Literary Christmas Lists, Etc.

The leaks are catastrophic. The leaks are not catastrophic. Diplomacy's at risk. Diplomacy's redeemed. While we develop the questions and wait for the answers, let’s parse another, less quixotic topic than the meaning of "journalist:" year-end literary lists. These lists provide different suggestions for sources of wise analysis on the questions that keep us up at night. They remind us how many experts can spend a lifetimes on one idea, one story. These books will never see competition from blogs.


The New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2010 includes many titles on or around the topic of war. Some writers mentioned here consider the question of how politics and religion co-exist. Others track what it means for America to be engaged in foreign wars. These are not writers who would be afraid of Julian Assange.

One book on the list stands out: journalist Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel. This is a book we love not only because of its style (literary non-fiction), but because it addresses the most dangerous places in the world, and does so from the point of view of a young, American woman. Griswold didn't go to Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself; she went to Sudan, Somalia, and Indonesia to find understanding about others.

Her work is personal and poetic and fierce and informed. It reminds us that religion, despite the cynics, remains less opium of the people than everyday fabric of life in most places—particularly those places where the “clash of civilizations” is as up for debate as whether stars light the night. Griswold lived the conditions of her subjects. Then she took time to analyze what she had seen. She shows us places where, like boxers, religions go daily rounds before retiring at night to lie down together.

In one of her poems Griswold wrote:

What are we now but voices

who promise each other a life

neither one can deliver

not for lack of wanting

but wanting won’t make it so

We cling to a vine

at the cliff’s edge.

There are tigers above

and below. Let us love

one another and let go

This lyricism exists in her non-fiction, too. We wish Oprah had selected The Tenth Parallel for her readers. It was the book of the year.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.

USA ranked 27th in the world in education and healthcare—down from 6th in 1990

America continues to tread water in healthcare and education while other countries have enacted reforms to great effect.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The American healthcare and education systems are known to need some work, but a new study suggests we've fallen far in comparison to the rest of the world.
  • The findings show what progress, if any, 195 countries have made over the last twenty years
  • The study suggests that economic growth is tied to human capital, which gives a dire view of America's economic prospects.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.