Best Adult Nonfiction of 2014!

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Best-Books-of-2014-2We wrap up our look at the best books of 2014 with our list of the Best Adult Nonfiction of the year.

Just like I did for the Best YA Books of 2014, I compiled year-end lists from my usual sources for book reviews (BooklistKirkus ReviewsAdult Books 4 Teens, etc.), then checked other media outlets — newspapers, magazines and social media sites — to see which adult nonfiction books were being listed among the best of 2014.

This year, from the 18 lists I drew from, one title appeared on 11 of them — The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs. Another book was on 10 lists — In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. One book showed up on 9 best of lists, two titles made it onto 8 lists, eight were on 6 lists, and nine were on 5. Those 22 titles make up the CA Library Best Adult Nonfiction of 2014 Superlist!

Titles marked with an asterisk are in the CA Library collection. Click the (*) to check availability.

The Best of the Best…

  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs (Coming soon!) — A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home. “A haunting work of nonfiction…. Mr. Hobbs writes in a forthright but not florid way about a heartbreaking story.” — The New York Times 
  • In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides (Coming soon!) — Bestselling author Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age. With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, this is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth. “Impeccable writing, a vivid re-creation of the expedition and the Victorian era, and a taut conclusion make this an exciting gem.” — Publishers Weekly starred review
  • The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison — From personal loss to phantom diseases, beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others. “A virtuosic manifesto of human pain. . . . Jamison stitches together the intellectual and the emotional with the finesse of a crackerjack surgeon. . . . The result is a soaring performance on the humanizing effects of empathy.” — NPR
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande — Bestselling author Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. “American medicine, Being Mortal reminds us, has prepared itself for life but not for death. This is Atul Gawande’s most powerful—and moving—book.” — Malcolm Gladwell
  • Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright — A gripping day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, one which endures to this day. “Wright delivers an authoritative, fascinating, and relatively unbiased exploration of a pivotal period and a complicated subject.” — Publishers Weekly
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (*) — A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes. “[Kolbert’s] extensive travels in researching this book, and her insightful treatment of both the history and the science all combine to make The Sixth Extinction an invaluable contribution to our understanding of present circumstances, just as the paradigm shift she calls for is sorely needed.” — Al Gore, The New York Times Book Review

And The Rest of the Best…

  • Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay (Coming soon!) — “This trenchant collection assembles previously published essays and new work by cultural critic and novelist Gay (An Untamed State). Even though she loves pink, feels nostalgic about the Sweet Valley High series, and lets degrading rap lyrics blast from her car stereo, Gay is passionately committed to feminist issues, such as equal opportunity and pay and reproductive freedom…Whatever her topic, Gay’s provocative essays stand out for their bravery, wit, and emotional honesty.” — Publishers Weekly
  • Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast — National Book Award finalist Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents in a graphic memoir that is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents. “Ms. Chast reminds us how deftly the graphic novel can capture ordinary crises in ordinary American lives, how a mixture of cartoons and photographs and text can create a family portrait with all the intimacy and emotional power of a conventional prose memoir.” — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
  • Just Mercy: A Story Of Justice And Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Coming soon!) — An unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice. “Stevenson writes with impassioned purpose about the early work of the Equal Justice Initiative that he founded to defend the poor and the wrongly condemned and convicted.” — Barnes & Noble
  • Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart — The all too true story of an immigrant family betting its future on America, as told by a lifelong misfit who finally finds a place for himself in the world through books and words. “Dazzling . . . a rich, nuanced memoir . . . It’s an immigrant story, a coming-of-age story, a becoming-a-writer story, and a becoming-a-mensch story, and in all these ways it is, unambivalently, a success.” — Meg Wolitzer, NPR
  • Soldier Girls: The Battles Of Three Women At Home And Abroad by Helen Thorpe (Coming soon!) — A groundbreaking account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and how their military service affected their friendship, their personal lives, and their families. “In the tradition of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Richard Rhodes, and other masters of literary journalism, Soldier Girls is utterly absorbing, gorgeously written, and unforgettable.” — Boston Globe
  • The Invisible Bridge: The Fall Of Nixon And The Rise Of Reagan by Rick Perlstein — From the bestselling author of Nixonland, a dazzling portrait of America on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the tumultuous political and economic times of the 1970s. “Perlstein seems to leave no newspaper article, television broadcast or magazine piece unexamined. He is particularly deft linking pop culture to broader societal trends.” — Jonathan Martin, The New York Times
  • The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas by Anand Giridharadas — The story of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh Air Force officer who dreams of immigrating to America and working in technology. But days after 9/11, an avowed “American terrorist” named Mark Stroman, seeking revenge, walks into the Dallas minimart where Bhuiyan has found temporary work and shoots him, maiming and nearly killing him. “From murder to execution, forgiveness, personal responsibility, governmental intervention and more, there are enough dichotomies here to fuel heated book-club discussions for years.” — Booklist
  • Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates — Gates’ strikingly candid, vivid account of serving Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as Secretary of Defense during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “A refreshingly honest memoir and a moving one.” — The Wall Street Journal
  • Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar (Coming soon!) — When the San José mine collapsed outside of Copiapó, Chile, in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. The entire world watched what transpired above-ground during the grueling and protracted rescue, but the saga of the miners’ experiences below the Earth’s surface—and the lives that led them there—has never been heard until now. “A nonfiction account with the elemental heft of myth and fable.”  — Nick Romeo, Christian Science Monitor
  • Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy (Coming soon!) — Macy (The Roanoke (VA) Times) brings to life John Bassett III’s deeply personal furniture and family story, along with a host of characters from an industry that was as cutthroat as it was colorful. “Macy interviews the Bassett family, laid-off and retired workers, executives in Asia, and many others, providing vivid reporting and lucid explanations of the trade laws and agreements that caused a way of life to disappear.” — Publishers Weekly
  • Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis — Four years after his #1 bestseller The Big Short, Michael Lewis returns to Wall Street to report on a high-tech predator stalking the equity markets. “Because Mr. Lewis is at the helm finding clear, simple metaphors for even the most impenetrable financial minutiae, this tawdry tale should make sense to anyone. And so should its shock value. Flash Boys is guaranteed to make blood boil.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times
  • Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham — For readers of Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, and David Sedaris, this hilarious, poignant, and extremely frank collection of personal essays confirms Lena Dunham—the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls—as one of the brightest and most original writers working today. “[Dunham] makes her hard-won lessons accessible to all readers, whether they’re Girls fans or not.” — Library Journal
  • On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (Coming soon!) — In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. “[Biss] advances from all sides, like a chess player, drawing on science, myth, literature to herd us to the only logical end, to vaccinate.” — Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (Coming soon!) — A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism. “Lepore’s brilliance lies in knowing what to do with the material she has. In her hands, the Wonder Woman story unpacks not only a new cultural history of feminism, but a theory of history as well.” — Carla Kaplan, The New York Times Book Review
  • What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe (*) — From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask. “Catchy and approachable…There’s plenty of scientific rigor behind his elaborate explanations but he punctuates them with sly humor and winningly primitive cartoon diagrams…A cut above so many popular science and technology books.” — NPR
  • A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel (*) — A landmark exploration of the vast and expanding impact of technology, rivetingly told through the lens of a deadly collision. “A highly accessible and timely work. Readers of popular narrative and scientific nonfiction will certainly find this to be a brisk and important read.” — Library Journal

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