In a year when the headlines were dominated by conflict around the things that make us different—race, class, gender, politics and all the other markers of identity—the best nonfiction books tore into those tensions and explored the humanity beneath. Some authors revisited historical figures to ask how their perspectives on race and religion shaped the world, for better or worse. Others shared personal stories to underscore the impact of a society that endangers people due to realities outside o... Read more
2020 | Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine's Citizen changed the conversation--Just Us urges all of us into it As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history. Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, even and especially in breaching the silence, guilt, and violence that follow direct addresses of whiteness. Rankine's questions disrupt the false comfort of our culture's liminal and private spaces--the airport, the theater, the dinner party, the voting booth--where neutrality and politeness live on the surface of differing commitments, beliefs, and prejudices as our public and private lives intersect. This brilliant arrangement of essays, poems, and images includes the voices and rebuttals of others: white men in first class responding to, and with, their white male privilege; a friend's explanation of her infuriating behavior at a play; and women confronting the political currency of dying their hair blond, all running alongside fact-checked notes and commentary that complements Rankine's own text, complicating notions of authority and who gets the last word. Sometimes wry, often vulnerable, and always prescient, Just Us is Rankine's most intimate work, less interested in being right than in being true, being together.
Die neue große Hitler-Biographie für unsere Zeit Wäre der größte Zivilisationsbruch in der Geschichte – der Vernichtungskrieg in Osteuropa und der Mord an den europäischen Juden – ohne Hitler denkbar gewesen? Mit souveräner Kennerschaft und auf der Basis neuer Quellen zeigt der Zeithistoriker Volker Ullrich, in welchem Ausmaß der Diktator den Charakter der Kriegführung und die Entwicklung zum Holocaust bestimmt hat. Deutlich wird: Die monströsen Verbrechen waren nur möglich, weil Hitler sich bis zuletzt auf die Kooperation der Generalität und breiter Teile der Gesellschaft verlassen konnte. In seiner meisterhaften Biographie gelingt es Volker Ullrich überzeugend, die Persönlichkeit Hitlers greifbar zu machen. Erst so wird erkennbar, wie all das geschehen konnte – und welchen Platz der Diktator in der Geschichte einnimmt. Eine glänzend geschriebene Darstellung auf dem letzten Stand der Forschung, die unser Bild von Hitler für lange Zeit maßgeblich prägen wird. Der viel beachtete erste Band behandelt die Jahre des Aufstiegs bis 1939. Der zweite Band zeichnet die Jahre des Untergangs nach – von der Entfesselung des Zweiten Weltkriegs bis zum apokalyptischen Finale 1945.
2020 | Eula Biss
"My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts," Eula Biss writes, "the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after." Having just purchased her first home, she now embarks on a roguish and risky self-audit of the value system she has bought into. The result is a radical interrogation of work, leisure, and capitalism. Described by The New York Times as a writer who "advances from all sides, like a chess player," Biss brings her approach to the lived experience of capitalism. Ranging from IKEA to Beyonc� to Pokemon, across bars and laundromats and universities, she asks, of both herself and her class, "In what have we invested?"
2020 | Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation. Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she'd tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer's phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants--and to find the hidden key to her own. Looking beyond the flashpoints of the border or the activism of the DREAMers, Cornejo Villavicencio explores the lives of the undocumented--and the mysteries of her own life. She finds the nation of singular, effervescent characters often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers. The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects. In New York, we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited into the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami, we enter the ubiquitous botanicas, which offer medicinal herbs and potions to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, Michigan, we learn of demands for state ID in order to receive life-saving clean water. In Connecticut, Cornejo Villavicencio, childless by choice, finds family in two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival. In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. Through these stories we come to understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American.
2020 | Helen Macdonald
Animals don’t exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves. From the internationally acclaimed author of H is for Hawk comes Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world. In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved pieces, along with new essays on topics and stories ranging from nostalgia and science fiction to the true account of a refugee’s flight to the UK. Her pieces ranges from accounts of swan upping on the Thames to watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary to seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, what we do when we watch wildlife and why. This is a book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make the world around us, by one of this century's most important and insightful nature writers.
2020 | Les Payne, Tamara Payne
Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X—all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction. The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.” In tracing Malcolm X’s life from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his Harlem assassination in 1965, Payne provides searing vignettes culled from Malcolm’s Depression-era youth, describing the influence of his Garveyite parents: his father, Earl, a circuit-riding preacher who was run over by a street car in Lansing, Michigan, in 1929, and his mother, Louise, who continued to instill black pride in her children after Earl’s death. Filling each chapter with resonant drama, Payne follows Malcolm’s exploits as a petty criminal in Boston and Harlem in the 1930s and early 1940s to his religious awakening and conversion to the Nation of Islam in a Massachusetts penitentiary. With a biographer’s unwavering determination, Payne corrects the historical record and delivers extraordinary revelations—from the unmasking of the mysterious NOI founder “Fard Muhammad,” who preceded Elijah Muhammad; to a hair-rising scene, conveyed in cinematic detail, of Malcolm and Minister Jeremiah X Shabazz’s 1961 clandestine meeting with the KKK; to a minute-by-minute account of Malcolm X’s murder at the Audubon Ballroom. Introduced by Payne’s daughter and primary researcher, Tamara Payne, who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography, The Dead Are Arising is a penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.
2020 | Natasha Trethewey
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
2020 | Wayétu Moore
An engrossing memoir of escaping the First Liberian Civil War and building a life in the United States When Wayétu Moore turns five years old, her father and grandmother throw her a big birthday party at their home in Monrovia, Liberia, but all she can think about is how much she misses her mother, who is working and studying in faraway New York. Before she gets the reunion her father promised her, war breaks out in Liberia. The family is forced to flee their home on foot, walking and hiding for three weeks until they arrive in the village of Lai. Finally, a rebel soldier smuggles them across the border to Sierra Leone, reuniting the family and setting them off on yet another journey, this time to the United States. Spanning this harrowing journey in Moore’s early childhood, her years adjusting to life in Texas as a black woman and an immigrant, and her eventual return to Liberia, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women is a deeply moving story of the search for home in the midst of upheaval. Moore has a novelist’s eye for suspense and emotional depth, and this unforgettable memoir is full of imaginative, lyrical flights and lush prose. In capturing both the hazy magic and the stark realities of what is becoming an increasingly pervasive experience, Moore shines a light on the great political and personal forces that continue to affect many migrants around the world, and calls us all to acknowledge the tenacious power of love and family.