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Our Best of the Year 2016: Nonfiction

We've read the reviews, listened to our customers, and racked our brains to come up with a list of the Top Ten Works of Nonfiction for 2016. It was hard work, what with all the excellent choices, but the process was rewarding and so are the results. True story.

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Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393293012
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 20th, 2016

Forsyth County, Georgia was for a century, by hateful design, the "whitest" place in America. Patrick Phillips grew up there, and has written a vital narrative that should shake any reader to the core. Everyone should know this truth.

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The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy Cover Image
ISBN: 9781681370408
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: New York Review Books - October 4th, 2016

A few years ago we lamented on our blog about how rare it is to find non-fiction works, particularly those about science, that rise to the level of literature. This is one of those rare books. It speaks with an impassioned, personal voice about the desperate condition of our ecosystem, convincing with its argument and stunning with the beauty of its writing:

"In a famous preface to one of his short novels, Joseph Conrad pointed out that the enterprise of the scientist or the intellectual may have more immediate impact, but that of the artist is more enduring because it goes far deeper; the statement of fact, however powerful, does not take hold like the image does. I believe that in defending the natural world, the time has come to offer up the images."

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When Breath Becomes Air Cover Image
By Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780812988406
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - January 12th, 2016

This riveting memoir tells the story of a young man like many others, exceptional only for his intellect and talent. From the many doors open to him, he consistently chooses the ones that lead to the most challenging roads, stacking up accomplishment after accomplishment. He earns multiple degrees in both the sciences and the liberal arts from the most elite colleges in the world, ultimately becoming a top-flight neurosurgical resident. He meets and marries a fellow doctor, weighs job offers in teaching, research, and surgery, contemplates impending fatherhood … the world is his oyster. And then, just midway through his thirties, he’s stricken with the same diagnosis he’s delivered to so many patients: terminal cancer. Kalanithi faces his mortality with the same clear eyes and wide heart that brought him worldly success, and his book triumphantly demonstrates how much life can be packed into a sentence before it ends, as they all must, with a full stop.

Read more of what our staff had to say about this moving book on our blog.

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The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero Cover Image
ISBN: 9780544272880
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - March 1st, 2016

Tim Egan has over the years become the foremost chronicler of Northwest history, and in his most recent book he's working at his biggest scale yet. Thomas Francis Meagher was a fiery orator who survived the Irish potato famine, emigrated to America, and became a hero of our Civil War, a soldier who dreamed of one day leading Irish-American troops back across the Atlantic to free his native land from the English yoke. Instead he moved west and continued his epic life on the Montana frontier. You won't read a more colorful, compelling true story this year.

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John Aubrey, My Own Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9781681370422
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: New York Review Books - September 6th, 2016

A full, true, affecting portrait is exactly what Ruth Scurr has painted in John Aubrey, My Own Life. Few biographies do the excellent job this one does of capturing daily life in a bygone age, and even fewer leave their readers with such a strong sense of knowing their subjects. By the time the last page is turned, Aubrey has come to seem a friend rather than a historical curiosity. Who could help wanting to spend time with a man with this much perspicacity and good humor?

Read more of James's praise for this book on our blog.

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Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders Cover Image
ISBN: 9780761169086
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Workman Publishing Company - September 20th, 2016

Visit the farthest, most fascinating corners of the earth between the pages of this beautiful, inimitable volume. Weird and wonderful.

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Lab Girl Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101874936
Availability: Backordered
Published: Knopf - April 5th, 2016

This book has it all: nature, love, science, drama, heartbreak, joy, and plenty of dirt. Not since Cheryl Strayed's Wild have I read such a rich and compelling nonfiction narrative. Lab Girl is the story of Jahren's life in science, and her writing on the wonders of nature will renew your sense of awe. But more than that, it is an exploration of friendship, mental illness, parenthood, and the messiness of life. The only flaw -- these pages fly by too quickly, leaving you wondering what you could possibly read next that will be just as good.”
— Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA

Couldn't have said it better ourselves.

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The Gene: An Intimate History Cover Image
ISBN: 9781476733500
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - May 17th, 2016

The discovery of the mechanism of inheritance in the 20th century was among the most important in history, with effects that continue to ripple far beyond the realm of biology. Understanding the gene improves our understanding of science, society, and all of humanity, and no one conveys those lessons better than the Pulitzer Prize-winning Siddhartha Mukherjee.

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Little Labors Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811225588
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions - May 17th, 2016

An uncategorizable book of essay and observation about motherhood, writing, and so much more. Little Labors puts in relief the whimsy, folly, and humor of the everyday, much in the way that Sei Shonagon accomplished in her unclassifiable classic The Pillow Book. Galchen's kaleidoscopic perspective on life events is truly delightful, never straying far from a sharp and witty attention to humanity.

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Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316338929
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown and Company - April 5th, 2016

Computers weren't always machines--before there were silicon chips, there were sharp-minded people who did the computing themselves. Many of them were young women, whose unheralded work provided the foundation for America's space program. This is both an important work of history and an inspirational model for today's students and scientists.