The Greatest American "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. 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.

  3. 3. 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.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. 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.

  6. 6. 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.

  7. 7. 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.

  8. 8. 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.

  9. 9. 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.

  10. 10. 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.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. 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.

  13. 13. 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.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. 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.

  16. 16. 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.

  17. 17. 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.

  18. 18. 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.

  19. 19. 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.

  20. 20. 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.

  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. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

    This book is a chilling account of the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994, where an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were systematically murdered within a span of 100 days. The author provides a detailed narrative based on interviews with survivors and perpetrators, shedding light on the horrifying events, the international community's failure to intervene, and the aftermath of the genocide. The book serves as a powerful critique of political indifference and a poignant exploration of the depths of human brutality.

  23. 23. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    The book is a profound work that explores the concept of race in America through the lens of the author's personal experiences. It is written as a letter to the author's teenage son, offering him a stark portrayal of his place in a society that is marked by racial injustice. The narrative provides a deeply personal analysis of American history and its lasting impact on the African American community, with the author sharing his experiences of fear, violence, and struggle. It is an exploration of the physical and psychological impacts of being black in the United States, and a call for a deeper understanding of the nation's racial history.

  24. 24. Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

    "Chronicles: Volume One" is an autobiography that takes readers on a journey through the life of a renowned musician and lyricist. The book provides an intimate look into his early years, his rise to fame, and his struggles and triumphs along the way. The author's unique narrative style and vivid storytelling bring to life the various experiences that shaped his music and his perspective on life. The book also provides a glimpse into the music industry, the cultural changes of the 1960s, and the author's creative process.

  25. 25. 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.

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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