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2010-2019: The Decade’s 25 Best Nonfiction Books

On the eve of a new decade, we take a fond look back over some of the best nonfiction from the 2010s.
by Michael Benninger | Dec 20 2019

This has been a banner decade for publishers of nonfiction, as sales have steadily outpaced fictional literature every year since 2013. So as the curtains draw to a close on the 2010s, what better time than now to take a look back at the most noteworthy nonfiction published since the end of the aughts.

In no particular order, here are 25 titles from Blinkist’s library, each of which first appeared on shelves during the past 10 years. And in case you’re still doing some last-minute holiday shopping, all of these books also make great gifts.

1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This eye-opening report about the US criminal justice system reveals how racial bias combined with the War on Drugs to result in the wildly disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans for crimes related to controlled substances.

2. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Find out exactly what causes cancer and learn how malignant tumors develop and spread in this illuminating look at the deadly disease and the continuing efforts to discover a cure.

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Exposing the medical industry’s shameful exploitation of black Americans, this captivating investigation tells the story of a poor tobacco farmer whose stolen cells played a pivotal role in research that led to cures for polio and other major diseases.

4. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

If you’ve ever wondered how much harm humanity has inflicted upon the world, this book explains how deforestation, industrialization, and climate change are responsible for the planet’s plummeting biodiversity.

5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In an open letter to his adolescent son — and in an effort to educate younger generations about the reality of racism in America — the author details his own experiences with violence, poverty, and systemic neglect.

6. The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt by Andrea Wulf

This biography of the visionary 19th-century explorer Alexander Von Humboldt outlines his understanding of the universe as a unified organism and explains how — even in the 1800s — it was apparent that humans were wreaking havoc on our environment.

7. Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

Discover what life was like in Russia during the country’s tumultuous shift from communism to capitalism as people who witnessed the transformation share first-hand accounts of their experiences.

8. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer

Learn the truth about the most powerful people in the Republican Party in this unmasking of the self-concerned conservatives who’ve been manipulating American politics for nearly 50 years.

9. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo

Gain an intimate understanding of day-to-day life in India’s infamous Annawadi slum by reading about the families who dream of escaping the deadly, disease-ridden neighborhood.

10. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

By detailing stories about Milwaukee residents who were removed from their homes for failure to pay their rent or mortgage, this book describes how evictions are often unnecessary and they destroy families and communities alike.

11. The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Catch up with some of the latest developments in the world of physics, including a current theory that chronological time is a mere illusion and there’s no such thing as “the present.”

12. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Discover the experiences and events that shaped the iconic innovator behind Apple in this in-depth biography about the man who helped define modern computing and revolutionize how humanity uses technology.

13. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Immerse yourself in the inside story about the stratospheric rise and cataclysmic fall of CEO Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos, which claimed to have developed a miraculous blood-testing device, yet it ultimately proved to be an elaborate fabrication.

14. All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and The Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

Underscoring the fact that women don’t need to be in romantic relationships with men in order to feel complete, this book encourages unattached females to embrace their singledom by learning about the evolution of unmarried women in America.

15. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

From his daring escape from slavery to his role in drafting the Emancipation Proclamation, find out everything you ever wanted to know about the influential statesman, orator, and abolitionist who helped change the course of American history.

16. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Keefe

In this deep-dive into one of the darkest and most divisive chapters in Irish history, the leader of a left-wing political party instructs an IRA volunteer to murder a Northern Irish woman suspected of being a British spy.

17. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein

Detailing the many ways in which our destructive behavior is destroying the planet, the author and activist behind this book describes how we’re losing the fight against climate change, but it’s not yet too late to save our home if we join forces and act fast.

18. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

By shining a light on the link between ancestry and athleticism, the author of this book explains that although practice and perseverance can lead to success at a sport, inherited traits play an even more significant role.

19. Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

North Korean defectors share first-hand accounts of their experiences living under the oppressive Kim Dynasty in this collection of stories about brave individuals who escaped the isolated nation.

20. The Courage to be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change Your Life, and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

Centered around the philosophy of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, this meditation on success and disappointment explains how it’s possible to achieve lasting change in your life by disregarding the thoughts of others.

21. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

By summarizing decades of research into psychology and human behavior, this book argues that the human mind comprises two distinct systems, one of which reacts instinctively while the other requires more effort and attention.

22. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Familiarize yourself with the most significant events in humanity’s 300,000-year history by reading about our species’ journey from primitive apes to the top of the food chain and into the modern era.

23. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Dispelling the myth that introverts are inferior to their outspoken counterparts, this book demonstrates how the world needs a balance of both personality types and there are numerous ways quiet people can leverage shyness to their advantage.

24. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Released earlier this year in the form of a Netflix documentary titled, “The Call to Courage,” this book explains how we live in a shame-based society and the only way to love ourselves is by recognizing and accepting our individual shortcomings.

25. Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

A New York City couples therapist with more than 20 years of experience offers her insight into the quizzical connection between sexual desire and domestic life in this title that also contains tips to help spice things up in the bedroom.

The rich assortment of books published this past decade contains a wealth of information you can use to expand your horizons and improve your life. If any of the aforementioned books piqued your interest, explore the title’s key takeaways today simply by launching the Blinkist app.

Happy holidays!

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