In the Arena

Best Books 2012

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This is not a list of the best books published in 2012, just the best I’ve read in the past year:

1. Hitch 22: Finally got around to reading Christopher Hitchens’ rollicking memoir, just after he passed away. It is brilliant and delectable. His genius for friendship outweighs, in my mind, his contrarian escapades…and the fact that he was dead wrong about the Iraq war. It was a privilege to know him. He is missed.

2. The Presidents Club by Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs: Yes, they’re colleagues. Indeed, bosses. But this is great fun to read, and just chocked with things I never knew before–Eisenhower, for example, encouraged Lyndon Johnson to amp up the Vietnam war effort. And then there’s Nixon, brilliant and demonic and omnipresent.

3. The New New Deal by Michael Grunwald: Another colleague–and a valued one, for his dogged refusal to run with the pack. This is the story of Barack Obama’s wildly successful–yes, wildly successful–stimulus program. Don’t believe me? Read it and stop being so damned cynical.

4. Start-up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer: Senor’s a neoconservative, but not an angry or graceless one and this book, about how the culture of creativity in Israel’s military begat the culture of high-tech creativity in Israel’s economy, has a great deal to teach us about how to revive our economy and our society.

5. Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner: The absolutely outrageous and nauseating story of how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac helped bring on the housing crash.

6. The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan: An essential and unexpected way of looking at the world–how nations evolve and sometimes collapse, given the vastly underrated importance of geography.

7. Coming Apart by Charles Murray: Love him or hate him, Murray has some vital insights into the growing white underclass.

8. The Escape Artists by Noam Schieber: A very smart account of the Obama economic team’s failure to deal with the Wall Street aspect of the economic crisis.


1. Solar by Ian McEwan–Hitch’s great friend writes an absolutely hilarious novel. (And Sweet Tooth, which came out this fall, was pretty damn good, too). He is a gorgeous writer.

2.  Look at Me by Jennifer Egan: This is an amazing book, published just before the terrorist acts of 2001, in which Egan predicts the 9/11 attacks, the rise of reality TV, the hyper-banal private lives of non-celebrities that the media have inflicted upon us, and the properties of the post-modern world that make us crazy. It is a comedy, a thriller, an intellectual feast. Egan may well be the best living American novelist.

3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: But Patchett ain’t bad, either. Her kindness and decency always shine through, especially in this lovely, mystical novel about a South American tribe that has discovered a strange chemical, with properties that illuminate the nuances of our have-it-all culture.

4. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson:  A terrific, funny novel about a family of performance artists.

5. The Privileges by Jonathan Dee: A terrific, funny novel about a family of investment bankers.

6. This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman: A terrific, horrifying novel about a family ruined by an internet prank.


Congratulations to all these wonderful writers and here’s hoping for a happy, creative New Year.