The Top 10 Non-Fiction Books of 2017

5 minute read
Claire Howorth is an assistant managing editor at TIME

Political news dominated not only headlines in 2017, but the biggest, splashiest book titles of the year as well, from Ta-Nehisi Coates reflecting on the Obama-Trump continuum to Hillary Clinton answering for herself the cries of “What happened?” These books covered the rise of evangelicalism to the future of humankind amid war and climate disaster. Even histories like David Grann’s account of the Osage people or Tina Brown’s memoirs of making it in a man’s world carry a cultural relevance today. Here are 10 of TIME’s favorite nonfiction books of the year.

10. The Vanity Fair Diaries, Tina Brown

The Vanity Fair Diaries is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017

Brown’s brisk, delightfully giddy tales of the beginning of her storied career make for engaging reading, from the first conversations she had with Conde Nast owner Si Newhouse to nail the Vanity Fair job in 1983, through the go-go 1980s in New York City, all the way till she made yet another leap to helm The New Yorker.

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9. The Evangelicals, Frances Fitzgerald

The Evangelicals is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017
Simon Schuster

At this particular moment in news, when continued support for Roy Moore mystifies observers, understanding the history of evangelicalism and its intersection with politics feels essential. The Evangelicals is a guide. “FitzGerald illuminates how a decades-long relationship between the Christian right and the Republican Party (later joined by the Tea Party) coalesced into what looks like a mutually inextricable bloc,” wrote TIME history editor Lily Rothman in her review.

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8. The Meaning of Michelle, Veronica Chambers

The Meaning of Michelle is one of the top 10 nonfiction books of 2017
St. Martin's Press

This anthology, edited by journalist and author Veronica Chambers, was published just days before the Obamas left the White House, but the essays within feel more relevant than ever. Contributors include Roxane Gay, Ava DuVernay, Hamilton star Philippa Soo, New York’s First Lady Chirlane McCray and others, examining everything from Obama’s fashion to her marriage to her cultural impact as the first African-American First Lady.

Read Hamilton star Phillipa Soo’s essay in The Meaning of Michelle

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7. Blind Spot, Teju Cole

Blind Spot is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017
Penguin Random House

Teju Cole’s photography and writing join together to form what really is a book of poetry—gorgeously cloth-bound and the kind of book you want to keep on display long after you’ve done the reading.

Read TIME’s Best Books of 2017—So Far

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6. Hunger, Roxane Gay

Hunger is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017

Hunger was just one of several cultural moments of 2017 that put its writer front and center in the conversation. In Hunger, Gay writes of her rape, and its ripple-out effects on her life, including her continued struggle with body image and weight. Gay’s cultural import as one of today’s most prominent feminists had been underscored when she withdrew a different book from Simon & Schuster (Harper published Hunger) after the publisher struck a deal (later canceled) with hate-speech evangelist Milo Yiannopoulos. That book was called How to Be Heard.

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5. The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy

The Rules Do Not Apply is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017
Random House

Levy’s memoir sprung from a widely read 2013 personal essay, Thanksgiving In Mongolia, published in The New Yorker, which won the National Magazine Award. In the book, writes TIME’s Eliana Dockterman, “Levy confronts a harsh truth for women with control and choice: we lay claim to everything, but the universe is often indifferent to our demands.”

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4. Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari

Home Deus is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017

The Israeli historian, whose works consistently appear on wonky best-of lists by the likes of Bill Gates, takes on deep philosophies of humanity and ethics, but the stakes of Homo Deus are basic: What’s next for humankind?

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3. Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017

Grann’s retelling of the systemic murder of the Osage tribe of Oklahoma—wealthy for their oil holdings, and wanted dead for the same— is a shameful story of the past that feels all too relevant still. “The end of Flower Moon leaves the reader with a sense of injustice not truly avenged, and it’s no fault of the author — it’s American history,” wrote TIME’s Claire Howorth.

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2. We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years in Power is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017
Penguin Random House

Coates enhanced this collection of columns for The Atlantic with fresh material, both personal and historical, as he reexamines eight pieces of writing during the eight years of Obama’s presidency from the standpoint of living under the Trump presidency.

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1. What Happened, Hillary Clinton

What Happened is one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2017
Simon & Schuster

Clinton offers one answer to the question that rang collectively from more than half the country on Nov. 9, 2016. The writing is frank, reflective and a piece of modern history.

Read TIME’s interview with Hillary Clinton

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