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The Best American Essays 2010 (Best American Essays)

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  324 ratings  ·  56 reviews

The provocative and best-sellingauthor Christopher Hitchenstakes the helm of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this perennial favorite that is “reliable and yet still surprising—the best of the best” (Kirkus Reviews).

Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Mariner Books
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Of all the anthologies appearing annually under the "Best American" rubric, the one whose quality appears most highly dependent on the particular choice of guest editor is the "Best American Essays" collection. Just compare the 2007 and 2008 collections, edited respectively by David Foster Wallace and Adam Gopnik, to see just how much difference a guest editor can make (DFW leaves Gopnik in the dust, unsurprisingly). So I was somewhat reassured to see Christopher Hitchens as this year's invited ...more
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2011-reads
No wooly-minded gushing ruminations on nature here, no sir!. Maybe Christopher Hitchens thought Mary Oliver's essay selections were too soft last year. I'm not usually one to complain about how many women are included in anthologies, but with just 5 of 21 essays by women, plus all the encomiums from male writers to male writers here, I was getting a definite masculine vibe. Just checked my other editions, though, and they're just as lopsided, although I don't recall noticing this before. [Oliver ...more
here's the thing--what, exactly, is the BEST American Essay? or American Essays? Do I judge, as the edition does, from a rather limited, "well-established" base to republish published works, or ...from sources never dreamed of--i.e. editorials, Ebony, etc.? I was left feeling like I nibbled on sawdust with the numerous Brit/American lit references, the reflective Orwellian slants of "what he got right" (which I did enjoy) to "what he did not" (yes, with British references, again) to the interest ...more
I wandered through the library pulling books off the shelves with no design, no intent, just letting the universe guide my first round of winter break reading. We have a small, outdated public library; usually I have to request books in advance or go in with a battle plan to find what I want to read, so this was complete surrender to the contingent. I grabbed this compilation because I missed it last year, and when I got home I found out that Christopher Hitchens had just died.

I didn't know how
On the plus side, by reading this book I get a pretty good idea how my taste in writing lines up with Christopher Hitchens. On the minus side, it seems that there is not a whole lot of overlap. There are quite a few essays here where people talk about their professional expertise in an arty kind of way, slightly above what you'd get from sitting next to them in an airplane. But I don't like airplane seat neighbor conversation very much, so those essays (by an eye doctor, by writers talking about ...more
Wendy Schauben
This collection was the first non-fiction collection that I've ever picked up. What I found was that non-fiction pieces have a trend; the author knows way more than the reader will ever about the subject, the author uses insane amounts of detail with little imagery, and the author sums up the lesson learned from their various experiences in the last paragraph of their piece. Every story in the collection followed a similar path. What I took from reading the essays is how detailed an author must ...more
May 06, 2011 Victoria rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mischa Li, Chao Song, Amy Seaman
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
In general, the “Best American” series is more often than not, a mixed bag and gamble. I find that whether or not I find the series successful is solely dependent on the Guest Editor’s taste in reading matching up with my own. The way the series is structured, a series editor (in this case Robert Atwan) whittles down a veritable pool of submissions from various publications for the best 100 or so essays from any given year, and the guest editor picks, in his/her own personal opinion, the best 20 ...more
Chuck O'Connor
If I could give 2.5 stars I would. This is a middling effort from the "Best of . . ." series.

I really enjoy the "Best American" collections because they seem to be edited towards novel voices and points of view. They have a consistent ability to surprise and delight. The collections often work like an interesting bar-room conversation where cultural finds are endorsed between friends. I had hoped that it would be the case with this collection seeing as it was edited by Christopher Hitchens, but
Laura Smith
This is disappointing! Should be called "mediocre and unremarkable american essays." I normally enjoy essays because I find that they enlighten or offer a window into a different perspective. I find that the best essays take a smaller phenomenon that somehow relates to the larger picture, and you leave feeling like you've learned something important. These were smaller picture essays, that seemed isolated in their scope. If you're dying to learn more about eyeballs and Marion Barry (DC's crook m ...more
Andrew Bertaina
I kind of love The Best American Essays. This particular iteration wasn't as strong as the 2011 edition. However, that's somewhat up to the proclivities of the guest editor, in this case, Christopher Hitchens. However, it's a collection worth reading. That said, let's take a look at the individual essays.

5 star
The Murder of Leo Tolstoy
Irreconcilable Dissonance (A short and lovely essay on divorce)
The Elegant Eyeball
My Genome, My Self
Guy Walks into a Bar Car (David Sedaris)
Speaking in Tongues (
Billie Pritchett
This is the best collection of this series' volumes I have ever read. Some of my favorites include: "The Murder of Leo Tolstoy," maybe one of the best or the best essay I have ever read, which speculates that Leo Tolstoy didn't die of natural causes but murder (cue scary music); "Irreconcilable Dissonance," about the seemingly trivial causes for divorce, which incidentally are the most common reasons; "A Rake's Progress," about former New York Mayor Marion Barry; "My Genome, My Self," about the ...more
I've been reading this series pretty religiously for....maybe a decade now. Recently, I've been less impressed by the selections, but this year they published an essay by Zadie Smith, "Speaking in Tongues," which is one of the best essays I've read in a long time and epitomizes all the potential of the genre. She manages to weave analyses of the play Pygmalion (i.e. My Fair Lady), the life of William Shakespeare, and Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father into this really thought-provoking piece a ...more
Margaret Sankey
I can keep up with Harper's and the Atlantic and the New Yorker and even The American Scholar, but for the little ones like Oregon Humanities and the Alaska Quarterly Review, I rely on this yearly compendium of the best non-fiction magazine writing--and this volume does not disappoint: a doctor talks about the early days of laser eye surgery, an essay on Einstein's relationship with American Zionists, a reporter spends several exhausting days with Marion Berry, Steven Pinker gets his genome mapp ...more
Refreshing change of pace to read essays and this collection is solid. Most of the pieces are very fresh.

The Murder of Leo Tolstoy
Irreconcilable Dissonance (about divorce)
The Elegant Eyeball (opthamology memoir)
A Rake's Progress (re Marion Barry)
Brooklyn the Unknowable
My Genome, My Self (personal genomics by Pinker)
Guy Walks Into a Bar Car (by Sedaris)
Speaking in Tongues (by Zadie Smith)
Rediscovering Central Asia

The Bad Lion
The Dead Book
Lunching On Olympus
On John Updike
Gettysburg R
As always, there are some gems and some duds in this year's collection. The stength this year, though, is the variety in the types of pieces contained here. The essays range from a short, elegaic look at divorce, to a historical narrative of Einstien's visit to America, to personal accounts of virtigo, to a profile of a city, and on and on. Each piece published in this collection is distinct and of high quality. While I didn't much like the more political essays, there was enough in here that I ...more
The Tolstoy and "Dead Book" essays at the beginning were great, but with the exception of the Zadie Smith essay toward the end, my interest waned after that.
Jamison Spencer
I generally like Christopher Hitchens, but we obviously have very different taste in essays. This is the first of any of the best American series I ever found boring. There were a few exceptions (the essay on Marion Berry springs to mind) but generally I found these too short compared to the amount on info they imparted, which meant they often didn't really feel fully like essays too me. I would have found many of these interesting if I stumbled across them in a magazine, but I wouldn't have wal ...more
I love Christopher Hitchens, and I think him being the guest editor of the collection says as much about him in his selections as it does the writers who are in it. Great selections. I liked the book very much, felt I learned a lot and am going to check out more collections from the library. The best thing about books like this is that they put essays from all types of publications in one place. It would be nearly impossible to get all of the publications, and have time to read all of the materi ...more
Patrick Donohue
Enjoy these throughly, which shouldn't be a surprise (they're the best of the best).

Must have been one of C. Hitchens' last projects.

Standouts (for me):
-Bad Lion (messier side of nature)
-The Elegant Eyeball (I have a family member with macular degeneration)
-A Rake's Progress (on former Mayor Barry in DC; would be good on Atavist)
-Brooklyn the Unknowable (visited this year)
-My Genome, Myself (helpful points on the meaning of genetic probabilities)
-A Fine Rage (on George Orwell; I read "Homage t
I liked nearly all of the essays in this collection, though I found them rather oddly organized (alphabetical by author) which led to a choppy random feel. There seemed to be in inordinate number of essays about medical topics, which was fine with me. I liked the one by a nurse about pronouncing patients dead and the eye doctor's memoir, "The Elegant Eyeball" was good too. I especially liked "Brooklyn the Unknowable" by Phillip Lopate and Zadie Smith's "Speaking in Tongues."
Peter Federman
Best essays from The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, etc. Since i dont read most of these magazines regularly, this was a great way to read some of the best journalism of the past year without s subscription. I loved 80%, but the other 20% was just too pretentious and/or literary for my taste. Definitely recommend this series, I'll be getting started on the best short stories anthology next.
May 16, 2012 Brent rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Chris Hitchens fans and writing enthusiasts
Recommended to Brent by: Hitch
...So dawggone good, our dog ate the book. After leaving the public library with this recent annual, I read through Hitchens' generous introduction, missing his (prolific) voice in print. His pointed praise led me to an essay by a writer from the American Standard, which I would not otherwise have read, a profile of Marion Barry, which made me smile and even laugh, in a good way.
Feb 22, 2011 Diane added it
This year's collection is edited by Christopher Hitchens. It doesn't have the usual few whimsical essays, but there is a terrific piece on George Orwell, and how his desire for a class-free society bumps up against his mixed feelings about the lower classes, and there's an appreciation of William F. Buckley by his buddy Garry Wills (Buckley didn't like to read books!).
Some great ones: Pinker, the one about Van Gogh, but most of them completely forgettable, not because of poor writing, but for being a bit too pedagogic and too much hand holding. Clearly Hitchens liked to be taught about some specific subject, like Central Asia, which is not bad in itself, but lacks depth and doesnt really do much after you have finished reading it.
Joshunda Sanders
Lots of great standouts for me here: Matt Labash's 2009 profile of Marion Barry from The Weekly Standard is more than 9,000 words of gloriousness. Zadie Smith is also delightful. David Sedaris also does a great job. Phillip Lopate waxes poetic on Brooklyn and my Bronx roots made me reluctant to submit that he had good points about the greatness of the borough.
Phyllis Ann
This book of essays is to be read slowly and to be re-read often.

I agree with Billie Pritchett's and Jeff Amlin's critique of this book posted here below - no need for me to add anything more other than the observation that so few people commented on the foreword written by Robert Atwan and the introduction written by Hitchens.

Simply the best!
Not one of the better ones. Hitchens apparently chose the essays based on his interest in the subject matter, not on the quality of writing. many dead white men as subjects. A couple of memorable ones, notably Zadie Smith, who is someone I'd like to read more of, John Gamel on the eyeball, and Ron Rindo on vertigo and Van Gogh.
The "Best American Essays" volumes are usually among my favorite reads in a given year. I love the essay form, and I usually like the guest editor's picks. But this one just didn't impress. To be fair, there were some beautiful essays in here, but I found myself skipping the last few pages of a not-insignificant number of essays.
Todd Wesselhoeft
Overall, a pretty good read although it seemed to have many essays that just didn't hold the punch value of other selected essays in previous editions. I think the collection relied too much on Hitchen's name and not enough on the internal works. A decent read, but I'd look to other B.A.E. volumes for great collections.
Jeri Walker
More of the essays in the 2010 collection were more misses than hits given my tastes as a reader. From year to year, it's always interesting to see which essays appeal to the guest editor. For the most part, I found the subjects selected and the over-abundance of male authors to leave this edition a bit lackluster.
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Robert Atwan has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide.
More about Robert Atwan...

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