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Best Books Of 2012

This show is a rebroadcast from December 6, 2012.

From the origins of the universe, to the Tudor age, to an Indian reservation in North Dakota, we look at the best books of the year.



It may not have a cover anymore.  It may be pixels on a screen.  But a book is still a book.  Big, rich, deep – and, when it’s good, transporting.  Transforming.  The books of 2012 have ranged wide.  From the slums of Mumbai to deep North Korea.  From the court of Henry VIII to the ranch of LBJ.

From war to love, to family and clan, to mega-selling sex talk.  Gone Girl.  Round House.  Dog Stars.  Journeys.  Richard  Ford.  Katherine Boo.  Junot Diaz.  Chris Ware.

This hour, On Point:  we’re looking at the best books of 2012.

-Tom Ashbrook


Lucas Wittmann, books editor for the Newsweek/Daily Beast.

Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor of the Chicago Tribune.

Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi.

From Tom’s Reading List

Top Books list from Slate

Best Books from Publishers Weekly

You can find the Daily Beast lists here 

Your Best Books Lists

Here’s a list of top books from our reviewers and you, our listeners. Please add your suggestions in the comments section.

Lucas Wittmann

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Dear Life by Alice Munro

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

The Barbarous Years by Bernard Bailyn

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by DT Max

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

Richard Howorth 

Swimming Studies by Leann Shapton

Canada by Richard Ford 

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

One Last Strike by Tony La Russa

My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop 

Dear Life by Alice Munro

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson 

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk 

A Mission From God: A Memoir and a Challenge for America by James Meredith 

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas – by Eric Witlin

Elizabeth Taylor

Canada by Richard Ford 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson 

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro

Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiousity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey

My Poets by Maureen McLane

Nature Wars by Jim Sterba

Caller Picks

Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan

No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows Diana Gabaldon

As the Shadows Fall by Mort Shahmir

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars by Camille Paglia

By Men or By the Earth: A Corporate Lawyer Walks Out on Law, Love, and Life, and Walks Across America With His Adopted Dog by Tyler Coulson

Listeners’ Picks

King City by Brandon Graham

Redshirts by John Scalzi

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Alif the Unseen by G. Winslow Wilson

Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanuer

Maine by Courtney J Sullivan

The World Without You by Joshua Henkins

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green-Young

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

Yellow Green Beret (Vol II and III) by Chester Wong

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton

A Good American by Alex George

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape by David Hinton

The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning by Daniel Bor

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Liz S

    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami was amazing.  Ruined me for all others!

    • Prairie_W

       Agree about Murakami but haven’t read 1Q84 …yet.

  • Brandstad

    EVERYONE should read the book “Agenda 21″ it is similar to the book “1984″ but looks into what our future might be in 50 years.

    • sigmund5

       Glenn Beck? Are you serious?  shouldn’t you be listening to insane rants?

  • Prairie_W

    Remember the Kenneth Roberts books you read when you were a kid?  Well, they’re well worth rereading.  I’ve been sampling “Owen Wiswell” lately. Perfect for a cold winter’s evening!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=658594598 Mari Potter

    I actually bought my Kindle because of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series; since they are 900 pages or more long, it makesit very convienient for me to read them anywhere I go. I still buy paper books when a book has interesting graphic information though. 

  • RioGrandeValleyGirl1

    Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
    A five-decade romp across the Cinque Terra coast of Italy in 1962 to the Hollywood backlots of today. Its overriding theme is redemption in the face of lost love, lust, death, war, and… Richard Burton! It left me feeling hopeful, rather than wanting to slash my wrists in some rainy gutter.

  • Rita Henley Jensen

    A must-read is the “Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother.” This is the real tale of “Little Women” and truly provides a portrait of U.S. women’s lives mid-19th Century.

  • mother_ness

    Two audiobooks I listened to and LOVED this year were Book 1 and 2 from the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Correia:  Hard Magic and Spellbound.  An Amazon reader review sums up the first book better than I can:  “Hard Magic can be summed up as epic-urban fantasy-steampunk-noir-detective
    thriller-alternative historical-fiction.”  The magic is well thought out and there are lots of great characters that the author spent time on individually (their backstories, their mannerisms) introducing to the reader.  The narrator – Bronson Pinchot! – is excellent. The sequel Spellbound was equally fun and thrilling, and I can’t wait for Book 3.

  • Candice Castle

    I read a lot of poetry, and notable this year was Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall.  She is poet laureate of the U.S., and this collection deals with history and race–personal, cultural, societal intersections.  A master poet, Trethewey communicates artfully via this medium that melds emotion with intellectual discussion, cultural commentary, and at times painful personal history.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QT2SG6YKGEPZT75IGHWHHMFC3Y LaJazza

    If you haven’t read it in 2012, make it a must read for 2013, Praying for Strangers by River Jordan.  It has been on the top ten best local best sellers list in Nashville for several months.

  • sigmund5

     the biography of David Foster Wallace  “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story”.  Not sure what non-DFW would think of it but emotionally powerful.

  • sigmund5

    Paglia is a reactionary pseudo academic.  Gawd she is old 

  • Pingback: Favorite Things: The Literary Quest For Identity | WBUR

  • gwillcox


    Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

  • gwillcox

    Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

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