Best Books of the Month: Nonfiction

Jon Foro on February 19, 2018

Here are just a few of our favorite nonfiction titles for February. See more of our nonfiction picks, and all of the Best Books of the Month.

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The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

I hate to say it, but we should never again be surprised at the capacity for cynicism that certain humans can bear within themselves. Still, if you need to be reminded, Balko's unnerving book--the true tale of innocent men convicted of heinous crimes against a lattice of fabricated evidence--will do the trick. We hear no shortage of hyperbolic comparisons in these halls ("It's the next Devil in the White City/Da Vinci Code/Wild"), but if someone put this book somewhere in the vicinity of In Cold Blood, I'd listen.

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Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our Evolving Species by Sang-Hee Lee

You've prepared with Clan of the Cave Bear and a late-night cable presentation of Quest for Fire. Are you ready to step up your "A" game, as in "Australopithecus"? Lee takes readers on an accessible tour through our hominin history, showing us some of the strange places we've been, and where we might be headed.

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Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet by Yasha Levine

It’s reasonable if you missed reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by the House of Representatives last month; there’s a lot of news these days, and it sounds technical, boring. If you’re not familiar, the tl;dr version is that proponents view it as an essential tool for fighting terrorism, while opponents argue its loopholes allow warrantless surveillance of American citizens. Surveillance Valley outlines the history of the internet as a tool for the military, designed for collecting intelligence on both "enemies" at home and abroad. Everything is fine.

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Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Not to make this about me, but how is it that almost 20 years have passed since Smith published her first novel? The celebrated author of Swing Time, White Teeth, and NW presents this collection of essays on a wide-ranging set of topics including the psychosis of social media, Justin Bieber, literary criticism, and Brooklyn rappers--each as insightful as they are diverse.

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The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth by Michio Kaku

Carl Sagan invented the "favorite uncle" template for astronomers: Someone who could deliver occasionally difficult concepts ("Science is interesting"; "You are not the center of the universe"; "Nuclear conflict is best avoided") to broad audiences through a genuine sense of wonder and a large slice of humanity. While there will never be another Uncle Carl, Neal deGrasse Tyson lives in the same intellectual condo, as does Michio Kaku--and it's good to have him on board to tell us about how we're going to have to move to Mars, and how we might do it. Everything is fine.

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