26 Very Important Nonfiction Books You Should Be Reading

As recommended by you.

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1. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Penguin Poetry

Citizen weaves essays, images, and poetry together to examine the experience of race and racism in Western society through sharp vignettes of everyday discrimination and prejudice, and longer meditations on the violence – whether linguistic or physical – that has impacted on the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan, and the author herself.

Suggested by @ingridmatts.

2. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Penguin

As she showed with her bestselling books No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Klein is unafraid of going after Big Ideas. This Changes Everything is about changing the world before the world itself changes so drastically that no one is safe. Klein holds up the links between the global economy and climate change and urges a rethink on all fronts if we are to make it. Either we leap – or we sink.

Recommended by @_SuperHugh.

3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Picador

Comedian, actor, producer, and general delight Amy Poehler has followed in the steps of her onscreen collaborator Tina Fey with this offering. Yes Please is a mishmash of things: part-memoir, part-self-help manual, often a how-to manual. It's also very sweet, with vignettes from Poehler (and her parents!) about life, career, parenthood, divorce, and everything else she can think of.

Suggested by literally everyone.

4. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

Pantheon

Jefferson is no novice at spinning a splendid nonfiction yarn (she won the Pulitzer Prize for her cultural criticism back in 1995) and Negroland is no exception. It is a memoir and biography of sorts: her memories of an upper middle-class Chicago childhood and the stories of her parents (a celebrated physician and a socialite), all seen through the peculiarly American cultural prism of race, class, and sex, spanning the decades of tumultuous interior and external life.

5. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy by Gabriella Coleman

Verso

In a world where activism has taken on more and more non-corporeal forms, global activist collective Anonymous stood out. Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of the group just as some of its members were turning to political protest and disruption. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is full of tiny details from a subculture still largely unknown even in this internet age, from the history of “trolling” to the ethics and metaphysics of hacking, via the origins and manifold meanings of “the lulz”.

Suggested by @zararah.

6. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Ebury Press

Following her 2013 debut, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)), reigning queen of TV rom-com Kaling has turned out another. It's more of the same: anecdotes and life lessons from the writer/producer/actor as she carries on her journey to find fulfilment and adventure in adulthood.

Suggested by @stephinitely85 and @chelseab343.

7. The Ugly Game by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert

Simon & Schuster

If you like your sporting scandals juicy and detail-rich, you can't really get more detailed and juicy than the fallout after the tiny country of Qatar (a country with sweltering summertime temperatures and almost no football tradition or infrastructure) won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Blake and Calvert have the most comprehensive account of the entire affair yet.

(Disclosure: Heidi Blake is UK investigations editor at BuzzFeed.)

8. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Picador

In the summer of 1990, Rentzenbrink's brother Matty was knocked down by a car on the way home from a night out. The Last Act of Love is a memoir, the story of what happened to the author and her brother, and the unimaginable decision she and her parents had to make eight years after that night.

9. The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills

Simon & Schuster

If the million-and-one thinkpieces are to be believed, we are living in a time of unprecedented sexual freedom. The reality might be a little more complex. Hills' book (which contains social commentary and first-person anecdotes from across the English-speaking planet) is about finding the line between what is real and what we report – how have the ways we talk about sex changed in the 50 years since the sexual revolution? And just as importantly, what are the new norms?

Suggested by @kateileaver.

10. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Canongate

Caitlin Doughty was a death-obsessed twentysomething medieval history graduate when she took a job at a crematorium – and turned a morbid curiosity into her life’s work. This funny, fascinating book is a a record of her time there, working alongside the people who see us in our final form. Expect lots of gallows humour (LOL), and a convincing case for a "healthier" attitude to death.

Suggested by @lou_richardson.

11. The Sisters Are Alright By Tamara Winfrey Harris

Berrett-Koehler

From Michelle Obama to the woman on the street, black women bear the burden of a set of pervasive stereotypes. In The Sisters Are Alright, Winfrey Harris tackles these caricatures – from Mammy through to the "angry black woman" – head-on with a very specific weapon: the truth. She talks to African-American women about their lives and reveals the effects of anti–black-woman propaganda – as well as pushing back against it.

12. What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas

Simon & Schuster

What do you do when your husband dies? How do you cope with your daughter's diagnosed illness? Where do you grieve for a dead dog? How do you accept, appreciate, and enjoy, when life keeps throwing curveballs?What Comes Next and How to Like It is a memoir – covering a marriage, children, grandchildren, and friendship – that asks all those questions, and wonders at the answers.

Suggested by @alexanderchee.

13. Severed by Frances Larson

Granta

The severed head is a constant fascination. As the site of four of the five senses, they are prizes, from shrunken heads and trophies of war to grave-robbing phrenologists and that photograph of a teenage Damien Hirst posing with a severed head in a mortuary. In her book, anthropologist Larson explores the macabre history of the decapitated head – and why we're all so fixated.

Suggested by @youngvulgarian.

14. Blackout by Sarah Hepola

Two Roads

There are a surprising number of sobriety memoirs out there, but few have received the critical praise Hepola's effort has. Blackout chronicles her attempts to live a sober life after years of blackouts that became more and more frequent and the careful construction of a self-deprecating joker persona. This is about piecing together and reinventing the person she was after years of burying herself in alcohol.

Suggested by @esther_MK.

15. Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy

W&N

After years of writing, campaigning, and commentating on women's issues, Headscarves and Hymens is Eltahawy's first book, a "plea for outrage and action on behalf of women across the Middle East and North Africa". The author blames the rank inequality that mars the lives of many women on "a toxic mix of culture and religion”, a conclusion that has brought her praise and criticism in equal amounts.

Suggested by @sarahmedway.

16. Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal

Portobello

It's common knowledge that "women's work" (usually the essential but unpaid jobs) is unduly diminished and treated as if it has no value. So what if, Katrine Marçal asks, women just...stopped doing it? What would happen? In this book, Marçal asks us to reimagine the world of economics and consider what happens when all labour is created equal.

Suggested by @lottelydia.

17. Dirty Chick by Antonia Murphy

Gotham Books

Another memoir, this time telling the story of moving across the world from the bustling city of San Francisco to the rich pastures of Purua, New Zealand, to begin a new life as an artisan farmer. Former magazine journalist Murphy, her husband, and their children become smallholders (complete with livestock and its attendant troubles), as well as coping with other family challenges.

Suggested by @mybookburrow.

18. Penelope Fitzgerald by Hermione Lee

Knopf

Penelope Fitzgerald's career began a little late – when she was nearly 60 years old – but she went on to garner a huge audience and critical acclaim (she won both the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award). Lee's biography is a thorough and fascinating examination of the author's life.

Suggested by @alexanderchee.

19. Spinster by Kate Bolick

Crown

"Nearly every female writer I know has had to decide at some point whether or not she’ll accept an assignment to write about her dating life," writes Bolick in her book, Spinster, before noting that it is "a conundrum that is almost never presented to men". She explores the state of female singledom in the form of a memoir (and alongside a series of biographies of some of her heroes, or "awakeners") that becomes something else.

Suggested by @esther_MK.

20. Trans: A Memoir by Juliet Jacques

Verso

In July 2012, at the age of 30, Juliet Jacques underwent sex reassignment surgery – and wrote an unflinching series of columns for The Guardian about the process. This book is a continuation of sorts, a memoir about growing up and self-identification in a world with rapidly changing gender politics. This is the personal intersecting with the political, and something completely beyond even those things.

Suggested by @blue_stockings.

21. Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, and 639 others

Blue Rider Press

Women in Clothes is a conversation among women – from all sorts of religious and ethnic backgrounds, single and not, young and old – about one of the things they all have in common: the subject of clothing. How do the garments we wear define our lives? If you're looking for a book to dip in and out of, this might be just the ticket.

Suggested by @SusannahOtter.

22. Long Time No See by Hannah Lowe

Periscope

Chick, a half-Chinese Jamaican immigrant, worked long hours at night to support his family. He was a legendary gambler who would vanish into the shadows of east London to win at cards or dice. He was also Hannah Lowe's father, and in this memoir Lowe recalls his world – one of conmen and card sharps, of Jamaica and England – and her place in it. It was BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week back in July.

23. Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

Plume Books

Back in 2011, Petersen wrote her first of many "Scandals" posts for The Hairpin, and now there's a book. Part biography, part cultural history, these are the stories of Hollywood – drugs, love and sex, illicit affairs, botched cover-ups, and "illegitimate' children – as viewed through the lens of film and social history.

(Disclosure: Anne Helen Petersen is a features writer for BuzzFeed.)

24. It's All in Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan

Chatto & Windus

As many as a third of men and women visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained, and in most, these psychosomatic illnesses have an emotional root. Consultant neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan takes readers on a fascinating journey of these patients, from the most extreme cases – paralysis, seizures, blindness – to the more quotidian problems of tiredness and pain. In looking at the human condition, we find the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves.

Suggested by @SusannahOtter.

25. On Immunity by Eula Biss

Graywolf Press

It's something of a cliche to discover a burning interest in something only after becoming a parent, but Eula Biss's book rises above that to be a genuinely educational and fascinating thing. On Immunity investigates the myths, historical and contemporary, surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the collective. Why are we so scared of vaccines, and by extension, the government, and the medical establishment?

Suggested by @_sshaw.

26. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Atria / 37 INK

To misquote Girls leading lady Hannah Horvath, Issa Rae is "a voice of an awkward generation". After exploding as an exciting new talent via her web series, Rae expanded on the theme of being awkward and black with this collection of humorous essays on what it's like to navigate life when you have warring identities.

If we haven't mentioned your favourite, add it in the comments below so others can find it!