The 20 Best Nonfiction Books of 2017

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The 20 Best Nonfiction Books of 2017

We’re excited to share our top picks for the best nonfiction books of 2017! From Patricia Lockwood’s rollicking memoir to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ moving essay collection, these books prove to be both entertaining and challenging reads. And while these are by no means the only extraordinary books published this year, these 20 were our absolute favorites.

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1bbcrashoverride17.png 20. Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoe Quinn

After Zoe Quinn broke up with her boyfriend in 2014, he responded by publishing a blog post overflowing with lies that encouraged others to harass her. This spiraled into #GamerGate, a toxic movement targeting Quinn and other women in the gaming industry with harassment and death threats—a movement that shaped the alt-right as we know it today. In her frank and moving memoir, Quinn describes her experiences and her decision to fight back, leading her to found a network that supports people who are experiencing online abuse. Crash Override highlights a crucial moment in recent American history, with Quinn delivering the hope and tools we desperately need to combat online harassment today. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbvanityfair17.png 19. The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983 – 1992 by Tina Brown

Good God, what a conflagration! Fueled by the capital and excess of the 1980s, a media boom provided the hot house for Tina Brown’s massively entertaining diaries. Tracing her career at Vanity Fair, which she raised like Lazarus, Brown’s Diaries are electric, walking the wire between hard news and dishy gossip—and studded with names like diamonds. In short, it distills the essence of her reign at one of America’s premiere glossies, and inspires hope for another media bloom in the Age of Trump. —B. David Zarley

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1bbnastywomen17.png 18. Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

Collecting essays from 23 feminist writers, Nasty Women explores diverse, relevant topics in the wake of Trump’s election. Every single essay is essential reading, from Samantha Irby’s discussion of racism and living as a queer black woman in rural America to Sarah Hollenbeck’s account of life as a disabled woman during a presidency that mocks people with disabilities. Whether you read one essay at a time or devour the book in one sitting, Nasty Women will encourage critical thinking about the United States for years to come. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbotisredding17.jpg 17. Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life by Jonathan Gould

Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music posited that 1960s Southern Soul brought the races together not only in front of radios and concert stages, but in the studios where integrated bands prefigured post-racial America. The best soul music books since have shredded Guralnick’s thesis, recognizing that the same inequalities that plagued the country framed the lives of Southern soul artists and the musicians who supported them. Jonathan Gould’s Otis Redding doesn’t so much practice revisionist history as simply get a complex story right, capturing the too-short life and career of the immortal Otis Redding with unerring perceptiveness, precision and cultural context. In short, Gould delivers the first biography to do Redding justice. —Steve Nathans-Kelly

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1bbpotlikkerpapers17.png 16. The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South by John T. Edge

As a discipline, History has a reputation for being exceedingly dry at best and prohibitively dense at worst. Geography, which most people associate solely with map quizzes and the calculation of longitude and latitude, has an even rougher rep. To combine the two is a specific kind of challenge, and to succeed, as Southern Foodways Alliance Director John T. Edge has done in his affectionate and deeply researched The Potlikker Papers, is a legitimate coup. The book traces the culinary and social history of food in the American South—and doesn’t pull any punches about our country’s past or present. Whether you’ve been eating fried chicken and Hoppin’ John your whole life, or have only stocked your cupboards with Mason jars to keep up with insta trends, this study of Americans relating to each other across time, space and the kitchen table is the exact historical illumination 2017 demands. —Alexis Gunderson

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1bbonedaydead17.png 15. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

In her debut essay collection, Scaachi Koul describes her life as the American daughter of Indian immigrants, relating personal stories of life between two cultures. From her fear of flying to the drama surrounding her decision to date a white man, Koul shares an unfiltered look into her life—and the result is wildly entertaining. One Day We’ll All Be Dead proves honest and humorous, promising thoughtful entertainment from a witty author. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbkillersflowermoon17.png 14. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

The Osage Indian nation boasted the world’s richest people per capita in the 1920s due to the discovery of oil beneath their land. In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann chronicles the true story of how the Osage were targeted for their wealth, leading to a terrifying string of murders. The result is a maddening tale of the crimes, revealing the criminals’ identities and the national ramifications. Grann succeeds in writing a gripping book, but his greatest feat is in highlighting how racism against the Osage at the highest levels of government allowed the murders to continue for years. This book will enrage you, as it should. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbfearfactor17.png 13. The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between by Abigail Marsh

In studying both altruistic kidney donors and psychopathic children, Abigail Marsh is discovering how the brain responds to others’ fear. Marsh, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown, details her intriguing findings in The Fear Factor, revealing that our brains are “hardwired for good.” But variations in this hardwiring can lead to extreme behavior, from a teen who killed her own guinea pig to a man who risked his life to save a drowning woman. Marsh’s research proves fascinating, and her personal experiences with people on both ends of the spectrum makes for engaging reading. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbsunshinestate17.png 12. Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard

Economics, immigration, climate change—these are the issues of the day, and all three intersect in Florida. Lashed by hurricanes and melted by the sun, it occupies peculiar real estate—another Florida specialty—in the American consciousness. Aggressive, playful, conservative: Florida is America’s future.

Sarah Gerard’s essay collection, Sunshine State, dissects what Florida means to the United States with a nuance and complexity only someone who has lived in it—and, just as importantly, moved away from it—can provide. This portrait of her home state is a book-length elevation certificate, assessing Florida’s—and the country’s—chance of flood damage. Feverish, beautiful and biting, Gerard’s book proves to be cottonmouth lit, the writing on the seawall. —B. David Zarley

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1bbhunger17.png 11. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

The parenthetical in Hunger’s subtitle is essential: if you go into Roxane Gay’s latest collection of essays searching for a triumphant body-acceptance journey, or even a relatable struggle with disordered eating, you’ll leave unsatisfied. As with her bestselling Bad Feminist, Gay is concerned more with honest writing than in forcing universal truths. Hunger is rooted in the gang rape Gay survived when she was 12 years old, an event orchestrated by a boy she felt she loved and a turning point in what Gay admits was a fairly lucky life up until that point. In the aftermath of the attack, Gay ate and ate to build a fortress for herself out of her own body, to become invisible to men as a safety mechanism. What she discovered instead was that fatness (her preferred term) invites its own personal violations in a society obsessed with bodies but accepting of only a narrow range of them. As Gay proclaims up front, Hunger is not a “success story” as either a weight-loss memoir or as a story about coming to love her body, but an honest, unflinching collection of essays about (her) body and the life she has lived in it. —Steve Foxe

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