Best Books of December
Welcome to our Best of the Month page for December. This month, as we see relatively few new releases and look back over a year's worth of books with an eye toward gift-giving, we've relaxed our normally strict rules that limit us to choosing our editors' picks from the newest releases only. So in addition to our favorite December books, you'll also find below some other favorites from recent months that we've been wanting to tell you about (or just discovered ourselves). And, as usual, along with our regular Significant Seven picks (which we offer all month long at 40% off), you can find seven more picks on the side (since we always have more books we want to share), our favorite new paperbacks, and up-to-date lists of the topselling and most discussed books of the month.

The Signficant Seven LogoThe December Significant Seven
American Buffalo | Big Box Reuse | An Illustrated Life | Collections of Nothing | The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia | The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac | A Year of Mornings


Spotlight Title: American Buffalo by Steven Rinella
American Buffalo Before the 18th century, the American buffalo was the largest land mammal in North America, largely predator-free and roaming the continent in numbers estimated in excess of 40 million. In just over a century, widespread slaughter reduced the population to a few hundred head, and the American West lay beneath a till of bleached bones. When Steven Rinella stumbled over a buffalo skull in Yellowstone National Park, it sparked an obsessive search for the beast's past, from its migration across the Bering land bridge to its near extinction at the hands of western settlers. American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon is his fascinating chronicle, beginning with a search for Black Diamond (the doomed model for the Buffalo Nickel) and including an exploration of "buffalo jumps" (where thousands were run over cliffs by Native American hunters), and tales of bone piles--harvested from the plains for a thriving fertilizer industry--stacked 10 feet high, 20 feet wide, and a half-mile long. Rinella's history is deftly interwoven with his own literal buffalo hunt in Alaska's Wrangell mountains, complete with grizzly bears, raging, ice-rimmed rivers, and bouts of hypothermia and frostbite. Written in a spare style appropriate to the rigors of the frozen wilderness, American Buffalo is engrossing, informative, funny, and a welcome achievement of both natural history and outdoor adventure. --Jon
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Big Box Reuse by Julia ChristensenAn Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory
Big Box Reuse From Kentucky to California, the construction of tens of thousands of big box stores over the past few decades has transformed the American landscape. What happens when one of these stores goes bust or moves to a super-sized retail center a few miles down the road? Right now communities across the country are confronted with the challenge of repurposing these enormous physical structures, their acres of parking lot, and the accompanying network of roadways. Intrepid artist and writer Julia Christensen traveled all over the United States to discover the surprising story of how some of them have creatively met that challenge. In Big Box Reuse--an appropriately big, square book--she describes in words, photographs, and building plans the reincarnation of 10 former retail behemoths into facilities ranging from an indoor raceway and a Spam museum to a health center, library, and charter school. In each of the case studies, Christensen documents and reflects deeply on the big box transformation with respect to each locale's particular socio-economic, political, and cultural history. Big Box Reuse presents "outside the box" thinking on American culture and commerce, community activism, and savvy and sensible redesign of our built environment. --LaurenAn Illustrated Life Danny Gregory's An Illustrated Life is a visual delight of color and texture--a funky and frenetic "book about books people have made," perfect for chronic doodlers, journalers, and art lovers. Sharing vibrant excerpts from the notebooks of 50 illustrators, artists, and designers, each accompanied by an introduction by the artist, An Illustrated Life is a gorgeous, intimate exploration of the creative process. Gregory's passion for the "illustrated journal" is infectious--for him, artist's sketchbooks represent a nonthreatening place to record "risks, mistakes, regrets, thoughts, lessons, and dreams." Whether you are charmed by the illustrations of Amanda Kavanagh, or intimidated by the musings of Stefan Sagmeister, poring over this eclectic group of fledgling and famous "artists" will inspire you to tackle an illustrated journal of your own. --Daphne
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Collections of Nothing by William Davies KingThe Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia by Stephen J. Sansweet, Pablo Hidalgo, Bob Vitas, and Daniel Wallace
Collections of Nothing One of the oddest memoirs of the year may well be the best. William Davies King is a theater professor who over his fifty-plus years has gathered, in countless binders and boxes, a vast collection of things nobody else wants: cat-food labels, chain letters, skeleton keys, cereal boxes, chopstick wrappers, the "Place Stamp Here" squares from the corners of envelopes. It's an obsession you might think was inexplicable--least of all by the one obsessed--but in Collections of Nothing King makes his mania seem nearly rational, and the personal drama of it wryly fascinating. (Imagine if Henry Darger had written witty, self-aware essays that analyzed his obsessions without puncturing their mystery.) King is an academic and he's been through therapy, but he writes free of the clots and cliches of both of those disciplines, contemplating what he calls "the cumbersummation of me" with the myopic elegance of Nicholson Baker and a moving understanding that this strange, apparently worthless collection--and now this lovely and wise book about it--are what he has to offer the world. --TomThe Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia Updated for the first time in 10 years, The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia is the closest fans will come to having access to the great Holocron from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Housed in a sturdy slipcase, the illustrated, three-volume hardcover set holds an A-Z overview of all things Star Wars--from the original trilogy and the prequels to the expanded universe of novels, comics, cartoons, and video games. Most entries on the three-column pages garner a few sentences while core characters and fan favorites like the family Fett spill over to multiple pages of data. As fans know, nearly everyone who appeared onscreen in the films has gone on to receive an entire backstory, but even die-hard fans will delight in the discoveries found on every page. Random, Magic 8 Ball-style browsing brought up head-scratchers like Malarian Alliance, Traest Kre'fey, Rybet, Lieutenant Colf, Guun Han Saresh, bruise-leech crawler, and Ion Alley. And did you know that the bug-eyed alien "dog" in Jabba's palace on Tatooine had a name--"Bubo"--and was in fact a spy and an assassin? According to Yoda, "size matters not," but this 10-pound box set will make a welcome addition to the serious Star Wars fan's bookshelf. --Brad
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The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac by Bethlehem Shoals, Dr. Lawyer IndianChief, Silverbird 5000, and Brown Recluse Esq.A Year of Mornings by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes
The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac From its mouthful of a name, you might expect The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac to be one of the new breed of fantasy-friendly stathead sports guides in the vein of the Baseball Prospectus. Or, from its blogger pedigree (via the popular FreeDarko.com), you might assume it's one of those quickie blog-into-book projects that repurposes new-media content into an old-media package. But it's neither--not even close. Bucking the data-crunching trend, the Almanac's pseudonymous authors instead embrace the mythical side of pro sports, reminding us that the difference between, say, LeBron and AI lies not just in 0.2 ppg but in the rich drama of potential, style, and lore that each star represents. And the Almanac is no blog: it's every inch a book, freshly imagined and gorgeously designed, with colorful, smart graphics that give dimension to figures from Tim "Mechanical Gothic" Duncan to Stephon "Hategoat" Marbury. With a foreword, fittingly, by Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas, the NBA star whose kooky, self-concocted persona often overshadows his knee-hobbled game, the Almanac is the ideal midseason treat for the casual fan and the deep obsessive alike. --TomA Year of Mornings Imagine for a second what it would be like if you could see again--in one grand and lovely collection--all of the precious moments you've ever seen. That's what it feels like to flip through A Year of Mornings, and even though the authors have set their sights on their own surroundings, you'll recognize in their photos a familiar, physical sense of joy experienced in daily rituals. Born out of a year-long visual blogging project, the book profiles passing early-morning moments at home shared between two women living 3,191 miles apart. What started as a meeting of two creative minds became a close friendship that went on to inspire a huge community of readers (whose participation in the project is paid tribute at the end with a month-by-month section of the authors' favorite posted comments). As the book progresses from season to season, you can see a kind of kindred vision taking shape between them, so much so that after a while it doesn't really matter which pictures are Stephanie's or which are Maria's. Their story is a welcome reminder that the opportunities to take notice of life's simple beauty are never as rare as you may think. --Anne
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Most of the Month: Bestsellers in January
Rankings based on orders during the month.
All BooksOverallWestMidwestSouthEast
Breaking DawnBreaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer 1 1 1 1 1
Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer 2 2 2 2 2
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer 3 3 3 3 3
The UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman 4 4 7 6 4
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer 5 7 6 5 6
The Shack by William P. Young 6 6 4 4 9
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell 7 5 8 8 5
Eat This Not That!: Supermarket Survival Guide by David Zinczenko 8 8 5 7 7
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer 9 10 10 - -
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney 10 - - - 8
Eat This Not That! by David Zinczenko - - 9 10 10
Guilty by Ann Coulter - 9 - 9 -
Books Published in JanuaryOverallWestMidwestSouthEast
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last StrawDiary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney 1 2 1 2 1
The Power of Soul by Zhi Gang Sha 2 5 - - 3
Guilty by Ann Coulter 3 1 2 1 2
The Motley Fool Million Dollar Portfolio by David and Tom Gardner 4 3 4 5 5
Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich 5 4 3 4 4
The Associate by John Grisham 6 6 6 3 7
Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie 7 8 5 6 10
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan 8 7 7 7 6
The Soulmate Secret by Arielle Ford 9 9 - - -
The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson 10 10 10 - -
Joy's LIFE Diet by Joy Bauer - - 8 - 8
Gimme My Money Back by Ali Velshi - - 9 10 -
Only Pleasure by Lora Leigh - - - 9 -
Mounting Fears by Stuart Woods - - - 8 -
The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm - - - - 9

Most of the Month: Most Discussed Books and Topics
Updated Tuesdays. Based on posts to Amazon discussion boards in the past week.
BooksBook Topics
Breaking Dawn 1. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Forum)
2. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (Forum)
3. Blood Noir by Laurell K. Hamilton (Forum)
4. Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann (Forum)
5. Eclipse (Warriors: Power of Three, Book 4) by Erin Hunter (Forum)
6. Swallowing Darkness by Laurell K. Hamilton (Forum)
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Forum)
8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (Forum)
9. The Twilight Saga: The Official Guide by Stephenie Meyer (Forum)
10. Into the Woods (Warriors: Tigerstar and Sasha, Book 1) by Erin Hunter (Forum)
1. Religion (Forum)
2. Christianity (Forum)
3. Politics (Forum)
4. Romance (Forum)
5. History (Forum)
6. Nonfiction (Forum)
7. Health (Forum)
8. Science (Forum)
9. Fantasy (Forum)
10. Mystery (Forum)

Best of the Month Archives
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2008:
December
November
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2007:
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We're Blogging Books
Omnivoracious
Bookmark Omnivoracious, the Amazon.com books blog, for daily book-loving posts and author appearances, including these guests:

Charlie Huston
Lemony Snicket
Erin Hunter
Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria
Rick Perlstein and John Dean
Tim Harford and Dan Ariely
More Media Picks
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See the monthly favorites of our other editorial teams:

Music
Movies & TV
Best Books of 2008
Best of 2008
Visit our Best of 2008 Store to find our picks for the best books of the year, including The Northern Clemency, which leads our editors' top 100.


Seven on the Side


Best Athletes You Don't Want to Mess With

Octagon Step inside the world of mixed martial arts with an up-close- and-personal look at the warriors of the UFC. --Dave

Octagon by Kevin Lynch


Best Way to Get Your Roommate to Wash the Dishes

Passive Aggressive Notes This collection of hilarious, oh-so-subtle reminders and requests is the perfect stocking stuffer, provided you can find the stocking in that mess your roommate calls a room. --Daphne

Passive Aggressive Notes by Kerry Miller


Best Book for Savoring Culinary History

A Revolution in Taste History fans will devour this savory account of how the transformation of French cuisine reshaped today's Western food culture. Foodie credentials not required. --Lauren

A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine, 1650-1800 by Susan Pinkard


Best Anthology of Oology

Egg & Nest A wondrous photo tribute to the perfection and variety of eggs, the ingenuity of nests, and the eccentric beauty of natural-history collecting. --Tom

Egg & Nest by Rosamund Purcell


Best Book to Make Your Kitchen Nightmare-Free

Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite Coming January 1: everyone's favorite kitchen commandant provides delicious inspiration (minus the deprivation) for anyone resolving to make better meals next year. --Anne

Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite by Gordon Ramsay


Best Book About a Japanese Cat

Wabi Sabi The eponymous cat from Kyoto goes on a journey to discover the true meaning of her name in this wonderfully understated picture book that incorporates spare text, haiku, and collage. --Brad

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young


Best Reason to Celebrate Halloween in December

The New Annotated Dracula Give the Twilight fan on your list an old-school lesson in bloodsucking with Leslie Klinger's lavishly illustrated exploration of the myths and legends of the vampire prince. --Jon

The New Annotated Dracula by Bram Stoker and Leslie S. Klinger



Best Paperbacks of December

Shadow CountryMany of the books we loved in hardcover are new in paperback this month, including the recent winner of the National Book Award for fiction, Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country:

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Life of the Skies by Jonathan Rosen
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
Daydream Believers by Fred Kaplan