State of Denial
By Bob Woodward
All Governments Lie!
By Myra MacPherson
By Nathaniel Philbrick
By David Nasaw
By David Cannadine
By Dale Peterson
At Canaans Edge
By Taylor Branch
Justice for All
By Jim Newton
The Worst Hard Time
By Timothy Egan
The Omnivores Dilemma
By Michael Pollan
By Daniel Mendelsohn
The Cold War
By John Lewis Gaddis
In 1862, when the Civil War was going badly for the Union, Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to the White House to meet with President Lincoln, who greeted her with the now-famous words "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."
Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," published in 1852 -- and a runaway best seller in its day -- had indeed fueled the growing anger over slavery that led to the war.
In a contrary fashion, the notable non fiction books of 2006 include several that, by detailing the military and political miscues that have marked the conduct of the war in Iraq, have been factors in turning opinion against the war.
Singling out Bob Woodward's "State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III" is not to slight the grim reports from correspondents in the field, such as Thomas Ricks's "Fiasco," or ignore the accounts of events leading up to the war, such as Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."
But "State of Denial," coming as it does after Woodward's two generally admiring accounts of the Bush administration at war, mirrors Americans' growing understanding of the deepening quagmire.
Here, he uses the same privileged access to administration leaders, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, that provided those earlier accounts with their insider, member -of -the -team aura to reveal just how wrong headed they were.
Woodward's accounts of the handling of the war are "impressively detailed and eye-opening revelations," wrote Chuck Leddy, the Globe's reviewer.
I. F. Stone was not an author, but an investigative journalist whose I.F. Stone's Weekly was must reading during the Vietnam War. And Myra MacPherson's biography, "All Governments Lie! : The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, " wrote Globe reviewer Martin F. Nolan, has "a breadth and depth of detail that would make her subject cackle with delight."
The results of Stone's dogged research focused and solidified the opposition to the war.
Whatever our nostalgic image of the Pilgrims, it does not include war. But Nathaniel Philbrick has included that word in the subtitle of "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War," with what turns out to be good reason.
Philbrick, who has sailed the Mayflower's waters, recounts the familiar myth with style. But, wrote the reviewer, historian Jenny Hale Pulsipher, readers "will find themselves pulled into a much bigger and ultimately more meaningful story" -- the fracturing of the Pilgrim-Indian alliance that led to King Philip's War, and "the continuing legacy of dispossession and racism."
In a strong year for biographies, there is a notable "double bill" -- "Andrew Carnegie" by David Nasaw and "Mellon: An American Life" by David Cannadine.
Together, wrote David M. Shribman, the Globe's reviewer, they " represent the biographical arts at their best: distinguished biographers taking on some of the largest figures of our business, political, and cultural history" -- Carnegie, "the signature industrialist," and Mellon, "the signature banker."
And for Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the city where the two left their philanthropic mark, their " legacy rests more on what they gave away than on what they accumulated."
A legacy of a different sort is explored in "Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man," by Tufts University lecturer Dale Peterson.
The subtitle draws on anthropologist Louis Leakey's telegram to Goodall, commenting on her discovery during her African fieldwork that chimpanzees fashioned and used tools: "Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as human."
Nature writer Gordon Grice wrote in his Globe review that "Peterson's portrait suggests that our greatest scientific advances may have as much to do with courage and compassion as with intellect."
Taylor Branch's "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968" is the final volume in a magisterial study that places Martin Luther King Jr. in the context of his times.
The Globe's reviewer, Eric Arnesen, professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote that Branch "offers a needed corrective to popular misconceptions of King's life, not merely restoring his powerful moral critique of Vietnam and poverty in America, but also reminding us just how much the now-celebrated King was criticized, dismissed, and harassed in his final years."
An equally towering figure of those times was Earl Warren. In "Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made," journalist Jim Newton makes it clear that the momentous decisions of the Warren Supreme Court -- including Gideon and Miranda in criminal justice, Brown in school desegregation, and Griswold in reproductive rights -- were carefully shaped by Warren.
The 1930s were a time of testing for Americans, as recounted in "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl," by Timothy Egan, the winner of this year's National Book Award for nonfiction.
Reviewing for the Globe, Carol Iaciofano called it "a powerful, deeply researched chronicle."
In "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," wrote reviewer Julie Powell, Michael Pollan undertakes the seemingly "quixotic" task of tracing " our T-bones back to a ranch, our tomatoes back to a farm."
War and its aftermath are the subjects of two other noteworthy books -- "The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million," by Daniel Mendelsohn, and "The Cold War: A New History," by John Lewis Gaddis.
"The Lost" recounts, with emotion-choking detail, New York literary critic Mendelsohn's search to learn how his great-uncle, and his wife and four daughters, met their deaths in Poland during the Holocaust.
The Globe's review noted that "[the] peeling away of the obscurities of time [and] penetrating into the depths" of survivors' memories give it a special place in Holocaust literature.
Reviewing "The Cold War," Michael C. Boyer, associate editor of Foreign Policy magazine, found Yale historian Gaddis's account "the most accessible distillation of that conflict yet written."
And if that brings this year's best back to the still-raging war in Iraq, consider this year's return of that book credited with starting that "great war" whose legacy remains still sore, " The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin." Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Hollis Robbins, it would be a notable book in any year.