In time for the Christmas shopping season, my selections for the best books of 2013 (bearing in mind that none of us who offer these lists can possibly have read everything):
Nonfiction (history): Alan Taylor, “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.” A Pulitzer Prize winning historian produces one of the greatest works of American history I have ever read -- and I have read, literally, hundreds. The elegantly written and carefully researched volume shatters a good deal of received wisdom and addresses an understudied phenomenon: the fate of the Southern slaves freed by force by the British.
Nonfiction (general): Nicholas A. Basbanes, “On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History, by a Self-Confirmed Bibliophiliac.” I will confess to being an enormous Basbanes fan, but this volume may well be his best. Without paper, he suggests, neither empires nor bureaucracies could have been invented, still less sustained. Or, for that matter, spies.
Nonfiction (biography): Deborah Solomon, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell.” Don’t be fooled by the controversy into thinking that this book is about Rockwell’s sexual impulses. It isn’t. Solomon traces his evolution as an artist, laying it alongside struggles in his own life. The result is a fascinating portrait of an underappreciated and often ridiculed artist.
Fiction (literary): Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Lowland.” Jumping over a forbidden wall creates a sort of butterfly effect that sets two children on their very different life courses, with enormous consequences far later for themselves and others. A sad yet beautifully crafted and endlessly tantalizing multi-generational saga.
Fiction (historical): David O. Stewart, “The Lincoln Deception.” As my readers know, I avidly consume all things Lincoln. Most Lincoln fiction is dreadful. This fast-paced and smartly researched first novel is astonishingly good, complete with sharp and colorful characters, nicely drawn by Stewart, who in his other self is a lawyer-turned-historian.
Fiction (thriller): Daniel Silva, “The English Girl.” Silva’s many fans have of course already devoured this delicious treat. For those who have never tried him, this gourmet meal is a wonderful place to start. And the, um, parallels will make you think. (Warning: Once you start in on Silva, it’s rather hard to stop.)
Readers, by all means, fill the comments with your own suggestions. Do try to give (brief) reasons.
(Stephen L. Carter is a columnist for Bloomberg View.)