The Best Nonfiction of the Year So Far

Here are just a few of our favorite nonfiction books of 2017. Browse all of our selections, and find more editors' picks across a dozen categories in the Best Books of the Year So Far.

NF-Homo-Deus225Those who read and loved Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens have been eagerly anticipating his new book Homo Deus. While Sapiens looked back at our evolutionary development, this new book examines where we might be headed (Homo Deus is subtitled “A Brief History of Tomorrow”). Predicting the future isn’t as easy as deconstructing the past, and Harari openly admits the challenge—but even if he’s completely wrong in his predictions, and most of us doubt he is, Homo Deus is the kind of provocative, food-for-thought read that drew so many of us to his work in the first place. According to Harari, our future could be very different from our present—dark, technocratic, and automated—but reading about our possible fates, presented in Harari’s clear-eyed and illuminating style, sure is fascinating. --Chris Schluep


NF-Testosterone225Fine knocks it out of the park with her smart and eye-opening Testosterone Rex, her investigation into why we give credit to (or blame) the hormone for so many behaviors. With a writing style that reminds me of Mary Roach and her gift for seeking out the ridiculous, Fine puts under the microscope our assumption that testosterone is the wonder hormone that makes men risk takers and competitive and, in its absence, women less so. This might sound like heavy stuff—like the gender studies classes I avoided in college—but Fine invites you to laugh with her as she punctures outdated notions and points out obvious weaknesses in the mighty social (not scientific) barricade of sex-specific dogma and the daily throwaway comments that carelessly reinforces that wall. After reading Testosterone Rex, my new resolution is to never say "Boys will be boys" again. Because while boys are, of course, boys, we owe it to them—and to girls—to understand that they are not defined by this single hormone. --Adrian Liang


NF-Art-Invisibility225If you're reading this, you're reading it on some sort of electronic device that's connected to the internet. Chances are, you do more than just read on your devices: email long ago superseded the post, social media keeps us in touch with friends and family, and online retailers offer low prices, wide selection, and the satisfaction of shopping in your yoga pants. In Mitnick's latest, The Art of Invisibility, the reformed hacker lays out the basics of internet security for the rest of us, covering everything from password management for average surfers to more extreme measures for the "anally retentive privacy activist," including strong email encryption, secure messaging apps, and anonymous Web browsing. (Unsure which camp you're in? Ask yourself if you've ever laundered Bitcoin.) If it all seems a bit much, recall this line from Joseph Heller's Catch-22: “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.” --Jon Foro


Word-by-Word225Word by Word is part memoir, part history of dictionaries – in particular, those published by Stamper’s employer, Merriam Webster. Language lovers (can we call them logophiles, Ms. Stamper?) will have a fine time in the author’s company as she discusses the unpredictable and uncontrollable ways of her mother tongue. Stamper conveys the delight, frustration, and satisfaction her vocation entails. She has that special “feeling for language” she calls sprachgefühl: “the odd buzzing in your brain that tells you that ‘planting the lettuce’ and ‘planting misinformation’ are different uses of ‘plant.’” “Word by Word” offers laymen a glimpse into a crack lexicographer’s mind, and it turns out to be – definitively – a very entertaining place indeed. --Sarah Harrison Smith


NF-American-Kingpin225The Silk Road was once an ancient trade route through Asia, but in 2011 an idealistic young man named Ross Ulbricht used the moniker for a new enterprise that the internet age had never seen; A Dark Web site where everything from drugs and guns to passports could be bought and sold—this was the new Silk Road. Ulbricht was an extreme libertarian who never imagined his revolutionary new free market enterprise would become a billion dollar empire, or that he would be sought by multiple agencies of law enforcement over the coming years. American Kingpin takes us back in time, from Ulbricht’s early failures to becoming Dread Pirate Roberts, the name he adopted to hide himself online. We see how a small pink pill in an anonymous envelope caught the eye of a low-level Homeland security employee and became the catalyst for Federal agency power struggles, and cops who became criminals over the course of a massive manhunt for someone they weren’t even sure existed. The cast of characters involved, those who Ulbricht enlisted to aid him and those who worked to bring him down are a fascinating mix of personalities, but none more so than Dread Pirate Roberts himself. American Kingpin is addictive reading, and whether or not you are already familiar with the Silk Road, by the time this book ends you will likely want to know even more about the Dark Web and the legacy of the world’s largest online retailer of illegal goods. --Seira Wilson


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