Earlier this week I shared my favorite business books from 2017. Now, I cover five of my favorite non-business non-fiction reads from last year. I highly recommend all of them.
Ari Berman’s book on the struggle to preserve the Voting Rights Act is an exceptional book that’s both a history of the most important piece of Civil Rights legislation and a tool for current-day activism. It inspires through the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis, as well as maddens when learning how hard those on the right are fighting to strip basic democratic rights away from a large section of the electorate. There arguably isn’t a more important book to read on our current political climate.
Einstein: His Life and Universe
by Walter Isaacson
A superb biography on one of the world’s most significant people. Isaacson’s story of Einstein’s life is comprehensive and rich in detail. We learn not just the science behind Einstein’s ideas but also the complicated personal characteristics and motivations that paved the way to unparalleled scientific discovery while also making life unbearable at times for the people closest to him. Einstein demonstrated deep compassion and follow-through when it came to society at large and his responsibility to the human race, but was aloof at best and purposefully negligent at worst when it came to his first wife and children. Isaacson brings all of it to the surface, giving us an unbridled look at the life of one of the world’s true titans.
Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story
by David Maraniss
This is a biography of Detroit in its heyday before the devastation of the ’68 riots and the city’s slow and deep economic decline that followed. While occasionally foreshadowing that coming decline, this book is a portrait of a city at the top of its game. At the time, Detroit was the third largest city in the US and at the forefront of civil rights, music, technological innovation, and architectural splendor. It’s a magnificent tale of a city that once was and hints at the pride and promise of the current rebirth.
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic
by Sam Quinones
Awesome reporting on a complex issue told in an easy-to-digest format. Chapters trade stories from both the supply and demand sides of the Opioid Crisis. Quinones masterfully shows how corporations like Purdue Pharma built an empire of profits by inducing generations of Americans to become opiate addicts. We learn, too, how this was aided by the medical profession’s obsession with pain management even at the cost of human life. Quinones then weaves these stories with the expansion of a Mexican drug trade that preyed on the vulnerabilities of a highly addicted population in suburban America. Unfortunately, this isn’t history. If you want to understand the public health crisis that consumes us today, read this book.
The systematic annihilation and humiliation of Native Americans is one of the greatest crimes in our country’s history. When our government wasn’t committing genocide, it was pushing these people into tighter and smaller plots of land out West. In a momentary twist of irony, the Osage tribe of Oklahoma found themselves backed onto a plot of land that just happened to sit on top of vast oil reserves. According to Grann, at that time, the Osage were the richest per capita people in the world as a result. Soon, however, many of the Osage were mysteriously murdered. Through great research and reporting, Grann unfolds this shocking history of our capacity to demean, debase, and dehumanize another ethnicity.
Other nonfiction I enjoyed reading this past year, included My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools, and Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution.
Click here to see the rest of the books I read in 2017.
Originally published at wesmelville.com on January 6, 2018.