The Best Books of the Month: Nonfiction

Jon Foro on March 13, 2019

In our picks for the best true tales of February: The emotional lives of non-human animals, which you may find very familiar; the race to find a cure for one of the most dangerous, drug-resistant bacterium on the planet; the chronicle of a single summer in one of America's most violent cities; a similarly reported take on murder in Northern Ireland; and if all that weren't dark enough—and I swear I didn't set out to make it this way—a book about death that's more Grim Humorist than Grim Reaper. 

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Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves by Frans de Waal

Have you seen the video of Mama, a dying, 59-year-old chimpanzee who receives one last visit from a biologist who had worked with her years before. (If you haven't, go watch it and come back, after you stop weeping.) Primatologist de Waal uses the event to explore the emotional lives of animals and the similarities to humans'; in the way that we have no organs that other animals don’t have, the same is true for our emotions.

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The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir by Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson

The superbugs are coming, and there's nothing we can do about it. Or is there? Steffanie Strathdee and Tom Patterson were on vacation when Patterson fell ill. What seemed like food poisoning was revealed to be a life-threatening, drug-resistant bacteria. Coincidentally, they both worked at the UC San Diego medical center, where Strathdee went to work identifying the ailment, and finding a remedy for her husband. The Perfect Predator is a timely, gripping, real-life medical thriller.

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American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

Kotlowitz chronicles the events of a single summer in some of Chicago's most neglected neighborhoods. As the pages add up, so do the bullets and the collective grief—but also a deeper connection to what is happening. As he did in his bestseller, There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz gives readers an opportunity to see for themselves the lives and substance of the people behind the statistics. These are people who, without his book, may very easily stay hidden from view. —Seira Wilson

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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

With the pacing of a thriller, and an intricate, yet compulsively readable storytelling structure, Keefe’s exhaustive reportage brings home the terror, the waste, and the heartbreaking futility of a guerrilla war fought in peoples’ homes as well as in the streets. Say Nothing captures the devastation of veterans on both sides, uneasily enjoying the peace that finally came while wondering if they had fought the good fight or been complicit in murder all along. —Vannessa Cronin

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All that Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes by Sue Black

A forensic anthropologist whose first job was an apprenticeship in a butcher's shop Dame Sue Black has lived close to death almost her entire life. But while the subject matter is dark—human dissections, deaths of loved ones, crime scenes, mass fatalities, etc.—All That Remains is not a dark book. Instead it's filled with (Black?) humor and a clear-eyed practicality often lacking when it comes to a subject that rightly freaks us out. 

More of the best nonfiction of March:

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