Best Nonfiction & Memoirs 2016: Summer Reading, Recommendations

best US nonfiction 2016 stefan mesch

Nonfiction, Memoirs, Essays:

Here are 21 nonfiction books, realeased in 2016, that I’ve sampled & enjoyed. Recommendations!

I’ve made a list for fiction (2016, Link), too!

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01: OLIVIA LAING, “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of being alone”

  • cerebral and engaging essay on loneliness
  • 336 pages, March 2016, Picador

“Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. The Lonely City is a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

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02: HELEN PEARSON, “The Life Project: How the Study of Six Generations showed us who we are”

  • sociology: I love the concept of the survey – but I’m not sure if this needs to be a full book: would an article be enough?
  • 256 pages, February 2016, Soft Skull

“On March 3, 1946, a survey began that is, today, the longest-running study of human development in the world, growing to encompass six generations of children, 150,000 people. This is the tale of these studies, the scientists who created them, and their remarkable discoveries.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

The Life Project: How the Study of Six Generations Showed Us Who We Are

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03: RON FOURNIER, “Love that Boy: What two Presidents, eight Road Trips, and my Son taught me about a Parent’s Expectations”

  • cutesy cover – but I enjoyed the style: a very personal account of a family and a son with Asperger’s syndrome
  • 240 pages, April 206, Harmony

“A uniquely personal story about the causes and costs of outsized parental expectations. What we want for our children—popularity, normalcy, achievement, genius—and what they truly need—grit, empathy, character—are explored by National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who weaves his extraordinary journey to acceptance around the latest research on childhood development and stories of other loving-but-struggling parents.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations

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04: ANDREW NAGORSKI, “The Nazi Hunters”

  • I don’t know nearly enough about people like Beate Klarsfeld, Fritz Bauer and the hunt for Eichmann: gripping, engaging history book
  • 416 pages, April 2016, Simon & Schuster

“More than seven decades after the end of the war, the era of the Nazi Hunters is drawing to a close as they and the hunted die off. After the Nuremberg trials and the start of the Cold War, most of the victors in World War II lost interest in prosecuting Nazi war criminals. Many of the lower-ranking perpetrators quickly blended in with the millions who were seeking to rebuild their lives in a new Europe, while those who felt most at risk fled the continent. The Nazi Hunters focuses on the small band of men and women who refused to allow their crimes to be forgotten—and who were determined to track them down to the furthest corners of the earth.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

The Nazi Hunters

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05: GREGORY WOODS, “Homintern: How Gay Culture liberated the modern World”

  • cultural history about queer networks and infuencers
  • 440 pages, May 2016, Yale University Press

“In a hugely ambitious study which crosses continents, languages, and almost a century, Gregory Woods identifies the ways in which homosexuality has helped shape Western culture. Extending from the trials of Oscar Wilde to the gay liberation era, this book examines a period in which increased visibility made acceptance of homosexuality one of the measures of modernity. Woods introduces an enormous cast of gifted and extraordinary characters, most of them operating with surprising openness; but also explores such issues as artistic influence, the coping strategies of minorities, the hypocrisies of conservatism, and the effects of positive and negative discrimination, traveling from Harlem in the 1910s to 1920s Paris, 1930s Berlin, 1950s New York and beyond.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World

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06: SUNIL KHILNANI, “Incarnations: India in 50 Lives”

  • 50 portraits of figures and people in India: I loved browsing, but I’m worried that 650 pages, life after life, will be a little dull/formulaic
  • 656 pages, February 2016, Allen Lane & Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“For all of India’s myths and moral epics, Indian history remains a curiously unpeopled place. Sunil Khilnani fills that space: recapturing the human dimension of how the world’s largest democracy came to be. Khilnani explores the lives of 50 Indians, from the spiritualist Buddha to the capitalist Dhirubhai Ambani, trenchant portraits of emperors, warriors, philosophers, poets, stars, and corporate titans from ancient times to our own.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

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07: DAVID KUSHNER, “Alligator Candy”

  • true crime meets personal memoir: this reminded me of James Elroy’s book about his murdered mother, “My Dark Places”. I’m nervous that Kushner’s book wi’ll be equally inconclusive/open-ended.
  • 243 pages, March 2016, Simon & Schuster

“David Kushner grew up in the early 1970s in the Florida suburbs. One morning in 1973, David’s older brother Jon biked through the forest to the convenience store for candy, and never returned. Decades later, Kushner found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present. After sifting through hundreds of documents and reports, conducting dozens of interviews, and poring over numerous firsthand accounts, he has produced a powerful and inspiring story of loss, perseverance, and memory.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Alligator Candy

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08: JEAN STEIN, “West of Eden: an American Place”

  • great concept, but lots of bad reviews: I’m not sure what’s wrong here. Too much hagiography?
  • 352 pages, February 2016, Random House

“An epic, mesmerizing oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles. Stein vividly captures a mythic cast of characters: five larger-than-life individuals and their families. Edward Doheny, the Wisconsin-born oil tycoon; Jack Warner, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, who together with his brothers founded one of the world’s most iconic film studios; Jane Garland, the troubled daughter of an aspiring actress who could never escape her mother’s schemes; Jennifer Jones, an actress from Oklahoma who won the Academy Award at twenty-five but struggled with despair. Finally, Stein chronicles the ascent of her own father, Jules Stein, an eye doctor born in Indiana who transformed Hollywood with the creation of an unrivaled agency and studio.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

West of Eden: An American Place

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09: MIRA PTACIN, “Poor your Soul”

  • competent memoir about mother and daughter, both losing a child – I hope that 320 pages aren’t too long/much
  • 320 pages, January 2016, Soho Press

“At twenty-eight, Mira Ptacin discovered she was pregnant. Five months later, an ultrasound revealed that her child would be born with a constellation of birth defects and no chance of survival outside the womb. Mira was given three options: terminate the pregnancy, induce early delivery, or wait and inevitably miscarry. Mira’s story is paired with that of her mother, who emigrated from Poland to the United States, and who also experienced grievous loss when her only son was killed by a drunk driver.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Poor Your Soul

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10: DANIEL RAEBURN, “Vessels: A Love Story”

  • horrible cover, horrible cover copy – but I enjoyed reading the first pages: loss, marriage, creativity, hope
  • 192 pages, March 2016, W.W. Norton & Company

“Dan and his wife Bekah, a potter dedicated to Japanese ceramics, met and swiftly fell in love. But at Christmas, as they prepared for the birth of their first child, tragedy struck. Based on Daniel Raeburn’s acclaimed New Yorker essay, Vessels: A Love Story is the story of how he and Bekah clashed and clung to each other through a series of unsuccessful pregnancies before finally, joyfully, becoming parents.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Vessels: A Love Story

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11: ANNIE E. CLARK, ANDREA PINO, “We believe you: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault speak out”

  • I enjoyed reading Kate Harding’s “Asking for it” (about rape culture and campus rape), and I’m happy for the chance to hear accounts from a diversity of voices.
  • 368 pages, April 2016, Holt

“Student activists are exposing a pervasive cover-up of sexual violence on college campuses. We Believe You elevates the stories the headlines about this issue have been missing–more than 30 experiences of trauma, healing and everyday activism, representing a diversity of races, economic and family backgrounds, gender identities, immigration statuses, interests, capacities and loves. More than 1 in 5 women and 5 percent of men are sexually assaulted at college, a shocking status quo that might have stayed largely hidden and unaddressed.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out

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12: PEGGY ORENSTEIN, “Girls & Sex: Navigating the complicated new Landscape”

  • silly cover and so-so style – but (perennially) interesting topic
  • 303 pages, March 2016, Harper

“With casual hookups and campus rape relentlessly in the news, parents can be forgiven for feeling anxious about their young daughters. Orenstein spoke to psychologists, academics, and 70 young women to offer an in-depth picture of “girls and sex” today.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape

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13: KATHERINE ZOEPF, “Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of young Women who are transforming the Arab World”

  • I’m not sold on the writing style of this book: might be too dry, too distant, too broad. Still: interesting focus, interesting protagonists.
  • 464 pages, January 2016, Penguin Press

“For more than a decade, Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world, reporting on the lives of women, whose role in the region has never been more in flux. Only a generation ago, female adolescence as we know it in the West did not exist in the Middle East. There were only children and married women. Today, young Arab women outnumber men in universities. Syria, Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Egypt: Zoepf brings us a new understanding of the changing Arab societies—from 9/11 to Tahrir Square to the rise of ISIS—and gives voice to the remarkable women at the forefront of this change.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World

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14: ANDI ZEISLER, “We were Feminists Once”

  • I LOVE the back-cover copy, and I loved the sample: this sounds competent, smart and much-needed.
  • 304 pages, May 2016, PublicAffairs

“Feminism: Once a dirty word brushed away with a grimace, “feminist” has been rebranded as a shiny label sported by movie and pop stars. It drives advertising and marketing campaigns, presenting what’s long been a movement for social justice as just another consumer choice in a vast market. Individual self-actualization is the goal, shopping more often than not the means, and celebrities the mouthpieces. But what does it mean when social change becomes a brand identity? Andi Zeisler, a founding editor of Bitch Media, draws on more than twenty years’ experience interpreting popular culture in this biting history of how feminism has been co-opted, watered down, and turned into a gyratory media trend. Surveying movies, television, advertising, fashion, and more, Zeisler reveals a media landscape brimming with the language of empowerment, but offering little in the way of transformational change.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement

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15: CHRISTOPHER CASTELLANI, “The Art of Perspective: Who tells the Story”

  • Too slim and maybe too specific – but I loved the tone and style.
  • 160 pages, January 2016, Graywolf Press

“A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters. But what form should the narrator take? What voice, and from what vantage point? By unpacking the narrative strategies at play in the work of writers as different as E. M. Forster, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, Castellani illustrates how the author’s careful manipulation of distance between narrator and character drives the story.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story

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16: ANDREW SOLOMON, “Far & Away: Places on the Brink of Change. Seven Continents, 25 Years”

  • One of my favorite (if slightly stuffy) nonfiction authors – and a (all-over-the-place, massive) collection.
  • 512 pages, April 2016, Scribner

“From the winner of the National Book Award: a riveting collection of essays about places in transition. Chronicling his stint on the barricades in Moscow in 1991, when he joined artists in resisting the coup whose failure ended the Soviet Union, his 2002 account of the rebirth of culture in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban, his insightful appraisal of a Myanmar seeped in contradictions, this book provides a unique window onto the very idea of social change. Solomon demonstrates both how history is altered by individuals, and how personal identities are altered when governments alter.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Far & Away: Places on the Brink of Change: Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years

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17: DAWN ANAHID MacKEEN, “The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey”

  • The cover looks old-school – but the personal narrative is suprisingly engaging.
  • 339 pages, January 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“As World War I rages, Stepan Miskjian is separated from his family as they are swept up in the government’s mass deportation of Armenians into internment camps. Just before killing squads slaughter his caravan during a forced desert march, Stepan manages to escape. The Hundred-Year Walk alternates between Stepan’s saga and another journey that takes place a century later, after his family discovers his long-lost journals. Reading this rare firsthand account, his granddaughter Dawn MacKeen finds herself first drawn into the colorful bazaars before the war and then into the horrors Stepan later endured. Inspired to retrace his steps, she sets out alone to Turkey and Syria, shadowing her resourceful, resilient grandfather across a landscape still rife with tension.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey

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18: JANE MAYER, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right”

  • Excellent reviews. Don’t know if I DO need to read a full book on this, though…? I’d prefer sharp, quick articles.
  • 464 pages, January 2016, Doubleday

“Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers? A network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers and their allies pooled their vast resources to fund an interlocking array of organizations that could work in tandem to influence and ultimately control academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and, they hoped, the presidency. And their efforts have been remarkably successful. Meaningful environmental, labor, finance, and tax reforms have been stymied. Jane Mayer spent five years conducting hundreds of interviews. In a taut and utterly convincing narrative, she traces the byzantine trail of the billions of dollars spent by the network.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

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19: ANN NEUMANN, “The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America”

  • mediocre reviews – but I like boks about loss, and the hospice angle is new/interesting, to me.
  • 248 pages, February 2016, Beacon Press

“Following the death of her father, journalist and hospice volunteer Ann Neumann sets out to examine what it means to die well. From church basements to hospital wards to prison cells, Neumann charts the social, political, religious, and medical landscape to explore how we die today. The Good Death weaves personal accounts with a historical exploration of the movements and developments that have changed the ways we experience death. With the diligence of a journalist and the compassion of a caregiver, Neumann provides a portrait of death in the United States.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America

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20: TIM HANLEY, “Investigating Lois Lane: The turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter”

“In a universe full of superheroes, Lois Lane has fought for truth and justice for over 75 years. From her creation in 1938 to helming her own comic book for twenty-six years and appearing in animated serials, live-action TV shows, and full-length movies, Lois Lane has been a paragon of journalistic integrity. From her earliest days, Lois yearned to make the front page of the Daily Planet, but was held back by her damsel-in-distress role. Lois remained a fearless and ambitious character, and today she is a beloved icon and an inspiration to many. Though her history is often troubling, Lois’s journey, as revealed in Investigating Lois Lane, showcases her ability to always escape the gendered limitations of each era and of the superhero genre as a whole.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet's Ace Reporter
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Bonus (2015):

21: MERRITT KOPAS, IMOGEN BINNIE, “Videogames for Humans”

  • essay collection about storytelling, gaming, minorities and Twine (link)
  • 576 pages, April 2015, Instar Books

“A quiet revolution is happening, centered on a tool called Twine. Taken up by nontraditional game authors to describe distinctly nontraditional subjects—from struggles with depression, explorations of queer identity, and analyses of the world of modern sex and dating to visions of breeding crustacean horses in a dystopian future—the Twine movement to date has created space for those who have previously been voiceless within games culture to tell their own stories. Videogames for Humans puts Twine authors, literary writers, and games critics into conversation with one another’s work.” [back-cover copy, excerpt]

Videogames for Humans

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further lists and recommendations:

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