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News reviewers pick their favorites

Frequent Buffalo News reviewers picked their favorite books among all those they had reviewed in 2016.

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, Scribner, 713 pages, $32. If ever there was a book for yuletide giving, it is Annie Proulx’ majestic “Barkskins” – a novel so exciting, timely and readable that, even at 713 pages, one doesn’t want it to end. For here, in a single handsome volume, is an historical accounting of more than three centuries of the world’s now-devastated forestland told through the fictional lives of two impoverished but adventurous young Frenchmen and their many and disparate descendants, with an emphasis on North America and what is now Quebec, New England and parts of New York. Those aware that, in the late 1800s, North Tonawanda was the largest lumber port in the world, will be enthralled (white pine lovers in particular). Plus, with a National Geographic Channel series based on “Barkskins” in the offing, this is a can’t-miss book for holiday buyers. - Karen Brady

Hitler, Ascent 1889-1939, by Volker Ulrich, Knopf, 998 pages $40. This history book stands head and shoulders above other histories this year. Noted German historian Ullrich unmasks the myriad of Hitler myths that have multiplied and have been magnified over the past 70 years, and instead portrays the Fuhrer as a selfish, thoroughly evil genius who could turn his raving lunatic act on and off at will.  Ullrich’s Hitler mesmerized a German population who so hungered to believe his lies that it turned a blind eye to his hatred, venom and xenophobia.  This book, which ends as Hitler is about to ignite World War II, has been translated from the original German into high sophisticated American English by Jefferson Chase.  Strong history; truly insightful. - Edward Cuddihy

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson, Pantheon, 724 pages, $35. I thought I knew just about everything about the Attica prison uprising and its aftermath . . . until I reviewed "Blood in the Water."  It is a meticulously researched work that reveals much of what has been kept secret by authorities for more than 45 years.  Most enlightening were the measures officials took to disregard the atrocities that took place once the prison was retaken from rebellious inmates and the strenuous efforts by others, mostly lawyers, to shed a light on what happened and gain recompense for the inmates, correction officers and families affected by the bloody assault on the prison.  For anyone seeking a true account of an historical event that took place in our backyard, "Blood in the Water" provides the answer. - Lee Coppola

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon, Harper, 448 pages, $28.99. I read "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" during the summer before I left for college, and Michael Chabon has been one of my favorite writers ever since.  His best books are generous and elegant and shaggy ... intensely detailed, rich with both intellect and emotion, joyous and mournful in the same sentence.  "Moonglow" is soul food, and definitely one of his best. - Emily Simon

Author Michael Chabon ( David Livingston/Getty Images)

Author Michael Chabon ( David Livingston/Getty Images)

Thunder Boy Jr., by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Little, Brown, 40 pages, $17.99. The author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” for teens (and screenwriter of “Smoke Signals”) delivers a hit for a much younger audience in this delightfully funny, yet heart-felt picture book about a boy who laments the fact that he was named after his father, a tale that explores both the Native American experience and universal issues of identity, of family expectation, of fathers and sons. - Jean Westmoore

Orphans of The Carnival, by Carol Birch, Penguin Random House, 352 pages, $27.95.  It's a story about a 19th century freak named Julia, dubbed "the ugliest woman in the world."  As readers, why do we look at disfigurement with such avidity rather than to be instruments of mercy in our approach to those who are different?  Perhaps it is because we are all "freaks", flawed human vessels, a phenomenon we are anxious to hide.  We do this by diverting attention to freaks like Julia, more noticeable, rather than to look inward ourselves. - Michael D. Langan

Everything Explained that is Explainable: Encyclopedia Britannica’s Celebrated Eleventh Edition, by Denis Broyles, Knopf, 442 pages, $30. You might think that an encyclopedia fighting urgent deadlines and last minute betrayals published more than a hundred years ago in a foreign country would have little to tell us about that era or ours. You would be wrong. “Encyclopedia Britannica’s Eleventh Edition” is the final flowering of a British intellectual tradition that would be torn apart just a few years later by the War to End All Wars. What made it happen was the American business acumen that was just beginning to find its way in the world with a modern postal system and new advertising slogans. But that was then. This is now. What do these often long, well-written and well thought out essays about “Everything that is Knowable" have to do with our intellectual life that some describe as a mile wide and an inch deep? Wikipedia, which is for better or for worse the Amazon of our intellectual life, when it was just getting off the ground looked around for good material that was out of copyright and found “Encyclopedia Britannica’s Eleventh Edition.” It became the foundation of everything that followed. And is still there speaking to us today. You might even say that “EB 11” was the beginning of Big Data. Plus “Everything Explained That Is Explainable” is a good yarn, filled with fascinating characters including a thoroughly modern woman who quietly pulled the whole thing together. - William L. Morris

Every Frenchman Has One, by Olivia de Havilland, Random House, 202 pages, $16. Who would have guessed that saintly Melanie from "Gone With the Wind" would possess such a mischievous wit? This stocking-stuffer-sized tome, reissued this year for the actress’s 100th birthday, defines the adage that good things come in small packages as De Havilland humorously reflects upon her culture shock after marrying a French man and moving to Paris in 1953 – where she remains today.  A perfect gift for a film fan, especially when combined with a DVD of "The Adventures of Robin Hood," the best of her eight big-screen pairings with Errol Flynn. - Susan Wloszczyna

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel, by Nicolaia Rips, Scribner, 254 pages, $25. Hard to believe that a memoir from a  17-year old would make the list but Rips is an exciting new literary voice whose chronicle of a childhood spent in one of NYC’s most iconic buildings is terrific. The vivid narrative reads like a movie, and the back story is just as good:  “Trying to Float” is the result of Rips’ parents telling her to “write it down” to deal with the torture of middle school.  A great gift for young people who feel out of place, as a kind of quirky yet lovable survival guide. - Kathleen Rizzo Young



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