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THE SUN CLIMBS SLOW Justice in the Age of Imperial America, by Erna Paris, Knopf Canada, 375 pages, $35

In this beautifully written and utterly compelling book, Erna Paris tells of how the Bush administration set out to destroy the International Criminal Court (ICC), threatening to terminate foreign aid unless poor countries promised never to surrender a U.S. citizen to the court. Paris has a rare ability to synthesize masses of material into vivid prose without sacrificing key details, such as how the Clinton administration's opposition to the idea of an independent ICC prosecutor was motivated by the role of Kenneth Starr in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Michael Byers

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LET'S TALK ABOUT LOVE A Journey to the End of Taste, by Carl Wilson, Continuum, 164 pages, $10.95

Carl Wilson's distaste for the music of Celine Dion becomes the basis for a wide-ranging book predicated on the possibility that what repels us may say more about us than what attracts us. Finally, he is able to experience schmaltz without shame. Readers of his insightful, engaging and unexpectedly moving book will probably feel the same. Jason Anderson

WHO'S YOUR CITY? How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life, by Richard Florida, Random House Canada, 374 pages, $32.95

Florida thinks about cities, about why they are important and what makes them successful. The successful city is the place that can best offer the wealth-creators of the modern economy, those key knowledge workers, a sympathetic place to live. It is an intriguing exploration of the global geography of the new urban world - not flat, but spiky. Joe Berridge

SOUL OF THE WORLD Unlocking the Secrets of Time, by Christopher Dewdney, HarperCollins, 243 pages, $29.95

Christopher Dewdney writes about time with the agility and insight of the poet he is, and with the clear exposition of an engaging and passionate teacher. The two poles of his exploration are represented by William James, who noted that the present moment is "gone in the instant of becoming," and Paul Cézanne, who believed it was his task capture the moment as it passed. William Bryant Logan

THE OCCUPIED GARDEN Recovering the Story of a Family in the War-Torn Netherlands, by Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski, McClelland & Stewart, 326 pages, $29.99

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Sisters Kristen den Hartog (a novelist) and Tracy Kasaboski have written a personal, unsentimental, intensely compelling "memoir" of a working-class, small-town family surviving the horrific Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and, in the early 1950s, emigrating to Canada. They have done so with fine writing, exhaustive research and delight in and love for the family. That's because it's theirs. Ernest Hillen

THE GIRL IN SASKATOON A Meditation on Memory and Murder, by Sharon Butala, HarperCollins, 262 pages, $32.95

Sharon Butala repaints the portrait of a murdered girl - someone she barely knew - in a landscape where even the details have faded. The town is Saskatoon in the 1950s, when Butala and Alexandra Wiwcharuk were in the same high school. It is a profound awakening as she tries to resurrect that life and that time in a meditation so hauntingly intense that it will touch and connect all those who read it. Linda Spalding

ANGEL OF VENGEANCE The "Girl Assassin," the Governor of St. Petersburg, and Russia's Revolutionary World, by Ana Siljak, St. Martin's, 370 pages, $28.95

On Jan. 24, 1878, Vera Zasulich, then 29, unmarried, shy, youngest child of an impoverished aristocratic mother, fired two shots at General Fedor Trepov, governor of St. Petersburg. The book has tremendous narrative drive, combined with an epic, Tolstoyan scope. Siljak, who teaches at Queen's University, draws the provincial life of Russian nobles of the second rank with rare skill. Chris Scott

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE Fighting Fires and Losing Myself, by Russell Wangersky, Thomas Allen, 271 pages, $32.95

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A record of what journalist Wangersky saw and heard, felt and thought while responding to emergency as a volunteer firefighter. "Suffering" is not too strong a word to describe the impact of that experience on him, and putting it on paper provoked more suffering. Wangersky is an all-senses-charged witness with an unerring eye for detail. In this haunting meditation on fate and chance, he literally takes you there. Lawrence Scanlan

THE BLACK GRIZZLY OF WHISKEY CREEK By Sid Marty, McClelland & Stewart, 282 pages, $34.99

Alberta nature writer Marty recalls how a seemingly amicable relationship between people and bears ultimately had tragic results for both. Marty ensures that all sides get a say; parts of the story are told from a bear's perspective, showing how hunter and hunted, threat and threatened, constantly swap roles. This wilderness thriller educates as much as it entertains. Jeremy Klaszus

ONE NATIVE LIFE By Richard Wagamese, Douglas & McIntyre, 257 pages, $29.95

This memoir of an Ojibwa man's self-journey is delicate and strangely beautiful, each vignette (written in early dawn) seems to radiate from point to luminous point: The release of a jackfish provides redemptive silence, a stolen kiss unveils a sky, "suddenly blue" and a glimpse from the doe, Way-wash-ka-zhee, offers "a crucial joining, a shared breath of creation." Karen Luscombe

A FAIR COUNTRY Telling Truths About Canada, By John Ralston Saul, Viking Canada, 338 pages, $34

Ralston Saul's argument for Canada as an aboriginal-minded society provides a unique way of talking about the colonial encumbrance and the influence of native people on our national consciousness. The book plays conjurer's tricks with history and deliberately creates new founding myths. But it is also a brilliant and timely argument about Canada's complex nature and our country's best future course. Noah Richler

PAYBACK Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, by Margaret Atwood, Anansi, 240 pages, $18.95

The published version of Atwood's 2008 Massey lectures is concerned with "debt as a human construct," and as an "imaginative construct" as well - a logical point of entry for a novelist and poet. As impressive as Atwood's intuitions, or her intellect, or even her humour, is her insistence on tracing responsibilities, and possibilities, back to those human, and thus imaginative, constructions. Charles Foran

I AM MY FAMILY Photographic Memories and Fictions, by Rafael Goldchain, Princeton Architectural Press, 168 pages, $42.30

Ontario photographer Goldchain faced his past and was dispirited by what he saw: too many painful gaps, too few records of his Polish-Jewish family, many of whom perished in the Holocaust. Goldchain's bridge to the past is a collection of self-portraits in which he poses as his ancestors, real and imagined. Each self-portrait doubles as a mirror for Goldchain to stare into and ask: Who am I? Emil Sher

LOVE'S CIVIL WAR Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie, Letters and Diaries 1941-1973, edited by Victoria Glendinning with Judith Robertson, McClelland & Stewart, 489 pages, $35

Successful novelist Elizabeth Bowen was a married woman of 41 when she met Charles Ritchie, 35, then of Canada's High Commission in London, in 1941. What began as an intoxicatingly physical affair became an intense and passionate lifelong friendship. Although only Bowen's side of the correspondence is included, the obsessional affair captured here is deeply moving and enhances the reputations of both parties. Charlotte Gray

OTHERWISE By Farley Mowat, McClelland & Stewart, 309 pages, $32.99

Mowat sets the record straight in the form of a memoir of the events from 1937-1948, the period of People of the Deer and Never Cry Wolf, that shaped him as a writer. An eloquent, passionate, witty and beautifully written work that, as Mowat writes, speaks "to the heart of who and what I am." Wayne Grady

A PLACE WITHIN Rediscovering India, by M.G. Vassanji, Doubleday Canada, 423 pages, $34.95

Part history and part documentation of the two-time Giller Prize winner's travels in India, A Place Within skips about, drawing out this bit of history, this story of conquerors and kings, that story of poets and sages. The whole is leavened with charming anecdotes or legends. The India he depicts is cruel, vital, horrifying, touching and almost unspeakably beautiful to him. André Alexis

CONCRETE REVERIES Consciousness and the City, by Mark Kingwell, Viking Canada, 276 pages, $34

In this eloquent and original work, Kingwell frequently loops back to a discussion of the "embodied" essence of human consciousness, the relationships between insides and outsides and the failings of rationalist assumptions underpinning free-market economics. In the roiling debate about what constitutes a livable city, Kingwell convincingly reminds us not to forget about philosophy. John Lorinc

BOTTOMFEEDER How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, by Taras Grescoe HarperCollins Canada, 326 pages, $29.95

Roughly 90 per cent of the world's big fish have disappeared down humanity's collective gullet, and vast stretches of the planet's oceans are so barren of fish that unchecked algae growth has created huge toxic dead zones. In this winner of the Governor-General's Award for non-fiction, Grescoe relies on engaging reportage, a sense of humour and old-fashioned storytelling. Terry Glavin

LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY The Gift of Wings, by Mary Henley Rubio, Doubleday Canada, 684 pages, $39.95

The book begins with Montgomery's birth on her beloved Prince Edward Island, and closely follows her journals. But the most revealing parts ponder her life in Ontario after she became a celebrity author. Rubio deftly paints the portrait of a multitasking modern woman with an amazing work ethic. The biography soars with the energy of its title, but delves even deeper into Montgomery's dark side. Irene Gammel

McMAFIA A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, by Misha Glenny, Anansi, 375 pages, $29.25

Former BBC correspondent Glenny is determined to shake us into realizing none of us is safe from the tentacles of new global underworld. His central thesis is that two powerful currents in the 1990s - the fall of communism and the liberalization of international financial and commodity markets - unleashed a golden age for capitalism, but also for crooks. A Lonely Planet Guide to Organized Crime. Julian Sher

ROBERTSON DAVIES A Portrait in Mosaic, by Val Ross, M&S/Douglas Gibson, 385 pages, $36.99

This oral biography of Davies features an array of informative people, from Davies's widow, Brenda, and their three daughters, to Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, David Cronenberg and Norman Jewison, to the family gardener. The late Val Ross had the interest, the passion and, above all, the capability to render perfectly this act of love. David Staines

THE ALCHEMY OF LOSS A Young Widow's Transformation, by Abigail Carter, McClelland & Stewart, 290 pages, $32.99

This eloquent and honest memoir is the story of the voyage Carter found herself on over the six years following her husband's death in the Sept. 11 attacks. Reading it is like sitting at your own kitchen table listening to Abigail Carter's story, a story that is unnerving, uplifting and its sharp and bitter humour is often laugh-out-loud funny. Diane Schoemperlen

WHAT IS AMERICA? A Short History of the New World Order, by Ronald Wright, Knopf Canada, 368 pages, $29.95

This is a disturbing book, suitable for the soon-to-end age of W. Wright argues that the new world order is a New World order, built in the United States by a nation that, from the start, employed militarism and religious extremism to steal and murder its way to prosperity. It's provocative, well-argued and raises important questions. David M. Shribman

LESTER B. PEARSON By Andrew Cohen, Penguin Canada, 206 pages, $26

This is a Pearson whom few knew much about. Not only was he the prime minister who gave us the Canadian flag, the Canada Pension Plan and medicare, he was a versa tile athlete, a military pilot and ambassador to Washington. Cohen's lucid journalistic narrative keeps you reading, confident that there will be another good story on the next page. Patrick Watson

HORSES IN HER HAIR A Granddaughter's Story, by Rachel Manley, Key Porter, 341 pages, $29.95

For most writers, a trilogy of family memoirs might seem excessive. But Manley - who hails from one of Jamaica's most distinguished families - has extensive and important ground to cover. Her unflinching prose grieves for her beloved grandmother Edna, who was largely responsible for Jamaica's artistic and cultural awakening. Roxane Ward

CHAMPLAIN'S DREAM The Visionary Adventurer Who Made a New World in Canada, by David Hackett Fischer, Knopf Canada, 834 pages, $37

This massive, scholarly work is logically organized and clearly written as befits a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Fischer works meticulously through Champlain's life in chronological order, beginning with his family and early life in Brouage. With Champlain's Dream, all earlier biographies, except a few of the latest French ones, no longer serve any useful purpose. Conrad Heidenreich

IN THE LAND OF LONG FINGERNAILS A Gravedigger's Memoir, by Charles Wilkins, Viking Canada, 220 pages, $32

We are all aware of the horror and rot that, in a literal sense, lie beneath the surface of a graveyard. Wilkins, by dint of a summer job at a Toronto cemetery in 1969, has dug up the metaphorical rot. He has worked his factual shockers into a personal narrative as rolling and carefully landscaped as the grounds he tended. This cast of characters needs only commence gabbing and bickering, and you are content to spend your time with them. Mary Roach

A LITERARY LIFE Reflections and Reminiscences, 1928-1990, Exile Editions, by Morley Callaghan

Remarkably, Callaghan's conversational voice is so powerfully present on every page of this collection. Callaghan is nobody but himself, his sound is his alone. And there's a reason for that. Central to his work was a theory of perception. He believed in the "contemplation of the object," the thing-in-itself, which allowed him to achieve a wonderful clarity, unclouded by ideology or prejudice. Norman Snider

PRACTICAL DREAMERS Conversations with Movie Artists, by Mike Hoolboom, Coach House, 319 pages, $29.95

Surveying the work of more than two dozen moviemaking subjects, Hoolboom opens up a vast territory of investigation and playfulness about films that have the particularity to make us feel right at home. The task of seeing the films, like reading this book, takes a bit of work, but it's well worth it. The prerequisite is an open mind. Gail Singer

THE GIFT OF THANKS The Roots, Persistence and Paradoxical Meanings of a Social Ritual, by Margaret Visser, HarperCollins, 458 pages, $34.95

Giving thanks, Visser thinks, is about freedom: "The old idea that gifts are freely given and gratitude is a free response has come under attack," she writes. She rises to its defence with passion and breathtaking scope. She concludes that gratitude is the creator and sustainer of memory, that it provokes our relationship to our fellow beings, and that it is the glue that keeps society from flying apart into a storm of jagged individual wills. William Bryant Logan

THE UNCROWNED KING The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst, by Kenneth Whyte, Random House Canada, 546 pages, $35

A breathtaking new masterwork in U.S. history and in the history of U.S. journalism, a tale rooted in San Francisco, New York and Havana, and through which stride such American figures as Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis and Theodore Roosevelt. The remarkable thing about it is that this biography has its origins in Montreal and was written by a man from Winnipeg who edits a magazine (Maclean's) in Toronto. David Shribman

UNLIKELY SOLDIERS How Two Canadians Fought The Secret War Against Nazi Occupation, By Jonathan F. Vance, HarperCollins, 307 pages, $29.95

Historian Jonathan Vance honours two Canadian parachute jumpers, reminding us who they were and evoking that long-ago, far away and almost forgotten interwar Canada they came out of. With careful research and an admirably limpid prose style, he unskeins the tangled story of their espionage mission: what they hoped to accomplish, and what happened to them. It is story of courage and derring-do that reads ultimately as a tragedy. Peter Behrens

THE MITFORDS Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley, HarperCollins, 834 pages, $46.95

The upper-class Mitfords had, among them, friendships with Winston Churchill, Evelyn Waugh, Charles de Gaulle, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and other Royals, peers and world leaders (including Hitler). If you love letter-writing, well-turned sentences or history, or simply wish to enter a world, learn its language and get to know its people, I unstintingly recommend this book. Gale Zoë Garnett

COMMON WEALTH Economics for a Crowded Planet, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Penguin Press, 386 pages, $31

This is economist and global thinker Sachs's blueprint for how we should solve mankind's most pressing problems: climate change, shortage of water, excessive population growth, diseases (including AIDS), poverty and U.S. foreign policy. A tour de force. Branko Milanovic

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE By Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, Penguin Press, 286 pages, $28.50

A compelling but disturbing book on Abu Ghraib. While Gourevitch never quite lets the soldiers who abused prisoners off the hook, he suggests that the abuse happened with the knowledge and approval of their superiors. Yet no soldier above the rank of sergeant ever served jail time. Ultimately, this important book contains an overwhelming sense of disappointment at the human condition. Hadani Ditmars

HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America, by Thomas Friedman, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 438 pages, $30.95

A tour de force on the global implications of too many people wanting to live like fat and lazy North Americans. When a moderate New York journalist writes about the corrosive influence of hydrocarbons, the moral collapse of his country and the threat of climate anarchy, you know you have an important and timely book in your hands. Andrew Nikiforuk

TEARS OF THE DESERT A Memoir of Survival in Darfur, by Halima Bashir with Damien Lewis, HarperCollins, 367 pages, $29.95

Stories of Janjaweed attacks on villages in Darfur, of rapes and massacres, have become painfully familiar. But seldom have these stories been written by Darfurians, and never, until now, by a woman. Halima Bashir brings to her memoir not just her own horrific tale, but her experience of trying to treat the victims of a war which continues apparently unchecked. A brave and haunting book. Caroline Moorehead

HITLER'S EMPIRE How the Nazis Ruled Europe, by Mark Mazower, Penguin Press, 726 pages, $44

Mazower's large and impressive book about Hitler's empire reminds us that his was an imperial project, supposed to last for a thousand years, making the Fuhrer among the last European empire-builders. A sombre, clear-eyed, imaginative look at one of the greatest destructive projects the world has ever known. Michael R. Marrus

ONE SOLDIER'S WAR By Arkady Babchenko, translated by Nick Allen, Grove Press, 395 pages, $27.50

The author, a law student in Moscow, was conscripted into the Russian army in 1995 and sent to Chechnya as "cannon fodder." This brutally honest look at life as a conscript inside the crumbling Russian army is a great book, filled with the realities and horrors of a war that barely touched the West. To read it is to have a soldier's-eye view of Russia's Vietnam. Fred Doucette

THE LEGEND OF COLTON H. BRYANT By Alexandra Fuller, Penguin Press, 204 pages, $26.50

A young man's journey to adulthood through western crucibles such as taming a mustang and killing a three-point buck. And falling in love, and getting married and becoming a father. All this, before he falls off an oil rig and dies, just 25. The book reads like a ballad, in 52 short chapters, each a meditation on the iconic moments in a young man's life, the stories that will be told to the children he left behind. Marian Botsford Fraser

THE DEVIL'S DELUSION Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinski, Crown Forum, 237 pages, $27.95

Berlinski's polemic is powerful, erudite and often savagely funny. The well-known critic of evolutionary theory has two targets in his sights: the conventional belief that religious thought is intrinsically superstitious and the materialist philosophy that Richard Dawkins and his fellow "brights" - as members of the atheist community describe themselves - mistakenly identify with science. John Gray

1948 The First Arab-Israeli War, by Benny Morris, Yale University Press, 524 pages, $32.50

A considerable achievement from an Israeli historian, meticulously detailing and analyzing both Israel's war of Independence and its mirror Palestinian face: the Catastrophe (al Nakba). For those who can handle often-uncomfortable facts on both sides, this volume is a must read. Michael Bell

THE WISDOM OF WHORES Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS, by Elizabeth Pisani, Viking Canada, 372 pages, $35

In this lucid, colourful, insightful and impatient work, Pisani asserts that current world efforts on AIDS have been wrongheaded. An utterly fascinating book, written with enormous verve and acerbity, the prose alive with anecdote and metaphor. An adolescent delight in vivid sexual description is forgiven in the sweep and force of the narrative. A great read. Stephen Lewis

THE KINGDOM OF INFINITE SPACE A Portrait of Your Head, by Raymond Tallis, Yale University Press, 324 pages, $30.95

Raymond Tallis - professor of medicine, poet, novelist, philosopher - establishes himself as the Shakespeare of the skull and everything within it. But the real charm of this book is that, bit by bit, we are shown that the subject of this book - its heart, so to speak - is not the head, but the essence of being human. Jeffrey Foss

THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul, by Patrick French, Viking Canada, 480 pages, $36

This life of the brilliant and famously difficult Nobel Prize winner is a landmark in literary biography, partly for the almost perverse exceptionalism of its circumstance. In granting full access to his archives, to his first wife's diaries and to himself, Naipaul wills the book to a level of candour and intimacy appropriate to his self-regard. Charles Foran

THE FOREVER WAR By Dexter Filkins, Random House, 368 pages, $28

Filkins devotes a few chapters to Afghanistan, but this is really a book about Iraq. And in the mountain of books on Iraq, it stands out as the most thoughtful. Filkins writes beautifully, which makes this an especially breathtaking, often heartbreaking read. His vignettes, told without unnecessary flourish but with brilliant characterization and an astute eye for telling detail, capture the essence of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Andrew Preston

FRUITLESS FALL The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen, Bloomsbury, 288 pages, $25

Environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen sets out in search of the disappearing bees and along the way corners the entomologists, epidemiologists and geneticists working on the case. He visits shell-shocked beekeepers and tracks the rapid transformation and eventual crash of the honey industry. Each chapter reads like a script from The X-Files, with all the drama, colourful characters and macabre plot twists. Terry Glavin

INVISIBLE NATION How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East, by Quil Lawrence, Walker & Company, 366 pages, $28.95

The Kurds are, Quil Lawrence says in this well-crafted and elegantly written book, an "invisible nation." The former BBC correspondent in Iraq draws upon his extensive and valuable interviews with Kurdish leaders, new Arab leaders and former and serving U.S. policy-makers to provide an effective and generally accurate contemporary history of the Kurds of Iraq. Brendan O'Leary

NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF By Julian Barnes, Random House Canada, 250 pages, $32.95

A splendid imaginarium of the novelist's musings on death (fear of), religion (death of), memory, evolution, a partial memoir of his parents, and a literary salon featuring his extended "family" of writers (mainly French and mainly dead), some of them equally death-haunted. The effect is seamless and kaleidoscopic. Zsuzsi Gartner

GIRLS LIKE US Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - and the Journey of a Generation, by Sheila Weller, Atria, 584 pages, $32

This tale of prominent women singer-songwriters glows with the enthusiasm Weller clearly feels for her subject and should captivate any reader who lived through the changing times when what Carole, Carly and Joni sang meant a lot. Forget dispassionate accounts, this book succeeds because a skilled journalist has made it a labour of love. Peter Feniak

HOW FICTION WORKS By James Wood, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 265 pages, $26.50

Critic James Wood attempts to think through what he sees as the most pressing questions about the mysteries and mechanics of fiction. This isn't exactly a how-to guide, not a how-to-write guide, anyway. Rather, it's a study in how to read, in how to engage deeply and passionately with fiction. Catherine Bush

HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE By Michael Greenberg, HarperCollins, 233 pages, $29.95

Greenberg, a columnist for the Times Literary Supplement, tells the story of the summer his 15-year-old daughter suffered a psychotic break. This is not just a book about a girl gone mad, it's about the fierce love of a father for a daughter. It is a very intimate portrait, but it does not feel exploitative - no small feat. With stark honesty and compassion, Greenberg has transcended his genre to create a work of art. Jessa Crispin

WHAT IT IS By Lynda Barry, Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $24.95

Barry's autobiographical, instructional and inspirational graphic work is both an intensely personal memoir of her creative life and a writing guide. In more than 200 pages of dense, personal material, Barry examines the nature of imagination and memory, combines comics and collage, and blurs the distinction between drawing and handwriting. Nathalie Atkinson

YOUNG STALIN By Simon Sebag Montefiore, McArthur & Company, 397 pages, $34.95

Montefiore, who wrote an award-winning biography of Stalin, has produced a kind of prequel (it ends in 1917). It is backed by massive research, with crucial new material, some gained via access to unpublished memoirs of family members. He was also able to interview rare witnesses in Georgia who knew Stalin well, including a 109-year-old woman related to Stalin's wife. Aurel Braun

THE WHISPERERS Private Life in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes, Metropolitan, 740 pages, $40.50

The author of Natasha's Dance constructs a national tragedy as part of a vast undertaking involving three teams of researchers, who uncovered detailed data for several hundred families, and then interviewed the oldest relatives. Figes's book is a true and intricate dialogue with the hidden Soviet past, illuminating "the inner world of ordinary Soviet citizens living under Stalin's tyranny." Aurel Braun

NUREYEV By Julie Kavanagh, Pantheon, 782 pages, $47

This life of the great dancer is shrewdly evaluative, impressively vivid and kaleidoscopic in its crystalline revelations. It exposes the monstre sacré without capitulating to his legend, and it evokes his time and place through painstaking research that never overwhelms the riveting anecdotal element or overall portrait of a dance genius who transcended his critics, enemies and rivals. Keith Garebian

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE A War Story, by Diane Ackerman, Norton, 368 pages, $31

Ackerman isn't content to simply thrill, or break hearts, with this remarkable book. Antonina Zubinski's insistence on demonstrating the unity of the living world by hiding Jews at her husband's Warsaw zoo during the Holocaust is held up as a spiritual antidote to the disunified barbarism of the human animal, demonstrated so terribly by the Nazis. Charles Foran

FOR THE LOVE OF ANIMALS The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement, by Kathryn Shevelow, Henry Holt, 352 pages, $30.50

Shevelow has structured each of her book's three parts as a duet between descriptions of the animal abuse that outraged so many observers and accounts of the English protection movement's tortuous but steady progress as part of the 18th and early 19th centuries' great reform movements. An enthralling and masterful study made accessible through anecdotes and well-chosen prints. Elizabeth Abbott

THE LETTERS OF NOEL COWARD Edited by Barry Day, Knopf, 780 pages, $47

Noel Coward was a prolific writer of letters and wrote with an appealing combination of wit and pith. Among the best of these letters, which span most of his life, are those to his doting mother (Ducky old Diddleums, Darling old Snig), as well as many to various luminaries. This is a lovely book. To quote Coward, I couldn't have liked it more. Nicholas Pashley

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