IRENE NEMIROVSKY IN 1942 A Ukrainian Jew living in France was deported to Auschwitz, where she was executed. Six decades later, her daughters discovered among the papers she left behind the manuscript of an extraordinary unfinished novel: Suite Francaise. The book consists of two parts (Nemirovsky planned three more), the first following a handful of French families of different social classes through the crashing chaos of the retreat from Paris, the second set in the hushed, simmering hell of a small town under German occupation. It's a work of Proustian scope and delicacy, by turns funny and deeply moving, that captures a civilization in its most revealing moment: that of its undoing.
DAVID M. OSHINSKY It was the stuff of nightmares: a crippling disease with no known cause that seemed to target children, especially American children. It put its victims in iron lungs and paralyzed a President. This Pulitzer prizewinning history goes behind the scenes of the scientific street fight that raged as rival laboratories raced to create a safe, effective polio vaccine. Victory went to Jonas Salk, a brilliant, flawed man but one who had an uncommon ability to empathize with the suffering of others--as a colleague put it, to "see beyond the microscope."
JIM DWYER AND KEVIN FLYNN To a helpless audience of millions, the Twin Towers were silent black boxes. 102 Minutes makes them speak, using the e-mails and phone calls that poured out of the buildings in the last frenzied moments on Sept. 11, 2001, to show how rescue workers, stock brokers, security guards and secretaries fought through a maze of locked doors and blocked stairways as the clock ticked down. Sometimes the tersest fragments are the most eloquent, like the record of a 911 call that reads simply, "Female caller states they are stuck in elevator. States they are dying."
CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP
"During the mid-1970's," Chang writes, "most of the youthful energy that became known as hip-hop could be contained in a tiny seven-mile circle." That circle was the Bronx, an economically ravaged borough of New York City that was home to such nascent cultural heroes as DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, who were busily rewiring turntables and re-engineering the powder-keg racial politics of their home turf and in the process creating the future of American popular culture. Obsessively researched, beautifully written, Chang's book is the funky, bootleg, B-side remix of late--20th century American history.
Remember Mr. March, from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women? Probably not, since he spends most of the book offstage, preaching to Union troops in the Civil War. In March, which won the Pulitzer Prize, Brooks liberates him from obscurity and follows him as he wanders a country divided by racism and blasted by atrocity. March could easily have come off as a preachy pill, but Brooks plays him as a paradox--an intellectual buffeted by passion, a man of faith bedeviled by doubt. He is constantly confronted with moral dilemmas that he can only bluff his way through. But he's aptly named: the deeper March sinks into the mire, the more determined he is to keep marching homeward.