A literary look back
Rick Kogan, Tribune reporter

"The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood"
By Jane Leavy
Harper, $27.99

Leavy's "The Last Boy" is as masterfully researched and beautifully written as any biography this year. Sox fans like me may despise everything about the pinstriped Bronx Bombers, but one cannot walk away from this book without a new understanding of and deep compassion for the most damned Yankee of them all.

"The Imperfectionists"
By Tom Rachman
The Dial Press, $15

"The Imperfectionists" is a brilliantly original novel set in and about an English-language newspaper based in Rome. In a series of chapters that read like finely crafted short stories, this is less the tale of a dying industry than one about the funny, tragic, tender truths of life itself.

Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"
By Rebecca Skloot
Crown, $26

This year's Heartland Prize for nonfiction went to Skloot for her debut book. It is a richly layered medical detective story about a woman killed by cancer, who lives on through her cancer cells that refuse to die and, as a result, have become medicine's holy grail. But Skloot's book is more than a story of miraculous cells. It's a complex tale involving race, faith, poverty and bioethics spanning the last 60 years.

"Anthill: A Novel"
By E.O. Wilson
W.W. Norton, $24.95

After two Pulitzer Prizes and 20 works of nonfiction, Wilson took a big risk: writing fiction. The bet paid off and his first novel, inspired by his own Alabama childhood, is robust in its portrayal of a young boy coming alive to the world of nature. With a deft hand, this year's Heartland Prize winner for fiction dramatizes the need for environmental justice and celebrates the richness of biodiversity in this wonderful novel.

Julia Keller, cultural critic