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Caro’s Johnson, Coll’s ExxonMobil Compete for Book Awards

Robert A. Caro
Robert A. Caro, author of ''The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power.'' Caro won the National Book Critics Circle's 2012 award for biography. Source: Random House via Bloomberg

“The Passage of Power,” the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s acclaimed life of Lyndon Johnson, is among the finalists for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards. Two of the earlier volumes have won the award.

Steve Coll’s “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” will compete for the general nonfiction prize, having already won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

Other nonfiction finalists include “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo, a look at life in a Mumbai slum; “Far From the Tree,” in which Andrew Solomon interviews hundreds of parents who have children very different from themselves; and David Quammen’s “Spillover,” a study of the viral diseases that jump from animals to humans.

The finalists for the fiction award span the globe, from Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” set in Texas, to Zadie Smith’s “NW,” set in London, and Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son,” set in North Korea.

The National Book Critics Circle, or NBCC, is an organization of almost 600 book reviewers and editors. Founded in 1974, the group gave out its first awards the following year.

Selecting Judges

Nominees and winners are chosen by the group’s 24-member board of directors, which includes Bloomberg book editor Laurie Muchnick, staffers from the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, and a number of freelance critics. Though not accompanied by a monetary prize, the NBCC awards are well-respected in the literary world.

The winners will be announced on Feb. 28 at the New School in New York City, when two additional awards will be given. The Ivan Sandrof Award for lifetime achievement will go to pioneering feminist writers Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. William Deresiewicz will claim the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which for the first time will come with $1,000.

Here is a complete list of the finalists:


Reyna Grande, “The Distance Between Us” (Atria); Maureen N. McLane, “My Poets” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Anthony Shadid, “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Leanne Shapton, “Swimming Studies” (Blue Rider Press); Ngugi wa Thiong’o, “In the House of the Interpreter” (Pantheon)


Robert A. Caro, “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” (Knopf); Lisa Cohen, “All We Know: Three Lives” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Michael Gorra, “Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece” (Liveright/Norton); Lisa Jarnot, “Robert Duncan, the Ambassador From Venus: A Biography” (University of California); Tom Reiss, “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo” (Crown)


Paul Elie, “Reinventing Bach” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Daniel Mendelsohn, “Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture” (New York Review Books); Mary Ruefle, “Madness, Rack, and Honey” (Wave Books); Marina Warner, “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights” (Belknap/Harvard); Kevin Young, “The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness” (Graywolf)


Laurent Binet, “HHhH” (translated from French by Sam Taylor; Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Ben Fountain, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Ecco); Adam Johnson, “The Orphan Master’s Son” (Random House); Lydia Millet, “Magnificence” (Norton); Zadie Smith, “NW” (Penguin Press)


Katherine Boo, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” (Random House); Steve Coll, “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” (Penguin Press); Jim Holt, “Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story” (Liveright/Norton); David Quammen, “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” (Norton); Andrew Solomon, “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” (Scribner)


David Ferry, “Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations” (University of Chicago Press); Lucia Perillo, “On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths” (Copper Canyon Press); Allan Peterson, “Fragile Acts” (McSweeney’s); D.A. Powell, “Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys” (Graywolf); A.E. Stallings, “Olives” (Triquarterly/Northwestern)

Muse highlights include Craig Seligman on books, Jeremy Gerard on theater.

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