With the sun beginning to set on 2018, it’s time to take a look at the books that have made a huge impact with readers this year. From history, politics and science to biography, humor and true crime, nonfiction releases in 2018 offered us perspectives on a complicated, rapidly-changing world and the circumstances that led us to where we are now.
Where fiction can bring us pure escapism, imagination and worlds we couldn’t fathom on our own, nonfiction asks us to take a look at the world we inhabit, in both micro and macro focus. These are the books that will compel any reader to check out the nonfiction aisles.
Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case that Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams and David Fisher
Chronicling the waning days of Lincoln’s pre-presidential career as a defense lawyer and the case that may have helped change the course of history, this is a tale of crime and intrigue, politics and loyalty with one of America’s most important figures at the center of it all. Narrative nonfiction at its best, we get a look at the early evolution of the American legal system as well as a compelling crime story—and some insight into the future president’s political strategy.
How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents by Jimmy O. Yang
The road to achieving the American Dream is not usually an easy one but in actor and comedian Yang’s rendition it is a hilarious one, with the Chinese immigrant arriving in Los Angeles from Hong Kong at age 13 and doing his best to disappoint his traditional parents ever since. Skewering stereotypes while offering advice to other young immigrants, this smart memoir offers hilarity as well as heart.
The Secret Language of Cats by Susanne Schötz
Inscrutable, mood and trying to tell you something? Your cat’s vocalizations are not random nor are they meaningless and this guide will help you discern your feline’s feelings and help you and your pet cultivate a better, happier relationship. Schötz’s research has helped unlock the code cats speak in and offers practical tips for responding to our cat’s needs, as well as very interesting anecdotes about the language that they speak.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara had been writing about crimes and cold cases for many years before putting out this fascinating, somewhat terrifying look at the case that had captured her obsession. This highly detailed, engaging look at a murderer that terrorized small California towns for over a decade before disappearing more than 30 years ago is interspersed with the author’s own thoughts on the research and writing process—a process that tragically came to an end when McNamara died in her sleep shortly before finishing her manuscript—and seeing the killer finally caught.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
Pollan changes lanes from his usual treatises on food, nature and sustainability to embark on a series of experiments using nourishment of a different kind. Putting himself forward as the test subject, Pollan uses LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs in an effort to determine the efficacy of the psychedelic substances in treating illnesses and generally improving our quality of life.
Tooth and Nail by Linda D. Dahl
Linda D. Dahl shares her years as an ear, nose, and throat surgeon by day and the ringside doctor at boxing matches by night. Featuring compelling stories about being an outsider in her profession, about boxing as a way to connect with patients, and even celebrity encounters like Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko and Miguel Cotto, Tooth and Nail offers a modern examination of sexism, dislocation, the theater of boxing and a road map for how to excel in two very different male-dominated worlds.
Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay
In this chilling, poignant collection of first person essays, contributions from writers, actors and activists offer us necessary and unflinching personal insight into what the world looks like for women and girls, particularly in further marginalized populations, when violence against women persists. In the age of #metoo, this is a call to arms to realign our thinking and reject the idea that “not that bad” is good enough.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
This is a book for book lovers. Reporter and reader Orlean tells us the story of a 1986 fire that gutted the Los Angeles public library, sparking a massive investigation and mystery that has lingered for more than 30 years. Told in the greater context of the history of libraries and librarians, this is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the myths, personalities and stories in history of the stacks.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
Completed in 1931 and left to languish until this year, Barracoon recalls the months Hurston spent with Cudjo Lewis, then 86-years-old and one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade, abducted from Africa at age 19 and forcefully brought to America aboard the Clotida. In his recollections, interspersed with Hurston’s prose, we get a powerful, timeless narrative of an exceptional life lived partly through America’s darkest time.
In her cloistered life in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover learned only what her parents—devoutly religious and untrusting of outsiders—deemed important. But as they eked out a living hauling scrap and mixing healing oils, Tara’s curiosity and desire to know more about a world she did not really understand, could not be limited. Against a backdrop of deep family dysfunction, abuse and end-of-days paranoia, the author transcribes her fascinating path that led from isolation to the Ivy League.
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
The kindness. The soft voice. The sweaters. Beloved children’s entertainer and devoted advocate of equality and compassion, Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers to his generation of fans) encouraged his young fans to explore their world—even the parts that made them scared, sad or confused. Helping to navigate childhood in a caring and empathic way, the messages that Mister Rogers imparted are more relevant now than ever. This immersive biography looks at the artistry, struggles fears and triumphs of the man that opened the gate to our favorite neighborhood, day after day.
Are you on board with this list? Let us know what you think the best nonfiction book of 2018 was!