The Best Nonfiction of 2018

Jon Foro on November 23, 2018
Share

Merriam-Webster defines nonfiction as.... Wait, let's start over. This is not 7th grade. Still, for our purposes, it may be useful to define something defined as what it is not. In our case, nonfiction is, of course, not fiction, but it is also not: biographies & memoirs; history; humor & entertainment; science; cookbooks, food & wine; arts & photography; or business & investing. We know this because we have separate best of the year lists for those. So what's left? As it turns out, plenty—even if these books overlap into one or more of those other categories.

Now that it's decided, take a closer look at 10 of our picks for the best nonfiction of 2018, and see everything in the Best Books of 2018.


Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Goodwin demonstrates how leaders are made, not born, as she thoughtfully explores the highs and lows of four U.S. presidents who faced moments of horrific national crisis. Goodwin's clean, assured sentences set the stage as each future president discovers within himself the desire to enter politics, the calamitous blows that knocked each one down, and how they tackled the struggles that tore at the sinews of the country. Goodwin's strength is in the rich context she provides as she shows that great leaders develop in dissimilar ways but ultimately have a vision they reach for and rely on when times are at their most turbulent. —Adrian Liang

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Dopesick by Beth Macy

Macy’s book reveals the greed that drove OxyContin to be America’s drug of choice and the shame of addiction that kept this epidemic hidden until far too late. Opioid addiction has touched nearly all of us in the 20 years since OxyContin came to market, and it’s something that didn’t have to happen. Money—absurdly huge sums of it—encouraged doctors, politicians, and the pharmaceutical industry to accept claims about the safety of this painkiller even when it was in conflict with what they saw in their practices and communities. There were so many warning signs. And there were so many people—particularly in small middle American towns—who cried foul, but no one in power cared to act. Beth Macy is a brilliant investigative journalist and a compassionate human being, and she tells this story like no one else has so far. Dopesick offers just the right blend of personal stories and cold hard facts; it’s a powerful book that incites conversation. —Seira Wilson

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Broadband by Claire L. Evans

Fascinating and often moving, Broad Band sheds light on the true stories of women who pioneered crucial technological and social leaps throughout the history of computing. Much like the dedicated female mathematicians in Hidden Figures, the women in Broad Band solved new and complex technical problems while also dealing with stifling social mores that kept them marginalized in the writing of the “official” history. Author and VICE reporter Evans relates these stories with a candor and humor that matches the relentless spirit of the subjects. Broad Band is an inspiring and timely read for anyone interested in the digital world. —Matt Fyffe

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

A Song for the River by Philip Connors

In 2011, Connors published Fire Season, a memoir of a summer spent alone in a southwestern lookout tower. With echoes of Abbey, Kerouac, and Lopez, it was great. He followed that with 2015’s All the Wrong Places, a book filled with the tragedy and pain that pushed him into the wilderness in the first place. (If he’d combined them into one volume, he might have written Wild. I probably don’t need to tell him that.) A new book from Connors is always welcome, and A Song for the River—both an elegy for lost friends and a "biography of New Mexico's beautiful Gila river—delivers more of what made his previous efforts so compelling: humanity, lyricism, and top-notch nature writing. —Jon Foro

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

It’s hard to imagine having as many deep thoughts as Harari. His 2015 book, Sapiens, examined the human race through the vectors of history and biology, illuminating how each has influenced our behavior and evolution. Two years later, Homo Deus took us in the opposite direction, predicting the profound changes we will undergo as technology becomes increasingly intertwined in our lives and bodies. No he turns his attention to more immediate concerns. Using the same tack-sharp lens as his previous books, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century addresses urgent, shape-shifting topics that will shape our present and near future, including nationalism, religion, immigration, artificial intelligence, and even the nature of Truth. Harari is not always reassuring, and he's certainly unafraid of questions challenging widely held views on both global and personal scales, i.e. yours. His quest is not to tear holes in belief systems, but to expand conversations and strip the -isms that channel us into predictably intractable stand-offs. Calling any book "urgent" or "a must-read" is almost always hyperbolic, even shrill. But especially now, 21 Lessons fits the bill. —Jon Foro

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

This compelling investigation of the “Golden State Killer,” who terrorized northern California from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, is one of the best true crime books to come along in a decade. It’s the story of two obsessions: McNamara’s obsession with the criminal, and whatever abhorrent obsession drove him to commit a series of horrific rapes and murders over ten years. The author, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, describes the crimes and examines clues in an effort to uncover his identity. Occasionally, she challenges convention by inserting herself into the narrative (at one point, she even writes directly to the Golden State Killer), and the book acquires even more personal weight when one takes into account the fact that McNamara, at the age of 46, died while writing it. Knowing all of this, and with each chilling description, McNamara’s obsession begins to become our own. She believed that the Golden State Killer would still be alive today. You will discover yourself hoping she’s right, so that you can see him captured and brought to justice. [Shortly after this book was published, an arrest was made —Ed.] —Chris Schluep

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

Since his days writing for the long-gone and lamented Grantland, Phillips has consistently produced original, thought-provoking, and nuanced takes on culture and whatever catches his attention. In one of the best nonfiction collections of the year—if not the best—he heads north to report on the Iditarod, prowls for tigers in India, and untangles a creepily twisted family tree in Oklahoma. And more. This is a fine debut. —Jon Foro

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

LikeWar by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking

Were you looking for more reasons to worry about the future, or the present? LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media will fuel your nightmares. P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking’s treatise travels well beyond the disinformation and fake news we’re all now familiar with (right?), addressing the ways the internet and our social networks will be deployed in actual war: recruiting terrorists, inflicting sabotage remotely on a vast scale, and even Matrix-grade reality manipulation. Backed by over 100 pages of notes, LikeWar is sober, deeply researched, and still compulsively readable.Given the accelerating pace of technology, any reasonable futurist can expect to see their predictions become obsolete in three to five years, or maybe two. But even if the specifics change, the principle holds: Disruption is coming, and we are not ready. It’s frightening, but as individuals, we are far from helpless. As Singer and Brooking conclude, “Social media is extraordinarily powerful…. Yet within this network, and in each of the battles on it, we all have the power of choice.” —Jon Foro

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Poisoned City by Anna Clark

Flint, Michigan, has become a byword for municipal failure. When the government switched the city's water source, residents started to complain that the water tasted strange and they were growing ill. After repeated strong statements from the city and state claiming the water was just fine, interspersed with perplexing boil-water alerts, residents finally took large-scale water testing into their own hands, and a local hospital analyzed its patient data to prove that residents were suffering levels of lead poisoning at an unheard-of scale. Detroit journalist Anna Clark deftly sets the stage for Flint's man-made disaster: the big drop in population that affected the pipe infrastructure, Flint's financial emergencies, and the long history of sidelining poor and African-American residents in Flint. As Flint's water failures cascade and the population continues to sicken, Clark provides even-keeled reporting of the crisis even as the outrages pile up despite Michigan's attempts to bury them. Those who also read A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr will wonder how we got to this point with bad water yet again…and why, this time, it’s the government who is harming its citizens. The Poisoned City will open readers' eyes to both the scary truth that most of our cities rely on equally weak water infrastructure and how a city's residents can force others to listen. —Adrian Liang

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Northland by Porter Fox

Mention “the border” and your thoughts will probably turn to south, a region whose complexities were so thoughtfully explored in Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River, a selection for our Best Books of the Year in biographies and memoirs. But there’s an even longer one to the north that’s just as interesting, and maybe even less understood. Porter Fox explored the 4,000-mile-long divide between the United States and Canada, traveling east to west via canoe, car, train, and foot. His memoir, Northland, is part adventure, some history, and a little bit Studs Terkel, filled with encounters with people as diverse as the landscape. —Jon Foro


More of the best nonfiction books of 2018:


You might also like:

Subscribe to the Amazon Book Review, featuring picks for the best books of the month, author interviews, reading recommendations, and more from the Amazon Books editors.


Lists + Reviews

Best Books Literature + Fiction Nonfiction Kids + Young Adult Mystery, Thriller + Suspense Science Fiction + Fantasy Comics + Graphic Novels Romance Eating + Drinking

Authors

Interviews Guest Essays Celebrity Picks

News + Features

News Features Awards

Editors

Omnivoracious, The Amazon Book Review

Feeds Facebook Twitter YouTube