Best Books of 2010: The Best of the Best List

The Daily Beast went through the top 10 lists of the best books of the year and tallied up the results to come up with the ultimate ranking for 2010’s best fiction and nonfiction. Plus, our ultimate book gift guide

Top 5 Fiction Books of the Year

1. Room By Emma Donoghue

Yes, the most-recommended novel of 2010 is a story of imprisonment and sex-slavery seen through the eyes of a 5-year-old boy. But once you get past the subject matter, it’s a wildly original tour de force that will amaze and move you.

2. Freedom By Jonathan Franzen

No surprise here: Jonathan Franzen’s much-hyped, debated, and discussed great American novel captures the zeitgeist of our decade while also delivering a gripping and moving family drama couldn’t—shouldn’t—be absent from any list of the best fiction this year.

3. A Visit From the Goon Squad By Jennifer Egan

A virtuosic novel, or collection of interlocking stories, that follows several characters in the music business as they’re beat up by time, “the goon.” An elegantly, twisting novel perfect for those more contemplative end-of-year moments.

4. To the End of the Land By David Grossman

From Israel’s premier novelist, the story of a mother trying to avoid hearing of her soldier son’s fate by going on an extended hike. Grossman’s most moving and emotionally rich work yet—and a pitch-perfect meditation on love and war.

5. Parrot and Olivier in America By Peter Carey

An exuberantly funny novel based on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville that follows the foppish Frenchman and his feisty, skeptical servant, Parrot, as they explore America. From two-time Booker Prize winner Carey, it’s a witty love letter to his adopted home.

Top 5 Nonfiction Books of the Year

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1. The Big Short By Michael Lewis

No one writes like Michael Lewis, and only he could take the biggest story of the past few years (the economic collapse thanks to the subprime-mortgage meltdown) and render a gripping story about the investors who saw it coming. An essential read.

2. The Warmth of Other Suns By Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson’s deeply ambitious and moving work of historical investigation tells the strangely overlooked story of the mass movement of African Americans from the South to the North.

3. Cleopatra: A Life By Stacy Schiff

Sex, power, money, intrigue, it’s all here in Stacy Schiff’s elegantly revisionist biography of one of the world’s most iconic rulers. The Daily Beast’s Michael Korda called it a “masterpiece.”

4. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer By Siddhartha Mukherjee

Perhaps not quite as much fun as reading about royal pomp and murder, but Siddhartha Mukherjee’s biography of cancer presents the disease with such understanding and engaging prose that it emerges as if a human character, albeit a terrible villain.

5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks By Rebecca Skloot

A surprisingly gripping account of the life of one Henrietta Lacks, unknown to most but touched by all because her line of cells were used in some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century. Skloot’s biography finally and masterfully recognizes her unheralded contribution.

Honorable Mention for Fiction:

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

You read about it here first—and makes that short list of great, rich historical fiction.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

A witty collection of stories about a flailing, near failure newspaper in Rome.

Honorable Mention for Nonfiction

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

A moving, meditative work about friendship and loss.

Life by Keith Richards

We catalogued all the juicy parts but it’s the best rock memoir ever written so the juice doesn’t even matter.

Here are the lists that we based our ranking on: The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, Slate, Time Magazine, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, New York.

Plus: Check out Book Beast for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.