The Year in Review: Best books of 2010

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The Independent Culture

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

Three London friends come to terms with their various losses and meet to wrangle, wittily and touchingly, over the deepest questions of belonging and identity. This year's Man Booker winner finds bold and wrenching humour within its solemn themes. However adept at all the skills of comedy, and however immersed in ideas of Jewishness, this novel bristles with a passion and zest that defy all label-stickers.

Life by Keith Richards

So much could have gone wrong with this landmark memoir of wayward rock'n'roll excess and musical artistry. Yet Keith keeps the show on the road with inimitable cool. Aided by co-author James Fox, but with his own sardonic voice well to the fore, the Rolling Stone has raised the bar for this often tawdry genre, and written lasting lyrics for the soundtrack of our age.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Stretching over 30 years, but confined to a few Istanbul neighbourhoods, Pamuk's epic novel makes grandeur out of intimacy. A scandalous affair and its long aftermath lets Turkey's Nobel laureate – with the help of his brilliant translator, Maureen Freely – tell the story of his beloved city as it mourns a glorious past and stumbles into a messy modernity.

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

Like the British Museum itself, whose wonders fill its gorgeously designed pages, this guide to humanity's material culture gathers the world into one place. Top-quality photography and production values, and the museum's director's learned but companionable style, mark the project's triumphant transition from radio to print as the human family shows its treasures from Mexico to China, and Scotland to Sudan.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Nagasaki 1800: a fragile Dutch trading post on the fringe of Japan's closed empire becomes the site for a culture-clash imbroglio staged with skill and charm by the master storyteller of current British fiction. As young Jacob falls for a Japanese midwife from a fearsome clan, Mitchell writes with unflagging edge and dash. But this dazzling virtuosity never feels cold, and heart always guides hand.

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