THE STORY OF AMERICA: ESSAYS ON ORIGINS
by Jill Lepore (Princeton, $27.95)
Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore's fascinating, provocative and wide-ranging essays explore the "origin stories" Americans have told themselves, from the 17th-century English settlers in Jamestown and Plymouth to the Founding Fathers to Barack Obama's origin story today. Lepore offers at once a history of American origin stories and a meditation on storytelling.
BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE IN A MUMBAI UNDERCITY
by Katherine Boo (Random House, $27)
Pulitzer winner Katherine Boo spent three years among the slum-dwellers of Mumbai, chronicling the daily challenges they face in one of the world's fastest-developing cities, where absurd wealth and abject, heart-shattering poverty often sit side by side. Boo is a brilliant writer and reporter with a profound desire to understand the impoverished people she describes in this riveting account.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
by Antony Beevor
(Little, Brown, $35)
Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, Beevor's history is becoming World War II's definitive account. The renowned military historian tells not only the epic tales of battlefield strategy, as army lines move across the map, but depicts the personal stories of triumph and fear as soldiers face the daily horrors of kill or be killed.
THE ICE BALLOON: S.A. ANDREE AND THE HEROIC AGE OF ARCTIC EXPLORATION
by Alec Wilkinson
(Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95)
An epic tale of true adventure about 19th-century Swedish balloonist Andree and his heroic efforts to explore the Arctic after journeying there by balloon. New Yorker staff writer Wilkinson's account, based on diaries from the ill-fated expedition, grippingly brings readers along for every twist and turn of this impossible-to-forget story.
THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION: HOW 1965 TRANSFORMED AMERICA
by James T. Patterson (Basic Books, $28.99)
A Bancroft Prize-winning historian revisits 1965, when the relative harmony of the early part of the decade transformed itself into the passionate political divisions and counter-cultural fervor with which the late '60s would become synonymous. As local police, for example, attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Ala., many African-Americans began a journey toward militancy and confrontation.
CHUCK LEDDY, FREELANCE WRITER