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Books: Best Books 2020: Best Nonfiction


A selection of titles chosen by: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, BookPage, Goodreads, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Bill Gates, and The New York Public Library as the best nonfiction of 2020. 


*Designates books found on "best books" lists of more than one publication.

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NYT Top Five

*Hidden Valley Road

Tells a heartrending story of a midcentury American family with 12 children, 6 of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

*A Promised Land

A deeply personal account of history in the making--from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy. 

*Shakespeare in a Divided America

The award-winning author of The Year of Lear presents a scholarly examination of how American leaders have found wisdom in the works of Shakespeare, revealing the lessons that the Bard’s plays can teach about the political turbulence of today.

*Uncanny Valley

The author chronicles her experience at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory and, of course, progress.


MacMillian argues that war — fighting and killing— is so intimately bound up with what it means to be human that viewing it as an aberration misses the point. War has led to many civilization’s great disasters but also to many of civilization’s greatest achievements. It’s all around us, influencing everything we see and do; it’s in our bones.

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The Washington Post

*Vesper Flights

The award-winning author of H is for Hawk presents a collection of essays about humanity's relationship with nature, exploring subjects ranging from captivity and immigration to ostrich farming and the migrations of songbirds from the Empire State Building.


The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Warmth of Other Suns identifies the qualifying characteristics of historical caste systems to reveal how a rigid hierarchy of human rankings, enforced by religious views, heritage and stigma, impact everyday American lives.

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Bill Gates

*The Splendid and the Vile

Draws on personal diaries, archival documents and declassified intelligence in a portrait of Winston Churchill that explores his day-to-day experiences during the Blitz and his role in uniting England.


Shares counterintuitive advice on the most effective path to success in any domain while revealing the essential contributions of generalist, not specialist, team members.

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NY Pub Library

*Just Us

As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history.

The Undocumented Americans

An Ivy League-educated DACA beneficiary reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans, from the volunteers recruited for the 9/11 Ground Zero cleanup to the homeopathy botanicas of Miami that provide limited health care to non-citizens.

*Desert Notebooks

Ehrenreich weaves together climate science, mythologies, nature writing, and personal experiences to examine how the unprecedented pace of destruction to our environment has led us to the brink of calamity.

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Pub Weekly

*The Address Book

Tells the story of how streets got their names and houses their numbers, and why something as seemingly mundane as an address can save lives or enforce power.

*Unworthy Republic

A history of the 1830s forced migration of indigenous populations to territories west of the Mississippi describes the government-driven fraud, intimidation and murder that were used to confiscate Native American homelands and property.

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NYT Top 100

Becoming Wild

The New York Times best-selling author of Beyond Words brings readers close to three non-human cultures--what they do, why they do it, and how life is for them.

*The Dragons, the Giant, the Women

The author shares her experience of escaping the First Liberian Civil War and building a life in the United States, shining the light on the great political and personal forces that continue to affect many migrants around the world.

The Hardhat Riot

In May 1970, four days after Kent State, construction workers chased students through Manhattan, beating scores of protestors bloody. As hardhats clashed with hippies, it soon became clear that something larger was happening; Democrats were at war with themselves.

Overground Railroad

Examines the important historical role of the "Black travel guide to America" published from 1936 to 1966, celebrating the courage of Black-safe businesses that advanced race relations by including themselves in Green Book listings.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of The Immortal Irishman traces an ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome, visiting some of Christianity's most important shrines to explore the faith's past, present and future.

Soul Full of Coal Dust

An urgent report by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist uncovers the sobering resurgence of black lung disease in Appalachia, the cover-up activities of Big Coal and the awareness activities of regional mining communities.

Until the End of Time

The Columbia University theoretical physicist and best-selling author of The Elegant Universe explores subjects ranging from quantum mechanics to black holes, sharing insights into how human life and consciousness emerged from chaos.

Who Gets in and Why

A higher-education journalist draws on insider access to explain the nuts and bolts of college admissions today, outlining the unexpected agendas that reflect which and why prospective students receive admission into better schools.

*The Beauty in Breaking

A female, African American ER physician describes how her own life and encounters with her patients led her to realize that every human is broken and recognizing that and moving towards a place of healing can bring peace and happiness.

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Library Journal

A Furious Sky

Presents the five-hundred-year story of American hurricanes, from nameless storms that threatened Columbus' New World voyages, to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the escalation of hurricane season as a result of global warming.

Rebel Cinderella

From the bestselling author of King Leopold's Ghost and Spain in Our Hearts comes the astonishing but forgotten story of an immigrant sweatshop worker who married an heir to a great American fortune and become one of the most charismatic radical leaders of her time.


A heartrending immigrant memoir and a uniquely intersectional coming-of-age story of a life lived in a duality and the in-between, and how one navigates through race, gender, and the search for love.

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Hood Feminism

Insightful, incendiary and ultimately hopeful, Hood Feminism is both an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux and also clear-eyed assessment of hose to save it.


Reveals the poignant stories of the 999 women on the first official transport to Auschwitz, drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses and relatives of those first deportees.


The social media commentator and founder of the #Blexit movement shares the reasons she has embraced conservative politics, arguing that the race policies of America's Democratic party promote victim mentalities and widespread economic dependency. 

A Life on Our Planet

In this scientifically informed account of the environmental changes occurring in the world over the last century, award-winning broadcaster and natural historian shares a lifetime of wisdom and a hopeful vision for the future.


An activist, speaker and philanthropist offers a memoir wrapped in a wake-up call that reveals how women can reclaim their true, untamed selves by breaking free of the restrictive expectations and cultural conditioning that leaves them feeling dissatisfied and lost. 

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Time Magazine

Having and Being Had

Having just purchased her first home, the author embarks on a self-audit of the value system she has brought into. the essays in this volume offer an interrogation of work, leisure, and the lived experience of capitalism.

*Memorial Drive

The former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Native Guard shares a chillingly personal memoir about the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather.

*The Dead Are Arising

A revisionary portrait of the iconic civil rights leader draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with surviving family members, intelligence officers and political leaders to offer new insights into Malcolm X's Depression-era youth, religious conversion and 1965 assassination.

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*Minor Feelings

An award-winning poet and essayist offers a ruthlessly honest, emotionally charged exploration of the psychological condition of being Asian American.

Wilmington's Lie

the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist documents the events of the 1898 Wilmington Insurrection and its unrecognized role in reversing the city's mixed-race advances, overthrowing local government and promoting white-supremacist agendas.

*Nobody Will Tell You This But Me

The award-winning television writer reflects on her relationship with her loving grandmother, the daughter of immigrants from the 19th-century Belarus whose hardships, sacrifices and headstrong nature shaped the author's perspective on family and career.

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