14 Best Nonfiction Books of 2023

By Kaitlyn Johnston

Cheers to a year of incredible books that inspired, educated, and enthralled readers!

This array of outstanding nonfiction represents the best memoirs, sports biographies, and historical stories that were published this year. Once you dive into one of these eye-opening books, you won’t be able to put it down.

Memoirs & Biographies

Being Henry: The Fonz...and Beyond

By Henry Winkler

Emmy Award–winning actor, director, and comedian Henry Winkler invites you into his world in Being Henry. From his star-making turn as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on Happy Days to unforgettable performances on shows like Barry, Arrested Development, and Parks and Rec, Winkler has entertained fans for years with his signature warmth and humor. In his vulnerable new memoir, he offers plenty of showbiz tales while also opening up about his lifelong struggles with dyslexia, difficult truths from his childhood, and the pressures of portraying a character so big that it threatens to overshadow the rest of your career. Radiating wit and infectious charm like the author himself, Being Henry offers a touching reflection on the challenges of achieving your dreams and the lasting rewards of finding who you really are.

While You Were Out

By Meg Kissinger

While You Were Out, by award-winning journalist Meg Kissinger, is a fiercely candid memoir about mental illness in America and the resilience of family love. In it, Kissinger chronicles her family’s secret battles with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder during a time when so few talked about mental health. Kissinger also reveals how the traumas of her childhood gave rise to her career as an investigative journalist exposing America’s flawed mental-healthcare system and advocating for change. A story of profound loss and powerful love, While You Were Out is “a smart, stirring family memoir of suicide and survival, and a bracing call for more investigative journalism on mental health and addiction” (Patrick J. Kennedy, former congressman and bestselling coauthor of A Common Struggle). 

Magic: The Life of Earvin "Magic" Johnson

By Roland Lazenby

Basketball fanatics and casual fans alike are sure to love this rousing sports biography. Earvin “Magic” Johnson is an American icon and one of the greatest basketball players to ever grace the court. In Magic, longtime sportswriter and biographer Roland Lazenby chronicles the life and times of the sports legend, from his dazzling ascent to his controversies and triumphant return to the game. Through revealing conversations with coaches, teammates, rivals, loved ones, and more, Lazenby crafts a winning basketball book about a superstar athlete that’s sure to entertain. 

Birdgirl

By Mya-Rose Craig

Activist and environmentalist Mya-Rose Craig delivers a moving meditation on conservation, mental illness, and the life-affirming joys of birding in her 2023 debut memoir, Birdgirl. The 21-year-old ornithologist lovingly re-creates her family’s travels around the globe as together they search for exotic birds and document Earth’s fragile beauty. Interwoven with Craig’s adventures is a candid account of her mother’s struggles with mental illness and how her family found hope and meaning in the natural world. A beautifully written nature memoir that doubles as a rousing work of advocacy, Birdgirl soars. Bonus: It also makes an excellent pick for your memoir book club!

Pageboy

By Elliot Page

Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page offers a powerful look at his journey of self-discovery under the harsh spotlight of Hollywood in his #1 New York Times bestseller, Pageboy. The acclaimed celebrity memoir, which was named a most anticipated book of 2023 and is sure to top plenty of best-of lists as the year draws to a close, is a lyrical account of the author’s search for himself as he endures the pressures of fame and the scrutinizing glare of the public eye. “Searing, deeply moving, and incredibly poignant,” Pageboy “isn’t simply a book on what it means to be trans, it’s about what it means to be human” (writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon).

Quietly Hostile: Essays

By Samantha Irby

Whenever Samantha Irby releases a new collection of hilarious essays, we’re there for it — and her 2023 collection, Quietly Hostile, does not disappoint. In it, Irby muses on everything from red-carpet faux pas and the glory of QVC to adopting a deranged dog during the pandemic. Shot through with wicked humor, raw honesty, and Irby’s one-of-a-kind point of view, Quietly Hostile will have you laugh-crying well into the new year. 

A Living Remedy

By Nicole Chung

A Living Remedy, by bestselling author Nicole Chung, captivated readers and critics alike this year — indeed, it was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2023 by Time, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. A piercing memoir about class, family, and loss, the narrative centers on Chung’s upbringing in Oregon and her relationship with her parents. As a young person, she thought she grew up in a middle-class household, but after leaving her hometown for the East Coast to attend university and raise a family of her own, she starts to see the stark disparity of wealth and poverty in America. When her father dies at just 67 years old and then her mother is diagnosed with cancer, Chung must reckon with her grief as well as her rage at a society that seems so indifferent to the suffering of its people. A moving reflection of family strength and a searing indictment of inequality in America, A Living Remedy is a “groundbreaking narrative” (Bryan Washington, author of Memorial).

History

Flee North

By Scott Shane

Named one of the best nonfiction books of 2023 by Publishers Weekly, Flee North is a captivating historical biography you don’t want to miss. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Scott Shane presents the incredible true story of Thomas Smallwood, a little-known freedom fighter and abolitionist in 19th-century America who bought his own freedom, led hundreds of enslaved people out of bondage, and — as is revealed here for the first time — coined the term “underground railroad.” Despite his incredible achievements, Smallwood rarely appears in  American history books. Shane rectifies that omission here, shining a brilliant light on an unsung American hero and delivering a riveting work of unknown history to present-day readers.

You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live

By Paul Kix

In this thoroughly researched work of narrative nonfiction, journalist Paul Kix chronicles a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement that changed the course of American history. You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live centers on Project C, the 1963 campaign led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Through vivid prose, Kix captures every twist and turn of the campaign, offering a glimpse inside the minds of iconic Civil Rights leaders like Wyatt Walker and Martin Luther King, Jr. and drawing a clear connection from the righteous fight for freedom in 1963 to the state of justice and equality in America today. A fast-paced nonfiction book that reads like a novel, Kix’s narrative is “an eloquent contribution to the literature of civil rights and the ceaseless struggle to attain them” (Kirkus, starred review).

A Fever in the Heartland

By Timothy Egan

In A Fever in the Heartland, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Timothy Egan presents a propulsive account of a bigoted con man’s rise to power in 1920s America and the one woman whose deathbed testimony brought it all crashing down. The acclaimed historical account centers on D.C. Stephenson, a magnetic charlatan who rose to become the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana and advanced the hate group’s power in the U.S. to dangerous new heights. Then there was Madge Oberholtzer, a young state employee who crossed paths with Stephenson in 1925. While their relationship ended in brutality, the secrets Oberholtzer divulged with her final breaths would topple the Klan and end Stephenson’s vile reign. An engrossing historical thriller with haunting parallels to the politics of today, A Fever in the Heartland demands to be read. 

The Wager

By David Grann

In The Wager, award-winning author and journalist David Grann delivers a riveting historical true crime tale set on the high seas. In 1740, the HMS Wager left England for South America on a secret mission. Two years later, 30 of its crewmembers washed up on the coast of Brazil, severely malnourished and with an incredible story to tell. The Wager, they said, had wrecked on a forsaken island; the men were stranded for months before crossing the open ocean on a ramshackle vessel in a desperate bid for survival. At first, they were feted as heroes — until six months later, when three additional crew members washed ashore and told a shockingly different story of mutiny and murder. What really happened on the Wager’s fateful voyage? Grann, the bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon, chronicles it all with vigor in “a tightly written, relentless, blow-by-blow account that is hard to put down” (The Washington Post).

Think Books

Feel-Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal

Feel-Good Productivity

By Ali Abdaal

What if getting things done didn’t feel like a chore? What if the road to accomplishment wasn’t a grin-and-bear-it slog but a positive journey that actually made you feel good? In Feel-Good Productivity, Dr. Ali Abdaal — the most-followed productivity expert — encourages you to drop those old-fashioned adages about discipline and keeping your nose to the grindstone and instead to embrace joy and passion for your work. Abdaal draws on years of psychological research and his own achievements to illustrate why feeling good is the key to leading a more meaningful life. Arming readers with an understanding of “energizers,” “blockers,” and “sustainers,” the author presents a fun and insightful guide to getting more out of your work — and feeling better while you do it. An excellent companion as we approach the new year, Feel-Good Productivity will help you kick off 2024 on a high note. 

The Creative Act

By Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin has spent years partnering with world-class recording artists and drawing the best work out of them. Along the way, he’s come to realize that creativity isn’t a special gift some possess and others don’t — it’s a condition of being human. In his stellar 2023 release The Creative Act, the legendary music producer distills the many artistic lessons he’s learned into illuminating and easy-to-digest chapters. Rubin shows us how to tune in, practice, and adapt our innate creativity by reshaping our relationship with the world around us. No matter your line of work, this book will equip you to flourish in your own creativity and create daily moments of exhilaration.

Hidden Potential

By Adam Grant

They say that some folks are simply born to succeed. They’re the lucky few destined to receive the accolades, the pay raises, and the rapturous applause, while the rest of us just have to take what we’re given. Of course, that isn’t the case, and in Hidden Potential, bestselling author Adam Grant reveals how anyone can transcend expectations and achieve their goals — whether in the classroom, the boardroom, or outer space. Grant guides readers through three key aspects of unlocking potential: Skills of Character, Structures for Motivation, and Systems of Opportunity. Each section of this leadership book includes revolutionary research and vivid storytelling that will put you on the path to success. Achieving your dreams isn’t about inborn talent, Grant argues, it’s about the ability to learn.

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