Every year in September, I start thinking about the best books of the year, combing through the archives and querying my reviewers, the consummate professionals who assess the merits of the important—and not-so-important—books that are published every year. Like last year, 2012 proved to be a banner year in adult nonfiction. With nearly 200 starred nonfiction reviews to choose from, and nearly as many books that were significant in one way or another, it was exceedingly difficult, as always, to choose the top-100 list.
Choosing any “best-of” list is always a massive undertaking, a task guaranteed to involve plenty of discussion, heated debate and perhaps even controversy—and that’s as it should be. Whether it’s new superlative work from some of the biggest names in nonfiction—Gail Collins, Eric Jay Dolin, Douglas Brinkley, Steve Coll, David Nasaw, Jonathan Kozol, Robert Caro, Anne Applebaum, Jill Lepore and Christopher Hitchens, among others—or unexpected surprises like Gabrielle Bell’s outstanding graphic memoir, Ben Sandmel’s comprehensive, lavishly illustrated biography of New Orleans great Ernie K-Doe or Francis Spufford’s kaleidoscopic history of the economics of the Soviet Union, there are plenty of gems here to discover.
Spread out over a diverse variety of subjects and topics and representing more than 20 different publishers—and even more imprints—the Best Nonfiction Books of 2012 list amply demonstrates that, even as bookstores continue to disappear and libraries see their budgets cut even further, quality books are still out there.Though divided roughly by subject, please note that some books don't fit neatly into any category, but have been slotted into the most appropriate category; also, some books appear in multiple categories.