The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2023

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The best nonfiction books of the year dug deep, mining both personal and global history to uncover essential truths. John Vaillant captured the horrors of a wildfire to study the consequences of climate change. Matthew Desmond dissected how poverty persists in the United States and made a compassionate call for greater equity. Tracy K. Smith detailed her complicated mission to learn more about her ancestry and urged us to examine whose stories we deem worth preserving. Their books are among the most impactful nonfiction published in 2023. Here, the 10 best books of the year.

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10. King, Jonathan Eig

In the first major biography of Martin Luther King Jr. in decades, journalist Jonathan Eig paints a complex and fully human portrait of an American leader. Drawing on newly released FBI files, telephone transcripts, and more, Eig presents King like he’s never been seen before. The author unveils this research in fresh and exciting turns, unpacking the activist’s public work alongside his private life. King is a nuanced new look at a civil rights icon.

Buy Now: King on Bookshop | Amazon

9. Fire Weather, John Vaillant

At the center of John Vaillant’s Fire Weather is a horrific real-life story that serves as a deafening wake-up call. The book traces the events of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, in which 88,000 Canadians were displaced after their homes and neighborhoods were destroyed in a fiery blaze over the course of just one afternoon. In describing the natural disaster, Vaillant breaks down the science in accessible terms and offers an important account of the consequences of climate change.

Buy Now: Fire Weather on Bookshop | Amazon

8. Liliana's Invincible Summer, Cristina Rivera Garza

For three decades, poet Cristina Rivera Garza has been haunted by her sister’s murder. In July 1990, Liliana, an architecture student living in Mexico City who loved swimming and cinema, was killed. Though an arrest warrant was filed for Liliana’s ex-boyfriend, he disappeared during the investigation. So, in 2019, Rivera Garza decided to seek answers to what happened to her beloved sister herself. She recounts her quest for information and justice, and uses her sister’s story to tell a larger one about domestic violence and femicide.

Buy Now: Liliana's Invincible Summer on Bookshop | Amazon

7. Poverty, By America, Matthew Desmond

In 2017, sociologist Matthew Desmond won a Pulitzer Prize for Evicted, which analyzed why so many American families were facing eviction in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. His latest book revisits similar themes, this time focusing on why poverty is so prevalent in the U.S. With an empathetic hand, he writes about the systems that keep Americans from living above the poverty line, and implores us all to fight for ways to bring prosperity to the masses.

Buy Now: Poverty, By America on Bookshop | Amazon

More: The 100 Must-Read Books of 2023

6. How to Say Babylon, Safiya Sinclair

As a child growing up in Jamaica, Safiya Sinclair had to adhere to her Rastafarian father’s strict rules, which governed everything from the clothes she wore to the people she was allowed to see. But the author managed to educate herself on other ways of living and decided to use her voice to break free. In her memoir, Sinclair captures her turbulent coming of age, and how she grappled with realizing that the traditions she was raised in were suffocating her. The result is a moving portrait of a woman’s self-empowerment.

Buy Now: How to Say Babylon on Bookshop | Amazon

5. You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Maggie Smith

After her marriage falls apart, Maggie Smith inspects the pieces of the life she once knew to pave a path forward. You Could Make This Place Beautiful finds Smith dissecting the very form in which she is writing as she constantly questions the purpose of memoir and the stories we tell ourselves. Mining her heartbreak and memories both with her husband and without him, Smith moves between rage, sorrow, and grief. And through it all, she illustrates her unwavering love for her son and daughter.

Buy Now: You Could Make This Place Beautiful on Bookshop | Amazon

4. A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, Nathan Thrall

In February 2012, 5-year-old Milad Salama boarded a bus with his fellow Palestinian classmates en route to a theme park. But he never made it there. The bus crashed outside Jerusalem, and the children aboard it were injured or killed. This devastating scene propels Nathan Thrall’s book, which follows Milad’s father Abed from his first romance to the day of the collision, all told against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thrall tackles the subject with care and expertise, introducing the lives of several Israelis and Palestinians to illuminate their struggles and complex histories.

Buy Now: A Day in the Life of Abed Salama on Bookshop | Amazon

3. To Free the Captives, Tracy K. Smith

In her memoir, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith crafts a searing narrative about being Black in America. She excavates her past to better understand the racial violence that persists today, wading through generations of her family’s history. But as she tries to learn more about her lineage, beginning with the Alabama town where her father grew up, Smith realizes that the research process itself is fraught and riddled with missing pieces.

Buy Now: To Free the Captives on Bookshop | Amazon

2. Doppelganger, Naomi Klein

What would you do if all of a sudden people started mixing you up with a person whose beliefs you can’t stand? Leftist activist and author Naomi Klein has been forced to answer this exact question: she is constantly confused with Naomi Wolf, who has spent the past few years spreading antivaccine rhetoric and fringe conspiracy theories. Klein investigates how “other Naomi” became the type of public figure she is today, taking a dizzying trip through the current cultural landscape to examine politics, misinformation, and the slippery path to radicalization.

Buy Now: Doppelganger on Bookshop | Amazon

1. Some People Need Killing, Patricia Evangelista

The title of Patricia Evangelista’s memoir is rooted in a conversation the journalist once had with a vigilante who made that unnerving declaration. Her home country, the Philippines, was full of people who shared the same belief as this man—like those working for the state, who carried out thousands of killings of citizens during President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Evangelista tells the stories of those who were lost in the struggle, and interrogates the language we use to describe violence.

Buy Now: Some People Need Killing on Bookshop | Amazon

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