In alphabetical order by author, here are the six exceptional books vying for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, including my brief thoughts (and quotes from the review).

American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer: In this “potent, necessary broadside against incarceration in the U.S.,” the author expertly combines memoir, sociology, and criminology to create the most incisive investigation into the American prison system in recent memory.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon: Quite simply, this is the best memoir of 2018: an explosive, forcefully written chronicle of “black-white relations, income inequality, mother-son dynamics, Mississippi byways, lack of personal self-control, education from kindergarten through graduate school, and so much more.”

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy: Macy’s second nomination for the prize is well-earned. Dopesick is a deeply reported, compassionate, yet unvarnished exploration of one of America’s most insidious—and worsening—epidemics: opioid addiction.

Heartland: A Daughter of the Working Class Reconciles an American Divide by Sarah Smarsh: We all know socio-economic issues plague our country, but Smarsh puts an unforgettable human face on the situation with this astute book, a “potent social and economic message embedded within an affecting memoir.”

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder: The bestselling author of On Tyranny returns with a “highly distressing, urgent alarm to awaken Americans to the peril of authoritarianism.” Using historical examples with potent analysis, the author “argues persuasively that Russia under Putin is aggressively working to destabilize Western nations and export ‘massive inequality’ and ‘the displacement of policy by propaganda.’ ”

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit: In this “fiery clutch of essays,” the always-insightful author shows the necessity of action against the “hard-line, bigoted conservatism” of the moment. “Solnit is careful with her words (she always is) but never so much that she mutes the infuriated spirit that drives these essays.” Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.