From the birth of James Bond in Jamaica to an exploration of romance in the age of Tinder, we’ve collected 15 nonfiction must-reads below. With authors ranging from a British neurologist to a rock critic to a high-powered CEO, these captivating books are sure to entertain you for years to come.
15. I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell
Kent Russell is a conscientious man, aware that our current cultural standard of masculinity is broken and yet still enthralled by its reptilian brutality. Via memoir and some of the finest nonfiction reportage to be found anywhere, Russell explores what it means to identify as a man in modern society. He discerns where he and his father fit in amongst the raging male demigods he profiles, including hockey butchers, islands and serpent’s foils. The self-envenomer is the book’s finest section; the ability to write all this sans fedora its finest quality. —B. David Zarley
14. Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born by Matthew Parker
Without Jamaica, there is no James Bond. This simple yet unrealized truth lies at the heart of Matthew Parker’s examination of Bond author Ian Fleming’s island; last bastion of colonial Britain, a final redoubt for the kind of atavistic and priapic masculinity of which Fleming was a subscriber. It is in Jamaica, not nacreous, obfuscated London, wherein one finds a setting to match 007’s spirit. In tracing both Fleming’s and the island’s fortunes, Parker explores the nascency of a pop culture icon and, most impressively, has something new to say about James Bond. —B. David Zarley
13. Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman
In Gumption, woodworker, humorist and actor Nick Offerman combs through American history in search of the country’s “gutsiest troublemakers.” Profiling 21 people, from founding fathers to writers, comedians and craftsmen, Offerman lays out his argument for the traits that make for the greatest virtue, both of our nation and its luminaries.
In a book that pairs breezy, self-deprecating humor with well researched and insightful passages that go beyond mere achievements, Offerman first revisits the founding fathers (“magnificent sons of bitches”) to establish his thesis—that gumption is a fundamental ingredient of America herself and remains a guiding force in the lives of her most notable achievers. While it’s in these chapters that his humor shines (particularly in the fart jokes about Benjamin Franklin), the book grows more intriguing as Offerman moves away from the past to write about those troublemakers he’s had the pleasure of meeting. What emerges is a deep respect for the men and women Offerman profiles, based on the high caliber of the group overall, but also for Offerman himself and the abiding egalitarian spirit that guides him and “gumptionators” everywhere. —Eric Swedlund
12. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
No matter the decade, the idea of going through life without children remains controversial for some U.S. families. But those looking for support can stop at Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, an anthology of essays brought together by author Meghan Daum. These pieces aren’t crafted by theorists or experts on the subject—rather, Daum’s collection cracks open the mind of 16 writers who are staunchly defending their position to never change a diaper, ever. The essays have a broad lens—from humorous to contemplative—but the voices behind Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed are settled; never receiving a crayon-decorated card on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is just fine by them, thanks. —Tyler R. Kane
11. It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson
Eighty-two-year-old songwriter and American icon Willie Nelson still has stories to tell, and he tackles his most complex tale yet with It’s a Long Story: My Life. The 400-page reflection on Nelson’s days on Earth might seem redundant to some fans. He published a book of road tales two years ago titled Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, an autobiography back in 2000—and who could forget 2007’s philosophical Tao of Willie? But It’s a Long Story proves to capture the Red Headed Stranger in a direct light, and fans have plenty to gain within its pages. —Tyler R. Kane
10. On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
Fans of Dr. Oliver Sacks have waited decades to dive into a proper memoir of the life led by the famous and charismatic neurologist. Throughout his 60 years of working in medicine he has touched lives and expanded minds, filling several books with case studies from real patients. Rendered in such an enticing manner with his charming narration, these books have illuminated the universal curiosities and profound mysteries waiting to be unlocked in the human brain. While he slipped a handful of case studies into this memoir, it’s much more personal and doesn’t shy away from any startling encounters, disconcerting exchanges or heartbreaking interactions. On the Move sheds light on his experience as a gay man in 1960’s America, his supernatural attraction to motorcycles and his Herculean triumphs at weightlifting at Muscle Beach. We meet his parents, we feel the weight of their expectations, we empathize with his patients. Above all, everyone we encounter has their humanity poignantly augmented by this inherently empathetic man. —Jeff Milo
9. Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Sometimes referred to as “the godmother of grunge” or “the poster girl of indie-rock,” Gordon frames nearly 30 years spent recording, touring and performing with underground icons Sonic Youth within the perspective of an artist (who just happened to play music) and a mother and a wife (who sincerely wanted the best for her family). Gordon has been a role model to a generation of women singers and instrumentalists, and this book is not only poetically narrated but also offers SY fans a tantalizing glimpse behind the feedback curtain for an intimate (blunt and unforgiving) portrait of how the band worked. There’s hype surrounding Gordon’s vitriolic barbs for her ex-husband (and co-founding member of SY) Thurston Moore as well as Courtney Love, but you have to read on to learn of Gordon’s youth in California with her troubled older brother before she escaped to the artist’s nirvana of New York and forged the spectacular creative mindset of Sonic Youth with her band mates. —Jeff Milo