We live in an era when certain factions strive to obscure the truth and ban books about topics they find uncomfortable. These 10 books from the Best Nonfiction of 2023 list offer truth about the most important topics of the day, from racism to gender identity to income inequality, lighting the way to greater understanding.
Gun control is arguably the most contentious issue in contemporary American politics, and American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sept. 26), by Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson, is a “riveting exploration of the cost of the nation’s fascination with an iconic weapon.”
Four books on the list offer different but equally cogent viewpoints on ant-Black racism: American Whitelash: A Changing Nation and the Cost of Progress (Mariner Books, June 27) by Wesley Lowery, is “a timely investigation into the historic roots of violent white resistance to non-white Americans.” Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America (Dey Street/HarperCollins, Sept. 19) by Michael Harriot, illustrated by Jibola Fagbamiye, is a “simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking debut book” that counters numerous myths about race in American history. The Humanity Archive: Recovering the Soul of Black History From a Whitewashed American Myth (Row House Publishing, Feb.28), by Jermaine Fowler, is similar in spirit, but the author turns up plenty of additional surprises in this “timely, powerful approach to history that looks into the past to find a path into a better future.” Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 25) is a “potent series of ‘notes’ [that] paints a multidimensional picture of Blackness in America,” creating “an exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.”
Latine Americans also suffer from widespread prejudice and racial violence. Readers seeking a well-informed examination of these issues should turn to Héctor Tobar’s Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino” (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 9) and Alejandra Oliva’s Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration (Astra House, June 20). For those interested in gender identity and seeking a clear, effective explication of how the vociferous debates affect trans people, check out Aidan Key’s Trans Children in Today’s Schools (Oxford Univ., June 27).
My last two recommendations involve the many (often hidden) stress factors that lead to disproportionately more severe problems for marginalized communities. In Arline T. Geronimus’s groundbreaking Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society (Little, Brown, March 28), the author “contends that the physiological effects of living in marginalized communities, often caused by racial, ethnic, religious, and class discrimination, play a more significant role in the health of its members than genetics or lifestyle choices.” In a similar vein, Alissa Quart’s Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves From the American Dream (Ecco/HarperCollins, March 14) presents a “contrarian rebuttal of the notion that wealthy Americans deserve everything they have and that the ‘poor are responsible for their own poverty.’ ”
Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction editor.