The announcement of the 2016 National Book Award winner for Nonfiction comes on Wednesday, November 16 — just a few weeks away, but giving you avid readers out there enough time to get acquainted with all the NBA for Nonfiction finalists and their latest literary claims to fame. Exceptionally well-researched and well-written, and tackling topics from American politics, to racism, to incarceration, and the still-resonating Vietnam War, these National Book Award nominees should definitely land at the top of your TBR pile. But let’s just say you don’t have time to read five whole books in three weeks — which National Book Award for Nonfiction nominee should you read first? The list below, using some other nonfiction titles you might have loved as a guide, should help you decide.
Each year, the National Book Foundation celebrates four writers, each working in one of four genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or young people’s literature—and each winner is selected from a seriously impressive longlist of ten nominees (and then five shortlisted finalists). The National Book Award for Nonfiction longlist included: America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by Andrew J. Bacevich; The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott; Adam Cohen’s Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck; Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy; and The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha; in addition to the five finalists listed below.
Here is the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction finalist you must read, based on your favorite nonfiction book.
1. If you loved What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank, read Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
If you haven’t had quite enough politics this year — or if you just feel like you need to get your facts from somewhere other than the presidential debates — then Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right is definitely a book you might consider picking up. Thoughtful (but seriously, still pretty terrifying) this book takes a nuanced (like, the most nuanced ever) look at Tea Party politics, profiling a community of people who most-need the federal government’s help, and also most-refuse to support its right to help them. A sociologist at Berkeley, Hochschild presents a refreshing (as in: more evolved than what you’ll see on the news, but again, still terrifying) image of politics in America, allowing the smaller, more intimate stories of right-bent voters to tell a larger tale of what is going on in Conservative politics in America.
2. If you loved The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, read Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Taking a hard look at the United States, from the Puritans to the present, Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America explores the origins and evolution of racist ideas — and the subsequent actions they inspire — in the U.S. Zeroing in on five key people in American history: Angela Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois, the preacher Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Kendi uses their stories, experiences, scholarship, and personal beliefs to trace the evolution of racism in America, demonstrating how false the idea of a currently post-racial U.S. really is. She also explores the beliefs and practices of the segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist schools of thought — critiquing all for their different, but still often racist, principles. At a whopping almost-600 pages, there’s a lot to learn, and digest, here.
3. If you loved The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, read Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Vietnam-born and American-raised, author Viet Thanh Nguyen uses the lasting psychological impact of the Vietnam War to explore how memories shape identity in Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. Exploring the stories of both Vietnamese civilians and American combatants, Nguyen blends personal histories of loss, death, and destruction with larger artistic statements on violence and the Vietnam War: introducing readers to Vietnamese artists, film directors, and writers like Dang Nhat Minh, Bui Thac Chuyen, Le Ly Hayslip and Monique Truong. Describing what the legacy of war can leave behind for the identities of the generations that come after it, this book is a painful reminder that war isn’t over, even when it’s over.
4. If you loved Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle, read The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez
In the American history classrooms of my younger years, when we learned about the havoc, destruction, and death brought upon the indigenous peoples of North America by European settlers, those conversations mostly relayed stories of relocation, disease, and murder. Never did the conversation turn to slavery, which only referred to the capture, transportation, and sale of African slaves to North America. But Andrés Reséndez’s book The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America will make you rethink everything you learned, not only detailing the enslavement of America’s indigenous people, but arguing that this was the key transgression—more than disease and violence—that decimated the populations who were already living here when the Europeans arrived. Resendez also makes a striking case that everything you’ve been told about disease in the New World — that Europeans unwittingly carried diseases for with the indigenous population had no immunity, therefore causing massived and deadly outbreaks — is actually false.
5. If you loved The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, read Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson
On September 9, 1971, the Attica Correctional Facility in New York saw the most significant prison uprising in modern American history, when just about half of Attica’s largely-African American prison population seized control of the prison and took 42 prison staff hostage. Perhaps inspired by the murder of Black Panther and activist George Jackson in San Quentin Prison just weeks earlier, though the Attica prison uprising itself was unplanned, Attica’s prisoners demanded better living conditions and political rights. Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy takes readers back to the events of 1971, demonstrating how they speak to our current issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, and racism in America today.
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