The Greatest "Nonfiction" Books Since 1990

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 200 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process 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. 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.

  5. 5. The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman

    This book is a comprehensive collection of lectures on physics by a renowned physicist, covering everything from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and statistical mechanics. These lectures, designed to be accessible to those without a deep background in the subject, offer a unique and insightful perspective on the fundamental principles of physics, combining rigorous scientific explanation with engaging anecdotes and analogies. The book is widely regarded as an essential resource for anyone interested in or studying the field of physics.

  6. 6. 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.

  7. 7. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

    The book explores the concept of the sixth extinction, suggesting that we are currently in the midst of it due to human activity. By examining previous mass extinctions and the current rapid loss of species, the author argues that humans are causing a mass extinction event through climate change, habitat destruction, and spreading of non-native species. The book offers a sobering look at the impact of human behavior on the natural world, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these environmental issues.

  8. 8. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

    This historical narrative tells the true story of the 19th-century whaleship Essex, which was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in the South Pacific. Stranded thousands of miles from land, the crew of the Essex was pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. The tale explores the harrowing ordeal of these men through their long journey at sea, their encounters with nature's fury, hunger, disease, and their own fear and despair.

  9. 9. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

    This book is a gripping exploration of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, focusing on the disappearance of Jean McConville, a mother of ten who was abducted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1972. The narrative weaves together the stories of several key figures in the IRA, including Dolours Price, an IRA member who became disillusioned with the organization, and Brendan Hughes, a former IRA commander. The book delves deep into the political and personal complexities of the conflict, revealing the long-lasting trauma and moral ambiguities that continue to haunt those involved.

  10. 10. 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.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

    This book provides an in-depth look at the housing crisis in America, focusing on eight families in Milwaukee who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. The author explores the role of eviction in perpetuating poverty, illuminating the business of landlords and the harsh reality of tenants in impoverished neighborhoods. The book offers a close examination of the intersection between profit and poverty, revealing how both are intricately linked in the American housing market.

  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 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.

  15. 15. 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.

  16. 16. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

    This book is a comprehensive history of cancer, its treatments, and the ongoing search for a cure. It presents an in-depth exploration of the disease from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it, to a radical new understanding of its essence. The book also discusses the politics of cancer research, the impact of patient activism, and the complex and often fraught relationships between researchers, oncologists, and patients.

  17. 17. 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.

  18. 18. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

    "The Looming Tower" is a comprehensive historical examination of the events leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. It delves into the origins of Al-Qaeda, the rise of Osama bin Laden, and the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to prevent the attacks. The narrative is extensively researched and provides a detailed account of Islamic fundamentalism, the complex politics of the Middle East, and the role of the United States in the region. The book also explores the personal stories of key figures on both sides of the conflict.

  19. 19. The Age Of Wonder by Richard Holmes

    "The Age of Wonder" explores the scientific and cultural advancements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, known as the Romantic Age. Richard Holmes delves into the lives and achievements of prominent figures such as Joseph Banks, Humphry Davy, and William Herschel, who revolutionized fields like astronomy, chemistry, and botany. Through vivid storytelling, Holmes captures the spirit of curiosity, imagination, and wonder that defined this era, highlighting the profound impact it had on shaping our modern understanding of science and the world.

  20. 20. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

    This book is an in-depth exploration of the Great Migration, the movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North and West that took place in the 20th century. The narrative is built around the personal stories of three individuals who made this journey, providing a detailed and intimate look at the experiences, struggles, and hopes of those who participated in this significant historical event. The book also examines the broader social, economic, and political implications of the Great Migration, shedding light on its impact on American society and culture.

  21. 21. Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

    "Up in the Old Hotel" is a collection of essays that paints a vivid picture of New York City from the 1930s to the 1960s. The stories introduce a rich tapestry of characters, from street preachers and gypsies to oystermen and bar regulars, each with their own unique history and perspective. The book captures the essence of the city and its inhabitants in a way that is both deeply personal and universally relatable, providing an intimate look at a bygone era.

  22. 22. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

    This book provides a comprehensive exploration of the history of the human species, tracing back from the earliest forms of Homo Sapiens to the modern day. It delves into evolutionary biology, the development of cultures and societies, and the rise of major ideologies and technologies. The book also discusses the future of the species, posing thought-provoking questions about our roles and responsibilities in a rapidly changing world.

  23. 23. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

    "Citizen: An American Lyric" is a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of racial prejudice in contemporary America. The book, written in a blend of poetry, prose, and visual images, delves into the everyday experiences and microaggressions that people of color face. It also addresses larger events from the news that have impacted the Black community. The book is a powerful commentary on race, identity, and belonging, challenging readers to confront their own biases and perceptions.

  24. 24. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

    The book is an insider's account of the culinary world, revealing the harsh realities of restaurant kitchens. The author, a professional chef, shares his personal experiences, the good and the bad, in a brutally honest and witty manner. He provides an unvarnished look at the industry, from the chaotic kitchen environment and the high-pressure service, to the eccentric characters he has worked with. The book also includes his reflections on food culture, cooking techniques, and his own journey in the culinary field.

  25. 25. 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.

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download