The Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 (That Were Published in 2020)

Today is Tuesday which means it’s time for my favorite nonfiction books I read this year!

This was a strong year for nonfiction reads; in particular, memoirs! Due to all the protests supporting Black lives, I actively focused a lot of my attention on antiracist reading, and while most of those aren’t listed here, they’re coming in their own post (I’m not sure when, but it’ll happen!).

If you’d like to catch up on the other “Best of…” posts, here’s the link to 2020 and 2019!

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
    • Hands down, this was the most important book I read in 2020; this one left me breathless! Heading into this book, I thought I had a good understanding of the racial issues so prevalent right now. But Wilkerson quickly humbled me, showing me that I only have a surface level understanding and that I have a long, long ways to go to reach the depths of this issue. This book was a paradigm shift for me. I now see racial injustice, systemic racism, and the work ahead of us differently. This book took it from a general concept and made it personal. Maybe it’s the cumulative effect – from watching the last horrifying 8:46 seconds of George Floyd’s life on tv to the riots all over the country on television – but it hit me in my heart and I am grateful.
  • A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett
    • This book was also quite powerful and it was a strong contender for my most important book as well. This memoir is a glimpse into Barnett’s personal life, it’s also a look at the systemic racism at the heart of the United States’ justice system (specifically when it applies to drug offenses, and more specifically when talking about crack cocaine). Because her mother was in the prison system under a harsher sentence than her crime deserved, Barnett was motivated to help as many unfairly sentenced drug convictions as she could. Under a clemency initiative under President Obama, Barnett was able to free seven people before he left office in 2016. Barnett and the people she helped free have since commited their lives to social justice for others. Barnett writes with such compassion and inspiration; I feel like I’m a better person for having read her book, and the world would surely be a better place if we had more people like her in it – selflessly committing to right wrongs and to treat people with kindness.
  • Open Book by Jessica Simpson
    • I wasn’t expecting to be so emotionally invested in Simpson’s story, but listening to her narrarate her own memoir on audiobook was powerful! I was especially struck by her vulnerabilites surrounding her insecurities – always feeling not good enough and fighting her bodyweight to make the music industry happy. Though most of us aren’t celebrities, I think a lot of us can relate to those insecurities and battles with our bodies. I loved feeling like Simpson was relatable.
  • Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
    • Is there a better voice to have in your ears than that of Matthew McConaughey? The answer is no, and I absolutely loved every minute of it (including MM’s performance)! The audiobook experience was a true delight. I immediately bought the hard cover to keep on my shelves as well because there are so many tidbits of advice and wisdom sprinkled throughout the pages. McConaughey made me laugh, he made me sigh, and he made me reflect on so many things. This will be a book that I read and reread for years to come. 
  • Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
    • Another major theme of 2020 was the Presidential election. I have never seen our country so divided, so I knew I wanted to read this book about how we got where we are. Insightful and informative, I’ve found myself thinking about this book over and over again.
  • Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
    • This memoir is about a women who had an addiction to alcohol (as well as other things) and makes the courageous decision to stop drinking. AA wasn’t the plan for her, and through her own experience she created a company, Tempest, that helps women stop drinking. While I am not an alcoholic, this book still gave relevant and interesting information regarding drinking and our culture’s obsession with alcohol. I really enjoyed the straight-forward, no-holds-bar way that Whitaker presents her personal story and the facts surrounding addiction. 
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
    • I LOVED this one – same as all of Doyle’s other books. Doyle writes pain in a way that heals, and she gives women permission to embrace themselves. Her heart is gold and I appreciate her approach to life.
  • The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask
    • I had no idea something I totally take for granted (my address) could be so fascinating! Mask does an amazing job of uncovering all things relating to addresses. Did you realize that a simple number on the side of your house could reveal so much about you (i.e.: your class, race, wealth, and your identity)? I was blown away by the information in this book…and it was so engaging that I consumed it in just a few days!
  • Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls: A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love by Nina Renata Aron
    • While focused on drug and alcohol addiction, this book also tackles the complicated topic of codependency which feels relevant to lots of people whether they love a person struggling with addiction or not. There is also a rich history about the founding and beliefs of AA and Al-Anon which I enjoyed, but not nearly as much as I did Aron’s personal reflections. I appreciated that Aron didn’t deflect from her own negative contributions to her chaotic lifestyle; she wrote with unflinching honesty and vulnerability. There were times I wanted to reach back in time to shake her awake and to yell at her to stop destroying her own life! But I was also quickly reminded how difficult it is to leave a codependent relationship – regardless of how aware one is of it’s toxicity. This would make a great book club selection!
  • Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College by Jesse Wegman
    • Do you ever feel like your vote in the presidential elections don’t count? Many Americans do, especially if they live in a predominately red or blue state – which accounts for basically 40(ish) states. Wegman presents a persuasive argument against the Electoral College and tries to help people understand why it’s time for America to switch to a popular vote (winner-takes-all) to elect our presidents. This was the perfect read right before the election as it’s an important topic that has come up time and time again throughout our country’s history (and probably will again)!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
    • This is a must read, especially if you’re a white and don’t believe you’re racist and that you don’t perpetuate racist stereotypes and behaviors. It’s uncomfortable – in a good way – and helped me see where some of my blindspots are.
  • The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
    • For all of those reasons, this book could not have been more interesting to me. I loved Harper’s insights into her daily life as an ER doctor, and more specifically, how she used a patient’s case for each chapter to emphasize a point. While it felt very personal, there was also the professional side that showed how perfectly Harper was matched to her profession. My experiences in an ER haven’t always contained the compassion, empathy, or patience that Harper demonstrates, and I feel a huge amount of respect for her. I appreciated getting an insight into a career I’ve only dreamed about doing (and honestly, after reading this book, I know I’m not cut out for it). It was absolutely a fascinating read for me!
  • The Aftergrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of Loss by Hope Edelman
    • Hope Edelman is one of the foremost grief experts and I found just as much solace in this book as I did her previous one (Motherless Daughters). I especially think this book has great value for those whose loss is more recent…when you feel like you’re in the middle of an ocean and you’re just looking for someone to throw you a life vest. Unfortunately, every single one of us will feel the effects of grief at some point in our lives. Thank goodness for the pioneers in this field who have done the research and then have provided us with the information so that we may navigate the tough road of loss. This book should be added to anyone’s library who is struggling with grief.
  • Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman
    • I flew through this memoir and was totally fascinated with Zimmerman’s account of her ex-husband’s downward spiral into drug addiction. This eventually led her to research the drug problem that seems to be common among white collar professions, specifically lawyers. I liked the look into addiction, especially among the upper-middle class which can seem overlooked in the drug epidemic conversation.
  • Stray by Stephanie Danler
    • After the success of her bestselling book, Sweetbitter, Danler should have been on top of the world. However, she wasn’t. She was obsessed with her difficult childhood – her mother was an alcoholic and handicapped from a brain aneurysm, and her father abandoned their family when she was just three years old and is now a meth addict – and how she could overcome those circumstances to life her best life.

What are some nonfiction books that totally stood out for you in 2020?

9 thoughts on “The Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 (That Were Published in 2020)

  1. While I have read some of your selections, a few of them have been on my list and this is just the motivation I need to get to them! I want to listen to the audio editions of both Open Book and Greenlights and I think I’ll start one of them as soon as I finish A Promised Land. These are so great!!

    Liked by 1 person

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