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8. VAN GOGH by Steven Naifeh and Gregory (Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney)

8. VAN GOGH by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Random House

Vincent van Gogh's autobiography is in luminous brushstrokes. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith complement it with a provocative, panoramic and essential examination of the tormented artist and his work. It all comes alive as brilliantly as cadmium yellow and cobalt blue. The authors invited controversy speculating that the fatal gunshot was murder, not suicide -- only the last of so many unhealed wounds.

Read the review

-- PETER M. GIANOTTI

Did you read it? Top 11 books of '11

Here are 11 of our critics' favorite reads in 2011.

11. THE BEAUTY AND THE SORROW by Peter
(Credit: Photo by Chris Ware)

11. THE BEAUTY AND THE SORROW by Peter Englund (Alfred A. Knopf)

The coming centenary of the First World War already has produced memorable books. And excellent histories preceded them, too. But Englund's piercing, poignant narrative comes from a contrasting viewpoint. Through the diaries, letters and notes of 20 ordinary people, he conveys the cataclysm in individual lives and deaths. The result is a powerful, insightful look into the wartime experience, with a shattering coda.

-- PETER M. GIANOTTI

10. THE VIEW FROM LAZY POINT by Carl
(Credit: Photo by Chris Ware)

10. THE VIEW FROM LAZY POINT by Carl Safina (Henry Holt)

I loved Safina's "The View From Lazy Point: A Year in an Unnatural World," which is set in Amagansett. In stressful economic times it helps to read books about the natural world. It gives a reader perspective; a reminder that the tides come in and out, the stars align, the seasons pass whether or not we pay the bills! Naturalists like Safina are not in the business of telling us what to do or what we do wrong; they take us into the forest and say, "Look at these trees, look at that sky. Isn't it beautiful?"

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-- SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

9. THE RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles
(Credit: Photo by Chris Ware)

9. THE RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles (Viking)

This debut novel, set in New York in 1938, sparkles like an old black-and-white movie -- and has the witty dialogue to go with it. Narrator Katy Kontent is a savvy Brooklyn orphan who moves to Manhattan, lives in Mrs. Martingale's girls' boardinghouse and works in the Quiggin & Hale secretarial pool. On New Year's Eve, she and her pal Eve meet a dashing young playboy named Tinker Grey and find themselves drawn into the glamorous -- and treacherous -- world of cafe society. Now can we get Barbara Stanwyck for the lead?

-- TOM BEER

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8. VAN GOGH by Steven Naifeh and Gregory
(Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney)

8. VAN GOGH by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Random House

Vincent van Gogh's autobiography is in luminous brushstrokes. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith complement it with a provocative, panoramic and essential examination of the tormented artist and his work. It all comes alive as brilliantly as cadmium yellow and cobalt blue. The authors invited controversy speculating that the fatal gunshot was murder, not suicide -- only the last of so many unhealed wounds.

Read the review

-- PETER M. GIANOTTI

7. TURN OF MIND by Alice LaPlante (Atlantic
(Credit: Photo by Chris Ware)

7. TURN OF MIND by Alice LaPlante (Atlantic Monthly Press)

I find myself recommending this book every time the subject of Alzheimers comes up. La Plante's ambitious project -- rendering in first-person narration the voice of a once-brilliant, once-independent older woman as her mind inexorably deteriorates -- allows us to imaginatively experience Alzheimer's in an eye-opening and unforgettable way. The fact that this narrator, a retired surgeon named Dr. Jennifer White, also manages to provide us with the solution to a clever, disturbing murder mystery in which she is the prime suspect is icing on the cake.

Read the review

-- MARION WINIK

6. BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER by Gabrielle Hamilton
(Credit: Photo by Chris Ware)

6. BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House)

Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune in Manhattan, writes like she cooks. Her memoir, "Blood, Bones & Butter" (Random House, $26) is vigorous, evocative and unadorned with niceties. The product of a dramatically broken home, Hamilton's life achieved purpose only when she discovered that she wanted to cook for a living. You may impressed or turned off by the author’s willingness to cast herself in very poor light—but such forthrightness makes for a compelling read.

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-- ERICA MARCUS

5. THE STRANGER'S CHILD by Alan Hollinghurst (Alfred
(Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney)

5. THE STRANGER'S CHILD by Alan Hollinghurst (Alfred A. Knopf)

Hollinghurst's decade-hopping novel is a glorious literary treat for Anglophiles. At its center is the enigmatic Cyril Valance -- an aristocratic young poet killed in World War I whose ode to English life, "Two Acres" becomes a national favorite. But was the poem written for his young admirer Daphne -- or for Daphne's brother, George, Cyril's secret lover? Through the years, family members and scholars will try to puzzle out the meanings of this poem and its creator -- offering a kaleidoscopic view of England in the 20th and early 21st century.

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-- TOM BEER

4. DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC by Candice Millard
(Credit: Photo by Chris Ware)

4. DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC by Candice Millard (Doubleday)

James A. Garfield's story almost always begins with his death. But Candice Millard gives the 20th president life. Her compelling, richly detailed account portrays a complex, eloquent man in a blunt, hardball era. Garfield was shot by a delusional assassin. But Millard's vivid report underscores how he was killed by his doctors, whose techniques bordered on medieval. It's history moving at a novel's pace.

Read the review

-- PETER M. GIANOTTI

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3. BIG GIRL SMALL by Rachel DeWoskin (Farrar,
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3. BIG GIRL SMALL by Rachel DeWoskin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

If you like "Glee," this is its literary counterpart and then some. Pretty, blonde and 3-foot-9, Judy Lohden braves the dwarf jokes (actually, she makes most of them) to enroll in an ultracool arts high school. Never taking her eye off the social royalty -- particularly the beautiful, groggy Jeff Legassic -- Judy finds her place in the pecking order and her spot in the vocal ensemble. But as it so often does in the presence of a video camera, love turns to degradation and Judy tells her story from a hideout at a seedy motel. How she finds her way back to the land of the living is an inspiration.

-- MARION WINIK

2. STEVE JOBS by Walter Isaacson (Simon &
(Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney)

2. STEVE JOBS by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster)

Believe the hype: The life of the amazing and obnoxious Steve Jobs as told by the biographer of Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein is entertaining and enlightening. Even if you've already heard all the bizarre tidbits about Jobs' personality, the backstory on the gizmos that have become so integral to our daily lives is not to be missed. Jobs spent hundreds of hours with Isaacson until just weeks before his death and allowed him unrestricted access to those he manhandled on his way to the top. This makes for a 360-degree view of both the extraordinary plumage and pimply underbelly of one very rare bird.

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-- MARION WINIK

1. THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar,
(Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney)

1. THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

If there's one book that I recommended this year, without reservation, to almost anyone who asked, it was this funny, moving, beautifully written novel. What's it about? Well, a trio young people, graduating from Brown in the early '80s, finding their way in the world . . . somehow my description sounded a little uninspiring. But the marvel of "The Marriage Plot" is that Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell so engage us that their concerns -- literature, spirituality, love (requited and un-), mental illness and, yes, marriage -- become ours. There are deliciously sly passages -- satire of the vogue for opaque literary theory, Mitchell's hapless experiences volunteering for Mother Teresa in Calcutta -- and there are passages -- such as those that depict Leonard's manic depression -- that are unbearably poignant. Whatever it's "about," this is novel writing of the very highest order.

Read the review

-- TOM BEER

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