The best nonfiction of August

Jon Foro on August 16, 2019
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In this round-up of the month's best nonfiction: An exploration of the open ocean, where smugglers, pirates, poachers, and worse still do their nefarious deeds; a deep examination of the institutional underpinnings of racism, and a way to dismantle them; the strange and often brutal life of George Remus, "King of the Bootleggers"; everything you ever (or never) wanted to know about everybody's least favorite bloodsucking insect; and a book that finally explains why I, a smart person, litter my posts with so many typos.


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The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina

The high seas have always been where the illicit action is, and Ian Urbina—a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist—took to the waves to find it. And did he ever. Smugglers, traffickers, pirates, poachers, stowaways, mercenaries, and polluters fill The Outlaw Ocean’s more than 400 pages, and the theme is overwhelming, often catastrophic degradation. Urbina's book is illuminating, terrifying, and often dismaying. It’s also unique, vitally important, and strangely thrilling. —Jon Foro


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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi's title encompasses his main thesis: Simply not being racist isn't enough. We must actively choose to be "antiracist," working to undo racism and its component polices in order to build an equitable society. To read this book is to relate to the author as an individual and realize just how much we all have in common. As Kendi writes: race is a mirage, assigning an identity according to skin color, ignoring the individual. —Chris Schluep


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The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott

Abbott provides a riveting portrait of George Remus, AKA "King of the Bootleggers." This eccentric and teetotaling whiskey trafficker shamelessly flouted Prohibition laws and amassed an alcohol arsenal that was 35 percent of the U.S.’s total supply. The unlawful sale of that booze brought Remus enormous wealth, and he, along with his wife, Imogen, enjoyed a lifestyle that would make Jay Gatsby jealous. The Ghosts of Eden Park is a rollicking read, and a different kind of guilty pleasure: you might find yourself rooting for Remus at times, until you remember his very real brutality and the different set of rules that benefited him (and others) as a person of means. —Erin Kodicek


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The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard

Each time you turn the page you'll learn something new about everybody's least favorite common insect. While the buzzing of mosquitoes might be annoying, the diseases the female bloodsuckers carry and transfer to their victims are downright terrifying. Malaria and yellow fever have decimated human populations throughout our history, but malaria has even been found in the fossilized remains of dinosaurs. Professor Timothy Winegard infuses his history of the mosquito with an almost gee-whiz level of excitement, but no additional flourishes are needed. The information in this book is eye-opening. —Adrian Liang


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The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes by David Robson

An eye-opening examination of the stupid things smart people do?and how to cultivate skills to protect ourselves from error. Smart people are not only just as prone to making mistakes as everyone else, they may be even more susceptible to them. This is the "intelligence trap," the subject of David Robson’s fascinating and provocative book.


More of the best nonfiction of August:


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