Top Ten Nonfiction Books I’ve Read This Year

I love books, and I cannot lie. I read a lot of them, and I buy a lot of them. They’re my favorite gift to give, and they’re my favorite to receive. I love books that challenge my thinking and expand my understandings of how the world is; basically, I love learning things. This is a curated list of the top ten nonfiction books I’ve read in the past year. (Updated: February 2019)

Contains affiliate links, about which I feel mixed. Amazon sure does make it easy to get whatever you need very fast. Still, if you have a local book store, I think it’s best to get books there. That way you can enjoy the life-affirming experience that is browsing stacks and stacks of beautiful bound books (and support your local economy).

top ten nonfiction books

10. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. A caveat: I’m not really an Elizabeth Gilbert fan. Her writing seems almost willfully devoid of any political or social context, which I struggle with. But, I am trying to get better about taking what’s useful and leaving the rest, and there are a lot of gems in this book that challenged my thinking, including reflections on passion vs. curiosity and originality vs. authenticity.

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9. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. This book is a facilitated conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who are both spiritual leaders and thoughtful elders. I read this book as winter gave way to spring, and it provided a lovely reminder of the wider hope and purpose that can be so hard for me to access during the dark, cold months.

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8. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. This has been my most-loaned book of the past year. A friend recommended it to me, and now I am happy to do the same. I’ve read a lot of career development/find your passion books, and I was surprised at how fresh this one felt in a crowded field.

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7. Enlightenment Now: The Case of Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker. This past year, I’ve been especially attracted to nonfiction that doesn’t make me feel despondent. Enlightenment Now more than fits the bill. The author lays out a thorough case for how, overall and in the arc of time, things are getting better. It’s a perfect antidote to our 24 hour news cycle world.

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6. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — And Why Things are Better than You Think by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund. Speaking of nonfiction that makes you feel like the world is ok, this has been my favorite book to gift this year. This gets high ratings for its information, coherent concept, and approachable prose. Although the first author is a cishet white male, I think the tone avoids some of the condescension and limited point-of-view to which that identity is prone.

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5. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. This is the third book of his that I’ve read, and I think it’s the most approachable and actionable of the trio. It’s not necessarily new information after Sapiens and Homo Deus, but these are big ideas worth chewing on again and again.

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4. The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Life by Sonya Renee Taylor. Part self-love guide, part political manifesto, this book is a game-changer for anyone who has a body. It will make you question the soup of body oppression we all live in and give you real ways to combat it.

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3. Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. I didn’t particularly feel like my sex life needed transforming, so I wouldn’t have picked up this book if a trusted friend hadn’t told me it was a must-read for people who are (or who love) women. It’s more than an actionable guide, it’s a revelation. One of the key takeaways: You are normal. However you experience your sexuality, it’s normal. Work with it. Own it. It was a message I didn’t know I needed to hear.

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2. Becoming by Michelle Obama. This is an important memoir. Not just because of the ways in which Michelle Obama is exceptional, but because of the ways she is ordinary. There were times I wished for even more honesty (especially about her more difficult experiences and emotions) but it also felt ultimately more deeply authentic to her values and her story to say just as much as she did and not more.

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1. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. This book. This book should be required reading for everyone, at least every American. This book is part journalistic nonfiction, part personal essay. It examines not just the power of women’s anger, but its genesis and pushback to it. This book came out at the end of 2018, and it feels at once singularly appropriate to the present moment and like it will be a treasured reference for years to come. Please read it.

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