6 of Salon's best books of the year involve history





Three novels make the list, two biographies, and one history book.

NOVELS

"Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson

"The Yiddish Policeman's Union" by Michael Chabon

"The Father of All Things" by Tom Bissell

BIOGRAPHIES

"Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations" by Georgina Howell

HISTORY

"Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA" by Tim Weiner

Two of the novels involve Vietnam. The other one concerns Jews, Alaska, and the Holocaust. Whaaat?

"During World War II, the Roosevelt administration briefly considered resettling Europe's Jewish refugees in Alaska. Michael Chabon's soulful alternate-history novel dreams up what the world might have looked like if that scheme had played out. In a bustling, if well-bundled, Yiddish-speaking community in Sitka, a burnt-out homicide cop named Meyer Landsman investigates the death of a junkie chess-player who might have been the promised Messiah, and gets on the bad side of the district's Hassidim-run organized crime syndicate. The novel offers lots of genre fun -- snappy dialogue, action and suspense -- yet it's all seamlessly married to a searching consideration of Jewish identity. What would it mean to be a Jew in a world where the Holocaust never happened and the state of Israel didn't exist? Are human beings the products of history, or does our essence transcend it? These are weighty questions for a book that's so entertaining, but Chabon's themes never overload his frame. Like the very best dancers and magicians, he makes it look easy."


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