Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated (novel, 2002). A hilarious romp through post-Soviet Ukraine. Foer gets Ukrainian English-speakers’ errors spot on.
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose (novel, 1971). About a retired historian who researches and writes about his pioneer grandparents. It earned Stegner a Pulitzer Prize.
James R. Farr, A Tale of Two Murders: Passion and Power in Seventeenth-Century France (Duke Univ. Press, 2005). An analysis of the "Giroux affair," a case involving charges that a judge in the high court of Burgundy murdered his powerful cousin for love of the cousin's wife. It's both a murder mystery and an illumination of the relationships of power, justice, and law in early modern France.
Gregor Dallas, 1945: The War That Never Ended (Yale University Press, 2005). It deals with the entire postwar world in a coordinated--and sometimes downright seductive--way. Dallas focuses on how the issues that caused WWII, as well as the new ones it raised, were "settled" by the victors. Not surprisingly, nobody comes off all that well. Proceed with care!
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (novel, 1940). A fugitive priest on the run in Mexico in the late 1930s.
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (novel, 2001). Perspectives on 1950s American life by five family members.
Jill Lepore, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan (Vintage Books, 2005). This new look at the so-called slave uprising in New York City in 1741 is richly detailed and beautifully written. I read it last summer and could not put it down. Jill Lepore is a Professor of History at Harvard and a recent recipient of the Bancroft prize for her book on King Philip's War. New York Burning was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Professor Lepore is one of the best young historians in the field, and she is at the top of her game in this book.
William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (novel, 1936). Considered by many to be Faulkner's masterpiece, it is a difficult book, but it tells a fascinating story of race, class, and gender in the South's past.
Miriam Raub Vivian:
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (novel, 2004). An engaging story of a young autistic boy, it does for autism what A Beautiful Mind did for schizophrenia, by bringing the reader into the mind of the protagonist.