The obits. It’s the first section many of us turn to when we open the paper, not to see who died, but rather to find out about who lived to discover the interesting lives of people who’ve made a mark.A new annual that collects nearly 300 of the best of The New York Times obituaries from the previous year, The Obits Annual 2012 is a compelling, addictive-as-salted-peanuts “who’s who” of some of the most fascinating people of the twentieth century. Written by top journalists each entry is a jewel, a miniature, nuanced biography filled with the facts we love to read, with the surprise and serendipity of life. There’s David L. Wolper, the producer of Roots—and the story of how he got his start purchasing film footage from Sputnik. The jazz singer, Abbey Lincoln, and her change from glamorous performer—she owned a dress of Marilyn Monroe’s—to civil rights activist (she burned the Monroe dress). Owsley Stanley, the quirky perfecter of LSD, who blamed a heart attack on the fact that his mother made him eat broccoli as a child. Patricia Neal—known by most as a movie star, but her real life, filled with tragedy, adversity, and incredible professional ups and downs, is almost a surreal play of triumph and tragedy. Arranged chronologically, like the obits themselves, it’s a deliciously random walk through the recent past, meeting the philosophers, newsmen, spies, publishers, moguls, soul singers, baseball managers, Nobel Prize winners, models, and others who’ve shaped the world.