16 best nonfiction books of the decade

These lists are meant to be discussed, to be disagreed with, and to serve as a superb source of future reading. I happen not to be a fan in any way of the memoir “Educated” and would have left it off the list. The others that I’ve read are definitely among the top in this genre for the decade.

The 16 Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade

By Kristina Wright•December 12, 2019•5 min read

As we say goodbye to 2019 and look forward to a new decade of books to read, we can’t help but marvel at the wealth of brilliant nonfiction the last decade has given us. From books that reframed our understanding of cancer and introversion to stories that gave credence to important social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, the past 10 years have filled our minds — and our bookshelves — with stories of humanity and humor, grief and grace, and so much more. Whittling the abundance of a decade down into a reasonable list of must-read books is a daunting task, but we’ve tried. These are the books we raved about, that made us think (and laugh, and cry), and shared with our friends and family. Take a look at our recommendations to find out why these are the decade’s most memorable and important nonfiction books.

Book cover for Educated by Tara Westover

EducatedTara Westover

Tara Westover’s New York Times bestselling and profoundly moving story about the bonds of family and the desire to learn made everyone’s best-of lists in 2018. Raised on the fringes of society by survivalist, fundamentalist parents, Tara was denied the opportunity to go to traditional schools. Demonstrating incredible drive in the face of adversity, she found a way to achieve her dreams — …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Evicted by Matthew Desmond

EvictedMatthew Desmond

Published in 2016, Evicted won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. Matthew Desmond’s groundbreaking book centers on the harrowing stories of eight families in Milwaukee — all of whom are behind on their rent and facing eviction. Desmond details the toll that poverty exacts, the painful truths about inequality, and the struggle to survive in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates

Lauded by critics and readers, this National Book Award Winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist took the literary world by storm in 2015. Between the World and Me is a potent and personal letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his adolescent son. In it, Coates explores the complex questions about what it means to be black in America — chronicling a history of exploitation and oppression that extends to our …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for The New Jim Crow by Cornel West, Michelle Alexander

The New Jim CrowCornel West and Michelle AlexanderIn 2012, Michelle Alexander’s powerful and thought-provoking The New Jim Crow challenged the belief that the US had entered an era of colorblindness following the election of Barack Obama. Calling attention to the mass incarceration of black men targeted by the War on Drugs and highlighting how the criminal justice system functions as a system of racial control, Alexander raised a call to action, …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Quiet by Susan Cain

QuietSusan Cain

In 2013, Susan Cain introduced us to the Quiet Revolution with her New York Times bestseller, Quiet. In a culture that celebrates the outgoing extrovert, Quiet pays tribute to the value and importance of introversion. Identifying the traits and contributions of successful introverts, Cain’s groundbreaking work changed the way we think about personality types.View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Maid by Stephanie Land

MaidStephanie LandTold from the perspective of a young mother with big dreams and dogged determination, Maid is a profound examination of class in America. Stephanie Land reveals the harsh realities of the working poor and the elusiveness of the American dream. An eye-opening glimpse into one woman’s struggle to escape poverty and provide a better life for her children — and herself. View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space RaceMargot Lee Shetterly

This 2016 New York Times bestseller adapted to film in 2018 tells the story of the four black women whose work played a pivotal role in America’s space program. As mathematicians for NASA, the women — known as “Human Computers” — calculated the flight paths of spacecraft and contributed significantly to America’s success during the Space Race. Shetterly tells their inspiring stories for the first …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

WaveSonali Deraniyagala

In 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in a tsunami that devastated the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Her miraculous survival gave way to a struggle to come to terms with the tragedy and the reality she had to face alone. This richly detailed memoir is a heartbreaking journey that explores what it means to lose everyone you love — and still find away to …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other SunsIsabel Wilkerson

In The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson carefully details the historical migration of blacks who abandoned the South in order to find a better life in northern and western cities. Exploring this migration of almost six million people from 1915 to 1970, Wilkerson’s fascinating analysis revealed how this mass exodus forever changed the landscape of cities across …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All MaladiesSiddhartha Mukherjee

Physician, researcher, and science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee crafted a history and biography of mankind’s greatest foe — cancer. Slicing through the emotional topic with surgical precision, he demystified the disease that people have lived with — and died from — for over 5000 years. Filled with historical details of human resilience and determination, The Emperor of All Maladies is a story of …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksRebecca Skloot

This compelling true story centers on Henrietta Lacks, an African American tobacco farmer whose cells were taken in 1951 and used without her knowledge. Scientists knew her as HeLa, and the theft of her cells lead to scientific breakthroughs ranging from the polio vaccine to gene mapping. Meanwhile, the woman at the center of these monumental discoveries never gave informed consent and was never …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Wild by Cheryl Strayed

WildCheryl Strayed

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed shows us the power of determination, the weight of grief, and the healing properties of nature. Her riveting memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone is part confessional and part travelogue, filled with heart, humor, and above all, honesty. Strayed reveals the hopes and dreams of a young woman facing her fears of loss and abandonment in a rugged and unforgiving …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes AirPaul Kalanithi

One of Paste’s best memoirs of the decade, When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming book about facing death with grace and dignity. Diagnosed at 36 with stage IV lung cancer, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi had to rethink his life — and decide what he wanted his legacy to be. He died while working on his memoir — leaving behind his inspirational and poignant words behind to light the way for …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly ElegyJ. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy is a riveting New York Times bestselling memoir from Marine veteran and Yale graduate J.D. Vance as he shares the story of his family’s rise from poverty in Appalachia and their struggle to claim a middle-class life in a declining steel town in Ohio. Through the lens of personal experience, Vance explored the hopelessness and despair of people who were promised the American dream …Show More ›View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel

Thank You for Your ServiceDavid Finkel

When we thank a veteran for their service, what is it we’re thanking them for? Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Finkel tackled the psychological effects that linger after soldiers return from war. In Thank You for Your Service, he shared intimate details from the lives of men whose deployments have ended, but who still struggle — along with their families — in the aftermath. View Price…Save to List

Book cover for Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Trick MirrorJia Tolentino

In Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino, a cultural critic for the New Yorker, examines our collective self-delusion. From the explosive rise of social media to the pervasiveness of wedding culture, Tolentino shines a light on the ways we engage in self-deception. These nine original essays explore a variety of contemporary topics to get to the heart of how our perceptions are manipulated and managed, and …Show More ›View Price…Saved to List

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