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globe 100

John Huston with Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner and daughter Anjelica Huston on the set of Prizzi’s Honor. Biographer Jeffrey Meyers portrays him as great filmmaker.

The Globe's Books team is sent thousands of books every year: novels and poetry, mysteries and histories, memoirs and coffee-table books, erotica, exotica, graphic novels, self-published books, books sophisticated and crude, even textbooks. From this rich array we select only the most promising for reviews - and then only those that wowed our professional readers for our annual 100 list. Herewith, the non-fiction titles reviewers couldn't put down, couldn't stop talking about, and insist you stock up on, too.

Joseph Anton

By Salman Rushdie,

Knopf Canada

Joseph Anton provides a brilliant account of the dislocation of Rushdie's years in hiding following Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against him for writing The Satanic Verses. Rushdie writes eloquently of the emotional turmoil wrought by continually moving from house to house, by the need to schedule, and receive permission for, as simple an act as going for a walk. Day after day, year after year. -- Kenan Malik


By Christopher Hitchens,


Hitchens's wit and acuity never deserted him, nor did sentimentality or remorse visit, during what was invariably described as his "battle" with cancer. This short book, drawn from his Vanity Fair columns of the period before his death in December, 2011, offers a wry running meditation on the existential fact of being, not merely having, a body. -- Mark Kingwell


A Memoir.

By George Bowering,


At 15, George Bowering is hot and bothered, largely by his developing sexuality but also by a hot summer picking fruit and setting bowling pins in B.C.'s interior. His often R-rated adventures and misadventures among a variety of girls and women make for a novelistic memoir that is funny, raunchy and, finally, moving. -- T.F. Rigelhof

Iron Curtain

The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956,

by Anne Applebaum,


In this beautifully written book about the failed efforts to create a new "Soviet man," Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Applebaum populates the Stalinist-ruled world of Eastern Europe following the Second World War with a cast of characters who are neither caricatured heroes nor villains, but real people making daily compromises with a fickle and dangerous state. -- Jeffrey Kopstein

The Obamas

By Jodi Kantor,

Little, Brown

The Obamas are an object of fascination, and Jodi Kantor has produced a portrait of a marriage unlike any other. Her insights into the Obamas' world – the senseless palace intrigues, the usual debates about whether to spend money redecorating while millions are out of work, the realization that the bricks of the White House were fired by slaves – ring true. -- David M. Shribman

The Complete Journals of L. M. Montgomery

The PEI Years, 1889-1900,

edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston,


This welcome addition to our knowledge of Lucy Maud Montgomery's life and legacy captures the thoughts and observations of a highly articulate woman, one whose bestselling Anne of Green Gables was several years away, but who would eventually become one of Canada's most enduring authors. -- Benjamin Lefebvre

John Huston

Courage and Art,

by Jeffrey Meyers,

Crown Archetype

In this capacious chronicle, which could have been subtitled Courage, Art and Many, Many Women, Jeffrey Meyers celebrates John Huston as one of the great filmmakers. Among the work he labels masterpieces are The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which allowed him to reciprocate support from his actor-father Walter) and The African Queen. -- Gale Zoë Garnett

The Pursuit of Perfection

A Life of Celia Franca,

by Carol Bishop-Gwyn,


The founder of the National Ballet of Canada had a phobia about people knowing too much about her, creating a flamboyant persona to hide her origins as the daughter of poor working-class Jews in London. So many ballet biographies veer in the direction of sycophancy, but this wonderfully candid life is both superbly insightful and judiciously written. -- Deirdre Kelly

The Tower of Babble

Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC,

by Richard Stursberg,


Richard Stursberg's stormy half-decade at the helm of CBC's English television may well have been the final burst of lustre and eloquence for the CBC, now out of favour with the government and facing enriched broadcasting rivals. Stursberg's rage dominates his crackling autobiography, as does his grief for the lost network's unfulfilled promise. -- Peter C. Newman

A Thousand Farewells

A Reporter's Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring,

by Nahlah Ayed,

Viking Canada

A touching and thought-provoking re-creation of a Palestinian-Canadian girl's successful struggle to forge a coherent identity out of geographic dislocation and cultural confusion. The CBC correspondent weaves together introspection and journalistic commentary, bringing to life the agony of the displaced, as well as solid reporting on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. -- Rayyan al-Shawaf


On Marriage and Separation,

by Rachel Cusk,


Rachel Cusk applies a detached, clinical gaze to the domiciliary sphere and the end of her marriage, and this subversion is at the heart of the book's great accomplishment. Her complex, eight-part structure, evidence of her formidable talent, circles around absence and emptiness, the hole that remains. -- Alison Pick


A Memoir of Extremes,

by Kamal Al-Solaylee,


Kamal al-Solaylee's memoir of growing up gay in Arab countries crosses many lines of identity: class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion and degrees of religious observance. This beautiful book about a family's tortured relationship to history – and a region's fraught relationship to modernity – is everything a great memoir should be: It's as moving as it is complex. -- Matthew Hays

Working the Dead Beat

50 Lives that Changed Canada,

by Sandra Martin,


Globe and Mail writer and obituarist Sandra Martin offers a select history of Canada told through extended obituaries of both the known and the unknown, researched energetically and written graciously. Her tone is thoughtful, her scolding scant, and almost all of the transformative Canadians are presented in the context of their own struggles. -- Paula Todd

The Last Viking

The Life of Roald Amundsen,

by Stephen R. Bown,


Roald Amundsen is most famous for his Antarctic feats, but as Stephen Bown shows, his Arctic exploits were even more astonishing. Writing from the lofty, distancing heights of the fair-minded historian, Bown has produced a work that is sharp-eyed, thorough and convincing, and constitutes a significant addition to the Arctic canon. -- Ken McGoogan

Thinking the Twentieth Century

By Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder,

Penguin Press

Even as he lay dying from Lou Gehrig's disease, Tony Judt made time to talk with fellow historian Timothy Snyder, fashioning a collaborative and sometimes exhilarating text that should be read by every thinking person concerned with the calamitous state of the world we share, especially a discussion on "what is history for?" -- Janice Kulyk Keefer

Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith

Religion in American Warand Diplomacy,

by Andrew Preston,

Knopf Canada

"One who follows the teachings of Christ," as Ambrose Bierce defined a Christian, "insofar as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin." The epithet echoes across Andrew Preston's masterly history of religion and religiosity, faith and fetish in U.S. foreign policy. Preston shows how the conviction that the United States was invariably pursuing God's work in a benighted world has been as American as apple pie and payoffs. -- Roger Morris

The Escape Artists

How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery,

by Noam Scheiber,

Simon & Schuster

The sputtering recovery from the 2008-09 financial disaster, and the miscalculations of a president held hostage by the Tea Party crowd, is the subject of Noam Scheiber's revealing look at the players responsible for steering economic policy, and how they managed to drive right off the road, with no small assistance from a naive, determinedly bipartisan and surprisingly conservative president. -- Brian Milner

The Second World War

By Antony Beevor,

Little, Brown

Antony Beevor's magisterial survey of the Second World War is like that great conflict itself: utterly out of scale in length and complexity, emotionally shattering in examples of suffering and cruelty, and yet an achievement for those who persevere, knowing that they have reached the end and may be the better for it. -- Michael R. Marrus

In the Shadow of the Sword

The Birth of Islam and the End of the Ancient World,

by Tom Holland,

Little, Brown

Holland admirably focuses on the birth of Islam during late antiquity and traces its emergence as a political and cultural force in the "subsoil of the ancient Near East." He combines vivid prose with impeccable narrative timing and a wonderfully dry wit in disentangling for the general reader what, to modern ears, are very strange geo-political realities. -- Patrick Keeney


The Rise of the New Global Super-rich and the Fall of Everyone Else,

by Chrystia Freeland,

Doubleday Canada

In her book about the rise of the super-wealthy, Chrystia Freeland focuses not on the lifestyles of the rich and fatuous, but on the societally corrosive effects of growing income inequality. Freeland's analysis of this problem is rich and worthwhile, and admirably free of St. Tropez helicopter glam shots. -- Paul Kedrosky

Leonardo and The Last Supper

By Ross King,

Bond Street Books

The latest in Ross King's series of books on Italian Renaissance masterpieces and their makers recently won the Governor-General's Award for non-fiction. Its a fine, swashbuckling testament to the spell this artist and this artwork cast over his contemporaries and has continued to cast over Western minds for the past 500 years. -- John Bentley Mays

Survival of the Beautiful

Art, Science and Evolution.

by David Rothenberg,


In his embroiling meditation on art in nature and art for us, David Rothenberg sets Jackson Pollock against the peacock's tail, performance artists against colour-morphing squid. It is a wonderful project, insofar as it shakes us out of our complacent notions about evolution on the one hand and art on the other. -- William Bryant Logan


Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection,

by Deirdre Kelly,


If this book was commissioned as a result of The Black Swan effect, Globe and Mail writer Deirdre Kelly certainly delivered in the line of brief lives en pointe. Her best read like those superior program essayettes. Her entry on the most tragic, and gifted, Emma Livry, is almost a ballet libretto. -- Veronica Horwell

Solar Dance

Genius, Forgery, and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age,

by Modris Eksteins,

Knopf Canada

Modris Eksteins's subtle and engaging account of how Vincent van Gogh came to be strangled by his own success bestows a great gift: new strangeness. In 56 short sections, each linked to a van Gogh work, he interweaves the large fabric of culture, politics and money with the small, pedestrian tale of a man arrested in 1927 for offering 30 forged van Goghs for sale. -- Mark Kingwell

Religion for Atheists

A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion,

by Alain de Botton,


This wonderfully provocative book is an extended sermon on the truth that if God did not exist we would have to invent him – with the rider that He didn't, so we did. But de Botton longs to have it both ways, combining the rationalism and secularism of science with the consolations and moral groundedness of religion. -- Clifford Orwin

Turing's Cathedral

The Origin of the Digital Universe,

by George Dyson,


George Dyson argues, in his electrifying contribution to intellectual history, that John von Neuman set the course for the entwined engineering and scientific voyages that begat the most critical advances in the digital universe, nuclear weapons, genetics, cosmology and meteorology. The book is suffused with insight, quirks and hilarity, rendering it more than just a great book about science. It's a great book, period. -- Douglas Bell

The Righteous Mind

Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,

by Jonathan Haidt,


That emotion rather than reason is the key to understanding human nature is the central premise of Jonathan Haidt's absorbing work. Breezy and accessible, but informed by an impressively wide range of cutting-edge research in the social sciences, evolutionary biology and psychology, The Righteous Mind is about as interesting a book as you'll pick up this year. -- Andrew Preston

When I Was a Child I Read Books

By Marilynne Robinson,


I read When I Was a Child I Read Books slowly, not only because I was savouring the book's gorgeous language, but also because I had to ride out the swells of wonder that another human soul could express ideas as crystalline and beautiful as those in her book. Her intellectual landscape is so vast and gently peopled, her humanism so clear and overarching, that at times she can render one wordlessly overcome. -- Lauren Groff


Travels Along the Barricades,

by Marcello Di Cintio,

Goose Lane

This is a remarkable book, and Di Cintio is a thoroughly engaged, and engaging, traveller and wordsmith. He shares tea with desert nomads, visits holding camps filled with broken-dreamed West African and Punjabi migrants, and – most dangerous of all, perhaps – travels the U.S.-Mexican border alongside a gun-toting yet oddly endearing redneck environmentalist. -- Will Ferguson


Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile,

by Taras Grescoe,


Taras Grescoe had the smarts to apply himself systematically, leaving his Montreal home to test public transit in cities around the world. To this extensive legwork, Grescoe added context, theory and a series of interviews with key players. The end result is a marvellous investigation of urban transit. Straphanger is comprehensive, insightful and well-written. -- Ken McGoogan

The Conflict

How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,

by Elisabeth Badinter, translated by Adriana Hunter.


Elisabeth Badinter forcefully returns women's gaze from making soft goo-goo eyes at their babies to the feminist prize: economic independence and the right to self-determination. This passionate polemic grinds a new lens through which to view our culture. It is one of those rare books with the power to change the way we look at our world and change the choices we make. -- Claudia Casper

A More Perfect Heaven

How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos,

by Dava Sobel,

Walker & Co.

Dava Sobel's latest gem can take pride of place in the long tradition of books about the great Polish astronomer who proposed his heliocentric cosmological theory three centuries ahead of its time. She daringly fills in a gap in Copernicus's biography by writing it as a play, in which she elegantly curates the facts and melds them with her formidable powers of invention. -- Siobhan Roberts

A Geography of Blood

Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape,

by Candace Savage,


This winner of the Hilary Weston Wrters' Trust non-fiction prize is an engrossing and unexpectedly page-turning account of trips in sparsely populated southwestern Saskatchewan. Motifs of trauma, repression or recollection appear on practically every page. Savage artfully blends travelogue, memoir, detective story, philosophy and history into a subtle and mournful (but humour-flecked) meditation on the relationship between present, future and past. -- Brett Josef Grubisic

Among the Islands

Adventures in the Pacific,

by Tim Flannery,


"Who knew? Who knew almost anything that is revealed in these fascinating, absorbing tales – about animals utterly unfamiliar, places utterly unknown, peoples generally unfavoured? Seldom have I been so captivated by a book, and for which I had such little expectation and which was devoted to topics and places in which I thought I had so little interest." -- Simon Winchester

Seen Reading

By Julie Wilson,

Freehand Books

Wilson has created a book about seeing people read that requires readers, it requires the space between the reader and the text, it requires us to look at it, take it in, judge it, to be voyeurs. Taken as such, the best possible conceptual fate for this book would be to only be allowed to be seen reading Seen Reading on a subway or bus somewhere. -- Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Attack of the Copula Spiders

And Other Essays on Writing,

by Douglas Glover,


"[By] by the time I reached the penultimate chapter, a brilliant examination of, among other things, the catastrophic meeting of the 15th-century book cultures of Europe and the oral cultures of the new world, I had decided that every literate person in the country should be reading Glover's essays." -- Charles Wilkins

The Book of Marvels

A Compendium of Everyday Things,

by Lorna Crozier,


The mysteries of everyday life, told with Lorna Crozier's inimitable combination of mischief and exuberance, longing and grief, suffuse these 85 delightful prose meditations, ranging through a myriad of ordinary objects such as buttons, mirrors and umbrellas, but but not shying away from those less tangible features of existence, such as happiness and darkness. -- Diane Schoemperlen

How Music Works

By David Byrne,


Former Talking Heads front man David Byrne says he will tell us how music works. And he really does. From the inside looking out in this collection of 10 separate essays, each on a different aspect of the whole sphere of popular music over the past 100 years, from the effects of recording technology on music to the possible reasons music evolved. -- David Rothenberg

Who's in Charge?

Free Will and the Science of the Brain,

by Michael S. Gazzaniga,


It is precisely psychologist Michael Gazzaniga's reformulation of the grand and ancient question, "Are we free or determined?" that makes this book about criminal responsibility so exciting. But, as he argues persuasively, that's the wrong question. The real question is: Who's in charge? The answer is that we are: "We are the law." So we need a different question: "To punish or not to punish?" -- Jeffrey Foss

Voluptuous Pleasure

The Truth About the Writing Life,

by Marianne Apostolides,


These beautiful stories, featuring an ever-present narrator (the author's "true voice") commenting on the process of writing them, dance among thematic imponderables: the realms of memory, longing, fear, loss, redemption and, of course, the two sullen enormities between which all literary tensions must eventually find both flight and denouement. -- Charles Wilkins

One Day I Will Write About This Place

By Binyavanga Wainaina,


This is a raw, honest piece of memoir, of and about Africa, that doesn't stoop to reshape itself into a form that might be more accessible to the West. Reading this book felt like eavesdropping on an early-evening conversation in a Nairobi bar. And that is sort of thrilling, because if you don't have the luxury of taking up a bar stool in Nairobi, it's a rare thing to hear these voices. -- Stephanie Nolen


From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,

by Cheryl Strayed,


When Cheryl Strayed loses her young mother to lung cancer, her life plunges into a downward spiral leading to the disintegration of her family and her resolve to hike – alone – 1,770 kilometres from California to Oregon. In the end, the journey transformed her, a transformation the reader experiences viscerally in this by turns harrowing, lyrical and funny memoir. -- Ilana Teitelbaum

Human Happiness

By Brian Fawcett,

Thomas Allen

This book about Fawcett's parents, their difficult marriage, their different personalities and expectations from life, and their deaths, is tricky and slightly disturbing. It is also, at times, deeply moving, and at times marvellously well-written: funny, wicked, snide and memorable. In providing his own family context, a major part of the context for his own life, Fawcett is posing an even deeper, tacit question: How do I know if I've led a happy life? -- André Alexis

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