58.5 of the books I read in 2012 were nonfiction: 34 general nonfiction, 15 memoirs, and 7 essay collections (the 0.5 comes from an anthology that was a mix of fiction and nonfiction). That’s 1.5 more nonfiction books than I read last year. 2012 was also pretty awesome because this blog was a finalist in the Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards in the nonfiction category! I’ve had a pretty terrific year in nonfiction reading.
Most of the books on this list are from 2012, though a few are from the past couple of years. My three favorites are featured first; the rest of the books on the list are in alphabetical order. Since a significant portion of my nonfiction reading is devoted to women’s history and women’s studies, I split the list; that one will appear later this week:
The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone (2011)
Does the media control what we think? No! insists NPR’s Brooke Gladstone. She provides a brilliant, complex analysis of the ways that the media and the public play off each other to create a distorted hall of mirrors. It’s witty, it’s entertaining, and it’s all presented in comic book form! Read my review here.
The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang (2012)
Living in Xi’an under Mao’s rule, traditional Chinese rituals were forbidden. Yet at the age of 71, Huang’s grandmother becomes insistent that she wants to be buried rather than cremated, and her family spends the next fifteen years secretly planning a funeral that is forbidden by the government. It’s positively fascinating. Read my review here.
Drift by Rachel Maddow (2012)
The average person’s concept of what it means to be at war is far from what the founding fathers had in mind when they sat down to write the Constitution. Focusing on key decisions by US presidents from the past few decades, Maddow shows how the country’s involvement in war(s) and the military industrial complex became what it is today. Read my review here.
Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder (2012)
Bitter Brew charts the century-long reign of the Anheuser-Busch beer empire. The company got its beginnings in the late 1800s, beat out its competitors and found a way to survive Prohibition, then completely crumbled in 2008 when it got sold to a foreign company. It’s fast-paced and very entertaining. Read my review here.
Breasts by Florence Williams (2012)
Science writer Florence Williams weaves together the cultural, environmental, and anthropological history of breasts. The twentieth century sparked unprecedented changes in both breast development and breast cancers. The book is at turns terrifying, entertaining, and eye-opening. Read my review here.
Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe (2012)
Part memoir, part investigation, Sharpe looks back on her college years when she struggled with depression during the unprecedented rise of antidepressants. She explores the social, cultural, and medical issues that arise around the proliferation of antidepressants, especially when the person taking them is still in their formative years. Read my review here.
Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen (2012)
Franzen’s latest collection of twenty-one speeches and essays spans from 1998 through 2011. A wide range of topics are discussed, from technology and the environment to literary favorites and September 11. The book is worth it for the title essay alone, but I loved all of it. Read my review here.
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson (2010)
Written with cinematic flair, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. charts the behind-the-scenes making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and recounts how they got squeaky clean Audrey Hepburn to sign on to a film adaptation of Truman Capote’s “immoral” book. Wasson argues that the iconic film ended up charting a new direction for American women. Read my review here.
The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser (2011)
In 2009, the implementation of Google’s personalization and prediction features changed the Internet. Pariser argues that this move to personalize the information has created a bubble where your ideas and interests are rarely challenged, and there’s no way to opt out of it. It’s eye-opening. Read my review here.
Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano (2012)
This book charts the history of Mexican food in the United States, from its humble immigrant beginnings to its current place in the American mainstream. Arellano raises interesting points about authenticity and cultural appropriation, considering Mexicans have been some of the last people who have benefited from the mass-marketing of Mexican food. Read my review here.
4 thoughts on “Favorites of 2012: Nonfiction”
Ooh, definitely a couple here to add to my to-read list. I also thought Drift was great, especially since it’s a subject that is talked about so little but is really so important, or at least *should* be. I was glad someone as smart as Maddow took it on.
A few of my other favorite non-fiction reads were Flagrant Conduct by Dale Carpenter, about the Lawrence vs Texas case – one of those where there’s a lot of wrong info that’s basically accepted as fact, and he lays out the actual truths very clearly, and of course it was just a huge turning point for LGBT rights; The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson – about the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South and into the other areas of the country before and during the civil rights movement; and To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild – a very interesting account of WWI, told through the stories of a handful of British citizens on different sides of things: some soldiers, some politicians, some pacifists, etc, and some of them from the same families…I thought it was a very inventive way to make a non-new story feel fresh, and also, to be honest, we learn practically nothing about the first world war in school in the US, so I was glad to finally feel like I had a hold on it.
Also just added a bunch of these to my read list. Gracias!
I love love love The Influencing Machine! The Little Red Guard sounds fascinating! It’s going on my tbr list for 2013.
I loved The Influencing Machine—not only is the topic interesting, but the format works so well for its message. The Filter Bubble sounds fascinating; it’s been added to my list.