News & Politics

Best of 2005: Page-Turners of the Year

The year's best books about Washington or by Washington authors

• The Bonus Army: An American Epic. Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen do justice to a little-known chapter in local history, when thousands of World War I veterans came to Washington to demand the bonus pay promised them, paving the way for the GI Bill of Rights.

• Drama City: George Pelecanos's DC thrillers keep getting better. In his new novel, an ex-con turned animal-control officer tries to resist getting sucked back into the world that sent him to prison.

• The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. Journalist David Plotz's offbeat account of a eugenics experiment is also a moving commentary on family and individuality.

• Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America. Nick Kotz's narrative of the tense relationship between the president and the civil-rights leader shifts the historical perspective on both.

• Mother of Sorrows: This is fiction that reads like memoir. Richard McCann's stories, about a suburban-Washington family from the 1950s to the present, are infused with keen observation and loss.

• Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War by Anthony Shadid. A Washington Post reporter's complex, dark look at the US invasion and occupation through the eyes of those affected most.

• Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. Some felt DC author Judith Warner's study of stressed-out middle-class moms fueled more of the same, but give her credit for hitting a nerve and doing so with style.

• Prep: This remarkably assured first novel by Curtis Sittenfeld–until recently a St. Albans English teacher–is a witty dissection of class and self-consciousness in boarding school.

• Pretty Birds: Washington is full of media types who think there's a novelist in them. NPR's Scott Simon has the goods in this unflinching novel about a Muslim girl who becomes a sniper during the war in Sarajevo.

• Prince of Fire: The latest of DC novelist Daniel Silva's international thrillers featuring art restorer/spy Gabriel Allon is riveting. Silva could be our John le Carré.

• The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House. In a well-written book that transcends agendas, Post political editor John F. Harris examines the former president's successes, self-destructive tendencies, and attempts to grow into the job.

• When All the World Was Young: A Memoir. Barbara Holland's account of growing up in Washington in the 1940s and '50s is richly detailed, droll, and very human. She could be our E.B. White.

• The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate. One of the year's biggest losses was the death of the gifted Post writer Marjorie Williams. Her previously unpublished essay "Hit by Lightning: A Cancer Memoir" is worth the book's price.

• The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Washington-based New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's look at the challenges and opportunities of globalization is full of engaging stories and facts.


Give Jessica Cutler one thing–she knows how to sell herself. For a while, it looked as though the Hill aide exposed for her raunchy sex blog was going to peak with a spread on Then came The Washingtonienne, her blue-button-down-ripper of a novel. Reviewers seemed excited, if only that somebody in Washington was getting busy. Now an HBO show is rumored to be in the works. But Cutler's characters–including the heroine, transparently based on the author–are flat, her depiction of Hill culture predictable, and her prose witless: "I knew how these things worked: if Phillip got me a job, I would have to go out to dinner with him and at the very least, give him a blowjob or something afterwards." Even as beach lit, this book, well, blows.

Washingtonian staffers contributing to this section were Cristina Abello, Susan Baer, Susan Davidson, Ken DeCell, Rebecca Dreilinger, Kim Isaac Eisler, Mary Clare Fleury, Kimberly Forrest, Brooke Lea Foster, Garrett M. Graff, Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head, Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Chad Lorenz, Leslie Milk, Aparna Nancherla, William O'Sullivan, Cindy Rich, and Chris Wilson. Also contributing were Cathy Alter, Ann Cochran, and Matthew Graham.