The Greatest "Nonfiction" Books Since 1990

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 268 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

    This book is a raw and honest exploration of grief and mourning, written by a woman who lost her husband of 40 years to a heart attack while their only child lay comatose in the hospital. The narrative delves into the year following her husband's death, a year marked by grief, confusion, and a desperate hope for things to return to normal. The author's poignant reflections on death, love, and loss serve as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

  2. 2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    This graphic novel is a memoir that provides a personal account of the author's childhood and young adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The story portrays the impact of war, political upheaval, and religious extremism on ordinary people, while also exploring themes of identity, resilience, and the power of storytelling. Despite the harsh realities the protagonist faces, the narrative also includes moments of humor and warmth, providing a nuanced view of life in Iran during this tumultuous period.

  3. 3. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

    This memoir is a profound and heart-wrenching account of the author's impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 1940s. The story is filled with tales of survival in the face of extreme poverty, an alcoholic father, a struggling mother, and the deaths of three siblings. Despite the harsh circumstances, the narrative is infused with a sense of humor and hope, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

  4. 4. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir that follows the life of a young man who, after the cancer-related deaths of his parents, is tasked with raising his 8-year-old brother. The book explores themes of death, family, and the responsibilities that come with sudden adulthood. It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, showcasing the protagonist's journey through grief, financial struggles, and the challenge of raising a child, all while trying to navigate his own young adulthood.

  5. 5. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

    This book is a biographical account of three generations of women in China, spanning the years 1909 to 1991. The narrative follows the lives of the author's grandmother, a warlord's concubine; her mother, a high-ranking official in the Communist Party; and the author herself, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution before moving to the West. The book presents a vivid portrayal of the political and social changes in China during the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of these three women.

  6. 6. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

    The book is a comprehensive exploration of the different trajectories of human societies throughout history. It argues that environmental factors, rather than racial or cultural differences, are the primary reason why some societies developed more advanced technology and political systems. The author uses a multidisciplinary approach, drawing from fields such as geography, evolutionary biology, and linguistics, to support his thesis. The book covers a wide range of topics, including the domestication of plants and animals, the invention of writing, and the spread of diseases.

  7. 7. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

    This book explores the concept of "tipping points," or the specific moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire. It delves into the science behind epidemics, both in terms of diseases and ideas, and dissects the factors that can cause a sudden shift in public consciousness. The author uses various case studies, from the sudden popularity of certain shoes to the decrease in New York City's crime rate, to illustrate these concepts.

  8. 8. Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela

    "Long Walk to Freedom" is a powerful autobiography that chronicles the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela. From his humble beginnings in a rural village to becoming the first black president of South Africa, Mandela's journey is one of resilience, determination, and unwavering commitment to justice and equality. Through his personal experiences, he provides a vivid account of the struggle against apartheid, his 27 years of imprisonment, and the eventual triumph of democracy. This book serves as an inspiring testament to Mandela's unwavering spirit and his lifelong fight for freedom and human rights.

  9. 9. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

    "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" is a collection of seven essays that blends humor, insight, and philosophical pondering. The author explores a wide range of topics, from the impact of television on contemporary literature to the despair of the American cruise industry, and even the nature of David Lynch's films. The book is a brilliant showcase of the author's unique ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, all while using his sharp wit and expansive intellect to explore the complexities of modern life.

  10. 10. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

    "The Rings of Saturn" is a richly detailed travelogue that follows the narrator's journey along the coast of Suffolk, England. The narrative weaves together history, literature, and personal anecdotes, exploring topics as diverse as the decline of the herring industry, the horrors of colonialism in the Congo, and the life of philosopher Sir Thomas Browne. The book is characterized by its melancholic tone, its digressive style, and its meditative reflections on memory, time, and decay.

  11. 11. On Writing by Stephen King

    This book is a memoir that serves as a guide for aspiring writers. The author shares his journey as a writer, his struggles, and his successes, while also providing practical advice on the craft of writing. It delves into the mechanics of writing, the importance of reading, the role of an editor, and the perseverance required to be a successful writer. The book also discusses the author's near-fatal accident and how it impacted his writing process, emphasizing the importance of resilience and dedication to the craft.

  12. 12. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

    This book is a collection of humorous, autobiographical essays that explore the author's experiences and observations in his life. The first part of the book focuses on his upbringing in North Carolina, his Greek heritage, his relationship with his eccentric family, and his early jobs. The second part of the book details his move to Normandy, France, his struggle to learn the French language, and his observations of French culture. The author's self-deprecating humor and sharp wit provide a satirical view of his life's journey.

  13. 13. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

    This book is a moving memoir that tells the story of a biracial man raised in a housing project in Brooklyn by his white, Jewish mother. The narrative alternates between the author's perspective and his mother's, providing a nuanced view of issues related to race, religion, and identity. The author's mother, a Polish immigrant, married a black man in the 1940s and raised twelve children in the midst of poverty and racial tension. Despite the hardships, she instilled in her children the importance of education and self-reliance. The book is a tribute to the strength, resilience, and love of this remarkable woman.

  14. 14. The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson

    This book intertwines the true tales of two men during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. The narrative alternates between the story of Burnham, his challenges and successes in building the fair, and the chilling story of Holmes, who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. It's a vivid portrayal of the Gilded Age and a chilling exploration of one of America's first known serial killers.

  15. 15. Experience by Martin Amis

    "Experience" is a memoir which delves into the author's life, exploring his relationships with his family, friends, and his own self. The narrative is a candid reflection on his father's influence, his friendships with other writers, his marriages, and his children. The author also discusses his experiences with fame, age, and loss, providing an intimate look into his personal and professional journey. The memoir is a blend of the author's unique humor, sharp observations, and poignant moments, offering a compelling and deeply personal narrative.

  16. 16. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

    The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. The book explores the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

  17. 17. Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

    "Before Night Falls" is an autobiographical work that chronicles the life of a young Cuban man growing up during the political turmoil of the Cuban Revolution. The protagonist, a rebellious writer and poet, grapples with his sexual identity in a society that is deeply homophobic. Despite facing persecution, imprisonment, and exile, he remains defiant and committed to his art and personal freedom. His story provides a candid and deeply personal perspective on the harsh realities of life under Fidel Castro's regime.

  18. 18. The Emigrants by Winfried Georg Sebald

    "The Emigrants" is a novel that explores the experiences and memories of four different emigrants, each with a unique and complex history. The narrative primarily focuses on the psychological impact of displacement and the haunting nature of the past. The author delves deep into their lives, revealing their struggles with identity, loss, and the persistent influence of their roots. The narrative is interwoven with historical events, photographs, and other documents, creating a rich tapestry that blurs the line between fact and fiction.

  19. 19. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

    This striking narrative non-fiction tells the real-life story of a young man who turns his back on society to live in the Alaskan wilderness. Despite a privileged background and a promising future, he donates his savings to charity, abandons his car and most of his possessions, and embarks on a journey into the wild. His solitary existence in the wild, his struggles for survival, and his untimely death provide a profound exploration of the allure of wilderness and the human yearning for solitude and self-discovery.

  20. 20. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

    This memoir explores the life of a man who grew up in a multicultural family, with a Kenyan father and an American mother. The narrative delves into his early years in Hawaii and Indonesia, his self-discovery and racial awakening in Chicago, and his journey to Kenya to learn more about his father's heritage. The book provides an introspective look at the author's struggle with his racial identity, his relationship with his family, and his path to finding his place in the world.

  21. 21. What Is the What by Dave Eggers

    The novel is a fictionalized account of a real-life Sudanese refugee, Valentino Achak Deng, who was forced to flee from his village during the Second Sudanese Civil War. The story follows his harrowing journey as a child through Ethiopia and Kenya, his life in various refugee camps, and his eventual resettlement in the United States. The book explores themes of survival, identity, and the power of storytelling, while shedding light on the tragic history and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

  22. 22. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

    This memoir recounts the harrowing experiences of a young boy forcibly recruited into the Sierra Leonean army during the country's brutal civil war. The narrative follows his journey from an innocent child fascinated with rap music to a hardened child soldier, who is eventually rescued by UNICEF and rehabilitated. The book provides a stark, firsthand account of the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit.

  23. 23. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

    This book explores the political acumen of Abraham Lincoln, focusing on how he assembled his cabinet from political adversaries, many of whom initially dismissed him for his perceived lack of experience and ungainly appearance. The narrative delves into how Lincoln used his rivals' talents to navigate the tumultuous times of the Civil War, maintaining unity and leading the nation towards the abolition of slavery. It underscores Lincoln's extraordinary ability to turn rivals into allies, demonstrating his leadership and his profound impact on American history.

  24. 24. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

    The book delves into the question of what we should have for dinner. It explores the paradox of the omnivore's dilemma, detailing the food chains that link farm to table, and explaining how the industrial revolution has changed the way we eat. The book also discusses the implications of our modern diet on our health and the environment, suggesting that we should return to more traditional methods of food production and consumption. It advocates for a more conscious and sustainable approach to eating.

  25. 25. Truman by David McCullough

    This biography offers an in-depth examination of the life and presidency of Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States. The book covers his humble beginnings in Missouri, his service in World War I, his political ascension, and his unexpected presidency following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The narrative also delves into his controversial decisions such as the use of atomic bombs on Japan and his handling of the Cold War, providing a comprehensive and balanced view of Truman's leadership and legacy.

Reading Statistics

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