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The Best Books for Grownups — 2013

Here’s your chance to catch up on the books everyone’s still buzzing about


1. The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-45, by Rick Atkinson

From the anxious nausea of waiting to storm the D-Day beaches to the frozen desperation of an isolated foxhole in the Battle of the Bulge, readers will feel they're fighting alongside the G.I.s who are the main characters in this capper to Atkinson's "Liberation Trilogy." Unearthing new material and marshaling it with both a granular and cinematic eye, the Pulitzer Prize winner vividly paints the grit and steel the Allies wielded to crush the Third Reich at last.

2. Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler

This visionary examination of death, seen through the eyes of a scientist who is also a loving daughter, is a poignant must-read. Don't be fooled by the title; Butler's tale of the final decade of her smart-but-suffering parents abounds with insights about how society and medicine shape the way we live now. Her main concern: Modern treatments keep us alive longer but ignore our quality of life. After a pacemaker cruelly extended Jeffrey Butler's years of dementia, his wife, Valerie, refused life-saving surgery and bravely met death on her own terms.

3. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America's Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich

If Washington's bad behavior and Fellini-esque tomfoolery doesn't yet have your knickers in a twist, they'll be beaucoup bunched by the time you finish this gimlet-eyed take on our acrimonious "political culture." It's a funny, discomfiting and brutally honest portrait of D.C.'s power players, whose mania to preserve or boost their status means they never stop their Schmoozengrüven — not even at funerals.

4. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

President Barack Obama called Sotomayor "the embodiment of the American Dream." In this moving memoir, she candidly and gracefully relates her journey from an impoverished childhood in the Bronx to her appointment as our first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. It's a thrill to watch someone with her analytic mind materialize in these pages as a natural-born storyteller. All in all, this coming-of-age tale is a testament to the power of guts and brains to set lofty goals — and attain them.

Carol Memmott's book reviews have appeared in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and People.

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