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Best of 2012: Books

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Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.
Chuck Twardy

1. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham gives the third president, who fathered and ignored children by one of his slaves, the moral scrutiny he long dodged and sorely deserves. But Meacham also rightly admires Jefferson as a shrewd politician.

2. Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley leaves the reader with a worse impression of the sometimes callow “most trusted man in America” than Brinkley perhaps intends. Uncle Walter was okay, but Brinkley also unintentionally tells the story of how media ate politics.

3. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz follows the author’s semi-autobiographical Yunior through a series of vignettes. Probing cultural differences without seeming to, teen Yunior endures a dying brother, and his middle-aged self deals with physical decline while confronting the backwash of bad decisions.

4. Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt is, at times, annoying, thanks largely to Holt’s tone, which ranges from smarmy to petulant. Still, his examination of the essential question is engaging, in a surrender-to-your-inner-precocious-teenager way.

5. Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Gorra has been described as a biography of a novel, and that’s apt. James’ lovely, meandering, sad novel chronicles a time and a class, and Gorra explores how it tells that story.

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