2020 is a banner year for nonfiction releases. It is only May, and I have read more fabulous nonfiction than I did all of last year. This list includes books about the importance of an address, the opioid crisis in Appalachia, a trip to every U.S. National Park, and much more. Here are the best nonfiction books of 2020 so far.
The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask
When Mask stumbled upon “Addressing the World, An Address for Everyone” and learned that many households in the world do not have street addresses, she started investigating. Her research led her to write this fabulous and fascinating history of how streets are named, who counts and who doesn’t, and what happens today when someone does not have an address. This book is a must read.
Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre
Death in Mud Lick is an in-depth look at the opioid crisis in the U.S., and the corporate greed and malfeasance that led to addiction and devastation in coal communities throughout the Appalachian region. Three individuals, a woman who lost her brother to overdose, a driven attorney and a local journalist, worked together to uncover the scandal, and this book tells their riveting tale. Eyre won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on this crisis.
Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford
Dirt tells the story of Bill Buford’s determination to succeed in the world of French haute cuisine. He begins by shadowing renowned French chef Michel Richard in D.C. and soon realizes that a stint in France is necessary. With his wife and 3-year old twins in tow, Buford heads to Lyon, France to study at L’Institut Bocuse. Brimming with humor, foodie details, and adventure, Dirt is a highly entertaining read.
The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird by Joshua Hammer
This book is a captivating true tale about a man who spent his life stealing and smuggling rare bird eggs and the UK Detective who eventually brought the thief to justice. The story is a mix of adventure, history, and true crime and provides a glimpse into the world of rare bird and rare bird egg obsession. Once I started this book, I could not put it down.
Father of Lions: One Man’s Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo by Louise Callaghan
Father of Lions is a captivating and timely read that tells the tale of the ISIS occupation of Mosul, Iraq, in the mid-2010s through the lens of Abu Laith and his determination to save the animals in the Mosul Zoo at any cost. Callaghan’s focus is on the civilians in Mosul, and she skillfully imbues the story with the cultural, societal and religious norms found in present-day Iraq. I loved this one and still think about it regularly.
Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology by Rana el Kaliouby and Carol Colman
Raised in Egypt and Kuwait, el Kaliouby moved to the U. S. to further her goal of humanizing technology. Humans use nonverbal clues to communicate, and the use of smart phones removes these cues. To combat this loss, she cofounded Affectiva, a company on the forefront of Emotion AI. As el Kaliouby worked to humanize technology, she also learned to humanize herself. This one is a true page-turner.
Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
This book is the perfect pandemic read – Thomas’s sincere and hilarious essays chronicle his realization that he viewed the world differently. He addresses what “normal” should and can mean and how to live happily in a world that seems to be ever changing. While this book is perfect for anyone who feels marginalized, wrestles with self-acceptance, or feels out of sync with the rest of the world, I think this book will appeal to everyone who wants to find his or her joy.
In this gem, Knighton recounts the year he spent traveling to every national park in the U. S. The parks are grouped by theme instead of location, and the book is interspersed with humor and character. Knighton highlights the importance of our national parks, how various parks received their designations, and how climate change and over-visiting is impacting these beautiful sites. Leave Only Footprints is one of my favorite reads this year.
Bess and her grandmother Bobby shared a special bond, and when Bobby died at age 90, Bess was shattered. To honor Bobby, she decided to write a memoir from Bobby’s perspective utilizing the many voicemails, texts and emails Bess had saved. Channeling Bobby, Bess relays the advice she received (sometimes hilarious, sometimes critical but always heartfelt) and tales from Bobby’s childhood. I laughed, I cried, and I did not want it to end.
The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Katherine Sharp Landdeck
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army Air Forces recruited women pilots to train their male counterparts and test new and repaired planes. When the war was over, the Women Airforce Service pilots (WASP) program disbanded, and these women were forgotten. Landdeck’s fascinating account brings to life the overlooked stories of a group of women who played a significant role in helping win World War II.
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