6. Manhunt James L. Swanson
After the recent glut of Lincoln books, you may think you've read enough about Honest Abe. Not quite. Swanson's intense minute-by-minute re-creation of his assassination and the ensuing 12-day hunt for killer John Wilkes Booth (presented here as a preening narcissist) makes for a gripping historical page-turner.
7. Oracle Bones Peter Hessler
New Yorker correspondent Hessler reduces the monolithic China of headlines to proper human scale with his vivid reportage, unpacking everything from the surreal spectacle of a Falun Gong demonstration to the evening scene at a grimy dumpling shop. His relaxed storytelling belies his extensive underlying research.
8. Imperial Life in the Emerald City Rajiv Chandrasekaran
How depressing that the ongoing American presence in Iraq can make for such perversely entertaining reading. Washington Post reporter Chandrasekaran's sharp-eyed account of life inside Baghdad's Green Zone offers some of the blackest comedy at the bookstore.
9. The Ghost Map Steven Johnson
Part 1 of Johnson's historical reconstruction is a minutely detailed account of London's cholera epidemic of 1854 and an eccentric physician's effort to map the outbreak and track its source. Part 2 is a thought-provoking celebration of cities and a meditation on the spread of ideas. The result: a riveting work that makes you give thanks for modern plumbing and rethink your pessimism about urban sprawl.
10. Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert
Her marriage imploded, a rebound romance collapsed, and then journalist Gilbert fell into a seemingly bottomless depression. So she signed a book contract and headed off to heal herself in back-to-back trips to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Nice work if you can get it. And Gilbert deserves it. The resulting memoir is an openhearted charmer, brimming with the author's wit and infectious faith in personal transformation.