List of Top Ten Best Selling Nonfiction Books 2016 Ranking
10. The Witches, Stacy Schiff
Best-selling biographer Stacy Schiff aims her keen research skills at U.S. history in The Witches: Salem, 1692. With her impressive attention to detail and atmosphere, she conjures an eerie vision of the 17th century. Don’t come demanding a satisfying solution to the juiciest mystery about the Salem witch trials of that year like why on Earth they happened but Schiff offers an exhaustive look at who, what, where and how. And if she can’t answer the why, it’s unlikely anyone ever will.
9. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
In any other year, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his teenage son about being black in America a nod to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time would have been a compelling piece of commentary. This year, it has been a fundamental phenomenon as the nation has struggled with police brutality, racial unrest, and manifest inequity. Mortal danger is what black men live in; Coates writes, and their his existence is a yellow one. There is no tidy ending for the book, or for reality, but perhaps Coates felt some small piece of closure when he was able to dedicate his National Book Award to Prince Jones, his friend who was killed by police in Maryland in 2000.
8. The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson
Fiction readers have long admired the way characters in Robinson’s novels, like the Pulitzer-winning Gilead, are animated by faith that is deeply considered yet never overbearing. In her new collection of essays, Robinson lifts the curtain on her theological thinking. She engages with the great thinkers of the Protestant Reformation while raising critical questions about the current state of Christianity in America, where the zeal of some believers leaves her concerned. But she’s hopeful, too. On topics ranging from servanthood to grace, she reminds us that practicing Protestantism, so commonplace in 21st-century America, began as a frighteningly, passionately radical act.
7. Destiny & Power, Jon Meacham
To the casual observer, George H. W. Bush appears one of our less great presidents–sandwiched between the glamorous Reagan and the charismatic Clinton, and then overshadowed by his two-termer son. But in Meacham’s telling, Bush’s lack of verve becomes his greatest asset. Drawing upon open access to Bush and his diaries, Meacham depicts Bush as a mysterious figure. Bush, here, is imbued with the values of the Greatest Generation, and then elevated to the nation’s highest office at the moment those values lost their primacy. Through one man’s long journey through politics, we see America’s changing attitudes toward power and duty in the twentieth century.
6. Black Man in a White Coat, Damon Tweedy
One of Tweed’s first memorable experiences at Duke Medical School had nothing to do with cadavers or practice patients. It was when his professor mistook him for a janitor, on hand in the classroom, apparently, to change a burnt-out light bulb. Instead of making Tweedy angry, the sight filled him with anxiety and a propulsive fear that he was not good enough to get where he goes: through Duke, to Yale Law School and eventually into practice as a psychiatrist. This clear-eyed memoir doesn’t just deal with Tweed’s experiences at the intersection of race and medicine he takes on the backgrounds of his patients, too.
5. Being Nixon, Evan Thomas
Richard M. Nixon is one of the most endlessly psychoanalyzed figures in recent history, so credit to Thomas for making an analysis of the life of the 37th President feel new and vital. Thomas covers Nixon’s painful childhood, his vexed relationship with Dwight Eisenhower and his wilderness years and his presidency in a book that’s fair-minded but not overly forgiving. The book’s approach can be summed up in its brief accounting of Nixon’s final years in a half-exile, half-public life. Being Nixon is not wistful, but it’s a picture of a human, rather than a cartoon villain.
4. The Brothers, Masha Gessen
This is the story of two of the most despised men in recent history: the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan, and Dzhokar, who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. They created one kind of chaos, but they came out of another: descended from Chechens deported by Stalin to Central Asia, the Tsarnaev family emigrated to the U.S. from Dagestan in 1994 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There the brothers entered a demimonde rarely seen or written about, of young immigrants trying and failing to find a foothold, an identity, a career, even a permanent address in a new country. A tremendous piece of tireless reporting, The Brothers doesn’t offer easy answers, but it fills in the missing context around an otherwise inexplicable act of grotesque violence.
3. Negroland, Margo Jefferson
Jefferson’s education in 1950s Chicago was almost idyllic. Home life was comfortable enough her doctor father, and socialite mother were members of the city’s black bourgeoisie, and she and her sister were well fed, well cared for, pointedly well dressed. But the forces of the time were sure, and with them came different pressures that eventually sunk Jefferson into despair yet one more thing she wasn’t “allowed” to have as a black woman. Jefferson uses the great poem arrangement, alternating between poetry and prose, despair and triumph, to tell a tale that is as forceful for the reader as it seems cathartic for her.
2. Barbarian Days, William Finnegan
How many ways can you catch a wave? You’ll never get tired of watching Finnegan do it. A staff writer for The New Yorker, he leads a counter life as an obsessive surfer, traveling around the world, throwing his vulnerable, merely human body into line after line of waves in search of brief moments of grace. Finnegan grew up in California and Hawaii but searches out spots in Australia, Fiji, South Africa, Majorca, each of which is a tiny, fractals complex universe of crashing swells and currents and the wind and underwater geography. “The close, painstaking study of a small patch of coast,” he writes, “every eddy and slant, even down to individual rocks, and in every combination of tide and the wind and swell is the principal occupation of surfers at their local break.” It’s an occupation that has never before been described with this tenderness and deftness.
1. H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
This is a memoir by a woman who lost a parent and found a hawk. Macdonald, a scholar at Cambridge College, went to pieces after her father died, and in her mourning, she did something unexpected: she purchased a goshawk. Macdonald was already an experienced handler of birds, but goshawks are large and wild and fierce even by hawk standards, and she’d never tried to tame one before. The war of wills that ensued may have made the goshawk tamer, but it gets Macdonald wilder too. It also showed strangely healing and redemptive, and she explains her avian adversary in language so breathtaking and immediate, you’d swear one was sitting on your shoulder.