2017 was an amazing year for nonfiction. There were SO many outstanding memoirs, biographies, pop-sci and history books, manifestos, treatises, and essays to choose from. And I didn’t even have time to read half as many as I would have liked. So this list will be mostly nonfiction, though there were a couple new novels that stood out as well.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the books listed below were provided by the publishers.
10. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the fifth novel in the Millennium series and the second written by David Lagercrantz, who took over after Stieg Larsson passed away.
I’ve skipped around in this series a bit. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, DNFed The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and skipped The Girl in the Spider’s Web altogether before arriving at this latest installment. Despite missing the last book-and-a-half, I found it easy to pick up on what was going on and found myself quickly engrossed in the mystery and suspense.
I know there are some die-hard Larsson fans who loathe Lagercrantz’s writing, but I actually like it better than I did Larsson’s. It’s less convoluted and seems to flow better. That’s not to say this book doesn’t have its flaws, but I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.
9. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s sophomore feminist manifesto is formatted as a letter to a friend who wrote to ask her how she could “empower her daughter to become a strong, independent woman.” The letter addresses practical matters, such as the problem with gendered toys, as well as ideological points, like the myth that women are better suited to cooking and other household duties.
Adichie writes in much the same way she speaks–with forceful eloquence. This is a book you’ll want to buy multiple copies of to give to all the mothers in your life.
8. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
A few days ago I read a Vox article that claims Trump won the 2016 election because of racial resentment and sexism, and it cites the data to back it up. Into this swirling cultural morass of prejudice and resentment comes Braving the Wilderness, a book about the power of engaging the world with a “strong back” and “soft front.” In other words, stand firm and stay vulnerable.
That’s not an easy task when you’re a woman facing down a workplace full of men who think sexual harassment is one big joke, or a minority living in a community of white people who believe you’re stealing their jobs or mooching off the welfare system. I don’t think that oppressed people owe their oppressors anything, but I also can’t deny the research that shows empathy is the key ingredient to effect change in the hearts of prejudiced people.
And that’s basically what this book is about. It’s easy to take sides. It’s harder to stand firm in your convictions while reaching out to people who are different than you, showing them grace, and treating them with kindness. But that’s exactly what it’s going to take to pull this country back from the brink.
In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown is starting a conversation and setting an example that we would do well to follow if we want to see real progress in the coming years.
7. What We See in the Stars by Kelsey Oseid
What We See in the Stars is an illustrated tour of the night sky. It covers the constellations, planets, sun and moon, asteroids, comets and meteors, deep space, and more.
I’ve never really been interested in astronomy, but this book opened the subject to me in a whole new way. The illustrations are absolutely stunning. In fact, after reading this book, Oseid is my new favorite illustrator of all time.
If you’re looking for an introduction to astronomy that will engage adults and children alike, this is it.
6. Women in Sports by Rachel Ignotofsky
Ignotofsky’s Women in Science was my #1 nonfiction read of 2016 and Women in Sports fully lives up to her previous work. It’s a beautifully illustrated collection of fifty one-page biographies of record-breaking, establishment-defying female athletes. I also furnishes a number of jaw-dropping statistics about the atrocious pay gap in sports, influential women’s teams, and the intricate muscle anatomy behind those powerful swings, punches, strokes, and jumps.
If you have a daughter, granddaughter, niece, or mentee, do her a favor and buy her a copy of this book!The Best Books of 2017Click To Tweet
5. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
We Were the Lucky Ones is a multi-generational saga about a Polish-Jewish family’s fight for survival during World War II. It is very closely based on the author’s family and their experiences during the war, which makes it all the more compelling. In fact, Hunter didn’t even change most of the names of the people in the story.
The writing and elegance of the plot structure blow recent historical hits like Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale out of the water. It’s an impressive book by any standard, but doubly so because it’s a debut.
4. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
The Stranger in the Woods chronicles the life of Christopher Knight, also known as the North Pond Hermit. For thirty years, Knight lived concealed in the woods just yards away from a community of waterfront summer cabins. In all that time, he only spoke to one person and survived the brutal winters by breaking into the neighboring cabins to steal food and supplies.
Finkel tries to uncover the motivation behind Knight’s spontaneous choice to live apart from civilization. In the process, he explores the history of hermits and explores the various types of hermits around the world. It’s a fascinating and well-written study of an offbeat subject.
3. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
The Lost City of the Monkey God is the true story of the search for la Ciudad Blanca–the White City–the last rumored remnant of a lost civilization deep in the Mosquitia region of eastern Honduras.
Efforts to locate the lost city failed for many years, but in 2012, a high-tech lidar machine revealed the outlines of structures deep within the rainforest. Preston and a team of archaeologists, scientists, filmmakers, and survival experts set out to explore the settlement on foot, braving venomous snakes, swarms of insects, and thick jungle vegetation.
This first-hand account reads like a real-life Indiana Jones adventure. It’s also tremendously educational. It contains all sorts of interesting facts about Honduran politics and geography, archaeology, and the growing threat of incurable tropical diseases.
2. The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley
Patrick Kingsley traveled to seventeen countries and interviewed refugees, smugglers, coast guard officials, politicians, and citizens in his position as the Guardian’s first-ever migrant correspondent. The New Odyssey is the result of all that hands-on research.
It provides both a panoramic overview of the refugee crisis and offers an eyewitness account of the deeply personal journey of Hashem al-Souki, a Syrian refugee on a quest to reach Sweden so that he can apply for reunification with his wife and three children.
The New Odyssey is the #1 book I recommend if you want to learn more about Europe’s refugee crisis.
1. Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif
Manal al-Sharif grew up in a poor family in Mecca, home of the famous Grand Mosque and destination to millions of Muslim pilgrims each year. She was born in 1979, the year fundamentalism took hold in at the highest levels of power and in the streets of Saudi Arabia.
In her adolescence, Manal was a religious radical too, but higher education changed her life. By her twenties, she was one of the few women working for Aramco, the Saudi oil company. That’s when the kingdom’s restrictions on women became too much to bear and she inadvertently became the face of the Women2Drive movement.
Daring to Drive is the most powerful book I read this year and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the advancement of women’s rights around the globe.
What are your favorite books published in 2017?