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Favorite Nonfiction of 2014

Aside from pulling together my end of the year reading statistics, I think my favorite post of the year is this one, my favorite nonfiction reads of the year. It’s so satisfying to scroll back through all of the books I read this year and think about which ones I loved most, and which ones I wish more people would read.

Like my list of favorite fiction of 2014, this list doesn’t include just books published in 2014, it’s pulled from all the books I read this year. I did a little better job incorporating backlist into my nonfiction this year, and this list reflects some of that. I also don’t think these books are necessarily the best books of the year — I’m not widely read enough to even claim that — they’re just the books that I loved most.

nonfiction 1

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison – This was my pick for Book Riot’s Best Books of 2014 List (and not just because someone beat me to my other favorite of the year, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, it really was my favorite). I loved the way Jamison took a topic and came at it from all angles, never losing sight of these big questions about how we connect with one another. (Review).

The Secretary by Kim Ghattas – This book about Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, written by a BBC foreign correspondent, was perfectly in my wheelhouse. Ghattas’ experience growing up in Lebanon gives her a really interesting perspective on U.S. foreign policy that I appreciated. (Review)

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor – This book, all about the history of the Star Wars franchise and it’s impact on contemporary culture, was one of the more surprising and delightful books I read this year. (Review)

nonfiction 2

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – True story, I bought two copies of this book, the audio because I wanted to hear Amy Poehler read it and the hardcover because I wanted to be able to see all of the interesting things she was reading to me. This book reads like sitting down with a smarter, older friend and getting excellent advice about apologizing, motherhood, and taking risks. I laughed and I cried and I’m so glad I read it.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg – Of all the books I didn’t write reviews of this year, this is the book I most regret not sharing in detail. Nordberg, a Swedish journalist, shares the story of Afghanistan’s “bacha posh” – girls who spend most of their childhood dressed at boys. It’s a fascinating phenomenon in a culture that has impossible and damaging gender standards.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty – I didn’t know that I wanted to learn all about what it takes to be a mortician until I read this memoir. In addition to being just a bit gross and very funny, this book has a lot of smart things to say about how our cultural response to death needs to evolve. (Review)

nonfiction 3

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala – This memoir, about a woman who lost her entire family in a 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, is very hard to read. But it’s also a beautiful memorial to the family she lost and complicated meditation on grief. (Review)

Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith – If you are looking for a hard-hitting look at the British royal family, this is not the book. But if you’re curious about the life and personality of a monarch, this book is delightful. (Review)

The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – This is another book I just finished last week and boy, was it a good one. Ward’s memoir about losing five young men in five years is a moving look at what it means to be young and black in America. It’s so relevant now, really a must read for almost everyone  even though, at times, it feels like Ward doesn’t quite have the distance from these moments that she needs to be her most effective as a memoirist.

Honorable Mentions: Unbroken and Seabiscuit by Lauren Hillenbrand, Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim, Console Wars by Blake J. Harris, and On Immunity by Eula Biss

And that’s my list of favorite nonfiction for 2014! It’s been a really stellar year of reading, and I’m so grateful for that. I’m taking a little blogging break through Christmas, probably right up until the New Year when I’ll be back with a look back at my reading stats for 2014 and a look ahead to my plans for 2015. Happy holidays, everyone!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • BermudaOnion(Kathy) December 23, 2014, 9:21 am

    I do love good nonfiction so I’m adding all of these books to my wish list. Sadly, I haven’t read a single one.

  • Kerry M December 23, 2014, 9:26 am

    SO many good books on this list, and so many I have to add to my own reading stacks! I’ve been itching to get to The Men We Reaped for a while now, and you just moved it up my list. And so glad to see more love for How Star Wars Conquered the Universe… I loved that book.

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:21 pm

      Wasn’t it delightful? I was excited to read it, but I was completely surprised as how much I loved that one. I’ve recommended it many times.

  • Anita December 23, 2014, 9:51 am

    I’ve only read the book about girls in Kabul, and I have the Amy Pohler book in audio. Smoke looks great, so many books.

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:22 pm

      Smoke Gets In Your Eyes was really great. Really gross, in parts, but also funny and very smart.

  • Bettina @ Books, Bikes, and Food December 23, 2014, 11:28 am

    I’m loving the looks of The Secretary. 🙂
    Happy Holidays to you too!

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:23 pm

      I knew that one was going to be right up my alley, and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

  • Belle Wong December 23, 2014, 12:20 pm

    Great list, Kim! Smoke Gets in Your Eyes looks interesting. I’ll be adding it to my to-read list. Happy holidays!

  • Heather December 23, 2014, 1:00 pm

    I loved Elizabeth the Queen.

  • tanya (52 books or bust) December 23, 2014, 3:10 pm

    Surprised to see Elizabeth The Queen on your list. There are so many books about the royals out there, it is hard to find a good one. But if you say this one is good, I’ll go for it. I’m a royal lover and think that Queen has lived in such fascinating times.

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:24 pm

      I actually haven’t read many books on the royals. I picked this one up after seeing a short documentary on the Queen and feeling curious to learn more. It’s a pretty kind book — she skims over some possibly dark parts of the Queen’s story — but overall I enjoyed her approach.

  • Sarah's Book Shelves December 24, 2014, 7:23 am

    Great list! I added The Underground Girls of Kabul to my TBR after Nonfiction November. And everyone seems to be talking about The Empathy Exams. I also loved Unbroken and Seabiscuit, which I read years ago.

    And – Sally Bedell Smith is so good at profiling women!

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:48 pm

      I am curious to pick up some of her other biographies. I think she did one on the Kennedy women? Or maybe I’m mistaking her for someone else.

  • Sandy December 24, 2014, 10:32 am

    I have looked forward to this list! You read so many non-fiction, I consider you the WORD on it all. The only one I have read is one of your honorable mentions, Empty Mansions. All the others are going on the list.

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:48 pm

      Aww, thank you 🙂 I hope you find something great to read!

  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes December 24, 2014, 1:39 pm

    So many great books! I loved Yes Please, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Men We Reaped, and I still need to read The Underground Girls of Kabul.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey December 28, 2014, 12:05 pm

    Like Kathy, I’m going to be adding all of these which I haven’t read to my to-read list. I also loved Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and The Underground Girls of Kabul and I’ve heard great things about many of the other books on the list.

  • Trisha December 28, 2014, 8:11 pm

    I got Smoke Gets in Your Eyes for Xmas and I can’t wait to read it!

    • Kim December 28, 2014, 8:48 pm

      I think you will like that one a lot!

  • Melissa December 29, 2014, 1:44 pm

    I’m still itching to read The Empathy Exams and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. I’ll probably pick them up after the new year. I think Poehler’s book might be my next Audible pick, too.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) December 29, 2014, 5:32 pm

    I am pretty sure it was you who introduced me to how good fiction could be!

  • Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm December 30, 2014, 12:24 pm

    I listened to Wave last year on audio. I was pregnant at the time… so extra hormones… and holy geez did I cry a lot in my car. Twice I had to pull over because it made me cry so much I couldn’t see to drive safely!

    I liked Elizabeth the Queen a lot too. Were you also surprised by how often horses were mentioned? 🙂

    • Kim January 3, 2015, 6:24 pm

      Yes! I didn’t know she was so into horses. That was a fun fact.

  • Becca Lostinbooks January 1, 2015, 7:42 pm

    If there is anyone I am going to listen to about NF, it’s the girls behind Nonfic Nov.! Sharing this one!

  • susan January 1, 2015, 9:32 pm

    Unbroken blew me away with the amount of research that it took to put it together but still being a riveting narrative. I’m interested in the Empathy Exams and also 33 Men about the Chilean miners. I need to read that !

    • Kim January 3, 2015, 6:24 pm

      Oh yes, I remember that book about the miners coming up this year. I wish I’d gotten to read it!

  • Mysterious Bibliophile January 2, 2015, 12:35 pm

    These all sound fascinating! I am adding The Underground Girls of Kabul to my list as we speak.

  • Lu January 2, 2015, 2:20 pm

    There are so many books on this list that I’ve been meaning to read – Wave, Men We Reaped, The Empathy Exams. I loved loved loved Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, but I wish I had listened to Yes, Please on audio. I didn’t dislike it, but I think it would have just enjoyed it so much more on audio.

    • Kim January 3, 2015, 6:25 pm

      I liked it on audio, especially the extra touches with different readers and some scenes from Parks and Rec. It was a good way to experience that book.

  • Maphead January 4, 2015, 8:58 pm

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Therefore, I must read it! Men We Reaped sounds very promising. I gotta read that one, too!!