The Best of the Best List: 2012 Critics’ Top Books

We collect year-end lists to find out which work wins the title of ‘the single best book of 2012.’

And the winner is… Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. The winner for nonfiction is Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Here is our tally for all the books with at least three mentions in the best-of lists.


1. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (20 mentions—our review)

2. NW by Zadie Smith (10 mentions—our review)

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (10 mentions—our interview)

2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (10 mentions—our review)

5. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (9 mentions)

6. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (8 mentions—our review)

7. At Last by Edward St. Aubyn (7 mentions—our review)

7. Building Stories by Chris Ware (7 mentions—our review)

7. Canada by Richard Ford (7 mentions—our review and interview)

7. Dear Life by Alice Munro (7 mentions)

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7. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (7 mentions—our review)

7. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (7 mentions—our review)

13. Arcadia by Lauren Groff (5 mentions—our review)

13. The Round House by Louise Erdrich (5 mentions—our interview)

13. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (5 mentions)

16. The Orphan Master's Son (4 mentions)

16. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (4 mentions)

18. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (3 mentions)

18. Object Lessons edited by Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein (3 mentions—our excerpt)

18. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (3 mentions—our interview)

18. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (3 mentions—our interview)


1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (16 mentions—our interview)

2. The Passage of Power by Robert Caro (8 mentions—our review)

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (8 mentions)

4. The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane (7 mentions—our review)

5. Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon (6 mentions—our bookbag)

5. Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum (6 mentions—our review)

7. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max (5 mentions—our excerpt)

7. House of Stone by Anthony Shadid (5 mentions—our obituary)

7. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens (5 mentions—our section)

7. Spillover by David Quammen (5 mentions)

11. Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley (4 mentions)

11. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (4 mentions—our speed read)

11. People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry (4 mentions—our review)

14. The Black Count by Tom Reiss (3 mentions—our review)

14. Country Girl by Edna O’Brien (3 mentions)

14. Double Cross by Ben Macintyre (3 mentions—from the same author)

14. The End of Your Life Book Club (3 mentions)

14. The Origins of Sex by Faramerz Dabhoiwala (3 mentions)

14. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver (3 mentions—our excerpt)

14. When I Was a Child, I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson (3 mentions—our review)

14. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (3 mentions—our review)

14. Zona by Geoff Dyer (3 mentions—our review)

Here are the individual top books lists. Some critics rank their choices, some just list 10 or more books, some publications pick the top 10 in different categories (e.g. history), while others compile massive lists asking novelists, contributors and editors their favorite books. We’ve compiled many of them; check back frequently for new lists and let us know which ones we missed.

The New Yorker

The Constant Heart Major/Minor We Are Taking Only What We Need Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume V, SL-Z Fear Of Music Bewilderment Gone to the Forest Nice Weather (based on a true story) The First Four Notes Zona Freedom and the Arts Bewilderment Poetic Notebooks Shake Off Behind the Beautiful Forevers The Passage of Power Portrait of a Novel Bring Up the Bodies Maile Meloy Brothers Place India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India Tombstone Lenin’s Kisses Left-handed Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay Country Girl: A Memoir A Choreographic Mind


NW A Naked Singularity Balloon Pop Outlaw Black The Flame Alphabet The Vanishers Prosperous Friends Narcopolis

James Wood

Bring Up the Bodies How Should a Person Be At Last I Curse the River of Time Four New Messages NW My Struggle Alive in Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of a Masterpiece

New York Daily News

May We Be ForgivenMemorialBring Up the BodiesA Condition of DoubtDetroit City Is the Place to BeBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkThis Is How You Lose HerOne for the BooksMortalityBehind the Beautiful Forevers

The New York Times

Bring Up the Bodies Building Stories A Hologram For the King NW The Yellow Birds Behind the Beautiful Forevers Far From the Tree The Passage of Power The Patriarch Why Does the World Exist

Dwight Garner

Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glück Fire in the Belly Wild Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays Far From the Tree The Richard Burton Diaries Red Plenty Spillover Alien Vs. Predator: Poems by Michael Robbins

Michiko Kakutani

The Passage of Power A Hologram for the King The Yellow Birds Telegraph Avenue The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation The Twelve Tribes of Hattie The Revolution Was Televised Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings Hallucinations

Janet Maslin

Bring Up the Bodies Behind the Beautiful Forevers Where'd You Go, Bernadette Truth Like the Sun Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Gone Girl Arcadia Watergate Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle To Save the World The One: The Life and Music of James Brown

The Los Angeles Times

David L. Ulin

The Address Book Building Stories Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story Gods Without Men The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire Magnificence NW On Politics Our Kind of People These Dreams of You

Carolyn Kellogg

Where'd You Go, BernadetteSuddenly, A Knock on the DoorPeople Who Eat DarknessSpillover

The Seattle Times


In the Kingdom of Men Running the Rift The Chemistry of Tears The Orchardist The Bartender’s Tale The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving Winter of the World The Chaos The Legend of Pradeep Mathew Capita Bring Up the Bodies Trapeze Sweet Tooth Beautiful Ruins Alif the Unseen


The Way the World Works Behind the Beautiful Forevers Dust to Dust—a Memoir My Heart Is Boundless Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power Spillover The Generals Joseph Anton Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man The Outpost

The Wall Street Journal


The People of Forever Are Not AfraidTell the Wolves I'm HomeA Naked SingularityEarth and AirAbsolutionThe Orphan Master's SonThe ThiefJohn Saturnall's FeastNWAt Last


Iron CurtainThe EndgameThe Founders and FinanceSincerityThe Lion Sleeps TonightThe WivesThe AstairesThe Signal and the NoiseConnectomeA Man and His Ship

Entertainment Weekly Rob Brunner

Bring Up the BodiesThe Orphan Master’s SonBeautiful RuinsWhere’d You Go, BernadetteBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkThe NewlywedsThe Fault In Our StarsGone GirlBuilding StoriesThis Is How You Lose Her

Tina Jordan

Behind the Beautiful ForeversWildHouse of StonePeople Who Eat DarknessThe Passage of PowerThe Mansion of HappinessThe End of Your Life Book ClubMarblesNo Easy DayThe Violinist’s Thumb


The Round HouseThe Yellow BirdsGone GirlThe End of Your Life Book ClubBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkBehind the Beautiful ForeversA Hologram for the KingThe MiddlesteinsMortalityThe Fault in Our Stars

Publisher’s Weekly

Building StoriesBring Up the BodiesThe Round HouseHappiness Is a Chemical In the BrainThe Devil in SilverDetroit City Is the Place to BeAll We KnowPeople Who Eat DarknessThe Barbarous YearsIron Curtain

The Daily Beast Lucas Wittmann

The Yellow BirdsThe Orphan Master’s SonDear LifeBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkBring Up the BodiesJoseph AntonThe Barbarous YearsEvery Love Story Is a Ghost StoryBehind the Beautiful ForeversFar From the Tree


1. Wild2. Beautiful Ruins3. The Passage of Power4. Gone Girl5. Fire in the Belly6. Monkey Mind7. This Is How You Lose Her8. Building Stories9. Behind the Beautiful Forevers10. May We Be Forgiven11. The Patriarch12. Carry the One

The Atlantic Benjamin Schwartz

The Great Sea Time’s Shadow Good Behaviour Bring Up the Bodies Moscow, 1937

What They Do in the DarkThe Book of Common PrayerOrderly and HumaneFairness and FreedomThe Road to RuinsEvening's EmpireDear LifeSir Walter RaleighMasters of the PlanetThe Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume 6


Beautiful RuinsCapitalGood SonThe Yellow BirdsRule and RuinHouse of StoneAt LastThe Three Day Affair

Christian Science Monitor

ArcadiaCanadaBring Up the BodiesBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkIn the Shadow of the BanyanGone GirlWhere’d You Go, BernadetteThe Yellow BirdsThe Round HouseAlif the Unseen

Huffington Post

Ninety DaysThe Yellow BirdsMy Heart Is an IdiotThe Lifespan of a FactImmobilityPage 1: Great ExpectationsSuddenly, A Knock at the DoorObject LessonsThe Elephant Keeper’s ChildrenZona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a RoomNo One Is Here Except All of UsSwimming HomeHow Should a Person Be?Farther AwayBirds of a Lesser ParadiseAmerican DervishSwimming StudiesAs IfWhen I Was a Child I Read BooksGone GirlThis Is How You Lose HerPenelopeThe Fault In Our Stars

The Observer/The Guardian

The Old WaysLa Folie BaudelaireHope: A TragedyA Room Full of BonesBroken HarborOn PoetryAt LastIron CurtainArtfulNWWhen It Happens to YouJoyThe Big ScreenA History of OperaThe Old WaysThe Man Within My HeadFrom the Ruins of EmpireSubliminalCanadaThe PineconeThe Old WaysThe ForrestsDirtA Death in the FamilyThe ApartmentSkiosThe Man Within My HeadWhere’d You Go, BernadetteThe LifeboatMrs. Robinson’s DisgraceIn Praise of Messy LivesBehind the Beautiful ForeversWhen I DieThrough the WindowCountry GirlJoseph AntonA Free ManMissing OutThe Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol. IIHockney: The BiographyPatrick Leigh Fermor: An AdventureThe Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual RevolutionDouble CrossA Lady Cyclist’s Guide to KashgarDear LifeThe PlantagenetsThe Second World WarAs Consciousness is Harnessed to FleshIgnorance: How It Drives ScienceDrawing from the CityThe LighthouseThe Cleaner of Chartres

The Telegraph

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion Bertie Lionel Asbo Iron Curtain The British as Art Collectors The Old Ways Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure The Plantagenets The Sleepwalkers Museum Without Walls The Guardians Swimming Home Bring Up the Bodies The Daughters of Mars Another Country Sightlines Dangerous Work Inconvenient People Becoming Dickens Traces Remain They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? The Dictator’s Learning Curve Waging Heavy Peace The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution Titanic Lives Bertie Strindberg: A Life The Baroness The Old Ways The Shadow of the Sword Dear Life Bertie Merivel Double Cross New Ways to Kill Your Mother Through the Window Bring Up the Bodies Merivel Flight From Berlin Sweet Tooth Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain John Saturnall’s Feast An Almost English Life


Lev Grossman


1. The Fault in Our Stars2. Bring Up the Bodies3. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk4. At Last5. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There6. The Casual Vacancy7. Building Stories8. NW9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette10. This Is How You Lose Her


1. Iron Curtain2. The Passage of Power3. Far From the Tree4. My Friend Dahmer5. Are You My Mother?6. Wild7. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child8. People Who Eat Darkness9. The First Four Notes10. The Black Count

Times Literary Supplement

Johann Zoffany RAAeneas of GazaZacharias of MytileneDrawing to a CloseErnst Junger and Germany 1914-1945Profane IlluminationNWThe London SquareIn Search of Rex WhistlerLondon: A History in MapsCountry GirlThe Yellow BirdsThe Old WaysWhat Light Can DoDark Lies the IslandThe End of Ulster Loyalism?My American RevolutionAlfred JarryWilly RonisWoodlandsThe PanopticonThe Heroic Life of George Gissing Vol 3Elsewhere (published as On Helwig Street in the U.K.)Mrs. BridgeCanadaThe Sensory World of Italian Renaissance ArtAt LastCharles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the WorldIf You Sit Very Still

The Economist

The New New Deal The Immigrant Exodus Days of God From the Ruins of Empire The Passage of Power Thomas Hobbes The Richard Burton Diaries Wanted Women Titian: His Life Every Love Story is a Ghost Story Raffles and the Golden Opportunity Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend Ivory, Apes & Peacocks The Pinecone When I Was a Child I Read Books Bertie: A Life of Edward VII Joseph Anton Iron Curtain Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962 Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain The Eagle Unbowed Why Nations Fail Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power The New Industrial Revolution Freedom’s Forge Management in 10 Words Spillover The Origins of Sex The Signal and the Noise Bad Pharma Ocean of Life Behind the Beautiful Forevers Far From the Tree Music as Alchemy. The Art of the Restaurateur The Secret Race Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa’s Deadliest War Into the Silence The Old Ways On Warne Great Houses of London Swim: Why We Love the Water Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach How to Stay Sane Fiction: Bring Up the Bodies The Forgiven Toby’s Room The Dinner The Garden of Evening Mists Grimm Tales: For Young and Old Winter: Five Windows on the Season Three Strong Women Yellow Tulips: Poems 1968-2011 Place


Thrall: Poems by Natasha TretheweyUseless Landscape Or A Guide For Boys by D.A. PowellMayakovsky's Revolver by Matthew DickmanOur Lady Of The Ruins by Traci BrimhallBender: New & Selected Poems by Dean YoungSophie Calle: The Address Book, by Sophie CalleAs Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals And Notebooks, 1964-1980, by Susan SontagAll We Know: Three LivesCarry The OneAntigonickLife Is A Gift: The Zen Of BennettHow Music WorksThe First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth And The Human ImaginationWhere The Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, And The Inner Life Of ArtistsWhy Jazz HappenedWill Oldham On Bonnie "Prince" BillyErnie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor Of New OrleansThe One: The Life And Music Of James BrownNo Regrets: Writings On Scott WalkerCode Name VerityPurityEndangeredWhere Things Come BackSeraphinaGone GirlThe StonecutterBroken HarborThe Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache NovelStrong PoisonHave His CarcaseGaudy NightBusman's HoneymoonI Own The DawnSteel's EdgeA Royal PainRivetedA Lady Never LiesI'm Your Man: The Life Of Leonard CohenBarack Obama: The StoryA Difficult WomanThe Black CountThe Odds Canada Girlchild This Is How You Lose Her Beautiful Ruins The Brontes: Wild Genius On The Moors Marmee & Louisa Elsewhere: A Memoir My Husband And My Wives: A Gay Man’s Odyssey Behind The Beautiful Forevers 100 Diagrams That Changed The World American Ghost The Art Forger City Of Women Travels With Epicurus Instant: The Story Of Polaroid The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song Lies, Knives, And Girls In Red Dresses The Graphic Canon, Volume 1 The Graphic Canon, Volume 2 My Ideal Bookshelf Object Lessons My Heart Is An Idiot Laura Lamont’s Life In Pictures The News From Spain: 7 Variations On A Love Story Dancers Among Us: A Celebration Of Joy In The Everyday The Middlesteins The Lifeboat The Round House Arcadia NW The Orchardist Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm More Than Human Flower Poems 1962-2012 Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant To See Building Stories Abstract City Cindy Sherman The 20th-Century World Architecture The Best American Short Stories 2012 Wonder Starry River Of The Sky Liar & Spy Bring Up The Bodies The Book Of Madness And Cures The Orphanmaster The Twelve Rooms Of The Nile The Orchardist River Of Smoke 2312 After The Apocalypse Intrusion Alif The Unseen All Yesterdays The Cold Commands The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take On Whole Foods Modern Sauces The Science Of Good Cooking Susan Feniger’s Street Food Hiroko’s American Kitchen: Cooking With Japanese Flavors Jerusalem: A Cookbook Canal House Cooks Every Day The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness In Seattle Simply Sensational Cookies Home Mortality Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail Brothers: On His Brothers And Brothers In History The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink Christmas at Eagle Pond Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad The Life of Objects Merge / Disciple The Towers of Trebizond America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation We Learn Nothing Heft Among Others The Double Game Code Name Verity Blasphemy What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank The Doctor’s Wife Dear Life Battleborn The Crackle of the Frost Little White Duck: A Childhood in China Drama Gloriana Saga 1 Wonder Woman 1: Blood


1. The Round House2. Dear Life3. My Brilliant Friend4. Canada5. Arcadia6. The Patagonian Hare7. The Scientists8. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?9. Yes, Chef10. Wild

Washington Post

Behind the Beautiful ForeversHouse of Stone Iron Curtain Marigold Why Nations Fail Arcadia Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk Bring Up the Bodies Broken Harbor Canada


Behind the Beautiful ForeversBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkBring Up the BodiesEvery Love Story Is a Ghost StoryGone GirlJournalismThe Lifespan of a FactNWThe Unreal and the RealWild

Barnes & Noble


Winter of the World Gone Girl Defending Jacob Bring Up the Bodies The Light Between Oceans Shadow of Night The Wind through the Keyhole This Is How You Lose Her Beautiful Ruins Telegraph Avenue Where'd You Go, Bernadette Phantom Broken Harbor The Dog Stars The Age of Miracles Canada 2312 Seating Arrangements The Orphan Master's Son Astray Talulla Rising By Blood Fobbit Magnificence Gods Without Men At Last The Fault In Our Stars Ragnarok: The End of the Gods


Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power Defender of the Realm Wild Behind the Beautiful Forevers Far From the Tree The Signal and the Noise Quiet The Power of Habit Double Cross The Passage of Power Mortality Drift The End of Your Life Book Club Spillover Prague Winter The Second World War Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? God's Hotel Hello Goodbye Hello Turing's Cathedral Are You My Mother? Devil in the Grove House of Stone The Twilight War Reinventing Bach

New York MagazineKathryn Schulz

1. Dear Life2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers3. Why Does the World Exist4. Zona5. Telegraph Avenue6. Mortality7. Object Lessons8. When I Was a Child, I Read Books9. Into the Silence10. House of Stone


Laura Miller

1. Far From the Tree2. Bring Up the Bodies3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers4. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk5. Wilderness of Error6. Gone Girl7. The Black Count8. Beautiful Ruins9. Wild10. Alif the Unseen

The Seattle Times

Fiction:In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes—picked by Kimberly Marlowe HartnettRunning the Rift by Naomi Benaron—picked by Bharti KirchnerThe Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey—picked by Tyrone BeasonThe Orchardist by Amanda Coplin—picked by Richard WakefieldThe Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig—picked by Tim McNultyThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison—picked by Ellen Emry HeltzelWinter of the World by Ken Follett—picked by Melinda BargreenThe Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson—picked by Nisi ShawlThe Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka—picked by Alan MooresCapital by John Lanchester—picked by Ken ArmstrongBring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel—picked by Mary Ann GwinnTrapeze by Simon Mawer—picked by Valerie RyanSweet Tooth by Ian McEwan—picked by Moira MacdonaldBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter—four reviewersAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson—Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi

Nonfiction:The Way the World Works by Nicholson Baker—picked by Adam WoogBehind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo—picked by David TakamiDust to Dust — a Memoir by Benjamin Busch—picked by Irene WannerMy Heart Is Boundless edited by Eve LaPlante—picked by Barbara Llloyd McMichaelThomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham—picked by Kevin J. HamiltonSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen—picked by David B. WilliamsThe Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today by Thomas E. Ricks—picked by John B. SaulJoseph Anton by Salman Rushdie—picked by Michael UpchurchSeward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr—picked by Steve RaymondThe Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper—picked by Curt Schleier