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The Best Nonfiction of 2020

How To Hygge Your Reading Life

Last week I examined fiction that received the most love in 2020 from book reviewers. Today I will look at nonfiction. I compiled 36 notable lists with more than 500 books, including our own favorites from the Cook Memorial Public Library District staffers. Thirty-eight books, from social commentary and history to nature and humor, rose to the top. I’ve added links to our catalog for book descriptions, and listed the Cook staffers who recommended the titles. Did any of your favorites make it?

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Eighteen Times:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, was the clear winner. This book, which examines how historical caste systems impact everyday American lives, was recommended by Cook Memorial staffers Nate, Rob, Jenn, Amy V. and Ellen J.

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Sixteen Times:

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, recommended by Nate, Joe, Jean and Becky.

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Fifteen Times:

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey, recommended by Becky.

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Fourteen Times:

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine.

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Twelve Times:

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne, recommended by Rob.

Vesper Flights: New and Collected Essays by Helen MacDonald, recommended by Erica.

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Ten Times:

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, recommended by Jenn.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and the Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson, recommended by Jean and Ellen J.

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Nine Times:

The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World by Patrik Svensson, recommended by Jean.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama, recommended by Joe.

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio.

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Eight Times:

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song by Kevin Young, recommended by Jo.

Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir by Lucy Crawford.

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener.

The World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, recommended by Julia.

Wow, No Thank You: Essays by Samantha Irby.

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Seven Times:

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, recommended by Jo, Mary Lou, Heather and Jenn.


Six Times:

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth and Power by Deirdre Mask, recommended by Dave and Amy V.

Beauty in the Breaking: A Memoir by Michele Harper.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami.

The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore.

Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick.

Fathoms: The World in a Whale by Rebecca Giggs.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall.

Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith, recommended by Erica.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad, recommended by Joe and Marianne.

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght, recommended by Sarah.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz, recommended by Jenn.

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Five Times:

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bull Buford, recommended by Jenn.

Homie: Poems by Danez Smith.

Mill Town: A Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault.My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980 by Rick Perlstein.

Recollections of my Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit, recommended by Becky.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, recommended by Julia, Heather and Jenn.

You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe, recommended by Jean and Rob.

Sources: Amazon, American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal Long List, Barnes & Noble, BookPage, Book Riot, Buzz Feed, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Cook Memorial Public Library Staff Favorites, Goodreads, Entertainment, Esquire, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, The Guardian, Kirkus, Library Journal, Library Hub, Los Angeles Times, New York Public Library, New Yorker, New York Times, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Real Simple, School Library Journal, Slate, Time, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Vox, Vulture, Washington Post.

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