Best Nonfiction Books

Best Nonfiction Books

best nonfiction books

These are the Things We Do.

It is true, my friends. The decade’s end is approaching. It has been a challenging, anxiety-provoking decade that left many morally compromised, but there was some good literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can. So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. Starting with the most popular debut novels. It was harder to make our sixth list. Our sixth list included what we, perhaps foolishly, considered “general” nonfiction. All nonfiction other than memoirs and essay (these are covered in their respective lists), published in English between 2010-2018. Reader, we cheated. We picked a top 20. The large number of candidates made it easy to choose the top 20. It doesn’t seem like 20 is enough. So it goes in the worlds of lists. The Literary Hub team made the final selection after much discussion and multiple meetings. After much debate and multiple meetings, the Literary Hub staff finally chose these books. You’ll soon see that it wasn’t easy to pick ten. So we also added a list with dissenting viewpoints and another list of also–rans. We’re always open to hearing your favorites, so please leave a comment.

best nonfiction books

Top Twenty


The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander wrote The New Jim Crow. It was the first time I had read it, and its enormous impact on society is clear. Alexander, technically, is an academic, but I have seen it everywhere. It was published during the Obama Administration, an interval which many (white people) thought signaled a new dawn of race relations in America of a kind of fantastic post-racialism. It’s difficult to think back now on this particular Zeitgeist (when I can’t believe it, Donald Trump is President of the United States). Without decrying this ignorance and naivete, Alexander’s book criticized the persistence on a phenomenon called “colorblindness”. This was simply a veneer or a scam, or just another form of ignorance. “We have not ended racial caste in America,” she declares, “we have merely redesigned it.” Alexander’s meticulous research concerns the mass incarceration of black men principally through the War on Drugs, Alexander explains how the United States government itself (the justice system) carries out a significant racist pattern of injustice which not only literally subordinates black men by jailing them, but also then removes them of their rights and turns them into second class citizens after the fact. She learned that ex-convicts will be subject to discrimination after working with the ACLU. This is discrimination which is justified and supported by society. It includes restriction on voting rights, jury service, food stamps and student loans. Alexander says that, unlike Jim Crow times, there are no signs indicating “Whites Only”. “This system was out of sight and out of thought.” She explains. -Olivia Rutigliano, Crime. Mukherjee is an Editorial Fellow. The Emperor of All Maladies. Mukherjee writes a riveting, despite being nearly 600 pages long, book that traces the entire history of cancer, including its origins more than five thousand years before its current era.


Mukherjee started writing the book following a conversation with a stomach cancer patient. He told The New York Times that he had a remarkable interaction. She said that she was willing to fight on, but needed to understand what I was fighting. It was embarrassing. She didn’t know what to do, so I could not answer. This was my real motivation to answer her questions. The book was written simply because it wasn’t there.” He worked well. The Pulitzer in General Nonfiction 2011 awarded to the Emperor of All Maladies. It was called “An elegant inquiry at once clinically and personally into the long-standing mystery of a mysterious disease that, despite medical breakthroughs, continues to plague medical science .”),” and won the Guardian’s first book award and inaugural PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The book became a New York Times bestseller. Yet, most important, it was the first book most lay people (read: scientists and doctors not those who had been affected by cancer in the past) read. Science advances constantly, but it’s still widely used today. Emily Temple, Senior Editor The Immortal Living of Henrietta Lacks I tend to focus on the humanities and have trouble connecting with books about science. Other than that I was a failure in public education, what can I add? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reminded me that I think that if all scientific information were part of such an incredibly compelling and humane narrative, I might be a doctor. I mean it is possible. Rebecca Skloot recounts the tale of Henrietta Lacks (a black woman who succumbed to cervical cancer in 1951) and her cells, which she called He. The La cells were grown without her consent and were among the most valuable human cells ever to be reproduced in a lab. He. La cells have been used for the development of vaccines and treatments as well as in drug treatments, gene mapping, and many, many other scientific pursuits. The cells were also sent out into space for researchers to investigate the effects zero gravity has on human cells.


This history is one of many institutional failures, missed chances, hypocrisies and acts of malice against a community in crises. It was motivated by hatred of lesbians in general and of homosexual men. Yet, it was overwhelming and inspiring. This is a very humbling historical account, especially for those who, like myself, come from a queer family that has been accused to forget it. I’m grateful for France’s testimony; it won’t let any of us forget. Corinne Segal, Senior editor The Other Slavery Resendez’s The Other Slavery represents an enormous recalibration and rewrite of American history. This is a long-overdue, urgently required document. You may be familiar with the tale of the American attack on indigenous peoples. However, less well-known is how colonizers made sure that many people died in the process. Also, how complicit the American legal and political system were in creating that oppression and maintaining it for decades beyond what was supposed to happen in areas where native peoples were freed. This was not a singular phenomenon. The phenomenon extended to plantations in the Caribbean and Western mining companies. This was part of European efforts to colonize the “new planet” and one of the main reasons for the first expeditions and colonies. Resendez puts the number of indigenous enslaved between Columbus’s arrival and 1900 at somewhere between 2.5 and 5 million people. Resendez reveals how slavery permeated continents by looking through legal obfuscation, digging down to the archive record, and reading first-hand accounts from the different eras. These native peoples weren’t just destroyed by diseases, war, or brutal segregation. These people were often forced into servitude, sometimes without payment, and eventually put to their deaths. It was a sustained and organized enslavement. Also, The Other Slavery chronicles the history of individuals and communities who rebelled against slavery. The complex, tragic history of the Other Slavery required an expert historian to make it relevant in today’s society. In addition to his skills as a historian and an investigator, Resendez is a skilled storyteller with a truly remarkable subject. This is historical nonfiction at the highest level and with all its essentials. Dwyer Murphy, Crime. Reads Managing Editor All the Single Ladies One night, facing a brief gap between plans with different people, I took Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies to a bar. A while later, as I was still absorbing Traister’s extensive, amazing history of single women across America, a server came by to give me another, quieter seat. I assured her it was all fine and tried not to giggle. I was worried, she seemed so concerned.


I turned back to my book to find Traister describing this kind of cultural distress a woman, alone, in public?! The new unmarried generation of women who have become more self-sufficient and varied than ever is a sign that there has been a shift in the social order. Far from marking a crisis in the social order, Traister writes, this shift “was in fact a new order … women’s paths were increasingly marked with options, off-ramps, variations on what had historically been a very constrained theme.” She examines the history of unmarried women as a social and political force, including the activists who devoted their lives to establishing a greater range of educational, familial, and economic choices for women, with particular attention to the ways in which that history is also one of racial and economic justice in the US. Traister also focuses on the social networks that women created to overcome patriarchy, and create lifestyles that were not dependent upon it. Intimacy and communication between unmarried women are the foundation of reform and activist movements that challenged the dominant system.


Macfarlane is a gracious guide throughout his wanderings. His erudition shines through as though in the welcome haze of a warm fireside story. Macfarlane is a man who considers everything we’ve done to this earth. He squeezes into the deeper chambers of our human creations our toxic graves. But he never gives in to despair. Instead, Macfarlane seeks out the deepest contemplation to help him find humility. It is a monumental work that has a profound and powerful resonance. For any writer, it would be the greatest achievement of their lives. Jonny Diamond, Editor-in-Chief Patrick Radden Keefe. Speak Nothing: A True Historical History of Memory and Morder in Northern Ireland. Being able to present the enormity and complex of the Northern Ireland Troubles (a protracted and bloody political and ethno-nationalist war that has dominated Anglo­Irish relations in over 30 decades) in one volume is difficult. Patrick Radden Keefe – an investigative journalist whose New Yorker story on Gerry Adams in 2015, “Where the Bodies Are Buried”, was a stirring precursor to Say Nothing – is different from most other writers. His mesmerizing account, both panoramically sweeping and achingly intimate, uses the disappearance and murder of widowed mother of ten Jean Mc. Conville, in Belfast in 1972. This is the pivot around which can be built the complex wider story of the Troubles. Although the book was meticulously researched and written (Radden Keithefe interviewed nearly one hundred sources and carefully sorted out conflicting and corroborating accounts), the novelistic structure of the book also serves as a fulcrum, which in lesser hands might feel exploitative. However, it helps us to understand the history and complex personalities that ultimately led to the deaths of Dolours, Brendan Hughes and Mc. Conville is a key player in this attritional drama, who are often reduced to the role of martyr or monster. You’ll feel deep sorrow after you catch your breath. -Dan Sheehan, Book. Marks Editor

best nonfiction books

This list contains the top 50 nonfiction books from the last 25 years


The books team at Slate selects the most important works in reporting, memoir and argument from the last quarter century.


David Carr said in The Night of the Gun that he prefers to be overseen by his notebook and the facts. This memoir is one of Slate’s best 50 nonfiction books of the 25-years. Carr was thinking about fiction and nonfiction. He also considered the role of both the author’s art as well as the reporter’s craft. These may not be the best arcs, but they will lead you to an interesting story. Nonfiction is often overlooked when canon-building takes place. Although memoirs are gaining ground in literary discussions, reports and nonfiction tend to be neglected. Sometimes it is easy to overlook these forms, which can seem like a valuable but unliterary collection of facts into paragraphs. Yet what reader hasn’t had her mind expanded, her heart plucked, her conscience stirred by a nonfiction book? The responsibility the writers of such books take on, to arrange the facts of the world into a form that makes sense of its tumult, can produce in the reader a kind of clarity of thought that no other genre can match.


Slate’s top 25 English-language nonfiction titles of the last quarter century includes memoirs written with great care, but also travelogues, collection essays, essay collections, work of cultural critic, passion arguments, and even a compilation of household hacks. The commonality they share is an obsession with “mostly Truth” and the belief, that you can dig deep into your subconscious to find the truth, no matter if it is located on dusty library shelves, Russian literature, or in a Mumbai slum, is a worthwhile task.


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Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder – Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice On Toast and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (Pantheon 1995) Lawrence Weschler asked the Los Angeles proprietor of his odd museum, which he stumbled upon. His surprise, humorous, and often hilarious (but not always!) encounters him. It’s all a hoax. Weschler transforms Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder into a highly successful meditation on human intelligence and creativity. He also offers a thought experiment regarding how we react to being amazed. Weschler describes how the result of this book looks very simple and is similar to the original 16th-century wonder cabinets that were opened up to unveil astonishing discoveries.


Lawrence Weschler $12.29 on Amazon. $14.67 at Bookshop into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. (Villard, 1996) Christopher Mc. Candless, an 18-year-old man who was looking for untrammeled wilderness, trekked into Alaskan wilderness. His body was discovered by a hunter of moose four months later. Krakauer sets out to unravel the mystery of how this adventure ended in tragedy, and the tiny mistakes that cost Mc. Candless was able to read Mc. Candless kept his journals and talked to friends. He also traveled to Mc. Candless lived his final months. Mc. Candless’ passionate and foolhardy journey into transcendence and writing about his own, similar youthful experiences Krakauer explores our modern relationship to the wilderness and the deep desire many young people feel to seek out unthinkable danger.


Jon Krakauer, $10.20 Amazon, $13.80 Bookshop Madeleine’s World by Brian Hall, Houghton Mifflin 1997. Hall’s curious observation and creative interpretation of his subject is what makes his quixotic idea to create a biography about Madeleine. Madeleine is this subject. However, childhood also plays a role in the development of the child. Madeleine’s World, which is accessible to anyone regardless of parental status, will fascinate even parents for its deep dive into thought patterns.

best nonfiction books

History, Science, Memoir, Biography, Food, Politics, And More!


Is a beach reading a book? You can find out if you have answered “yes” by clicking here. For those who answered no, please continue reading to see the nonfiction books we are most excited about for this summer. From the history of food to the inner workings of Silicon Valley, from the politics of gardening to how the brain maps itself, there’s something here for all manner of reading tastes. The Lit Hub editors Jessie Gaynor, Corinne Segal, and Vanessa Willoughby compiled these recommendations.


Americanon: A Unexpected U.S. Story in 13 Bestselling Books (Dutton June 1) We believe that our culture, whether it is national or local, is an expression of the best artistic creation and that we are just as worthy of their mythologies. This is not true. Jess Mc. Hugh explores 13 American books most commonly owned by Americans, including cookbooks, dictionaries as well as etiquette manuals. Hugh uncovers the secrets of how America’s narrative is constructed from less humble texts.


Slow Food: What we Eat is Who We Are


Alice Waters, who opened Chez Panisse as a restaurant in 1971, is considered a living icon in the world of sustainable food, seasonal cooking and local food. The latest collection of scenes she has recollected from this career will appeal to her fans. It also advocates a slow food approach to farming and eating with an emphasis in regenerative agriculture and biodiversity as well health.


The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture


Grace Perry was a queer person who spent her teenage years finding queer context in pop stories. She accounts for those experiences in this series of essays, a collection that’s sure to be painfully and hilariously recognizable for queer millennials who grew up before a groundswell of LGBTQ representation in culture.


How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

What Nonfiction Book is Most Popular?

  1. Sapiens: A Short History of Humankind (Paperback).
  2. Quiet! The Power and Influence of Introverts in an Age That Is Too Talking (Hardcover).
  3. Unbroken: A World War II Story about Survival, Resilience & Redemption (Hardcover).
  4. The Omnivore’s Dilemma : A Natural History of Four Meals – Hardcover

What Are The Top 10 Nonfiction Books Right Now?

  1. Breaking. by Michele Harper.
  2. The Biggest Bluff. by Maria Konnikova.
  3. House Fire. Julian E.
  4. Caste. by Isabel Wilkerson.
  5. Eat the Buddha. Barbara Demick
  6. The Exercise of Power. Robert M.
  7. Hidden Valley Road. Robert Kolker
  8. Washington, The Man Who Ran

Nonfiction. What is 2021’s Best?

  1. H Mart: Crying In H Mart: A Memoir
  2. “Somebody’s Daughter”: A Memoir
  3. Lacey was the victim of a series of crazy stories about racism that you will never believe.
  4. You can swim in the rain in a pond. Four Russians will give you a masterclass on writing, reading, life.

Are Nonfiction Books Better?

Reading nonfiction is exercise for the old grey matter and sharpens memory and analytical skills. Study shows that the ability to read nonfiction helps prevent neurological degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Jun 21, 2019

.Best Nonfiction Books