The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were established in 2012 to recognize the best fiction and nonfiction books for adult readers published in the U.S. the previous year. The winners (one for fiction, one for nonfiction) will be announced at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting on February 11th.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.
With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.
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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Family relationships are never simple. But Sherman Alexie’s bond with his mother Lillian was more complex than most. She plunged her family into chaos with a drinking habit, but shed her addiction when it was on the brink of costing her everything. She survived a violent past, but created an elaborate facade to hide the truth. She selflessly cared for strangers, but was often incapable of showering her children with the affection that they so desperately craved. She wanted a better life for her son, but it was only by leaving her behind that he could hope to achieve it. It’s these contradictions that made Lillian Alexie a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated, and very human woman.
When she passed away, the incongruities that defined his mother shook Sherman and his remembrance of her. Grappling with the haunting ghosts of the past in the wake of loss, he responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is a stunning memoir filled with raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine, much less survive. An unflinching and unforgettable remembrance, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a powerful, deeply felt account of a complicated relationship.
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The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg
Here, for the first time, former high level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking first-hand account of America’s nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization–and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration–threatens our very survival. No other insider with high level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
Framed as a memoir–a chronicle of madness in which Ellsberg acknowledges participating–this gripping expose reads like a thriller and offers feasible steps we can take to dismantle the existing “doomsday machine” and avoid nuclear catastrophe, returning Ellsberg to his role as whistleblower. The Doomsday Machine is thus a real-life Dr. Strangelove story and an ultimately hopeful–and powerfully important–book about not just our country, but the future of the world.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.
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