10 Best

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7. Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance

On Nov. 2, 2004, a disaffected young Moroccan immigrant named Mohammed Bouyeri shot and killed Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on an Amsterdam street, slit his throat with a machete, and then calmly plunged a knife into his chest. The murder forced Holland to reassess its cherished postwar tolerance of immigrants. That discussion continues today across Europe, characterized by angry outbursts and a great deal of certainty about who, or what, is to blame. In Murder in Amsterdam, Buruma offers no such prescriptions. Instead, he brings a journalist's detachment to the debate, dissecting the violent rage of a "confused" and "muddled" Bouyeri, who was fueled by contempt for the liberal mores of Amsterdam. But Buruma also tries to explain the blindness that afflicts Western societies when it comes to understanding what may be motivating angry immigrants in their midst. No one knows where Europe's debate over Muslim immigration will end, but Buruma makes a sensible start. — By Andrew Purvis

8. Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy

Written like a classic crime story, this true-life tale kicks off with a botched robbery and police chase. Authorities raid the villa of a Munich-based antiquarian to discover a collection of 4th century B.C. vases soaking off encrustations — and traces of theft — in a 1.5-m-deep swimming pool full of water and caustic chemicals. As the plot thickens, a cast of crooked art dealers, shady collectors and formidable art institutions are implicated in an investigation that steers Italy's Art Squad to a Geneva warehouse filled with looted national treasures. The warehouse's owner? Giacomo Medici, Italy's most nefarious art dealer. With one of the book's main players, Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum's former antiquities curator, on trial for conspiring to purchase stolen antiquities, and Medici challenging a 1995 Rome conviction that sentenced him to 10 years in prison, even the timing of this book is a work of art. — By Anthee Carassava

9. Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World

The year is 1828, and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss has just met explorer and natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt in Berlin. This is where Kehlmann begins the life stories of the two eminent German scientists, but what happens after that is as much comedy as biography. Kehlmann writes the men as comically eccentric, sometimes tyrannical and, yet, not wholly unlikable. While Humboldt travels the world, Gauss prefers to journey into the depths of mathematics. Gauss loves women and Humboldt is curiously asexual. But the two contemporaries are united by their fanatical quest to explore the secrets of the universe. Gauss even abandons his new bride at a climactic moment on their wedding night when he has a sudden idea. Kehlmann has an overabundant imagination, but he's also a thorough researcher, which makes this an engrossing, enjoyable mix of fact and fiction. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, Measuring the World manages to be both clever and entertaining, which is a science unto itself. — By Stephanie Kirchner

10. Georg Gerster, The Past from Above

Swiss photographer Gerster has been taking aerial photos of some of the world's most spectacular archaeological sites for the last 50 years. This collection, edited by Charlotte Trümpler, director of the archaeology collection of the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, shows off ancient ruined cities in breathtaking patchworks and the awe-inspiring architecture of religious sites from the temples of Abu Simbel in Egypt to Caesarea in Israel. In an age when anyone with a digital camera can pretend to be David Bailey, Gerster takes photos that demand a helicopter, no fear of heights and decades of experience. The Past from Above provides a unique view of the world we live in today and a glimpse of what it must have looked like to the gods back then.

the gods back then.

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