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The Year in Books

Industry Star: Jonathan Burnham
With Miramax Books in turmoil in 2005, it surprised no one that founding publisher Jonathan Burnham decided to go his own way. But most expected him to spin off one of those personality-based imprints (like Jonathan Karp’s Warner Twelve). Instead he became publisher of the flagship division at HarperCollins, a many-tentacled behemoth better known for celebrity tell-alls than high literature. So what’s he doing under the same Murdochian tent as Judith Regan? Making Harper more respectable, for one thing. “I think they wanted to build on its strength—serious nonfiction—and to build the upmarket fiction list as well,” he says. To that end, Burnham has won some heated auctions—notably for a couple of thousand-page tomes you won’t be seeing at Wal-Mart: Vikram Chandra’s Indian-gangster epic Sacred Games and Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, the first book by an American to win France’s Prix Goncourt. And sure, there are the celebrity bios, but two of this year’s successes were by Anderson Cooper and Madeleine Albright—not exactly O.J. HarperCollins has been diverting tons of money into new technologies, but one of its smartest acquisitions may have been Burnham. —Boris Kachka

To paraphrase the breathless jacket copy, sometimes a book arrives with so much marketing and so many overblown comparisons, it’s bound to disappoint. Publishers wagered $800,000 advances on two lurid Victorian thrillers with highbrow yearnings—Jed Rubenfeld’s Freud-and-S&M mystery The Interpretation of Murder and Michael Cox’s verbose The Meaning of Night. Their titles told the “Da Vinci Code with a brain” promo story: Take a darkly evocative noun (murder, night), then add a patina of literary introspection that flatters readers (interpretation, meaning), and watch the hardcovers fly off the tables. Not this year.

Christopher Bonanos, Logan Hill, Jim Holt, John Homans, Boris Kachka, Hugo Lindgren, Emily Nussbaum, Adam Sternbergh

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