For all the horrible, terrible, no good, very bad things to come out of 2018, there was also a lot worth celebrating. A record number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Laverne Cox became the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Cosmopolitan, Ireland ended its abortion ban, and the National Book Award winners were all people of color. But as evidenced by the best nonfiction books of 2018, the steady stream of incredible literature published was perhaps the greatest thing to happen this year.
Fiction may be the star of the book world, but this year, nonfiction had a lot to offer readers. There were, of course, plenty of titles that waded into the murky waters of politics, but the Trump administration wasn’t the only thing on writer’s minds in 2018. True crime was more popular than ever this year, and fans of the genre were treated to fascinating books about murder, unsolved mysteries, and general mayhem. Memoirs from writers new and seasoned explored everything from family, adoption, and coming-of-age to addiction, recovery, mental health and beyond. There were also plenty of humorous essay collections, fascinating histories, eye-opening biographies, and so much more.
Whether you are looking for titles to add to your own TBR or in search of the perfect holiday gift for the reader in your life, here are the year’s 25 best nonfiction books.
'I'll Be Gone In The Dark' by Michelle McNamara
In this #1 New York Times bestseller, true crime journalist Michelle McNamara —who died suddenly in 2016 while working on this book— searches for the identity of a serial rapist and murderer she dubbed "the Golden State Killer."
"'You'll be silent forever, and I'll be gone in the dark' you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light."
'The Recovering' by Leslie Jamison
In her acclaimed memoir The Recovering, author Leslie Jamison opens up about addiction, rehabilitation, and learning to live and create while sober.
"Actually, when it came to love I had somewhat contradictory desires. I wanted to be loved unconditionally; simply because I was but I also wanted to be loved for my qualities: because I was x, because I was y. I wanted to be loved because I deserved it. Except I was scared to be loved like this, because what if I stopped deserving it? Unconditional love was insulting, but conditional love was terrifying. This was something Dave and I had talked about — being loved for qualities or without conditions. He taught me the notion of love bestowed stam, as they said in Hebrew, for no earthly reason: because because."
'Heart Berries' by Terese Marie Mailhot
In this short but deeply personal memoir Terese Marie Mailhot writes about love in all its messy, brutal glory, as well as her ongoing struggles trauma, PTSD, and bipolar II stress disorder.
"In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution."
'Heartland' by Sarah Smarsh
Sarah Smarsh grew up on a farm 30 miles west of Wichita, an experience she chronicles in her insightful memoir about poverty, class divisions, and the false promise of the so-called American dream.
"The person who drives a garbage truck may himself be viewed as trash. The worse danger is not the job itself but the devaluing of those who do it. A society that considers your body dispensable will inflict a violence upon you."
'Educated' by Tara Westover
In what is one of the most talked about memoirs of the year, Tara Westover tells the unbelievable true story of her evolution from a young girl kept out of school by her survivalist family to an independent woman with a PhD from Cambridge University.
"The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she should have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education."
'Good & Mad' by Rebecca Traister
It's no secret American women are mad in 2018, and in her new book, celebrated writer and feminist Rebecca Traister makes an argument for the transformative power of women's collective anger.
"In the United States, we have never been taught how noncompliant, insistent, furious women have shaped our history and our present, our activism and our art. We should be."
'Dead Girls' by Alice Bolin
Writer Alice Bolin explores America's cultural obsession with crime, violence, and the Dead Girl trope in this collection of personal and critical essays about literature, pop culture, media, and Los Angeles.
"Our cultural obsession with murder stories and the criminal justice system is a prime example of the impulse to narrativize a reality that is basically unexplainable. For better or worse, narrative is the tool that the system uses to deliver justice: the defense and the prosecution each present their stories, and the one that makes more sense— read as: the more satisfying one— becomes the reality."
'All You Can Ever Know' by Nicole Chung
In her critically acclaimed debut memoir, Korean-American Nicole Chung tells of her life growing up as the adopted daughter of white parents in a sheltered Oregon town, the search for the birth parents who gave her away, and her own experience becoming a mother.
"To be a hero, I thought, you had to be beautiful and adored. To be beautiful and adored, you had to be white. That there were millions of Asian girls like me out there in the world, starring in their own dramas large and small, had not yet occurred to me, as I had neither lived nor seen it."
'Sick' by Porochista Khakpour
Author Porochista Khakpour has always been sick, but it was only after several drug addictions, a few major hospitalizations, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills later that she finally learned why: late stage Lyme disease.
"And the deal with so many chronic illnesses is that most people won't want to believe you. They will tell you that you look great, that it might be in your head only, that it is likely stress, that everything is okay. None of these are the right things to say to someone whose entire existence is a fairly consistent torture of the body and mind."
'Feel Free' by Zadie Smith
From celebrated author Zadie Smith comes a new collection of essays that cover everything from writing, art, and creativity to politics, social media, global warming, and more.
"Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two."
'Seduction' by Karina Longworth
In this popular history, You Must Remember This creator Karina Longworth pulls back the curtain on Hollywood's golden age to reveal, through the stories of some of the actresses pursued by legendary millionaire mogul Howard Hughes, its dark and lasting legacy of of power inequity, harassment, and abuse.
"The female body had always been a key building block of cinema, a raw material fed into the machine of the movies, as integral to the final product as celluloid itself."
'One Person, Not Vote' by Carol Anderson
In the follow up to her bestseller White Rage, award-winning author and scholar Carol Anderson chronicles America's history of voter suppression, paying special attention to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that dismantled the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the devastating consequences it has had on democracy.
"Voter suppression has made the U.S. House of Representatives wholly unrepresentative. It has placed in the presidency a man who is anything but presidential. It has already reshaped the U.S. Supreme Court with the installation of Neil Gorsuch, and as a slew of Trump's unqualified nominees to the federal bench get greenlighted by a compromised Senate, it threatens to undermine the judiciary for decades to come."
'The Library Book' by Susan Orlean
A love letter to libraries everywhere, the latest from author and journalist Susan Orlean investigates the mysterious and devastating Los Angeles Public Library fire of 1986 that claimed over four hundred thousand books and damaged another seven hundred thousand more.
“At first, the smoke in the Fiction stacks was as pale as onionskin. Then it deepened to dove gray. Then it turned black. It wound around Fiction A through L, curling in lazy ringlets. It gathered into soft puffs that bobbed and banked against the shelves like bumper cars. Suddenly, sharp fingers of flame shot through the smoke and jabbed upward. More flames erupted. The heat built. The temperature reached 451 degrees and the books began smoldering. Their covers burst like popcorn.”
'Becoming' by Michelle Obama
In the year's fastest selling adult book, the iconic Michelle Obama opens up about her life, from her childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago to her experience as the first African American First Lady and beyond.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
'These Truths' by Jill Lepore
Starting in 1492, These Truths chronicles five centuries of American history through the lens of politics, law, journalism, technology, and more.
“The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden. It can’t be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There’s nothing for it but to get to know it.”
'The Poison Squad' by Deborah Blum
In The Poison Squad, author and director of the Knight Science Journalism at MIT Deborah Blum sheds a light on the dramatic true story of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and the group of driven men and women who fought to make food safe in America.
"The most popular preservative for milk—a product prone to rot in an era that lacked effective refrigeration—was formaldehyde, its use adapted from the newest embalming practices of undertakers. Processors employed formaldehyde solutions—sold under innocuous names such as Preservaline—to restore decaying meats as well. Other popular preservatives included salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical com- pound, and borax, a mineral-based material best known as a cleaning product."
'Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Lisa Brennan-Jobs holds nothing back in this raw memoir about her life and her relationship with her father, Apple founder Steve Jobs.
"For him, I was a blot on a spectacular ascent, as our story did not fit with the narrative of greatness and virtue he might have wanted for himself. My existence ruined his streak."
'And Now We Have Everything' by Meaghan O'Connell
Pregnancy, impostor syndrome, post-partum health, and sex are just a few of the topics explored in Meaghan O'Connell's brutally honest book on modern motherhood.
"We were in the middle of what felt like an ongoing emergency. Like someone was playing a practical joke on us. Endure the car crash of childbirth, then, without sleeping, use your broken body to keep your tiny, fragile, precious, heartbreaking, mortal child alive."
'Monsoon Mansion' by Cinelle Barnes
In this poetic memoir about family, money, power, and survival, Cinelle Barnes takes readers on a journey through her complicated childhood growing up in the beautiful but dangerous Mansion Royale in the Philippines.
"Their hymns and invocations became my background music; they were the accompaniment to the stages of life in the mansion—the soundtrack to my preschool, grade school, and preteen years. The nuns created for me a holy atmosphere, a sheltering sound where I could abide. Wherever I was, as long as I could hear them, I had somewhere to hide."
'Eloquent Rage' by Brittney Cooper
Black women are mad as hell, and in her celebrated book that is part memoir, part cultural criticism, and all call to action, writer, columnist, and activist Brittney Cooper makes a case for using anger to change the world.
"Real radicalism implores us to tell the whole ugly truth, even when it is inconvenient. To own the hurt and the pain. To own our shit, too. To think about it systemically and collectively, but never to diminish the import of the trauma."
'Can You Tolerate This?' by Ashleigh Young
In this collection, New Zealand-born writer and poet Ashleigh Young offers up essays on youth and coming-of-age, family and mental health, pain and personal transformation, and the country she's always called home.
"I am so puffed that it feels like my lungs have turned into a pair of excited dogs and they are jumping up and down, trying to feed on the air. My lungs paw and salivate at the air, tearing bits out like stuffing."
'Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say' by Kelly Corrigan
Over the course of 12 deeply personal essays, the bestselling author of The Middle Place opens up about family, grief, aging, and the 12 powerful phrases we use to establish, grow, and maintain our most important relationship.
"Minds don't rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it's like this, having a mind. Hearts don't idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it's like this, having a heart. Lives don't last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it's like this, having a life."
'The Death of Truth' by Michiko Kakutani
In this searing critique of the Trump administration and the culture that helped him rise to the Oval Office, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic and the former chief book critic of The New York Times Michiko Kakutani calls attention to what she calls "the death of truth" in American politics, media, and entertainment.
"Without commonly agreed-upon facts — not Republican facts and Democratic facts; not the alternative facts of today's silo-world — there can be no rational debate over policies, no substantive means of evaluating candidates for political office, and no way to hold elected officials accountable to the people. Without truth, democracy is hobbled. The founders recognized this, and those seeking democracy's survival must recognize it today."
'What If This Were Enough?' by Heather Havrilesky
Acclaimed critic, memoirist, and "Ask Polly" advice columnist Heather Havrilesky explores the cultural forces that shape American life in this emotional essay collection that covers everything from social media and materialism to romance, family, and beyond.
"It's hard to live in the moment, to exist locally and think locally and emote locally. Something in my pocket is always buzzing. People far away except quick answers to every passing question. Why do we live this way?"
'So You Want to Talk About Race?' by Ijeoma Oluo
In this eye-opening book about race and discrimination in America, writer and speaker Ijeoma Oluo explores white privilege, police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and so much more.
"I know that it's hard to believe that the people you look to for safety and security are the same people who are causing us so much harm. But I'm not lying and I'm not delusional. I am scared and I am hurting and we are dying. And I really, really need you to believe me."