The best nonfiction books of 2020 so far

Chris Schluep on August 04, 2020

The best nonfiction books of 2020 so far

The Amazon editors' list of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 showcases books in a wide variety of subjects. One could easily argue that it's the most varied list of all the category lists we produce for the Best Books of 2020 So Far. I've selected five books to highlight below, and I found it interesting—once I stepped back and looked at the books—to realize that I had chosen two that explain why we do or don't do something (Why We Swim and Why We Can't Sleep). Then again, nonfiction books are all about satisfying curiosity; so asking why we do or don't do something is right in line with the nonfiction genre. If you are feeling deeply curious, be sure to see our full list of the best nonfiction books of 2020.

Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun

When Ada Calhoun found herself in the throes of a midlife crisis, she felt she had no right to complain. She was married with children and had a good career. So why did she feel miserable? And why did it seem that other Generation X women were miserable, too? Calhoun decided to find some answers. She looked into housing costs, HR trends, credit card debt averages, and divorce data. At every turn, she saw a pattern: sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, Gen X women were facing new problems as they entered middle age, problems that were being largely overlooked. In this book, Calhoun aims for understanding, and ultimately relief.

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford

It seems like a crazy idea to pick up stakes from a comfortable life in New York and move your wife and three-year-old twins to a city in France (not Paris) to look for a job in a restaurant. It might make more sense if you are Bill Buford, author of Heat, the 2006 book that did for Italian food what, frankly, Dirt will do for French cuisine. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Bill Buford is a foodie with literary chops—he founded the literary magazine Granta and was fiction editor of the New Yorker—but he is also an adventurer, and apparently a very hard worker. After locating a home abroad (Buford’s wife is essential in many of his endeavors), enrolling his kids in a local school, learning French, studying technique at L’Institute Bocuse, and enduring fifteen hour days at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lyon, the heart of French cuisine, he still managed to write down his experiences with humor and vibrancy. Dirt is the result of five years living and working in France, learning to know the people and their food, and getting to the heart of something—some feeling or quality of living—for which many of us are searching. 

Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity by Peggy Orenstein

In her 2016 book, Girls & Sex, Peggy Orenstein spoke with hundreds of high school and college-aged girls about their thoughts on hookups, love, body shaming, virginity, abstinence, and much, much more. Now Orenstein talks with boys from the same age group, revealing that their path through the modern sexual landscape is just as twisty and thorny, if not more so, as girls’. Consent, pornography, hookup culture, gender identity, sexual preference, and a constantly changing definition of masculinity are among the issues boys struggle with and talk with her about. Orenstein’s straight-ahead questions paired with the boys’ vulnerable answers make Boys & Sex a captivating, eye-opening read. A must for anyone who has a boy or young man whom they love in their life.

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

Here is a love letter to water, an (ahem) immersive dip into the reasons we are drawn to it. Author Tsui shares stories of swimmers all over the world, from Olympic swimmers, to polar bear clubs, to shipwreck survivors, to community swim clubs. The freedom of the water awaits you, even if you are sitting on your couch for the foreseeable future.

More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood by Natasha Gregson Wagner

When Natasha Wagner was 11 years old, she heard on the radio that her famous mother had been found dead off the shore of Catalina Island. Wagner uses that moment as a starting off point for her book, revealing a life turned upside down by that infamous event, tracing her attempts to come to terms with a life and a loss that most of us can only imagine. 

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