As I sit here Christmas morning in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, with John Denver’s Christmas album playing in the background the time has come for me to begin posting my year-end “best of” lists. Just like in past years I’ve compiled a list of my favorite nonfiction. Of course, just like in past years, it doesn’t matter when the books were published as long as they rocked my world. So in no particular order, here’s the list.
- Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff – Heard of failed states? Here’s a great book about a failed city. Detroit native son LeDuff pulls no punches.
- A Manuel for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian – Far from being just another atheist manifesto, it’s really an intelligent and incredibly accessible guidebook to critical thinking.
- Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School by Andrea Raynor – A truly charming and entertaining memoir about one woman’s search for meaning and purpose while attending one of America’s most prestigious universities.
- Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Keith Lowe – Think all the killing and suffering in continental Europe ended once Germany surrendered? Guess again. As ethnic cleansing, civil wars, smashed infrastructure and deprivation plagued the land much of Europe looked like something out of TV’s The Walking Dead.
- This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund – A great memoir that explores the many shades of gray of what many Americans see as our nation’s foremost black and white issue.
- Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman – Sadly, I’ve yet to start watching the Netflix series this terrific memoir spawned. But if it’s half as good as Kerman’s book I should love it.
- Ivan’s War: Life and Death in The Red Army 1939-1945 by Catherine Merridale – The scale of conflict and human loss on the Eastern Front boggles the mind. Merridale’s excellent 2006 book does a fine job looking at it from the perspective of the men and women who did the fighting. And the dying.
- The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose – Living and studying undercover at Falwell’s Liberty University makes for fascinating reading. Not only is this Roose’s first book, looks like he wrote it before his 20th birthday. Yep, I was impressed.
- The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée – I love books about books. Books about banned books are even better. Books about banned books that took on an evil empire are the best.
- Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell – Many people find faith and some of them lose it. But when one those people is the former religion reporter for the LA Times his memoir makes for very interesting reading.
There you have it. Looking at this list, I can see that five are memoirs with Le Duff’s Detroit being pretty darn close to one. Religion-related topics abound with two books by atheists, one by a Christian minister and one by a young man who immersed himself in a religious subculture. The rest is history books, each with a mid-twentieth century focus. Both Ivan’s War and The Zhivago Affair deal with the Soviet Union while much of Savage Continent addresses life in what later became the USSR’s satellite nations in Eastern Europe. Therefore, it looks like memoirs, religion and recent European history are favorites when it comes to my choices in reading material.
And that brings me to my favorite nonfiction book of 2014. It was tough call, but I’m giving the nod to Savage Continent. From start to finish it impressed the heck out of me. It, like the nine other books on this list, I highly recommend.