best historical nonfiction books

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (Hardcover) by. Media reports during the genocidal 1994 massacres in Rwanda were spotty and confusing. Although not an alcoholic herself, Laing grew up in a family warped by her mother’s partner’s drinking, and that story weaves through her account of her travels to the places where six men—John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver, and John Berryman—wrote, got hammered, and dried out. To vote on existing books from the list, beside each book there is a link vote for this book clicking it will add that book to your votes. Mendelson’s irreplaceable guide to stain removal spans four pages, from adhesive tape to crayon to mustard all the way to urine. This list, I believe, gives you the broadest view of our world’s shared past. But I’ve given it a try. He approached the story from two widely disparate perspectives: from the small towns and cities where doctors’ belief in Big Pharma’s lies about the nonaddictive properties of new drugs like OxyContin led to overprescription and pill mills, and from the obscure Mexican state of Nayarit, where local clans mounted a fully vertically integrated heroin trade, controlling every aspect from growing the poppies to delivering dope to customers’ doors. And while most academic conferences are pretty dull, she attends one in which an old lady turned to another guest and demanded, “I would like to know if it is TRUE THAT YOU DESPISE ME.” When it comes to eccentricity, Batuman holds up her end—her Ph.D. dissertation compared novels to double-entry bookkeeping, and she talked her way into a Tolstoy conference by proposing a paper arguing that the novelist was murdered. A red diaper baby, she fantasized during her Bronx childhood about leading the revolution and finding true love, but as she looks back, she decides that she, like her mother and several of her literary heroines, “was born to find the wrong man,” to seek “the unholy dissatisfaction that will keep life permanently at bay.” In exchange, she got New York, which (almost) never fails to satisfy her with its parade of characters and “the variety and inventiveness of survival technique.” In supple, searching prose, Gornick meditates on the riches of friendship—particularly her bond with Leonard, a gay man who shares her saturnine take on just about everything—and the life of the mind, as well as the self-knowledge that comes with age. Our world history is vast, and these 30 books are only the tip of the iceberg. Released into a post–James Frey, post–JT LeRoy era when skeptics found memoir increasingly unreliable, Carr’s live-wire combination of autobiography and journalism explores not only the secrets of his own life but also the ways in which the stories we all tell ourselves evolve into the versions we can live with. Rebecca Traister, ... diaries, and land and financial records, Prairie Fires has all the essentials of a great history book. In his monumental history of that battle, from the first cases in the 1970s to the mid-’90s advent of the “triple cocktail” that made AIDS a manageable condition for many economically advantaged Americans, David France notes that many of those activists’ work was extensively documented, because the activists themselves feared they’d never live to see the results of their work. Everyone mourns in her own way, and for Macdonald, after her beloved father’s death, that way was by taming a goshawk, a process described in this scratched, muddy, glorious memoir. Hers is a lifelong quest for the grandiose, the melancholic, and—crucially—the absurd. This choral account of American life over the past 35 years is told from the points of view of famous individuals (Newt Gingrich, Elizabeth Warren, Colin Powell, Alice Waters) and unknowns (a black labor organizer, a would-be entrepreneur high on self-help nostrums, an Ohio woman who lost her retirement savings to a Ponzi scheme, and in one bravura chapter, the city of Tampa as it underwent a cascade of mortgage foreclosures following the 2008 recession). This deeply researched, profoundly empathetic story of cultural miscommunication in medicine focuses on the case of Lia Lee, the doted-on youngest daughter in a family of Hmong refugees in rural Northern California. Refresh and try again. She matches up archival photos of vacant lots and storefronts with the new, gentrifying constructions erupting in their place. Turner’s slave ship? –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor . Adrian Nicole LeBlanc spent 10 years reporting on a group of young men and women in the west Bronx as they paired off, grew up, escaped, returned, and tried to raise children of their own. He argues that similar age-old paths crisscross the sea, remembered by sailors even if they leave no visual trace. Many of these transplants behaved, as Wilkerson notes, more like refugees than anything else, fleeing Jim Crow laws to form enclaves united by their ties to the towns they’d left behind. Announcing the best books of the year! Eggers himself was inspired by David Foster Wallace, but unlike Wallace, Eggers was able to hack his way out of the thickets of self-consciousness, or maybe it was even further into them, and arrive at a rock, a kernel of reality, which was his love for, and commitment to, his brother Toph. He traveled in the African nation for nine months, visiting sites of slaughter, interviewing war criminals in prison camps, gathering the stories of those who escaped by the skin of their teeth. He effortlessly brings the past to the present and makes connections between person and place, history and destiny. Jahren’s memoir is a paean to her life in science, specifically the kind of science that involves getting your hands dirty and reaching for a specimen vial. A signal work of narrative nonfiction that both celebrates and satirizes the time-honored tale of the adventurer attacking the wilderness with “little more than a machete, a compass and an almost divine sense of purpose.”. by Michael Benninger | Dec 20 2019 This has been a banner decade for publishers of nonfiction, as sales have steadily outpaced fictional literature every year since 2013. Far from being “just another institution infected with racial bias,” she argues, the criminal justice system, and particularly its drug laws, has replicated the effect of Jim Crow laws, reinforcing a racial caste system in which large numbers of poor black men have been barred from anything better than the most menial employment and from equal participation in civic life. Beautifully written and nearly deranged in its comprehensiveness, Home Comforts holds what seems an entire culture’s collected wisdom on fabric selection, lighting design, clothes folding, waste disposal, dishwashing, food storage, table setting, closet organization, and piano tuning. Starting with her own journals, Bechdel uncovers dark treasures of her childhood and adolescence as the daughter of a closeted funeral home director in small town Pennsylvania; her clever narrative structure returns to crucial moments again and again, polishing them and holding them up to the light to reveal new facets of meaning. If it were only a closely observed, intimate portrait of a close and meaningful friendship, the book would already be an enormous success. And yet, through the cracks between Dyer’s torpor and his dissatisfaction, a tribute to Lawrence—that great proponent of passionate living—finally emerges. When we added up all votes for his books, we found that a full 10% of respondents named him in their top three nonfiction favorites. The children of these parents are, as Solomon recounts, “deaf or dwarfs; they have Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia or multiple severe disabilities; they are prodigies; they are people conceived in rape or who commit crimes; they are transgender.” Far From the Tree is mammoth, but its oceanic scope is essential to convey the infinite variety in humanity’s ability to cope with the differences among us. Deraniyagala, an economist at the University of London and Columbia University, was vacationing with her family in Sri Lanka in 2004, when she looked out the window and saw the ocean rise up and rush toward the balcony of their holiday rental. Blood, it turns out, is not always enough, but neither are many other commonalities in identity. You could present your story with purported sincerity (as pretty much anyone in their late 20s would do today). A mythos grew up around the school shooting, the deadliest up to that point, almost entirely fictional, and much of it difficult to dispel. people who have voted for it and how highly those voters ranked the book. Even nonparents will be fascinated by Madeleine’s World for the ways it delves deep into the thought patterns and imaginative leaps readers half-remember from their own childhoods; for parents, the book—in its insistence that to pay attention is to love—can be almost unbearably moving. A Certain Kind of Fire That No Water Could Put Out. This is the man-made stuff all around us and so mundane we barely give it a second thought. Erik Larson (Goodreads Author) (shelved 131 times as historical-non-fiction) avg rating 3.99 — 533,658 ratings — published 2003. Tell us in the comments below. In this book, he follows the histories of telephony, radio, movies, and television, observing that early periods of innovation and access for small, nimble players (such as local telephone companies) always yielded to centralized control. Laing’s readings of their work are extraordinarily sharp and sensitive, and her description of the places she visited and what happened to her there may be even better. Mabel can’t be cuddled and won’t look up at her with liquid, adoring eyes—this isn’t that kind of sappy, an-animal-saved-me memoir. With the recent 75th anniversary of D-Day and the fast approaching anniversaries of VE Day and VJ day, now is the perfect time to dive into these best WWII nonfiction books that read like gripping novels. A sweeping cultural history of the dominant American art form of the past 50 years, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop traces hip-hop back to its birth in the South Bronx and then back even further, to the Jamaican toasters whose style inspired New York’s first rappers. Macfarlane’s desire to more fully experience the places he visits—mostly in Britain but also in Spain and Tibet—is so keen he takes off his shoes to feel the rock, grass, heather, and (in one painful incident) gorse under his feet. The unifying features of all their stories are class, poverty, and the economic temptations of sex work. pornography, pro-Nazi, child abuse, etc). In these pieces, Wallace makes himself—and his doomed attempts to fit in and have a kind of fun he doesn’t really believe in—the butt of the joke, and a very funny joke it is (although less so in light of his suicide in 2008). And in his propulsive, idiosyncratic style, Chang situates the revolution in the political and social context of 20th-century New York (and America): deeply racist, economically cruel, and ready to explode. 10. Howard ZinnLively written and well researched, A People’s History narrates the story of the US through the eyes of ordinary people and their experiences, something that most history books tend to ignore. Some revisit conflicts that have shaped the modern world, as … Rather than harming the author’s “objectivity,” these friendships transform what was already a very good science book into a deeply humane and crucial interrogation of how technological progress churns along, indifferent to the lives fueling its course. But Smith, an addict in recovery, falls back into drug use, and the final third of the book is both a suspenseful portrait of a doctor trying to save a life and a moving meditation on the limits of what friends can do when facing the monster of addiction. The killer himself is an impenetrable cipher, but Parry portrays the people whose lives he devastated in all their complexity: heroic, flawed, stricken, and ultimately sympathetic. Welcome back. Want to Read. Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography - there's a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. The book is a stunt, a dare, but it’s also proof of the belief that animates all the books on this list: There are stories everywhere. Doctors at the American hospital where her family sought treatment prescribed an elaborate drug regimen to control her seizures. After 9/11, Armstrong, a former nun turned popular historian of religion, seemed like some kind of prophet: She had published her history of fundamentalism, The Battle for God, the preceding year. In 1951, a 30-year-old black woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. One of her generation’s greatest memoirists (Fierce Attachments) and essayists, Gornick devotes this book to puzzling out how she became an “odd woman,” a single and childless urbanite, intoxicated by the street life of Manhattan. Stuff Matters describes how our stuff (bricks, coffee mugs) gets made and what it may someday be able to do for us (invisibility cloaks, bionic human limbs, exploding billiard balls, an elevator to outer space, concrete that can be rolled up like fabric or purify air). A dazzling meditation on invisibility, blackness, and America, Citizen grapples with the double-take moments in daily life: “Hold up, did you just hear, did you just say, did you just see, did you just do that?” And it asks other, more pointed questions: What was rising up in Serena Williams’ throat her entire career? This memoir is less a narrative than a collage of mysteriously potent moments: a favorite teacher’s kitchen, a dead puppy, a new dress. The first person, she writes, is “a symbol for something”: “The pronoun barely holding the person together.”. Readers turned to her in droves, trying to understand what felt like a sudden, unanticipated, overwhelming menace. It’s clear from Finnegan’s rueful retelling of his younger days all that he endured due to the life he chose: He experiences terror and pain on the waves; he punishes his body with scrapes, a broken nose, torn ankle cartilage, sun-caused cataracts; relationships with friends and family pale next to the life of a “latter-day barbarian” who rejects the values of duty. Part poetry collection, part memoir, part book-length critical essay, Citizen takes risks other books wouldn’t dare, and it reads like no other title on this list. He reports fully and deeply on both. To read Stuff Matters is to see the humble objects around us afresh and to grasp the wonders they represent for the first time. The Night of the Gun makes plain how hard, and how necessary, it is to face the past with diligence and humility. Find our notable fiction books here and their complete list here. When Aeroflot loses her luggage, the clerk asks her, “Are you familiar with our Russian phrase, resignation of the soul?” She gets talked into judging a boys’ “leg contest” at a Hungarian summer camp. Pinging from Paris to Rome to Greece to Taos, New Mexico, Dyer makes literary pilgrimages that result in no epiphanies. A practiced falconer, Macdonald understands how ill-advised her project is; the species is famously hard to train, stubborn in its wildness. The only content we will consider removing is spam, All prices were up to date at the time of publication. (“At first I’d had an overwhelming urge to write both books but these two desires had worn each other down to the point where I had no urge to write either.”) His ennui is operatic and ridiculous. Here’s my list of the 27 best nonfiction books of all time, in no particular order. Quinones’ depiction of the contrast between the strangely healthy and robust communities in Nayarit and the economically and socially disintegrating American towns where the dealers preferred to operate (avoiding clashes with the established drug dealers in metropolitan centers) is both surprising and enlightening. Except that it wasn’t: Even at the height of the epidemic, scientists worked feverishly to understand the virus and its effects—and just as importantly, activists battled to increase those scientists’ funding, to focus and target their research, and to erase the stigma of those who suffered from it. All contents © 2021 The Slate Group LLC. Her charming, mercurial father drank too much and broke promises, while her mother simply rejected her. Weisman, a science journalist, projects a week-by-week progression of flooding subway tunnels, farms reclaimed by grassland, toppling skyscrapers, domestic animals reverting to their feral state, and, less romantically, nuclear reactors melting down, chemical plants exploding into poisonous bonfires, and a vast mass of discarded plastics drifting around the world’s oceans for ages to come. We read historical fiction because we want to travel through time and space. If you value our work, please disable your ad blocker. In April 1992, Christopher McCandless, a young man in search of wild, untrammeled experience, hiked into the Alaskan wilderness. Both sides were united in their devotion to the little girl’s welfare, and Fadiman ultimately argues that if the physicians had been more willing to better understand the Hmong people and engage with Lia’s parents and their beliefs, they might have saved Lia from her sad fate. Batuman seems to attract Borgesian peculiarity like a magnet. “They may not lead to a perfect, seamless arc, but they lead to a story that coheres in another way, because it is mostly true.”. Here, the best nonfiction books of 2020. The Best Books: Top 100 Nonfiction list is a concise selection of books that provides the reader with an understanding of the social and natural world. This list of the best history books includes bestsellers, Pulizter Prize winners and editor's picks from distinguished historians and biographers. Born just after the end of World War II to a Chicago pediatrician and his “socialite” wife, Margo Jefferson grew up in “Negroland,” the name she gives to the black American elite—a class defined by profession, affluence, pedigree, and to her dismay, skin color and comportment. What did the water in New Orleans want? Error rating book. There are weeks of sleeping, then drinking, then a demented campaign to eject the couple that moved into her parents’ old house. slanderous attacks on other members, Holmes urges his readers to understand that at one time poetry and science stood with linked arms upon the peak of discovery and looked at each other with “a wild surmise” like Cortez and his men in Keats’ sonnet. But We Wish to Inform You is more than a masterpiece of war reportage. Macfarlane cares passionately about two things: landscape and language. Instead, Borrowed Finery is a kind of transcription of memory in its strange spottiness. What Batuman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, loves most about Russian literature, and about Russianness itself, are what she calls its “mystifications,” specifically, “the feeling of only half understanding.” In this delectable collection of essays, she describes her travels to such perplexing locales as Tolstoy’s former estate, Uzbekistan, a monastery on an Adriatic island, and graduate school. His travels aren’t without human interest, either; they always seem to include meetings with fascinating poets and artists, like a man who plans to suspend a life-size figure made of human bones and calf skin inside a boulder whose location only a handful of people will ever know. Small Business Strategy. I suspect most history 'consumers' have a similar experience. It can be easy to dismiss these forms as the worthwhile but fundamentally unliterary assemblage of facts into paragraphs. The nation was founded by a group of 'intellectuals'. It’s true that Fox’s memoir of the first 20 or so years of her life was published during a boom in autobiographies about awful childhoods, and Fox’s Jazz Age–style bohemian parents were …  difficult. In its portrait of the garbage-sorter Abdul, who winds up in court after a false accusation from a neighbor, Behind the Beautiful Forevers depicts a young man who loses everything he’s earned and comes out on the other side declaring that “something had happened to his heart.” His painful moral decision-making reflects a book in which Boo is always careful to portray the ways her subjects exert agency within their own lives, even at the cost of their health and safety. The Top 50 greatest nonfiction books of all time determined by 129 lists and articles from various critics, authors and experts. But over the years, Alexander’s work as a lawyer for the ACLU ultimately led her to agree with the sign’s author. We are a culture intoxicated by apocalypse and ruin, forever telling one another stories about what we’d do to survive should civilization as we know it collapse. The best history books . Not all great American writers have been big drinkers, but there are enough souses among them for Laing, a British woman intoxicated by the wide-open promises of our national literature, to engineer a road trip around their boozy misadventures. Then you have your specialists—your eye, ear, nose, and throat mosquitoes.”. At least four and possibly as many as 14 murders have been attributed to a still-unknown individual who dumped his victims’ remains along a desolate beachside highway on Long Island. Slate has relationships with various online retailers. Above all, he blames the schemes of the ruling Hutu elite, who deliberately engineered the massacre by using radio, Rwanda’s primary means of mass communication, to foment murderous hatred among Hutus toward the Tutsi minority. Harris, Cullen concludes, was merely an angry psychopath, and Klebold, his suicidal apostle, but in the aftermath, everyone from onetime adolescent misfits to evangelicals with martyr complexes twisted this bald reality into a story that confirmed their views of the world. Fadiman shows great respect for the Hmongs and their culture, devoting alternate chapters to their beliefs and history, without ever pretending that their folk cures did Lia any good. Best of all is Fox’s prose style—unostentatiously simple, lucid, distilled down to quintessential detail—as close to perfection as the English language gets. It is the kind of devastation that might seem beyond words, and yet Deraniyagala finds them; she is, it turns out, a very gifted writer. It is a paean to the irreducible reality of stone and leaf and wave. Parry offers a devastating portrait of the inadequacies of Japan’s criminal justice system, as it struggled to comprehend that a serial killer was responsible. Books are both solace and inspiration. Gene Marks Contributor. They light the way, even while enabling temporary escape from life’s worries, which is why here, we wanted to share 20 of the best books 2020 had to offer. Riveting to read, The New Jim Crow became a surprise bestseller, and it transformed forever the way thinkers and activists view the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. According to Gleick, we are all “creatures of the information,” from the words that make up most of our interactions with one another to the code embedded in our DNA. In this list I narrowed down the topic a bit by focusing on books within the last 100 years or so, including some very contemporary ones, and I kept just a few genres: biography, memoir, history, social sciences, culture, science, and nature. Miodownik, a materials scientist with the soul of a poet, sings of the magic hidden within these ordinary substances. This book might just be the perfect exposé: a consummate journalist writing about an outrageously malfeasant subject and raising urgent themes. And you'll never see this message again. Flagging a list will send it to the Goodreads Customer Care team for review. Whether you’re looking for the next great memoir, a fascinating historical account, or simply a bit of inspiration to start the year off right, 2020 is shaping up to be a banner year for fans of nonfiction. Building true kinship starts as a choice and then often comes to seem inevitable, an act of will in the face of daunting odds that ends up feeling like a miracle. If you buy something through our links, Gourevitch digs down to the roots of the genocide, locating them in the leftover resentments fostered by colonialism and a civil war. The result is a deceptively simple book that—like the 16th-century “wonder cabinets” that, Weschler explains, served as the very first museums—opens to reveal astonishments untold. The writer is reconciling herself not to loss but to life, a thing as beautiful and terrible, as merciless and vital, as the goshawk. Her family, on the other hand, believed the doctors’ recommendations made the child sicker and failed to address what they saw as the cause of her illness: spirits that had kidnapped her soul and needed to be placated with animal sacrifices. While memoir has gained a foothold in the literary conversation, narrative and reported nonfiction tend to be ignored. In Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Weschler spins the story of the Museum of Jurassic Technology’s unlikely creation into an entirely winning meditation on human ingenuity and creativity, a thought experiment about how the mind responds to being amazed. “What kind of place is this exactly?” Lawrence Weschler asks the proprietor of the oddball Los Angeles storefront museum he stumbles into one day, where the exhibits are surprising, whimsical, and in fact often (but not always!) We take abuse seriously in our book lists. A kind of capstone to a career spent visiting seemingly empty landscapes and finding the warm hearts that beat inside them, Travels in Siberia exhibits all of Ian Frazier’s remarkable travel-writing talents. The product of more than three years of in-depth reporting in a slum near Mumbai airport called Annawadi, Katherine Boo’s masterpiece is a Kafka story for our times, the tale of determined strivers so hemmed in by circumstance, official disregard, and rampant corruption that even those who succeed are punished for their accomplishments. Having interviewed more than 300 people over the course of 10 years, Solomon explores the experience of parenting a child fundamentally different from oneself. The few exceptions practically glow with significance, from the tightknit family of poor Floridians who struggled with one setback after another but always had one another’s backs to the owner of a handful of empty motels, who chose to fight the automated foreclosure system with the help of her community and clan.

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