45 Nonfiction Books We Couldn't Put Down in 2019
The term nonfiction might conjure up images of dusty history tomes, but the genre is remarkably varied, encompassing everything from memoirs to cultural essays about Friends. The best nonfiction books of 2019 represent the genre in all of its eclectic glory. There are tell-all celebrity memoirs, harrowing true stories, and at least one deep dive into the history of the high heel shoe. Whether you're obsessed with true crime or Disneyland, 2019 offered up a book that turned the subject on its head. Read on to discover the 45 best nonfiction books of 2019 that kept us reading way past our bedtimes all year long.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
In Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, Gretchen McCulloch breaks down the everchanging rules of chatting on the internet. By looking at how language has evolved in the past, the author is able to dissect the weird and interesting ways that we communicate in an online world, from the joy of choosing the right emoji to the difference between "lol" and "LOL." Reading about language has never been this entertaining or informative.
Catch and Kill
In Catch and Kill investigative journalist Ronan Farrow recounts how he tracked down the truth about the alleged misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, despite an overarching conspiracy to keep the man's alleged misdeeds quiet. From his encounters with spies to threats from pricey lawyers, Farrow breaks down how the story finally came out in this dark and detailed book.
Leave it the brilliant Ali Wong to craft an honest to goodness handbook for life. Dear Girls is formatted as letters to the comedian's daughters, but in actuality they're a guide through the ins and outs of adulthood as written by one of the funniest women around.
Every Disney fan needs to read Richard Snow's Disney's Land, the inspiring true story of how Walt Disney defied the odds to create the most magical place on Earth. Despite everyone telling him a theme park would never work, Walt refused to compromise his vision, and the story of how he made Disneyland a reality is truly riveting stuff.
The Education of an Idealist
The youngest American to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations, a war correspondent, and Pulitzer Prize winner are just a few of Samantha Power's titles. This astounding woman is living an incredible life, and in The Education of an Idealist, she invites us along for the ride.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
In The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold takes the focus off of the notorious killer to delve into the lives of his victims. Rubenhold brings Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary-Jane back to life, and in the process, restores their personhood after more than a century of being afterthoughts in history.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
The book Harper Lee hoped to write in her lifetime finally came to fruition thanks to Casey Cep. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee recounts the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a man accused of murdering five of his family members, who was later murdered himself at the funeral of one of his victims. Lee was fascinated by his trial, and Cep was fascinated by the iconic author's determination to writer her own In Cold Blood, leading to this engrossing true crime/biography hybrid.
Girl, Stop Apologizing
Rachel Hollis's blunt brand of self-help books continued to earn her raves with Girl, Stop Apologizing. Her straightforward and unapologetic advice for women to go forth and chase their dreams is the kind of nonsense motivation we needed this year.
The Great Pretender
A landmark 1970s experiment becomes a real-life thriller in Susannah Cahalan's The Great Pretender. Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan and seven other well-adjusted people had themselves committed to psychiatric institutions in order to investigate the care that patients received. Their findings changed the field of psychiatry, but it's the story of what happened behind closed doors that adds an extra layer of intensity to this already edge-of-your-seat read.
A book about the story behind the evolution of high heel shoes? Yes, please. Summer Brennan's High Heel is a short, but thorough exploration of the loaded history behind the iconic footwear.
How to Be an Antiracist
Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist is nothing short of revolutionary. Kendi proposes changing how we think about race by changing how we talk about racism from the ground up. His thoughts on class, race, and how to change the narrative are absolutely essential.
How We Fight for Our Lives
In How We Fight for Our Lives, Saeed Jones bares his soul in a coming of age memoir about his life as a young, black gay man growing up in the South. From his struggle to define himself to his determination to find his place in the world, this evocative memoir is a touching, American story of one man's journey toward adulthood.
With the help of her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie Andrews takes us inside her years as one of the busiest women in Hollywood in Home Work. She covers everything from divorce to the struggles of stardom with a candid sense of humor that shines through on every page.
I Like to Watch
Emily Nussbaum is the foremost TV critic writing today — and she has the Pulitzer Prize to prove it. In I Like to Watch she guides us through television's Golden Age with essays that delve into the cultural importance of iconic shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Good Wife, and yes, even Vanderpump Rules.
I'll Be There for You
In 2019, Friends turned 25, and the best way to celebrate is with Kelsey Miller's collection of essays, I'll Be There for You. Miller gamely explores not only the backstage secrets of the show, but also its long-lasting cultural impact as a sitcom that we still can't stop talking about.
For Dani Shapiro, a DNA test taken for fun ended up changing her life forever when she discovered that her father wasn't her biological father. Inheritance is her story of family secrets and reclaiming her own history, as well as a thoughtful analysis of how the genealogy testing trend is forcing long buried truths to the surface, whether people are ready to deal with them or not.
Demi Moore's Inside Out is a staggeringly candid portrait of addiction, fame, and resilience. As she shares intimate details about her troubled childhood, insecurities, and marriages, Moore seems to bleed on the page. But even as she details all the things that have haunted her over the years, her story is ultimately one of healing and hope.
In the Dream House
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado recounts the author's domestic abuse from every angle possible. It's a difficult read, but it's also a daring reinvention of the memoir that demands our attention.
Know My Name
After being known in the media as Emily Doe, the victim of Brock Turner who was convicted of sexually assaulting her on Stanford's campus, Chanel Miller reclaims her story in Know My Name. Her case inspired changes in California law, and led many people to come forward with their own stories of sexual assault. In her memoir, she tells her story on her own terms, offering hope and a detailed look inside the messy process of healing along the way.
Jenny Slate's Little Weirds defies categorization. The creator of Marcel the Shell proves to be a wholly original voice capable of seeing the world in a way that's unique and invigorating. Lucky us that she shared her vision in such a wonderfully random tome of brilliance.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
Thanks to her lyrical writing style, T. Kira Madden's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls stands out in a crowded field of coming of age memoirs. The author shares her unique experience growing up as a queer, biracial teen in Boca Raton, Florida. Madden paints a raw portrait of what it was like for her to grow up surrounded by excess, but lacking the adult guidance she so desperately needed.
In Maid, Stephanie Land shares her experience cleaning homes for middle class Americans to make ends meet for her and her daughter. Her story illuminates the realities of poverty in modern America with heart, hope, and honesty.
Make it Scream, Make it Burn
Through a collection of personal and reported essays, Leslie Jamison's Make It Scream, Make It Burn zeroes in on the universal yearning for human connection. Whether she's writing about becoming a stepmother or venturing to a museum devoted to the things left behind after a relationship ends, Jamison's writing is always personal and absorbing.
The Measure of Our Lives
In size, The Measure of Our Lives is a slight book, but its pages hold stunning quotations from the great Toni Morrison. Her words of wisdom are beautifully rendered in this stunning reminder of why she always be one the true greats.
Midnight in Chernobyl
HBO's miniseries wasn't the only deep dive into Chernobyl in 2019. Adam Higginbotham also tackled the subject in Midnight in Chernobyl from the point of view of the people who were there. His expertly written and thoroughly researched book is every bit as harrowing and valuable as Chernobyl the miniseries.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
By chronicling not only her time with patients, but also her time as a patient, Lori Gottlieb wrote the painfully funny and moving Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. This ode to all the ways therapy can change lives should be required reading.
The Other F Word
Body acceptance and body positivity take center stage in the joyful The (Other) F Word edited by Angie Manfredi. This collection of essays about celebrating the body you're in is downright revolutionary, especially for the teens the essays are aimed at.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten's One Day proves that there's no such thing as an ordinary day. In 2013, he had strangers choose a day, month, and year at random from a hat, and they came up with: Sunday, December 28, 1986 — a seemingly normal day. However, through extensive research, Weingarten proves that every single day is full of tragedies and triumphs.
Over the Top
Leave it to Queer Eye favorite Jonathan Van Ness to pen a memoir that's equal parts funny and heartfelt. Over the Top is that rare celebrity memoir that never feels self-indulgent. Instead, Van Ness's journey of self-love is a moving reminder of all the barriers that the reality star has happily annihilated on his way to the top.
Dave Cullen's experience chronicling the Columbine shooting left him with secondary PTSD, but he was so inspired by the young people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that he felt compelled to write Parkland. In the wake of tragedy, the students banded together to become activists, speaking out against gun violence while still continuing to be teenagers with proms to attend and plays to put together. Their story of courage and activism forms the basis of this can't miss book.
Josh Levin's The Queen brings the infamous Linda Taylor into sharp focus. Dubbed the Welfare Queen in the '70s, Taylor's scamming of the welfare system was used to demonize poor black women for decades to come. But the truth about Taylor went far beyond welfare fraud: she was also a murderer and kidnapper, making her one of America's most notorious criminals despite her deadliest crimes being forgotten.
Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe is the definitive book on the true crime fandom. Starting in the 1940s with the Mother of Forensic Science and continuing through to modern times, the book showcases four women and their unique obsession with true crime (and where it led them).
On one level, Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing chronicles the history of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. But on another, it's a personal story that zeroes in on the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, whose case speaks volumes about the fear and danger of the conflict that had a hold on Northern Ireland for decades.
The Me Too era's most important journalists, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, share how they broke the story on the Harvey Weinstein scandal and brought a reckoning to Hollywood. Engrossing and impactful, She Said feels like an instant classic.
Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered
The creators of the My Favorite Murder podcast, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, are as delightfully sardonic as ever in Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered. Rather than strictly focus on true crime stories, the duo create a dual memoir that explores the big moments that shaped them and led to the creation of their hit podcast.
In eight essays, Tressie McMillan Cottom takes on what status-signaling means to black women, money matters, and how she learned how to take the space she needs. Thick is a brilliant examination of modern society and all the ways that it still needs to be improved.
Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl
Jeannie Vanasco's Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl is a daring and haunting memoir. Fourteen years after she was raped, Vanasco contacts her rapist in hopes of understanding why he violated her. What follows is a difficult, but remarkable Me Too era account of how we talk about sexual violence.
This Land Is Our Land
Suketu Mehta's timely This Land Is Our Land is an in-depth look at immigration and how immigrants benefit America. Through interviews and in-depth reporting, Mehta discredits anti-immigration arguments with hard facts, compassion, and stories from the people who have made America their home.
Female desire is at the center of Lisa Taddeo's Three Women. Taddeo showcases three very different women and their unique taboo-breaking stories in this fascinating nonfiction title that wowed readers in 2019.
How we see ourselves and the social influences that inspire those conclusions are the subject of Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror. Through a series of essays exploring the nature of self delusion, the author challenges us to think about the idea of our "self" in a whole new light.
The fascinating world of the spaces lurking beneath our feet comes to life in Will Hunt's Underground. By exploring caves, abandoned subway stations, and sewers, Hunt forces readers to think about what's below the surface of our everyday lives.
A Woman of No Importance
Virginia Hall is the coolest World War II hero that no one ever talks about. Sonia Purnell changes all of that in her book, A Woman of No Importance, the remarkable true story of Hall, a woman considered one of the most dangerous Allied spies by the Gestapo.
Adrienne Brodeur shares how she helped her mother carry on an affair in Wild Game. The author was only 14 when her mother made Brodeur her confidante and co-conspirator, a decision that impacted her daughter's life in ways that she's still reckoning with.
The Witches Are Coming
In the Me Too era, the phrase "witch hunt" is bandied about far too often. But have no fear, because Lindy West's The Witches Are Coming is here to dissect the years of misogyny that led up to the Me Too reckoning and all the ways we're still backsliding in its aftermath.
The Yellow House
Sarah M. Broom chronicles 100 years of her family history through the lens of The Yellow House her family called home. The house, situated in New Orleans, holds more than memories: it's also a representation of change, love, tragedy, and everything that happens in between. You'll be hardpressed to find a memoir more expansive or moving than this one.