1. TALIBAN, by Ahmed Rashid (Yale University, $14.95). A Pakistani journalist offers this close look, published last year, at militant Islam and how it relates to oil and other issues that are currently changing the world.
2. ISLAM: A SHORT HISTORY, by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library, $19.95). The former nun turned best-selling author encapsulates Islam, from Mohammed to the medieval Crusades to modern politics.
3. BLOWBACK, by Chalmers Johnson (Owl, $15). Whoops, America blew it by insisting on maintaining an empire in the wake of the Cold War, and this book is an analysis of why people worldwide hate us.
4. THE BATTLE FOR GOD, by Karen Armstrong (Ballantine, $14). This scholarly look at fundamentalist Muslims, Jews, and American Protestants investigates history and theory, and makes extremism look mighty dangerous.
5. JIHAD VS. McWORLD, by Benjamin Barber (Ballantine, $15). Globalism (à la multinationalism) and tribalism (à la holy war) are reshaping this planet rapidly, the author tells us, claiming that both are big threats to democracy.
6. A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, by David Eggers (Vintage, $14). Sad but true and oh so ambitious, this memoir of orphaned siblings spares not a single gory detail.
7. A PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED
STATES, by Howard Zinn (Harper Perennial, $18): This revised and updated edition puts women, minorities, and unsung heroes into the picture, where they belong.
8. NICKEL AND DIMED, by Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan, $23). Wondering how welfare reform was working out, the author took minimum-wage jobs to see whether she could survive.
9. ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, by David Sedaris (Little, Brown & Co., $14.95). The NPR autobiographer’s essays poke fun at family life down South as well as life as an expatriate in Paris.
10. THE PLACES THAT SCARE YOU, by Pema Chodron (Shambhala, $21.95). We can let fear harden us, says the American Buddhist nun in this new manual, or we can learn to open up to those scary places and learn from them.
1. THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY, by Michael Chabon (Random House, $26.95). This tale of two cousins who create a comic-book hero netted its Berkeley author a Pulitzer.
2. THE BLIND ASSASSIN, by Margaret Atwood (Anchor, $14). When the car containing one of two sisters sails off a cliff in broad daylight, her sibling enters a dark world of wondering.
3. THE CORRECTIONS, by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $26). On the downward slide of a degenerative disease, a patriarch heads a modern American family whose misadventures in love and work are all too familiar.
4. PORTRAIT IN SEPIA, by Isabel Allende (Harper Collins, $26): In the Chilean author’s latest novel, heroine Aurora del Valle’s childhood is dominated by the vast presence of her grandmother, the voracious Paulina.
5. BEE SEASON, by Myla Goldberg (Knopf, $13). After a 9-year-old wins an important spelling bee, her family’s dynamic changes completely: she’s the star now, and she watches her role unfold.
6. PRODIGAL SUMMER, by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial, $14). A summer in the Appalachians is by twists and turns fruitful and frustrating for men, women, and little crawly things.
7. WHITE TEETH, by Zadie Smith (Knopf, $14). Set mainly in London, this funny-sad story of love, friendship, memory, and race by a twentysomething newcomer drew critical raves.
8. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERERS STONE, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, $16.95). It all began here: with a cool kid finding redemption at a special school for wizards-in-the-making.
9. HALF A LIFE, by V.S. Naipaul (Knopf, $24). The Nobel Prize winner uses Somerset Maugham’s tale about meeting an Indian holy man as a springboard for this novel about that holy man’s son, a restless writer.
10. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, $7.99). The adolescent wizard faces magic’s darker repercussions as an escaped convict runs wild.