1. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (Grand Central Books)
Tickets to the musical "Hamilton" are astronomically priced and near-impossible to get, but now there’s an accessible – and beautiful – alternative. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter – who bonded over their mutual musical enthusiasms and collaborated even before the show became a show – have produced a remarkable book that combines the intellectual heft of Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat with the intelligence and revolutionary spirit of, well, "Hamilton." Screen shots of Miranda’s mind at work – in the form of pages from his original notebooks – are integrated with vibrant cast photographs and lyrics. The book captures "Hamilton"’s contagious energy on every page -- even the footnotes are a joy.
2. “The Most Blessed of the Patriarchs:” Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf (Liveright Publishing)
Thomas Jefferson is an endlessly fascinating figure, and the authors argue that he is so central to 18th and 19th century America that it is impossible to understand that pivotal era without grappling with him and his legacy. Gordon-Reed, who won a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Hemingses of Monticello, and Onuf, who is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, have written neither a traditional cradle-to-grave biography nor an attack or a defense. Their stylish book is divided into thematic chapters that explain in essay form how Jefferson was shaped by his origins, his travels, and his home, Monticello.
3. All Tomorrow’s Parties by Rob Spillman (Grove Press)
Even for those educated in the art of the memoir, Spillman’s book is a revelation. The short and elegant chapters segue through time and place, and each one is given its own soundtrack, starting with the Sex Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun” and ending with Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping.” Spillman, the widely admired editor of Tin House, has written of his peripatetic coming of age, as his musician parents, who lived in West Berlin, split up. He strove to find a place in the world that included Berlin after the Wall came down and downtown New York – and he more than succeeded.
4. Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen (Random House)
In her eighth novel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Quindlen tells the story of a young woman – just 11 at the start – growing up on a Pennsylvania farm that her family has owned for generations. The farm girl, who narrates, is precocious and keenly observant about the fault lines within her family and her town as tensions mount over their flood-prone land. Like so much of Quindlen’s work, this novel is full of empathy and understanding for those who feel conflicted about whether to leave home or to stay.
5. The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and Other Remarkable People Edited by Bethanne Patrick (Regan Arts)
The subtitle pretty much says it all, except that a portion of the proceeds of this book will go to 826National, the laudable network of writing and tutoring centers co-founded by Dave Eggers. While there are plenty of non-writers included in this lively and smart anthology (Tim Gunn and Tommy Hilfiger, to name two) the best of these short essays come from members of the tribe, including Margaret Atwood, Carl Hiaasen, and Fran Lebowitz, who says, "Listen, if you wanted to find out which book changed my life, you should have asked me when I was six."