The Best American Essays 2010


The provocative and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens takes the helm of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this perennial favorite that is “reliable and yet still surprising—the best of the best” (Kirkus Reviews).

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The provocative and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens takes the helm of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this perennial favorite that is “reliable and yet still surprising—the best of the best” (Kirkus Reviews).

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This collection is satisfying in its unexpected diversity and tasty juxtapositions--from Garry Wills’s conservative “apostasy” to Matt Labash’s surprising portrait of Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry, Walter Isaacson’s look at how Einstein divided American Zionism to Steven L. Isenberg’s recollections of his encounters with four British superstar writers when he was a fledgling New York editor. Elif Batuman gives an offbeat report on speculation about how Tolstoy died, and Zadie Smith looks at Obama, Shakespeare, and the expression of inner conflict between cultures. And what essay collection would be complete without one on the godfather of the form, Michel de Montaigne, in a piece by Jane Kramer? The sources are as diverse as the subjects: the Alaska Quarterly, American Scholar, Harvard Review, Oregon Humanities, and the Weekly Standard. Every reader will come away delighted and enlightened. (Oct. 5)
From the Publisher

"This collection is satisfying in its unexpected diversity and tasty juxtapositions . . . Every reader will come away delighted and enlightened." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A wide variety of quality writing, both reflective and reported." -- Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
This selection of the year's outstanding essays of literary achievement at first appears to be a book for those J.D. Salinger called "lifetime English major[s]." Entries such as "The Murder of Leo Tolstoy" by Elif Batuman, "Lunching on Olympus" by Steven L. Isenberg, and "A Fine Rage" by James Woods all focus on the essayist's reaction to meeting or reading the works of famous authors such as George Orwell and Philip Larkin. After digging further into the collection of 21 entries, however, readers will discover gems that quickly move the book beyond the realm of an English class curriculum. "The Elegant Eyeball" by John Gamel explains a doctor's duty when healing has failed to accompany patients on the "lonely road to disability and death." Matt Labash's "A Rake of Progress" takes readers through several days in the Washington, DC, life of Marion Barry, the former mayor and current council member, who blames other people for his drug and tax problems. "The Dead Book" by Jane Churchon details the respect and dignity required of a nursing supervisor asked to pronounce "Mrs. Jones" dead. VERDICT This new contribution to a series published annually since 1986 is a required library acquisition and perfect for writers seeking a concentrated look at contemporary essay writing.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
Kirkus Reviews

Plenty of good reading in this 25th annual anthology, though it extends the definition of "essay" past the point of category.

In the foreword, series editor Robert Atwan addresses the technological changes that have, or haven't, affected the essay: "What are blogs but today's version of essays in disguise?" This volume's editor, Vanity Fair contributor Hitchens (Hitch-22, 2010, etc.), offers an economic consideration that the year "was not a healthy one for the sorts of magazines that take the risk of publishing the essay form." (The magazines represented in this installment include mostly the usual suspects, like the New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books, with only one real surprise: the Alaska Quarterly Review.) But what is that essay form? One of the pieces, "A Rake's Progress" by Matt Labash, is a fairly standard—and very good—feature profile of former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry. Another, "Speaking in Tongues" by Zadie Smith, is a reprint of a lecture she delivered at the New York Public Library. James Wood's concluding "A Fine Range" is an extended book review of a couple of recent collections of George Orwell's essays. Among the pieces that would be more conventionally classified as essays are illuminating appreciations of John Updike (by Ian McEwan) and William F. Buckley (by Garry Wills). Jane Kramer's "Me, Myself, and I," about reading Montaigne, cuts to the heart of the essay and the essence of coming to terms with life and death through writing, while Brian Doyle's short, sharp "Irreconcilable Dissonance" uses divorce to make provocative comments on marriage. Other notable contributors include David Sedaris, Steven Pinker, Walter Isaacson and Phillip Lopate.

A wide variety of quality writing, both reflective and reported.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547394510
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/5/2010
  • Series: Best American Essays Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 598,065
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Hitchens

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS is the author of four collections of essays.

ROBERT ATWAN has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Robert Atwan Atwan, Robert

Introduction Christopher Hitchens Hitchens, Christopher

The Murder of Leo Tolstoy Elif Batuman Batuman, Elif 1

From Harper's Magazine

The Bad Lion Toni Bentley Bentley, Toni 22

From the New York Review of Books

The Dead Book Jane Churchon Churchon, Jane 27

From the Sun

Irreconcilable Dissonance Brian Doyle Doyle, Brian 33

From Oregon Humanities

The Elegant Eyeball John Gamel Gamel, John 36

From Alaska Quartely Review

How Einstein Divided America's Jews Walter Isaacson Isaacson, Walter 49

From the Atlantic

Lunching on Olympus Steven L. Isenberg Isenberg, Steven L. 60

From the American Scholar

Me, Myself, and I Jane Kramer Kramer, Jane 74

From the New Yorker

When Writers Speak Arthur Krystal Krystal, Arthur 87

From the New York Times Book Review

A Rake's Progress Matt Labash Labash, Matt 91

From the Weekly Standard

Brooklyn the Unknowable Phillip Lopate Lopate, Phillip 115

From Harvard Review

On John Updike Ian McEwan McEwan, Ian 128

From the New York Review of Books

My Genome, My Self Steven Pinker Pinker, Steven 136

From the new York Times Magazine

Gyromancy Ron Rindo Rindo, Ron 156

From the Gettysburg Review

Guy Walks into a Bar Car David Sedaris Sedaris, David 169

From the New Yorker

Speaking in Tongues Zadie Smith Smith, Zadie 179

From the New York Review of Books

Rediscovering Central Asia S. Frederick Starr Starr, S. Frederick 195

From the Wilson Quarterly

Gettysburg Regres John H. Summers Summers, John H. 210

From the New Republic

Fatheralong John Edgar Wideman Wideman, John Edgar 218

From Harper's Magazine

Daredevil Garry Wills Wills, Garry 224

From the Atlantic

A Fine Rage James Wood Wood, James 237

From the New Yorker

Contributors' Notes 257

Notable Essays of 2009 262

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