and danger of subterfuge, and a dedication to this most fickle of professions for its own sake. The most successful and notorious spies in history have all possessed this peculiar quality: they each fell in love with spying itself, and remained besotted, prepared to take the most appalling risks to remain one step ahead in the lethal espionage game. These are the most dangerous spies of all, because they cannot be controlled by money or blackmail, by appeals to their vanity or ideology. They do it for love of the game.   

Eddie Chapman
Chapman was a burglar, con man, and gangster in pre-war London, who happened to be in prison in Jersey when the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands. He struck a deal with the Germans to spy against Britain in exchange for his freedom. Trained at a spy school in occupied France, he was parachuted into Britain in 1942, and immediately defected to British intelligence. For the rest of the war, he spied for Britain, while pretending to spy for Germany. The British code-named him “Agent Zigzag,” because they could never be sure whose side he was on. The Germans never realized the game he was playing, and even awarded him the Iron Cross for services to the Third Reich. After the war, Chapman immediately returned to a professional life of crime.

Richard Sorge
Ian Fleming, the creator James Bond, considered the half-German and half-Russian Richard Sorge to have been “the most formidable spy in history.” A committed communist, Sorge spied for the Soviets in Japan at the start of the war, supplying vital military intelligence gleaned while ostensibly working as a journalist. He even informed Moscow that Japan was not planning to attack the USSR, which enabled the transfer of Soviet troops from the east to defend Moscow and changed the course of the war. Sorge was eventually betrayed, captured by the Japanese secret police, tortured into confessing, and hanged in November 1944. In 1964 he was recognized as a Hero of the Soviet Union.  

Juan Pujol
Pujol was a Spanish chicken farmer, who managed to get himself recruited as a German spy at the start of the war while always intending to spy for the Allies. He is one of the very few spies in history who set out to become a double agent.  Ensconced in a safe house in London, Pujol (codenamed Garbo, on account of his acting abilities) not only supplied reams of false information to the Germans, but invented no fewer than twenty-nine additional sub-agents, all of whom were entirely fictitious, and wholly deceptive. He was one-man band, with a huge, invented orchestra. Pujol was, in a way, a spy-novelist, creating an imaginary world and then luring his German spy-masters into the illusion that it was real. He played a pivotal role in the run-up to D-Day, successfully convincing the Germans that the invasion would come at Calais, and not Normandy, thus tying up thousands of German troops. After the war, he took on a false name, and vanished into obscurity.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow
Greenhow was not technically a double agent, since she only ever spied for one side (the Confederates during the Civil War), but she was undoubtedly America’s most successful woman spy. Socialite, diplomat and secret agent, she ran an extensive spy network in Washington, DC, during 1861, helped to bring about Union defeat in the First Battle of Bull Run. Betrayed and captured, she was imprisoned for five months and then deported to Richmond. Undaunted, she then represented the Confederacy on a diplomatic mission to France and Britain, and was drowned after her ship ran aground on the return journey. Greenhow was a ferocious ideologue, but a most effective spy: “Instead of loving the old flag of the stars and stripes, I see in it only the symbol of murder, plunder, oppression, and shame,” she said.
 
Kim Philby
The notorious British spy and KGB agent was recruited to the communist cause in 1934, and went on to achieve something no other spy has managed: he got himself recruited by the enemy spy-organization, namely Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6. By 1944 he had become head of the Soviet counter-intelligence section of MI6, responsible for attacking Soviet espionage around the world, exposing Russian spies and breaking up the USSR’s spy rings. In other words, he was in charge of hunting people like himself. Tipped as the future head of MI6, he used his position to extract a multitude of secrets from his friends in British and American intelligence, and did spectacular damage by betraying everything to Moscow. Hundreds, if not thousands, died as result of Philby’s betrayals, for which he never expressed a single word of remorse.

Philby was the most remarkable example of a spy acting, in the end, out of pure love for the game of espionage. Philby was a master spy, addicted to the thrill of betrayal, whose willingness to manipulate and double-cross his friends allowed him to survive uncaught for three decades, and then escape to Moscow to spend the rest of his days. Philby is the greatest double agent in history.

American Spymaster

Meet Jack Devine. Something of a real-life George Smiley, he is a 30-year veteran of the CIA who, among a lot of things, ran Charlie Wilson's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, knew a thing or two about the Iran-Contra affair long before the rest of us did (including the president?), and tangled with some of the agency's most notorious double-agents. In Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story, Devine has written a fascinating memoir of his time overseeing the agency’s spying operations, while also critiquing its policies and direction--arguing that covert ops (i.e. actual undercover operatives on the ground) is the best, most effective use of the CIA’s talents, rather than its increasingly paramilitaristic role during a decade of war. Devine has managed an unlikely accomplishment: enhancing the aura of the agency while stripping away some of its myths, in the process producing a clear-eyed and forthright account from an intelligence insider.

 

 

Mr. Devine stopped by our offices for a candid--and lengthy!--chat about the book, his career, as well as some other notable current events. Good Hunting is a selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month for June 2014.

 

YA Wednesday: Rainbow Rowell on "Landline," the 90s, and Disney theme parks

LandlineIt's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell and when I met her in person a month ago, it only confirmed my suspicion that she's as fabulous in person as the books she writes. 

Her latest, Landline, is classified as an adult book, but like her YA titles, there is no set age required for entry.   Landline tells the story of a marriage floundering in the wake of career, kids, and the daily grind.  Rowell uses a trick of time to allow her main character, Georgie, to revisit how she and husband Neal found each other and the final hurdle that resulted in a proposal.  Simultaneously, Georgie experiences present day self-doubt, questioning if they should have ended up together in the first place but seeing all the things she loves about Neal in new light. 

Whether you can relate to the marriage or not, at the end of the day it's a story about how two quirky, flawed people can fall in love and take that leap of faith more than once in the same relationship.

I sent Rowell some questions about the book and other things I wanted to know via email:

Seira Wilson: Have you been thinking about/working on this book for a while?  Was Landline always the title?

Rainbow Rowell: I have, yeah. I started plotting it at the same time as Fangirl. I'm not sure why I wrote Fangirl first — maybe because it felt lighter. Maybe because I thought someone else was bound to write a great novel about a fanfiction writer.

I always knew this book would be called Landline. I thought that was such a great title for a novel — I couldn't believe it was up for grabs.

SW: There's a pivotal point in Neal and Georgie’s relationship that Georgie revisits—what moment does that remind you of in your own life (in a relationship or otherwise)?

RR:  Hmmm ... My husband and I never had a breakup the way Georgie and Neal do. But there was a time when we had to decide what to do if we got jobs in different places — and we decided to move together.

SW: Do you have an old-school phone like the yellow one in Landline?  A Metallica t-shirt?  What meaningful object do you have, or wish you had, from the late 90s?

RR:  I have an old red rotary phone.   [um, soo jealous of this!  SW]

I don't have a Metallica T-shirt, but that was a nod to my husband who loves Metallica.

I actually have tons of stuff from the '90s. I still have my favorite shirt, and my favorite vintage sports jacket. I have watches. Stationery. A pair of purple-with-red-ladybugs Doc Martens mary janes. 

I have a hard time letting go of things.

SW: What aspect of your characters—Eleanor, Cath, Beth, Georgie—are most like you?

RR:  Oh, good question!

Eleanor has my stubbornness. The way she does things that she knows will make her stand out — even though she doesn't really want to stand out.

Cath has my anxiety. And my tendency to lose myself in fiction. Also my taste in emergency dance music.

Beth has my sense of humor. When I was writing Attachments, I gave her every joke I'd make myself. (She also has my arms.)

Georgie is good in a room. I'm also good in a room -- even if I'm more terrified than Georgie ever is. And she has my work/family tension. I've never been in her situation, but I know what it's like to feel like there isn't enough of me to go around. 

SW: You’ve written two adult books and two YA books that adults also love—do you approach the writing differently?

RR: No, I don't. I just try to get inside the characters' heads and see the world the way they would see it.

SW: I’m going to Disney World this fall with my 7-year-old and I see from your bio that you like to plan trips there—what three things should be on our “must-do” list?  Are you a roller coaster person, and if so, loops or no loops? What about Disney World do you most enjoy?

RR:  Ha! I love Disney theme parks. I love the theming, the attention to detail, the way every design element — and every sound and every smell — help tell the story.

I'm not much of a roller coaster person, but Disney isn't about thrill rides anyway. 

I have a 7-year-old, too, and a few of our musts are: It's a Small World (because it's gorgeous); the night-time castle show (magical!); and the Norwegian bakery in EPCOT (try the school bread).

SW: What are you working on now/next?

RR: I just finished the first draft of a YA fantasy, so I need to revise that. I think it will be out next fall (unless my editor hates it). And I'm working on the screenplay for Eleanor & Park.

Peter Sis Shares Early Sketches and Talks About "The Pilot and the Little Prince"

PilotLittlePrinceAn acclaimed children's book author and illustrator, Peter Sis' book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtainabout his childhood in Cold War-era Prague, won a Caldecott Honor in 2008.  Most recently Sis turned his attention to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Pilot and the Little Prince.  This picture book for older children (ages 6-up) tells the remarkable story of the author of the children's classic, The Little Prince, and Sis' passion for his subject leaps off the page. This is one of our favorite books for this age--actually, it's a fascinating read for anyone who's read The Little Prince--and we made it one of our Best Books of 2014 So Far.

During Book Expo America in New York last month, Sis was kind enough to do a video interview and share some of his early sketches from his studio in Manhattan.  He's a fascinating storyteller, and watching him quickly flipping through the sketches while speaking so candidly about them is something I found immensely enjoyable. 

 

 

Amazon Asks: “War of the Whales” Author, Joshua Horwitz

Joshua Horwitz spent six years researching the story of the marine biologist and the environmental lawyer whose battle against the US Navy and its secret underwater sonar programs went all the way to the Supreme Court. The result, War of the Whales, is one of those rare nonfiction books that reads like fiction – in this case, a delightful mashup of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Stephen Ambrose and David Halberstam.

War of the Whales was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Month “Spotlight” pick for July. In my review I described it as “a gripping and wholly original tale of the ecological side effects of national security” and “a rare trifecta of a book: important, highly readable, and stunningly true.”

I reached out to Horwitz to ask about his favorite books (duh, Moby Dick), and, as a bonus he shared a couple of cool whale photos.

Describe your book in one sentence?

Whales and submarines collide inside world's deepest underwater canyon. 

Or: Two men take on world's largest navy to save whales.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Favorite books about whales?

Moby Dick -- what else?

Favorite book as a child?

Tarzan, King of the Apes series by Edgar Rice Burroughs

What are you obsessed with now?

How few books teenagers--including my daughters--seem to be reading for pleasure.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My appetite(s).

What do you collect?

Daughters, apparently. (I've got three.)

Favorite line?

Where lies the final harbor whence we unmoor no more? (from Moby Dick)

What's next for you?

More reading, less writing.

What was the best piece of advice you ever got?  From whom?

From Martin Scorcese, as returning NYU fillm alum speaking to us wannabees, on editing. (He was speaking about film editing, but applies equally to text.) -- "Begin with a scalpel, end with an axe."

YA Wednesday: July Favorites

It's the middle of summer and Seattle is scorching hot these days.  The best I can do under the circumstances has been to hide out with a fan and distract myself with books.

For the Best YA Books of July list, you'll see something a little bit different--a nonfiction YA title.  Now, this is not to imply that there hasn't been great nonfiction YA titles in months past, but this one, The Family Romanov, was so good it took the spotlight.   I hope you find a book on this month's list to help you beat the heat...

 

FamilyRomanov300The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
There have been no shortage of books written about the Romanovs, particularly the mystery surrounding Anastasia.  The Family Romanov covers some familiar ground but Fleming maintains the perfect balance of detail without overkill, and achieves that "you-are-there" feeling.  Alternating narratives tell the story of the last Tsar's family in the context of the time, not only what was happening in their lives individually and collectively, but also the lives of average Russians. This is some of the most engaging nonfiction I've read in a while and for anyone with an interest in this period of history, The Family Romanov will not disappoint.

 

QueenTearling300The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
This novel is not listed as young adult, but it speaks so well to that reader that we didn't see an age designation as a reason to keep it off the YA list for July.  In book one of a promising new fantasy series, a young woman born to be queen and raised in exile embarks on a quest to save her kingdom from an evil sorceress called the Red Queen.  I really loved some of the fairy tale elements--magical jewels and  loyal knights, a dark queen vs. a simple girl with hidden strengths and royal blood--along with the Game of Thrones style political intrigue.  Definitely a story to immerse yourself in this summer.

 

 

 

ShadowHero300

 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew
I'm not a huge graphic novel reader but this one by the author of the Michael L. Printz award winner, American Born Chinese, and last year's National Book Award finalist, Boxers & Saints, totally grabbed my attention.  In The Shadow Hero, Yang resurrects a Chinese comic superhero from the 1940s, the Green Turtle, and creates his own origin story for the masked crusader.  In Yang's vision, it is a mother's will that pushes young Hank to accept his destiny and become the Green Turtle, in order to fight the crime plaguing the people of Chinatown. This graphic novel has a great classic comic book feel to it while at the same time playing on more sophisticated cultural references and shifts.  If you only read one graphic novel this summer, make it this one.

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Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie, oh, Maggie. How thrilled I was to see a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy coming out this month!  Thrilled but then a little nervous too...what if I didn't like it as much?  Senseless, I know, but many years in this business has left me cautious at times.  Plus, it's always nice to be pleasantly surprised (of course it's fabulous!), right?  In Sinner, Cole St. Clair is back in Los Angeles with a spot on a dodgy internet reality show and determined to rekindle his passionate but toxic love affair with Isabel Culpepper.  Their story makes for compulsive reading and fans of the trilogy will love the return of some Wolves of Mercy Falls characters, but this one can also be read as a standalone.

Photo Essay: How Did the Statue of Liberty Get Built?

LibertyElizabeth Mitchell's myth-busting Liberty’s Torch--a Best Book of the Month for July--is a hoot of a story packed with entertaining cameos by Victor Hugo, Ulysses Grant, Thomas Edison and more. At center stage is the maddeningly egotistical artiste, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a snobbish boor who disliked America and her "subpar" people, yet, through persistence and will, found a home for his statue in New York Harbor.

In advance of Independence Day, we asked Mitchell to share a few photos and anecdotes from her rigorously researched tale of how a sculptor’s obsession became a nation's icon.

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We take it for granted that the Statue of Liberty belongs in the New York harbor. But if it were not for one driven man, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, this globally recognizable symbol would never have seen sunrise over the city.

Bartholdi dreamed up the idea of the colossus, he pitched, pleaded, sweated, and schemed to get her built. My new book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, tells this tale of one man battling obstacles and accidents to make his unusual vision a reality.

It helped that Bartholdi birthed this creation during an era when artist, inventors and engineers constantly tried to one-up each other. He had seen the colossal statuary in Egypt, the sphinxes and pyramids, and he wanted to also create something that would last for eternity. All he had to do was solve the mechanical feats, clear the fundraising hurdles, and keep everyone alive in the process.

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1) Here is Bartholdi, looking like Dave Grohl. He was spunky, funny, emotional, and a huge egotist. He alone came up with the idea of the Statue of Liberty and set out to convince France and America to build it. He wasn’t so much in love with America as he was entranced by the idea of crafting a massive statue. He did appreciate that America had successfully created a democracy while his France struggled violently for the ideal.

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2) He originally designed the piece for Egypt, for the mouth of the Suez Canal, but the deal fell through so he went looking for other locations. At the time, America was showing new growth after the Civil War, taking on constructions like Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The cross continental railroad had just been completed. The nation seemed a likely candidate to absorb the plan that had failed elsewhere.

Torch displ#8
3) Short on funds and public enthusiasm, Bartholdi built Liberty in pieces, exhibiting a bit at a time to raise money to create more. Here is the torch being shown at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. At the bottom, Bartholdi set up a kiosk to sell souvenirs and tickets to the top.

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4) Bartholdi showed the head at the Paris Exposition of 1878. It arrived on a wagon from the workshop where she was created, having wended her way through the streets of Paris. People waved and sang the Marseillaise as the massive head passed.

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5) To test the design, the statue was first put together in a neighborhood in Paris near the Parc Monceau. People could pay a ticket to climb up and look over the rooftops.

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6) Liberty was inaugurated on October 28, 1886 in a heavy fog. Bartholdi himself tugged an enormous French flag from her face to reveal her to the world. A few weeks later, he ventured out in a nighttime rain to say goodbye to his creation. He told a reporter that he could no longer sense the immensity of her as he had when he was working on her in Paris. He said, “She is going away from me. She is going away from me.” She now belonged to America.

--Elizabeth Mitchell

The Wildest Books in America

Untamed Will Harlan’s new biography, Untamed, explores the remarkable and controversial life of Carol Ruckdeschel, a woman who eats road kill, stalks alligators, and lives in a ramshackle cabin on the wild Cumberland Island--the country's largest and most biologically diverse barrier island, off the Georgia coast--all in defense of sea turtles and the future of the park.

We asked Will for his perspective on environmental writing, as well as the books that inspired him to track down the story of the "wildest woman in America."

Untamed is an Amazon selection for 2014's Best Books of the Year So Far.


BEST VOICES OF ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING by Will Harlan

Nature writing can be pretty, and environmental books can be convincing, but I ultimately crave the raw emotion of fellow human beings struggling to find and protect their place in the world. The best environmental writing, I believe, is about people.

People are the problem and the solution. Good environmental writing reconnects people to nature—not through lectures, but through living, flesh-and-blood examples of courage and commitment. We feel the landscape through them.   

For years, I’ve tried to write about the tangled environmental politics of Cumberland Island. Finally, I realized that the best way to tell the island’s story was through the heartbreaking adventures of its most powerful personality. Carol’s experiences are more persuasive than any political argument.

Here are a few of my favorite environmental voices and books. Instead of preachy diatribes or flowery descriptions, they inspire me with gritty, gutsy characters—some legendary, some overlooked—who stand their ground and speak for the wild.

 

The Last American ManThe Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert


A modern-day pioneer living nearly self-sufficiently on a wild reserve in Appalachia, Eustace Conway embodies the ideals of American masculinity—ruggedness, courage, and independence. However, those hard-fought ideals have a price. Liz Gilbert shows us the tired, lonely man behind the bravado. A tough, buckskin-clad maverick hunts for the one thing missing from his mountain refuge: love.

 

 



Into the Wild Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer


Chris McCandless is either a stupid kid or self-reliant hero. As soon as he graduates college, he gives away all of his savings and wanders the wild, seeking adventure and an authentic relationship with the land—until he finds himself starving to death alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Barely able to lift a pen, he scribbles this final message, which continues to haunt and shape my own life: “Happiness only real when shared.”

 

 



Encounters with the Archdruid Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee


McPhee masterfully captures the nuances and complexities of the most influential modern environmentalist, David Brower, by shadowing him on close-combat crusades to protect America’s last wild places. But don’t expect classic confrontations with battle lines clearly drawn; Brower is far more kaleidoscopic. Like Brower himself, the book’s strength is in its subtlety, with finely drawn characters exquisitely presented in shades of gray.

 

 



Refuge Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams


Williams’ mother is dying from exposure to nearby nuclear testing, and wildlife is being wiped out by dams and development. In her unflinching memoir, Williams wrestles with life and death out in the wide-open Utah desert and seeks shelter where there is none.

 

 

 

 

Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodEcology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray


Ray’s hardscrabble upbringing in a south Georgia junkyard is an unlikely start for an environmental luminary, but the rusted scrap heaps of her childhood are chock full of raw, resourceful characters—including an authoritarian father who locks his family in a closet and a snuff-dipping coon hunter who introduces her to the wild woods. Ray weaves her own story into the razed red-clay landscape and leads a rebellion to save the South’s last longleaf pine forests.

 

 



Desert Solitaire Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey


It’s definitely the most sermonizing selection of the bunch, but Abbey’s coarse, thunderous voice crying out for the wilderness still echoes across the desert he called home. Amid his nerve-tingling adventures as a park ranger, the monkey-wrenching anarchist unleashes forceful, full-blooded pleas for the last scraps of wildlands.

 

 

 



The Lost Grizzlies The Lost Grizzlies by Rick Bass


Grizzly bears had not been seen for 15 years in southern Colorado until a small group sets out to find them. Bass seeks more than bears, though; he is tracking his own wildness and the longings of the human heart, which only are revealed in the presence of something larger.


YA Wednesday: Best YA Books of 2014 So Far

Scary, but true--2014 is basically half over. There are still a LOT of great books to look forward to this fall (Skink--No Surrender, BelzharThe Infinite Sea, etc.,) but this is the time of year when we look back at the ones we've loved over the first six months of the year and do the painful work of picking our 20 favorite YA novels.  The first five are below, and you've heard me rave about them all before so I will spare you another round.  Just know that all the books on the list are ones that I highly recommend--I'm hoping you see some of your own favorites and find a few new ones here, too.

                     Best Teen & Young Adult Books of 2014 So Far

 BOTYSF_YA_Collage

 Here's a taste - the first five:

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: Not kidding. love love love this book.

2. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor:  A perfect example of how fantastic YA literature can be, whether you are 16 or 46A must-read trilogy in my book.

3. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a tough act to follow but Hollow City is compulsive reading and well worth the time between books.  I hope Riggs hurries up on the next one, though...

4. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkowski:  Star-crossed love and a new heroine to watch.  Throw in a richly imagined world of class warfare, politics, intrigue, and constant action and you've got the first book of an original new trilogy.

5. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: A powerful and ultimately hopeful contemporary novel about the effects of war on those left behind.  Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest.

See the whole list here

 

Amazon's Best Books of 2014 So Far

It's that time of year.

This morning, the Amazon Books Editors (that's us) are happy to announce our choices for the Best Books of the Year So Far. Not content to wait a full year between best of the year lists, we each take stock of all the books published from January through June, convening in windowless conference rooms to advocate (argue) and compromise (weep) over our personal favorites. At the end of the day, we pack up our hurt feelings, bruised egos, and quiet resentments and prepare to do it again the next day.

As usual, there was no shortage of great books to consider. Just our top 20 features a masterful biography of a literary giant, the triumphant swan song from a three-time National Book Award winner, and a true-life tale of billionaires, art, and cannibalism. In all, we chose our favorite books across 17 categories, including kids and teens. Browse our top 10 selections below, and see them all in our Best Books of the Year So Far store.

 

Updike

1. Updike by Adam Begley: This biography of the American master goes far beyond simple chronology of this complex (and often paradoxical) character, layering on the lit crit where his real life bled into his novels. Detailed and compulsively readable, Updike is essential for admirers, and illuminating for anyone with an interest in literature.

 

The Book of Unknown Americans


2. The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel by Cristina Henríquez: Henríquez’s powerful novel captures readers with the quiet beauty of her characters and their profoundly rendered experiences as immigrants in America. Following nine families who arrived in the States from South and Central America, Henriquez has crafted a novel that is inspiring, tragic, brave, and unforgettable.

 

Redeployment

3. Redeployment by Phil Klay: The strength of Klay’s stories, all about the Iraq War or its aftermath, lies in his unflinching, un-PC point of view, even for the soldiers he so clearly identifies with and admires. These stories are at least partly autobiographical, and yet, for all their verisimilitude, they’re also shaped by an undefinable thing called art.

 

Continue reading "Amazon's Best Books of 2014 So Far" »

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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