Best Nonfiction Books of 2016

Posted on December 19, 2016

by April S

If you love reading books on a variety of subjects – like biographies, business, history, poetry, science and social issues – you’re in luck! We put together a short list of notable nonfiction titles from trusted sources like Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, NPR, Publisher’s Weekly and The Washington Post to name a few – hope you enjoy the noteworthy selections and book lists.

If you’re a Fiction fan, check out our Best Fiction Books of 2016 blog post.

Best Biography and Memoir of 2016

When Air Becomes Breath by Paul KalanithiWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Formats Available: Print | Large Print | Audiobook eBook | eAudiobook

Recommended or named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, BookPage, BrainPickings, The Economist, Elle, Goodreads, Harper’s Bazaar, Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, NPR, POPSUGAR and Slate.

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question – What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

Biography and Memoir – 2016 Honorable Mentions

Born a Crime - Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah Lab Girl by Hope Jahren Shirley Jackson - A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin Truevine - Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest - A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy

Best Business and Leadership Books of 2016

The Originals - How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam GrantThe Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Formats Available: Print | Pocket Audio | eBook

Recommended or named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, Bloomberg, Forbes, Goodreads, Inc., NPR and Zenefits. It’s also a bestseller on Amazon.

The New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take examines how people can drive creative, moral, and organizational progress—and how leaders can encourage originality in their organizations

With Give and Take, Adam Grant not only introduced a landmark new paradigm for success but also established himself as one of his generation’s most compelling and provocative thought leaders. In Originals he again addresses the challenge of improving the world, but now from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. How can we originate new ideas, policies, and practices without risking it all?

Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can fight groupthink to build cultures that welcome dissent. Learn from an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, an analyst who overturned the rule of secrecy at the CIA, a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him, and a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy but saved Seinfeld from the cutting-room floor. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.

Business and Leadership Books – 2016 Honorable Mentions

Deep Work - Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport An Everyone Culture : Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey ; with Matthew L. Miller, Andy Fleming, Deborah Helsing Grit - The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth Sprint - How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp

Best History Books of 2016

Hero of the Empire - The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice MillardHero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

Formats Available: Print | Large Print | eAudio

Recommended or named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, BookPage, Goodreads, Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, NPR and The Washington Post.

From New York Times bestselling author of Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt, a thrilling narrative of Winston Churchill’s extraordinary and little-known exploits during the Boer War.

At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering the Spanish-American War in Cuba, glory and fame had eluded him.

Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape–but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.

The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.

Churchill would later remark that this period, “could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life.” Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom he would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.

History Books – 2016 Honorable Mentions

City of Dreams - The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder Code Warriors - NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union by Stephen Budiansky Secondhand Time - The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich Stamped From the Beginning - The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Best Poetry Books of 2016

Look by Solmaz SharifLOOK by Solmaz Sharif

Formats Available: Print

Recommended or named one of the best books of the year by Entropy, Goodreads, The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR and Publisher’s Weekly. It was also a National Book Award Finalist for 2016.

Solmaz Sharif’s astonishing first book, LOOK, asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable loss of human lives and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech. In this virtuosic array of poems, lists, shards, and sequences, Sharif assembles her family’s and her own fragmented narratives in the aftermath of warfare. Those repercussions echo into the present day, in the grief for those killed in America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the discrimination endured at the checkpoints of daily encounter.

Poetry Books – 2016 Honorable Mentions

Blue Laws - selected and uncollected poems, 1995-2015 by Kevin Young Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong Olio by Tyehimba Jess The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutsky

Best Science Books of 2016

The Gene - an intimate history by Siddhartha MukherjeeThe Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Formats Available: Print | Audiobook | eBook | eAudio

Recommended or named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, Brain Pickings, The Economist, Goodreads, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, The New York Times, NPR, POPSUGAR and The Washington Post.

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies — a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?

The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Thomas Morgan to Crick, Watson and Rosa Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome.

As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome,The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

Science Books – 2016 Honorable Mentions

Hidden Figures - the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly The Glass Universe - How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel I Contain Multitudes - The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong Patient H.M. - A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

Best General Nonfiction Books of 2016

Evicted - Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew DesmondEvicted: Power and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Formats Available: Print | eBook | eAudio

Recommended or named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, Bloomberg, BookPage, Esquire, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, Publisher’s Weekly and The Washington Post.

From Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America. In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the stories of eight families on the edge.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor families are spending over half of their income on housing and millions are forced from their homes each year. In the inner city, eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. We watch as families are forced to move into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods. We see them lose their jobs and sink into depression. We see communities broken and children harmed. As this empathic and masterful book reveals, eviction is not so much a consequence of poverty as a cause.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, Evicted transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation, while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home — without which nothing else is possible.

General Nonfiction Books – 2016 Honorable Mentions

Designing Your Life - How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans Hamilton - The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter Hillbilly Elegy - A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis The Lonely City - Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Best Books of 2016 Book Lists

The Best Books of 2016Amazon

Best Books of 2016Bloomberg

Best of 2016BookPage

The Greatest Science Books of 2016Brain Pickings

Best Books of the Year 2016The Economist

The 33 Best Books of 2016Elle

Best Poetry Books and Collections of 2016Entropy

The 25 Best Books of 2016Esquire

Gift Guide: Books Most Recommended by FORBES in 2016Forbes

Best Books of 2016Goodread’s Choice Awards

The 13 Best Books of 2016Harper’s Bazaar

10 Must-Read Business Books for 2016Inc.

Best Nonfiction of 2016 By CategoryKirkus Reviews

Top Ten Books of 2016Library Journal

100 Notable Books of 2016The New York Times

The Books We Loved in 2016The New Yorker

A Guide to 2016’s Great ReadsNPR

50 of the Best Books of 2016POPSUGAR

Best Nonfiction Books of 2016Publisher’s Weekly

Best Books of 2016Slate

Best Business Books 2016 – In PicturesStrategy+Business

The 5 Best Lessons From the 5 Best Business Books of 2016Success

The Ten Best Books of 2016The Washington Post

Notable Nonfiction Books in 2016The Washington Post

The 73 Best Business Books Entrepreneurs Should Read in 2016Zenefits

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