The best nonfiction of August

Chris Schluep on August 25, 2020
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The best nonfiction books of August

It's a fun time of year to be a reader, with lots of big books coming out in a variety of categories, as well as a few unexpected surprises. Meghan Leahy's parenting book was a surprise. You can read more about it below. Alicia Elliot's book was also a surprise (at least to me). On the other hand, big books by Sam Harris and Helen MacDonald were books we had long been anticipating. They did not disappoint. Learn more about these books below, and you can see our full list of the best nonfiction of August here. Happy reading.



Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald

It was Helen Macdonald’s unusual way of processing grief that put her on the literary map. In H Is for Hawk we met Mabel, a rancorous raptor Macdonald adopted and trained, and in doing so, wrenched herself free from despair. The book was an award-winning best-seller that captured countless hearts, and not just ones belonging to ornithologists. The why of that is the reason readers will also fall in love with Vesper Flights. More meandering than her memoir, this collection of essays waxes poetic on things ranging from lunar eclipses, to nocturnal bird-watching in Manhattan, to mushroom hunting, and even migraines. Before reading Vesper Flights the only swift I knew about was Taylor, and she’s pretty good at drawing attention to herself. But that is one of Ms. Macdonald’s gifts. She notices things, the magic and the wonder and the consolation of nature, and she mines what those things have to teach us about being better humans and stewards of this planet. Her exquisite prose will get you to pay attention too. Macdonald writes: “Someone once told me that every writer has a subject that underlies everything they write. It can be love or death, betrayal or belonging, home or hope or exile. I choose to think that my subject is love…” That is evident on every page of Vesper Flights. —Erin Kodicek


A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott

Elliott’s honest, sometimes darkly funny personal stories illuminate how identity can be both a bludgeon and a backbone. The daughter of a white Catholic woman and a Haudenosaunee man, Elliott is at once part of both cultures and separate from them, crafting and navigating her sense of self as best she can. Thorny brambles block her path: her mother’s severe mental illness, deep prejudice against Natives, and poverty so extreme that Elliott lives with head lice from elementary school until she leaves home. Elliott’s magnetic writing and keen sense of self guides her and the reader through moments that are terrible, wonderful, and ultimately unforgettable. —Adrian Liang


Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity by Sam Harris

Sam Harris has a lot of built-in fans for this book, due to his large base of podcast listeners. And those who have listened to his podcast Making Sense, know that Harris is not shy about courting controversy. Harris is always engaged in an effort to get to the truth about the issues he discusses (which at times can be an opening for controversial conversations), and that effort is why he has so many fans. He also has great guests, and in this book readers will find conversation with Daniel Kahneman, Timothy Snyder, Nick Bostrom, Glenn Loury, and many other great thinkers. This is deep nonfiction for the deep reader.


Parenting Outside the Lines: Forget the Rules, Tap into Your Wisdom, and Connect with Your Child by Meghan Leahy

Parenting is hard enough. Parenting during a pandemic adds another degree of difficulty altogether. Here is a book by the Washington Post's parenting columnist that encourages common sense, empathy, and a certain amount of joy that's frankly missing from a lot of parenting books. According to Meghan Leahy, you don't have to seek to be the perfect parent. Which is good, because no parent is. The sooner we can move on from that assumption, the sooner we can become consistently good parents.


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