Ellen Heltzel: Best Books of 2010

Ellen Heltzel, Book Critic and Author of "Between the Covers," joined us with her picks for the best books of 2010.

For more information about Ellen Heltzel and the Book Babes, check out this website.

THE BOOK BABE’S FIVE WEIGHTY FAVS FROM 2010– a weighty combination (2,826 pages total)

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot – A hometown girl made good with this, her first book, which was inspired by a story she heard while attending Portland Community College. Henrietta Lacks was a black woman dying of cancer whose HeLa cells were removed and cultured in a lab. They were so prolific that they became the standard for laboratory research after her death. Skloot not only tells her story in highly readable terms but also scaled a wall of distrust to engage the Lacks family, who had never given permission nor received compensation for the cells.

“The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” by Siddhartha Mukherjee – Skloot’s book may wet your appetite for more good science writing. If it does, this book should be on your list, in which a cancer doctor and researcher traces the dreaded disease from its earliest beginnings to our current understanding of what makes it such a democratic and determined killer. Mukherjee is not the first to tell this story, but he tells it with elegance and a focus on the ethical dilemmas for treating physicians who can’t ensure the outcomes for their patients.

“Fall of Giants,” by Ken Follett -- Follett became a household name with doorstoppers like this one, an historical saga that runs almost 1,000 pages and is the first of his three-part Century Trilogy. In this novel he covers World War II, the Russian revolution and women’s suffrage, combining a fictional crew of Welsh, English and Russian characters to supplement the true-life bigwigs of that time. You revisit the history of the 20th century without even trying.

“To the End of the Land,” by David Grossman – This remains my favorite novel of the year, given its ability to combine a mother’s desperate love for her child with the larger issues of war and nation-building. Grossman, an Israeli, is dealing with his country’s survival and the tragic plight of the Palestinians. But it isn’t difficult to project his ideas onto our own situation and the American soldiers now serving in harm’s way.

“The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map,” by Peter Stark -- This sleeper – a mere 325 pages -- didn’t get the attention it deserved from critics. Stark, an outdoor writer, has created much more than a travelogue here. By exploring the history and the geography of four isolated spots in the Lower 48, including the isolated corner of Southeast Oregon, he intelligently addresses how such places have shaped our national identity.

--Ellen Heltzel


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