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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
- The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World by Paul Morland
- The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey by Margaret Leslie Davis
- Horizon by Barry Lopez
- Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone by Brian Switek
- The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors by Matthew O. Jackson
- Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan
- The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity by Amy Webb
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