At the risk of becoming a prisoner of the moment, this year’s candidates for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction—325 starred titles—were particularly impressive, making the selection of just six finalists especially difficult for our judges.
But judge they did, and we are proud to announce the finalists, which include a rollicking intellectual history of 1930s Paris; a sobering, heartbreaking study of poverty in a Midwestern city; an examination of the Barack Obama presidency as it relates to ongoing racial issues in the U.S.; a groundbreaking memoir/identity study from a Pulitzer winner; a shocking, exquisitely researched story of racial profiteering in the Jim Crow South; and a memoir of a small Rust Belt town that does more to explain Donald Trump’s appeal than most political analyses.
Here are the finalists in alphabetical order, with our reviewers’ final takes on each one:
At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell: “A fresh, invigorating look into complex minds and a unique time and place.”
Evicted by Matthew Desmond: “This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.”
The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson: “Dyson succeeds admirably in creating a base line for future interpretations of this historic presidency. His well-written book thoroughly illuminates the challenges facing a black man elected to govern a society that is far from post-racial.”
In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi: “A moving and penetrating inquiry into manifold struggles for identity, community, and authenticity.”
Truevine by Beth Macy: “This first-rate journey into human trafficking, slavery, and familial bonding is an engrossing example of spirited, determined reportage.”
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: “An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.”
Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.