Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction of 2012 (81 books)

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A year in nonfiction, almost 100 titles selected by Kirkus Reviews.

 

38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End

by Scott W. Berg

In August 1862, after decades of broken treaties, increasing hardship, and relentless encroachment on their lands, a group of Dakota warriors convened a council at the tepee of their leader, Little Crow. Knowing...


A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi

by Aman Sethi

“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”—Katherine Boo Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de...


Aftermath

by Rachel Cusk

In 2003, Rachel Cusk published A Life’s Work, a provocative and often startlingly funny memoir about the cataclysm of motherhood. Widely acclaimed, the book started hundreds of arguments that continue to this...


Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street

by Neil Barofsky

In this riveting account of the mishandling of the TARP bailout fund, a former federal prosecutor offers behind-the-scenes proof of the corrupt ways Washington officials serve the interests of Wall Street.

In...


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity

National Book Award for Non-Fiction 2012, Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest 2012

by Katherine Boo

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life...


City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age

by P D Smith

For the first time in the history of the planet, more than half the population - 3.3 billion people - are now living in cities. Two hundred years ago only 3 per cent of the world's population were urbanites,...


Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

by Bee Wilson

Since prehistory, humans have striven to tame fire and ice, and have braved the business ends of mashers, scrapers, and razor-sharp knives—all in the name of creating something delicious (or, at least, edible)....


Cronkite

by Douglas Brinkley

For decades, Walter Cronkite was known as "the most trusted man in America." Millions across the nation welcomed him into their homes, first as a print reporter for the United Press on the front lines of World...


Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop

by Jake Austen, Yuval Taylor & Mel Watkins

An exploration and celebration of a controversial tradition that, contrary to popular opinion, is alive and active after more than 150 years. Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen investigate the complex history of black...


Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution

by Rebecca Stott

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK

“[An] extraordinarily wide-ranging and engaging book [about] the men who shaped the work of Charles Darwin . . . a book that enriches our understanding of how the struggle to think...


Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child

by Bob Spitz

It’s rare for someone to emerge in America who can change our attitudes, our beliefs, and our very culture. It’s even rarer when that someone is a middle-aged, six-foot three-inch woman whose first exposure...


Desert America

by Rubén Martínez

A brilliantly illuminating portrait of the twenty-first-century West—a book as vast, diverse, and unexpected as the land and the people, from one of our foremost chroniclers of migration

The economic boom—and...


Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

by Rachel Maddow

The #1 New York Times bestseller that charts America’s dangerous drift into a state of perpetual war.

Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow's Drift argues that we've drifted away from America's...


Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

by D. T. Max

The acclaimed New York Times-bestselling biography and "emotionally detailed portrait of the artist as a young man" (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six...


Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

Wellcome Book Prize 2014, Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction 2013, National Book Critics Circle for General Non-fiction 2012

by Andrew Solomon

From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories...


Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

by Jonathan Kozol

   In this powerful and culminating work about a group of inner-city children he has known for many years, Jonathan Kozol returns to the scene of his prize-winning books Rachel and Her Children and Amazing...


Freedom's Cap

by Guy Gugliotta

The modern United States Capitol is a triumph of both engineering and design. From its 9-million-pound cast-iron dome to the dazzling opulence of the President’s Room and the Senate corridors, the Capitol...


Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

by Kristen Iversen

Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated "the...


God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine

by Victoria Sweet

A medical “page-turner” that traces one doctor’s “remarkable journey to the essence of medicine” (The San Francisco Chronicle).

San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country,...


Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

by Laurent Dubois

A passionate and insightful account by a leading historian of Haiti that traces the sources of the country's devastating present back to its turbulent and traumatic history

Even before the 2010 earthquake destroyed...


Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings

by Craig Brown

Hello Goodbye Hello is a daisy chain of 101 fascinating true encounters, a book that has been hailed by reviewers in London as “howlingly funny” (The Spectator), “original and a complete delight” (The...


House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East

by Anthony Shadid

A crowning achievement in the career of revered journalist Anthony Shadid—who died while on assignment in Syria in February 2012—House of Stone tells the story of rebuilding Shadid's ancestral home in Lebanon...


How Music Works

by David Byrne

How Music Works is David Byrne’s remarkable and buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about. In it he explores how profoundly music is shaped by its time and place, and he explains...


How to Be a Woman

by Caitlin Moran

Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven't been burned as witches since 1727, life isn't exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they...


I'm Your Man

by Sylvie Simmons

The legend behind such songs as “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Hallelujah” andthe poet and novelist behind such groundbreaking literary works as Beautiful Losers and Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen...


Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

by Anne Applebaum

In the long-awaited follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag, acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Eastern Europe after World War II and transformed...


Joseph Anton: A Memoir

by Salman Rushdie

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY

San Francisco Chronicle • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • The Seattle Times • The Economist • Kansas City Star • BookPage

On February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day,...


Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

by Kurt Vonnegut & Dan Wakefield

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY

Newsweek/The Daily Beast • The Huffington Post • Kansas City Star • Time Out New York • Kirkus Reviews

This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence...


Leonardo and the Last Supper

Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction 2012

by Ross King

Early in 1495, Leonardo da Vinci began work in Milan on what would become one of history's most influential and beloved works of art--The Last Supper. After a dozen years at the court of Lodovico Sforza, the...


Life After Death

by Damien Echols

The New York Times bestselling memoir by Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, who was falsely convicted of three murders and spent nearly eighteen years on Death Row-Life After Death is destined to be a...


Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History

by John Fabian Witt

Pulitzer Prize Finalist

Bancroft Prize Winner

ABA Silver Gavel Award Winner

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

In the closing days of 1862, just three weeks before Emancipation, the administration of Abraham...


Living, Thinking, Looking

by Siri Hustvedt

The internationally acclaimed novelist Siri Hustvedt has also produced a growing body of nonfiction. She has published a book of essays on painting (Mysteries of the Rectangle) as well as an interdisciplinary...


Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

by Tom Bissell

In Magic Hours, award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of The Big Bang Theory to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work...


Mao: The Real Story

by Alexander V. Pantsov & Steven I Levine

This major new biography of Mao uses extensive Russian documents previously unavailable to biographers to reveal surprising details about Mao’s rise to power and his leadership in China.

Mao Zedong was one...


Masters of the Planet

by Ian Tattersall

50,000 years ago – merely a blip in evolutionary time – our Homo sapiens ancestors were competing for existence with several other human species, just as their own precursors had been doing for millions...


Mortality

by Christopher Hitchens

On June 8, 2010, while on a book tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens was stricken in his New York hotel room with excruciating pain in his chest and thorax. As he would later write...


On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening

by Rick Moody

Rick Moody has been writing about music as long as he has been writing, and this book provides an ample selection from that output. His anatomy of the word cool reminds us that, in the postwar 40s, it was infused...


On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present

by Alan Ryan

Three decades in the making, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive histories of political philosophy in nearly a century. Both a history and an examination of human thought and behavior spanning three...


On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

by William Souder

Published on the fiftieth anniversary of her seminal book, Silent Spring, here is an indelible new portrait of Rachel Carson, founder of the environmental movement

She loved the ocean and wrote three books about...


On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War

by Bernard Wasserstein

On the Eve is the portrait of a world on the brink of annihilation. In this provocative book, Bernard Wasserstein presents a new and disturbing interpretation of the collapse of European Jewish civilization...


Power, Inc.

by David Rothkopf

The world’s largest company, Wal-Mart Stores, has revenues higher than the GDP of all but twenty-five of the world’s countries. Its employees outnumber the populations of almost a hundred nations. The world’s...


Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

by Steve Coll

An “extraordinary” and “monumental” exposé of Big Oil from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll (The Washington Post)

In this, the first hard-hitting examination of ExxonMobil—the largest and...


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

The book that started the Quiet Revolution

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who...


Red Plenty

by Francis Spufford

“Spufford cunningly maps out a literary genre of his own . . . Freewheeling and fabulous.” —The Times (London) Strange as it may seem, the gray, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairy tale. It was built...


Rise to Greatness

by David Von Drehle

The electrifying story of Abraham Lincoln's rise to greatness during the most perilous year in our nation’s history

As 1862 dawned, the American republic was at death's door. The federal government appeared...


Savage Continent

by Keith Lowe

The Second World War might have officially ended in May 1945, but in reality it rumbled on for another ten years...

The end of the Second World War in Europe is one of the twentieth century’s most iconic moments. ...


Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love

by David Talbot

Salon founder David Talbot chronicles the cultural history of San Francisco and from the late 1960s to the early 1980s when figures such as Harvey Milk, Janis Joplin, Jim Jones, and Bill Walsh helped usher from...


Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

by David Quammen

“Science writing as detective story at its best.” —Jennifer Ouellette, Scientific American A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a Scientific American Best Book of the Year, and a Finalist for the...


Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights: Eugene O'Neill, Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arth

by Stella Adler

In her long-awaited book, the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler gives us her extraordinary insights into the work of Henrik Ibsen (“The creation of the modern theater took a genius like Ibsen . . . Miller...


Subversives

by Seth Rosenfeld

     Subversives traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio,...


Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy

RBC Taylor Prize 2013

by Andrew Preston

A richly detailed, profoundly engrossing story of how religion has influenced American foreign relations, told through the stories of the men and women—from presidents to preachers—who have plotted the country’s...


The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present

by Eric Kandel

A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human...


The Big Screen

by David Thomson

The Big Screen tells the enthralling story of the movies: their rise and spread, their remarkable influence over us, and the technology that made the screen—smaller now, but ever more ubiquitous—as important...


The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature

by David George Haskell

A 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for General Nonfiction

Winner of the 2013 Best Book Award from the National Academies

A Finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Winner of the National Outdoor...


The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

by Alan Light

A venerated creator. An adored, tragic interpreter. An uncomplicated, memorable melody. Ambiguous, evocative words. Faith and uncertainty. Pain and pleasure.”

Today, “Hallelujah” is one of the most-performed...


The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

by Terry Mcdermott & Josh Meyer

The definitive account of the decade-long pursuit and capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the terrorist mastermind of 9/11

Only minutes after United 175 plowed into the World Trade Center's South Tower, people...


The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965

by William Manchester & Paul Reid

Spanning the years of 1940-1965, THE LAST LION picks up shortly after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister-when his tiny island nation stood alone against the overwhelming might of Nazi Germany. The Churchill...


The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen

by Stephen Bown

The first full-scale biography of the greatest of all polar explorers and a conqueror of the Northwest Passage as well


The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

by Jill Lepore

Renowned Harvard scholar and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has composed a strikingly original, ingeniously conceived, and beautifully crafted history of American ideas about life and death from before...


The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right

by Arthur Goldwag

From “Birthers” who claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States to counter-jihadists who believe that the Constitution is in imminent danger of being replaced with Sharia law, conspiratorial...


The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

by Robert Macfarlane

The acclaimed author of The Wild Places examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move

In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography, geology,...


The Partnership

by Philip Taubman

A terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is the mostdangerous security issue America faces today—andwe are far more vulnerable than we realize. Driven bythis knowledge, five men—all members of the Cold Warbrain...


The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson IV

The Years of Lyndon Johnson #4

National Book Critics Circle for Biography 2012, Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography 2012

by Robert A. Caro

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD,  THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE, THE MARK LYNTON HISTORY PRIZE, THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY AMERICAN HISTORY BOOK PRIZE

 ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES TEN...


The Patagonian Hare

by Claude Lanzmann, Frank Wynne & John Gaffney

“Even if I lived a hundred lives, I still wouldn’t be exhausted.” These words capture the intensity of the experiences of Claude Lanzmann, a man whose acts have always been a negation of resignation: a...


The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

by David Nasaw

A "brilliant, compelling" (The New York Times Book Review) biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, selected by the New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year and a 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Biography...


The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity

by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy

The Presidents Club, established at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration by Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover, is a complicated place: its members are bound forever by the experience of the Oval Office and yet are...


The Social Conquest of Earth

by Edward O. Wilson

New York Times Bestseller

From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson's legendary career. Sparking vigorous debate in the sciences, The...


The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet

by Robert M. Hazen

Hailed by The New York Times for writing “with wonderful clarity about science . . . that effortlessly teaches as it zips along,” nationally bestselling author Robert M. Hazen offers a radical new approach...


The Tender Hour of Twilight

by Richard Seaver, Jeannette Seaver & James Salter

From Beckett to Burroughs, The Story of O to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, an iconic literary troublemaker tells the colorful stories behind the stories

Richard Seaver came to Paris in 1950 seeking Hemingway’s...


The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran

by David Crist

The dramatic secret history of the undeclared, ongoing war between the U.S. and Iran

 

For the past three decades, the United States and Iran have been engaged in an unacknowledged secret war. This conflict...


The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

by Joyce Johnson

A groundbreaking new biography of Jack Kerouac from the author of the award-winning memoir Minor Characters

Joyce Johnson brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend in this compelling new book. Tracking...


This Living Hand: And Other Essays

by Edmund Morris

When the multitalented biographer Edmund Morris (who writes with equal virtuosity about Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Beethoven, and Thomas Edison) was a schoolboy in colonial Kenya, one of his teachers...


Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

by Jon Meacham

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY

The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Seattle Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Bloomberg Businessweek

In this...


Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

by George Dyson

“It is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence,” twenty-four-year-old Alan Turing announced in 1936. In Turing’s Cathedral, George Dyson focuses on a small...


Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital

by Eric Manheimer

In the spirit of Oliver Sacks Awakenings and the TV series House, Dr. Eric Manheimer's TWELVE PATIENTS is a memoir from the Medical Director of Bellevue Hospital that uses the plights of twelve very different...


Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

by Christopher Hayes

A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.

 

   Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one...


Wait: The Art and Science of Delay

by Frank Partnoy

A renowned financial commentator and consultant explains the mysteries and transformative power of the well-time pause, and how delay can improve all kinds of decision-making


What Money Can't Buy

by Michael J. Sandel

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their...


When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

by T.M. Luhrmann

            How does God become and remain real for modern evangelicals? How are rational, sensible people of faith able to experience the presence of a powerful yet invisible being and sustain that...


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

by Cheryl Strayed

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed....


Winter Journal

by Paul Auster

“That is where the story begins, in your body and everything will end in the body as well.”

On January 3, 2011, exactly one month before his sixty-fourth birthday, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul...


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