The most notable nonfiction works of the year, as selected by The Washington Post book editors.
“1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List,” by James Mustich
From Jane Austen to H.G. Wells to “Zen in the Art of Archery” to “The 9/11 Commission Report,” this impressive inventory invites rapturous browsing and constant argument.
“Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America,” by Gregory Pardlo
In powerful, seemingly effortless prose, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet recounts how he struggled with his father’s troubling influence and his own demons.
“All You Can Ever Know,” by Nicole Chung
Chung’s brave, graceful memoir recalls growing up as the adoptive child of white parents and searching for her Korean birth family’s roots.
“Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America,” by Eliza Griswold
A single mother in rural Pennsylvania tries to find out what is poisoning her family and farm in a real-life environmental thriller with a poignant outcome.
“The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy,” by Greg Miller
A Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter puts the big, complicated story of Russian election interference and the Trump presidency in a comprehensible historical and political context.
“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou
The tech company Theranos promises to revolutionize blood testing but sinks to the edge of bankruptcy in this chronicle of jaw-dropping falsehoods and immense greed.
“Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought,” by Lily Bailey
A powerful memoir depicts obsessive-compulsive disorder not as the almost-charming hang-up seen in popular culture but as a hellscape of tortured routines, phobias and guilt.
“Becoming,” by Michelle Obama
The former first lady gets uncommonly candid with a memoir that includes her true feelings about Donald Trump and the pain that came with living under intense scrutiny.
“Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found,” by Gilbert King
It’s 1957 in Jim Crow Florida, and a white woman says she’s been raped by a black man. Injustice follows, but not quite in the way you’d expect.
“Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis,” by Sam Anderson
Anderson takes a city almost universally overlooked and turns it into a metaphor for, well, everything.
“Calypso,” by David Sedaris
The wry essayist publishes a new collection, and his life, his writing and the world around him all seem a little crueler and more shocking than before.
“Chesapeake Requiem: A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island,” by Earl Swift
Finally, a writer has learned to understand life on this tiny island in the Chesapeake Bay – just in time, perhaps, to memorialize the rapidly sinking Tangier.
“The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” by Max Boot
The Washington Post columnist looks back at his ideological shift from lifelong Republican to GOP critic following the election of Donald Trump.
“Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” by Steve Coll
The dean of Columbia Journalism School unspools a slow-motion military and policy disaster, and his solid, unadorned facts bring on bafflement and despair.
“Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America,” by Beth Macy
What a Roanoke-based reporter learned as she chronicled the pain pill epidemic’s march through western Virginia.
“Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter,” by Ben Goldfarb
Can those paddle-tailed, buck-toothed dam builders offer humans some help in restoring our ailing environment?
“Educated: A Memoir,” by Tara Westover
Raised off the grid by Mormon survivalist parents, Westover landed at Harvard and Cambridge despite her lack of formal education.
“Fear: Trump in the White House,” by Bob Woodward
Woodward’s meticulous reporting for The Washington Post in the Nixon era is even more valuable today. He is utterly devoted to “just the facts” digging and compulsively thorough interviews.
“The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After,” by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Made famous by her reunion with her parents on “Oprah,” a survivor of the Rwandan massacre claims control of her story in service of a greater cause.
“Heavy: An American Memoir,” by Kiese Laymon (Scribner)
An overweight black boy grows up in an intellectual, loving but sometimes violent Mississippi household – and becomes an award-winning writer and university professor.
“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” by James Comey
The ousted FBI director delivers a big-think story about values and institutions clashing with tribalism and self-interest in Washington.
“How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
Two of the most respected scholars in the field of democracy offer up a sober, dispassionate look at the current state of affairs – and arrive at some disturbing conclusions.
“How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” by Michael Pollan
Extensive personal and journalistic research went into this survey of the history and uses of psychoactive drugs.
“How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” by Alexander Chee
A collection of essays by a gay Korean American fiction writer explores his experiences as a young man in San Francisco.
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer,”
by Michelle McNamara
McNamara’s long, painstaking investigation into the serial rapist and killer was published two years after her death – and two months before a suspect was arrested.
“The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America,” by Sarah E. Igo
Americans may believe in a right to privacy, the author argues, but they have come to accept extreme surveillance and self-disclosure as a way of understanding and sharing society.
“The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity,” by Kwame Anthony Appiah
A professor of philosophy and law brings insightful realism to the task of re-examining our restrictive and therefore divisive notions of who we are.
“A Life of My Own,” by Claire Tomalin
Now 85, a notable literary biographer turns her critical eye on herself, and the result is an elegant profile in courage and fortitude.
“Look Alive Out There: Essays,” by Sloane Crosley
The comic essayist leads us on a variety of personal adventures, including climbing an active volcano and freezing her eggs.
“Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce,” by Colm Tóibín
Tóibín examines the devotion, rebellion, dependent estrangement — and inspiration — that three fellow Irish writers experienced with their fathers.
“The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles,” by Gary Krist
William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith and Aimee Semple McPherson are familiar characters in Los Angeles histories, but Krist weaves them into a fresh narrative.
“Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret,” by Craig Brown
Beautiful, indolent and arrogant, Margaret seems fictional, too imperious to be true; amazingly, Brown makes the reader sympathize.
“Presidents of War,” by Michael Beschloss
A celebrated presidential historian portrays eight chief executives who led America into major conflicts and one — Thomas Jefferson — who refused to do so.
“The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy,” by Anna Clark
Clark paints a bleak portrait of a government marked by opacity, greed and willful negligence in a city where most residents are black and poor.
“Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations,” by Amy Chua
Examining the re-emergence of tribalism in America, which upends the ideal of an Americanness that transcends race and ethnicity.
“Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner,” edited by Edward M. Burns
Two of the great literary polymaths of the 20th century converse about art, literature, scholarship and the life of the mind. Also, they gossip.
“The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World,” by Sarah Weinman
Was Vladimir Nabokov’s brilliant, infamous novel inspired by the real-life abduction and rape of an 11-year-old New Jersey girl?
“Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist,” by Eli Saslow
A national correspondent for The Washington Post describes the complicated evolution of a born-and-bred racist who changed his views.
“Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” by Michael Isikoff and David Corn
Versed in the Washington threads of the Trump-Russia tale, the authors are sympathetic to former FBI director James B. Comey and merciless toward shortcomings of the Obama White House.
“The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind,” by Justin Driver
A former Supreme Court law clerk delivers a masterful analysis of the court’s rulings on students’ rights, drawing as well on his own school years.
“Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance,” by Mark Whitaker
The town in question was Pittsburgh, and the 20th-century renaissance there sprawled from music to journalism to sports to the numbers racket.
“The Souls of Yellow Folk: Essays,” by Wesley Yang
A piercing essay collection, packed with a fierce and refreshing ambivalence, about being an Asian man in America.
“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben MacIntyre
A thrilling true story reverses the famous Kim Philby case: From 1974 to 1985, the KGB was duped by a British mole (who is still alive).
“These Truths: A History of the United States,” by Jill Lepore
Drawing on her notable books and magazine articles, Lepore provides a way to help Americans come to an honest reckoning with their past.
“Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing,” by Wil Haygood
At the height of civil rights tensions, an all-black high school in Columbus, Ohio, wins unprecedented dual state championships in basketball and baseball.
“We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights,” by Adam Winkler
Going beyond a liberal critique of Citizens United, this engaging narrative takes readers inside courtrooms, judges’ chambers and corporate offices to reconstruct 200 years of case law.
“What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America,” by Michael Eric Dyson
A key 1963 meeting between Bobby Kennedy and black leaders is the springboard for a provocative look at the black struggle today.
“Why Baseball Matters,” by Susan Jacoby
Why? Because its possibilities are bounded not by a clock but by performance. Because it demands concentration and time in an age of distraction. Because anything can happen.
“Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” by Anand Giridharadas
Meet — and learn to despise — the denizens of “MarketWorld,” elitists who believe that they are changing the world while profiting from the status quo.
“The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World,” by Charles C. Mann
Mann unpacks opposing views of Earth’s future through two compelling advocates: doomsaying ornithologist William Vogt and Green Revolution guru Norman Borlaug.