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11 Award-Winning Nonfiction Books We Can't Stop Talking About

These acclaimed nonfiction narratives deserve a spot on everyone’s reading list.

From critically acclaimed true crime accounts to celebrated coming-of-age tales, here is a list of award-winning nonfiction books that we just can’t get enough of.

Kaitlyn Johnston
Brothers on Three by Abe Streep

Brothers on Three

By Abe Streep

Winner of the Montana Book Award as well as the New Mexico–Arizona General Nonfiction Book Award, Brothers on Three by journalist Abe Streep is an unforgettable account of community, loyalty, and love. Streep’s narrative follows high school seniors Will Mesteth, Jr. and Phillip Malatare, two starting players for the Arlee Warriors basketball team of the Flathead Indian Reservation, who together lead their team to back-to-back state championships. While Streep’s sports book chronicles the Warriors’ winning season, it’s about so much more than just basketball: It’s a story of growing up on the reservation, a community coming together, and how these young men draw strength from within as they embark on adulthood.

Last Call

By Elon Green

In the Edgar Award–winning Last Call, Elon Green delivers a searing true crime narrative that puts the victims first, chronicling both the sorrow and the resiliency of their community. The book centers on the case of the Last Call Killer, a serial murderer who preyed upon men in the gay bars of New York City in the 1980s and ’90s. Green draws on a wealth of research to recount this underreported case, tracing the twists and turns of the investigation and the decades-long attempts to bring the killer to justice. Yet unlike the authors of many true crime books, Green doesn’t obsess over the perpetrator’s crimes but instead celebrates the individuals whose lives were tragically cut short. The result is a powerfully written investigation, rich with historical detail, that offers a vivid look at New York’s queer community.

Five Days at Memorial

By Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was recently adapted into a miniseries on Apple TV+ starring Vera Farmiga. The harrowing narrative captures the chaos at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and offers an unflinching look at the heart-wrenching realities of end-of-life care. After Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, health professionals at Memorial were overwhelmed, exhausted, overburdened with patients, and forced to choose whose care to prioritize. In the following months, several health workers faced allegations of injecting patients with drugs to expedite their deaths. Physician and award-winning journalist Fink pieces together the case in this stunning and emotional narrative, searching for the truth about what happened at Memorial.

The Sixth Extinction

By Elizabeth Kolbert

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a slew of other awards, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert presents a frank and fascinating breakdown of how humankind’s most lasting legacy may be our role in the biggest extinction event since an asteroid took out the dinosaurs. There have been five mass extinctions over the course of the earth’s history. Kolbert reveals how we're in the midst of the sixth — and this time, our impact on the planet is the catalyst. Well-researched and beautifully written, The Sixth Extinction describes how humanity has changed life on earth unlike any other species before it, and how the next great extinction is unfolding right before our eyes.

The Undying

By Anne Boyer

In The Undying, which won the Pulitzer Prize, Anne Boyer delivers a radically honest discussion of illness in America and a fiery anticapitalist critique of the way our country approaches medical care. A week after her 41st birthday, Boyer was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. As a single mother striving to make ends meet and provide for her family, Boyer felt the shockwaves of the diagnosis filter through every aspect of her life. In this celebrated and genre-defying memoir, the poet and author chronicles her harrowing journey, candidly discussing the politics and gender disparities surrounding illness, and raging against a medical system in desperate need of rehabilitation.

Evicted

By Matthew Desmond

In Evicted, Matthew Desmond delivers a bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning report on poverty in America. The author draws on his sterling career in sociology to craft this landmark book on inequality and discrimination, in which he follows eight families in Milwaukee as they navigate harsh economic realities and fight for a place to call home. A beautifully written narrative suffused with moments of devastation and survival, Evicted chronicles life on the margins in the United States and offers concrete approaches to combating one of the country’s most pernicious — and inexcusable — problems.

Stamped From the Beginning

By Ibram X. Kendi

Winner of the National Book Award, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi traces the history of anti-Black sentiment in America and invites readers to question long-held beliefs about the ways in which prejudice spreads. Thoroughly researched and unflinching in its delivery, Kendi’s narrative offers an eye-opening account of the deliberate creation and dissemination of anti-Black ideas in the United States, presenting new perspectives on the origins of racist attitudes. Undergirding Kendi’s work is an engaging narrative structure: The author tracks the evolution of America’s racist views across the lives of five intellectuals throughout American history, from Puritan minister Cotton Mather and President Thomas Jefferson to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, writer W.E.B. Du Bois, and activist Angela Davis.

Underland

By Robert Macfarlane

Robert Macfarlane is an acclaimed nature writer whose lyrical nature books transport readers to the world’s most wondrous places. In the bestselling Underland, which won the National Outdoor Book Award, Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the deep and dark realms that exist beneath the earth’s surface. Inspired by myth, literature, and life, Macfarlane charts a course into the planet to plumb the profound depths of its deep-time history, from prehistoric Norwegian sea caves and the catacombs of Paris to a subterranean nuclear waste repository in Finland. Throughout, Macfarlane considers humankind’s relationship with the distant past, our impact on the present, and our place in the planet’s future.

 

Dreamland

By Sam Quinones

Winner of the NBCC Award for General Nonfiction, Sam Quinones’s Dreamland is a shattering account of America’s opiate epidemic. The author applies an investigative journalist approach to craft his striking narrative, crisscrossing the country and interweaving an array of perspectives to chronicle the pain of addiction. Told with compassion and urgency, Dreamland moves from the closed meeting rooms of Big Pharma to the devastated communities of small-town U.S.A. as it tracks the runaway spread of opiates in America, revealing both the cause and the human cost of the crisis.

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith won the National Book Award, and it is as much about her longtime romantic relationship and friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as it is about creating art, poetry, and music in New York City. In the late 1960s and ’70s, Patti and Robert were just kids in NYC, immersed in the city’s vibrant music and art scenes. The future poet-slash-songstress and renowned photographer-to-be were yet unknown as they made their way through this electrifying time and place. In Just Kids, Smith presents a poignant love letter to her youth, her relationship with Mapplethorpe, and an unbridled New York City now largely lost to time.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

By Annie Dillard

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard is an unforgettable examination of nature and its changing seasons. In it, Dillard vividly chronicles a year of her life spent exploring the creeks and wild forests of Virginia's Roanoke Valley. From butterfly migrations and meadows humming with insects to eye-opening observations of pond water under the microscope, the author movingly documents the beauty, danger, and drama of the lush world around her.

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