LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Books 2014: Core Nonfiction


Best Books 2014: Top Ten
Best Books 2014: More of the Best
Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction
Best Books 2014: Core Nonfiction
Best Books 2014: Graphic Novels
Best Books 2014: E-Originals
Best Books 2014: Romance

By Elizabeth Nelson (business), Liz French (consumer health), Thérèse Purcell Nielsen & Erin Shea (memoir), Barbara Hoffert (poetry), Candice Gruver Kail (sci-tech), Stephanie Sendaula (spirituality/religion)



Catmull, Ed with Amy Wallace. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Random. ISBN 9780812993011. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780679644507. BUS

Catmull (president, Pixar Animation and Disney Animation) shares the story of Pixar and how he and his colleagues built a culture of creativity that has survived the ups and downs of business while continuing to drive innovation in the world of animation.

Lewis, Michael. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. Norton. ISBN 9780393244663. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393244670. ECON

Lewis (Moneyball and The Big Short) offers an inside look at the world of high-frequency trading (HFT), where computerized trading and loopholes in current government regulations have created opportunities for some to exploit milliseconds and front-run the stock market.

Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap: Harvard Univ. tr. from French by Arthur Goldhammer. ISBN 9780674430006. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9780674369559. econ

French economist Piketty examines the issue of inequality in the modern world by analyzing trends gleaned from data going back to the 18th century. While he warns of the potential for increasing inequality, he also offers suggestions for how political action can reset the current path.

Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Portfolio. ISBN 9781591845324. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101623039. BUS

Sinek (Start with Why) describes how leaders need to implement a “Circle of Safety” for teams to feel secure in the workplace. Illustrating how biology determines our behaviors, he provides examples of his ideas in action and explains what it means to be a true leader—putting others first and eating last.

Sutton, Robert I. & Huggy Rao. Scaling up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less. Crown Business. ISBN 9780385347020. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780385347037. BUS

Sutton and Rao, both professors of organizational behavior at Stanford University, tackle the problem of how to identify pockets of excellence and spread that exemplary performance. Their research, which they share in this book, has led them to identify seven scaling mantras from “spread a mind-set, not just a footprint” to “slow down to scale faster—and better—down the road.”


consumer health

Booth, Michael & Jennifer Brown. Eating Dangerously: Why the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe…and How You Can. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442222663. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781442222670.

Two Denver Post investigative reporters scare the heck out of you by citing CDC statistics on food-borne illnesses and deaths in the United States, then carefully and expertly steer you back to (relative) safety with common­sense suggestions on how to reduce your risk of falling ill—or worse. There’s even a section discussing GMO and organic foods and the “inter­section between food technology and food safety.” Reviewer Janet Crum called this one “both alarming and empowering” and “highly recommended.” (LJ 4/15/14)

McBride, Gregg. Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped. Central Recovery. ISBN 9781937612696. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781937612702.

“Anyone who has lived with excess weight will appreciate this book,” said reviewer ­Rachel Owens about the formerly overweight author’s story. McBride, who clocked in at 175 pounds at age eight and 464 at 22, has maintained a healthy weight for ten years—without resorting to gastric bypass surgery. He candidly discusses his struggles and includes weight-loss tips and recipes, as well as astute observations of how slender vs. overweight people ­behave. (LJ 9/15/14)

Minson, Matthew. Prepare To Defend Yourself: How To Navigate the Healthcare System and Escape with Your Life. Texas A&M Univ. ISBN 9781623491154. pap. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781623491628.

From this physician’s bad experience as a patient comes a guide to negotiating the American health-care system that reviewer Carolann Curry said provides “expert information on a personable level through communicating in layperson’s terms.” Particularly helpful are a chapter discussing the distinctive roles of various health-care professionals and sections on billing, prescription writing, and drug information. The text is supplemented by tables, infographics, and even cartoons. (LJ 5/1/14)

Teichoz, Nina. The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. S. & S. ISBN 9781451624427. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9781451624434. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781451624441.

The author, a food writer, unquestioningly followed an NIH/American Heart Association (AHA)–sanctioned low-fat diet alleged to prevent heart disease and reduce obesity—until she began to review restaurant fare. Surprised that her renewed consumption of red meat and rich food did not result in weight gain, Teichoz researched the NIH/AHA studies and discovered how wrong the canonical wisdom is. Reviewer Barbara Bibel called Teichoz’s defense of all fats “a fascinating book that raises important issues as Americans battle obesity, diabetes, and cardio­vascular ­disease.” (LJ 5/1/14)

van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Viking. ISBN 9780670785933. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101608302.

Pioneer trauma researcher van der Kolk’s comprehensive book describes in clear terms the causes and manifestations of PTSD, how large the number of sufferers is, and the toll that inadequate treatment takes on society. The author recommends going beyond conventional treatments and replacing them with neurofeedback, mindfulness training, yoga, internal family systems, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Janet Tapper’s starred review called this book “an important read for psychologists, therapists, and public health workers,” adding that it “offers hope for the millions of sufferers and their families seeking meaningful treatment.” (LJ 10/1/14)



Carpenter, Novella. Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild. Penguin Pr. ISBN 9781594204432. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698163782. MEMOIR

When the author decides she’d like to start a family, she travels with her partner to rural Idaho to search for her estranged ­father. She believes that if she can understand why he abandoned her and her sister in ­favor of an off-the-grid hermit lifestyle, she will be able to commence her own journey into the wilds of parenthood with a clear head. (Memoir, 6/20/14)—ES

Chin, Ava. Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal. S. & S. ISBN 9781451656190. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451656213. MEMOIR

The former “Urban Forager” columnist for the New York Times bounces among the boroughs of New York City in search of wild edibles such as mushrooms, greens, and honey to turn into vibrant meals for her foodie friends. But while foraging in parks and playgrounds, she is also on the hunt for answers in her own family and romantic ­relationships. (Memoir, 4/21/14)—ES

Crais, Clifton. History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain. Overlook. ISBN 9781468303681. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781468310177. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781468309805. MEMOIR

Crais, a history professor by trade, digs down to the roots of memoir writing—the creation and maintenance of memory—in his examination of both what happened to him during the brutal childhood he endured in New Orleans and why he cannot remember any of it. Crais incorporates the results of his extensive research about the neuro­science of memory into his story of attempting to understand what he cannot recall. The result is a multilayered inquiry into what the mind can bear to ­remember. (Memoir, 5/15/14)—TPN

Doughty, Caitlin. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. Norton. ISBN 9780393240238. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393245950. MEMOIR

To indulge a morbid curiosity and help recover from an early experience with death, the author took a job at a mortuary in Oakland in which she then spent six years cremating bodies, shaving corpses, and picking up stillborn babies from the hospital. Interspersed with ­fascinating examinations of how other cultures deal with death, this memoir is a call to arms for our society to pull back the formaldehyde curtain and face death head-on. (Memoir, 8/14/14)—ES

Dow, David R. Things I’ve Learned from Dying: A Book About Life. Twelve: Hachette. ISBN 9781455575244. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781455575237. MEMOIR

The director and founder of the Texas Innocence Network and author of The Autobiography of an Execution takes readers back to death row as he tries to keep one of his clients alive through complex legal maneuvers and appeals. At the same time, his father-in-law and beloved dog have received death sentences of their own in the form of terminal cancer and liver failure, respectively. What follows is a brave and poignant narrative that explores how we confront death as parents, lovers, and friends. (Memoir, 12/17/13)—ES

Dunham, Lena. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.” Random. ISBN 9780812994995. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812995008. MEMOIR

The creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls has produced a touching, funny, and deeply personal collection of essays describing some of the most strenuous milestones for a young woman coming into her own—losing her virginity, falling in love, and coming to terms with her own body. Working in Hollywood, she often finds herself in rooms full of old white men in which she experiences sexism and condescension. A keenly observed and delightful ­collection. (LJ Xpress ­Reviews, 10/17/14)—ES

Gore, Ariel. The End of Eve. Hawthorn. ISBN 9780986000799. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780989360418. MEMOIR

Gore’s mother, a free-spirited and “difficult” personality from whom she was often estranged, turned to Gore and pled for care during her terminal illness. The resulting black comedy is chronicled here in Gore’s account of her attempt to honor her mother’s wishes while not losing her own mind. Gore, editor and publisher of Hip Mama, speaks to the issues of filial piety and personal integrity in a voice that will resonate with boomers facing the end of the road with their parents while at the end of their own ropes.—TPN

Hocking, Justin. The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976699. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781555970871. MEMOIR

Equipped with skateboard expertise, crippling anxiety, a crumbling romance, and a lousy job, Hocking moved to New York City, and the result was just what you might expect. The author’s long devotion to Moby-Dick forms the backdrop to this contemporary coming-of-age saga, and it is Hocking’s examination of timeless archetypes and their pertinence in his own life—along with a newfound obsession with surfing—that leads him to find his place in a largely inhospitable world. Hocking’s admiration for Melville did not prevent him from telling a compelling story of his own. (Memoir, 3/21/14)—TPN

Johnson, Lacy. The Other Side. Tin House. ISBN 9781935639831. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781935639848. MEMOIR

Johnson’s matter-of-fact retelling of the horrors that befell her when a jealous ex-boyfriend abducted and tortured her is by turns poetic and journalistic. This harrowing account of the worst type of ­misogyny provides a clear-eyed view of both the vilest aspects of human nature and the most heroic. Johnson’s frantic escape from her captor was just the first step in reclaiming her body and autonomy, and the unapologetic narration of that uneasy journey reminds us that it is Johnson’s life we’re reading, not some creepy summer beach book. (Memoir, 5/23/14)—TPN

Venegas, Maria. Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter. Farrar.

ISBN 9780374117313. $26; pap. ISBN 9780374535285. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781429944168.MEMOIR

Venegas’s graceful chronicle of the larger-than-life exploits of her desperado father recalls a traditional Mexican corrido (story­telling ballad) but, in the most modern of ways, dissects the awful costs borne by an outlaw’s family. The slow path to the author’s reconciliation with her father was riddled with mistrust and misunderstanding, but the route is described with gorgeous accuracy as some episodes shine with ­almost cinematic clarity. (Memoir, 3/21/14)—TPN



Brown, Jericho. The New Testament. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556594571. pap. $17. POETRY

Powerful, erotic, and anguished, the poems in Brown’s accomplished second collection explore intimacy—particularly intimacy between men—in a world where violence and racial injustice constantly intrude: “Will black men still love me/ If white men stop wanting me// Dead? Will white men stop/ Wanting me dead?” The title is apt; this book is a reverberant religious experience—and a testament to Brown’s sustaining spirit. (LJ 9/15/14)

McLane, Maureen N. This Blue: Poems. Farrar. ISBN 9780374275938. pap. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780374535193. POETRY

In language at once heightened and wholly natural, McLane sets readers in the middle of each intriguing scene she dreams up and makes them feel at home. And whatever the scene, whether urban (“Rats will inherit/ the earth’s garbage/ dump and you/ may also flash/ on a trashheap/ called the future/ untransformed”), rural (Stormthreat. Clouddarkened/ mountain, computer/ Unplugged”), or interior (Why Dante in summer? Why not?”), these poems are observant with a twist that carries fresh understanding. (LJ 2/1/14)

Perez, Craig Santos. from unincorporated territory [guma’]. Omnidawn. ISBN 9781890650919. pap. $17.95. POETRY

Reportage, environmental impact statements, struck-through lists of dead soldiers, impressionistic verse, a mix of English and Chamoru, and diarylike lines fractured by italicized commentary—all combine in this stunning work to tell the story of Perez’s homeland, Guåhan (Guam), still staggering under the burden of military and cultural dominance. What could have felt like artifact becomes, in this poet’s capable hands, an important and relentlessly readable work. (LJ 4/15/14)

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976903. pap. $20. POETRY

From slights that will shame readers who don’t have to endure them (“he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there”) to the beating of Rodney King and the murder of Trayvon Martin, Rankine forcefully conveys continuing (if sometimes underground) racial prejudice in America. She doesn’t need raging language; the scenes she has so coolly, persuasively mastered punch us in the gut all by themselves.

Shaw, Anne. Dido in Winter: Poems. Persea. ISBN 9780892554294. pap. $15.95. POETRY

Raw and viscerally real, the poems in this collection mourn lost love with such aching ­ferocity that reading them actually hurts. But Shaw’s not being self-indulgent. Harnessing a flood of vivid language, she offers honest and beautifully rendered emotion, welcome in a world where spin and irony reign: “How much I miss/ our bodies./… I can survive the damn insipid sky/ but not the way I smolder.” (LJ 4/15/14)

Wright, Charles. Caribou: Poems. Farrar. ISBN 9780374119027. pap. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780374535155. POETRY

Closing in on 80, Poet Laureate Wright captures the spare, stilled landscape of his life—“Like time, the meadow narrows/ up to its creek-scraped end”—in language that is, as the saying goes, pure poetry. Don’t be fooled by the deceptively scrappy-sounding section titles, “Echoes,” “End Papers,” and “Apocrypha”: this is muscular, lyrical, and down to the bone—and a master class in how to write verse. (LJ 3/1/14)



Alexander, Amir. Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World. Scientific American: Farrar. ISBN 9780374176815. $27; pap. ISBN 9780374534998. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781429953924. MATH

Galileo enjoyed a good scientific dispute and, indeed, had one of the most famous disputes with the church in the history of both Christian theology and science. Its details, though, are not widely known. Alexander explores the wide-ranging impacts of the Jesuit decrees in response to Galileo’s 1632 mathematical treatise. This engrossing and enlightening history of calculus provides both the historical and mathematical foundations of the debate between science and the church and the power plays that surrounded it.

Aptowicz, Cristin O’Keefe. Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. Gotham. ISBN 9781592408702. $27.50; ebk. ISBN 9780698162105. SCI

Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum holds the marvels that Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter collected during his amazing career as a surgeon and medical professor, but those do not tell the whole story of the man himself. Spending time in Philadelphia and Paris, he studied and worked with some of the greatest physicians and surgeons of his day. Both horrifying and riveting, Apto­wicz’s work brings the doctor, his contemporaries, and medicine in mid-19th-­century Europe and America vividly to life. (LJ 9/1/14)

de Queiroz, Alan. The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life. Basic: Perseus. ISBN 9780465020515. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780465069767. NAT HIST

Writing from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist (biogeographer)—one with the heart of an intellectual—de Queiroz explores the extra­ordinary journeys species make to join another ecosystem a continent away. Deft descriptions of scientific debates about biogeography are illuminated by incredible stories of specific journeys, such as that of a turtle that traveled from one continent to another gathering barnacles and losing body mass on the way. For anyone who has wondered where in the world their driftwood originated, this book is a marvelous read. (LJ 2/1/14)

Kaku, Michio. The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest To Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385530828. $28.95; pap. ISBN 9780307473349. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780385530835. SCI

Kaku eloquently explores the history of neuroscience and the revolutionary progress currently being made, from the foundations of MRI to the emergence of the field of brain-machine interface (BMI), which allows the brain’s electrical signals to control objects via computer. Examining consciousness and many of humanity’s most mysterious questions about the mind, Kaku explores the connections between physics and neuroscience, including the strangest concepts of quantum physics, and describes how mapping the brain will lead to a deeper understanding of human consciousness. Readable, fascinating, and comprehensive.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction. Holt. ISBN 9780805092998. $28; pap. ISBN 9781250062185. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780805099799. NAT HIST

With both horror and excitement, Kolbert offers a masterly history of human knowledge about extinction (beginning in the late 1700s) and a brief overview of extinction events and describes the central role we are playing in the current extinction. She examines a wide swath of species from Panamanian frogs to trees and birds that illustrate a pattern of extinction and ends by exploring whether humans can counter the impacts of our decisions. Not entirely hopeful but realistic. [Also a 2014 LJ Top Ten.] (LJ 2/15/14)



Armstrong, Karen. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. Knopf. ISBN 9780307957047. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385353106. REL

Prolific religious writer Armstrong’s timely work argues that political issues, rather than religion—which is often blamed—have fueled most wars throughout history. The author also posits that fundamentalism is not in itself violent. Her book will appeal to serious lay readers who seek to understand the role of religion in the development of society. (LJ 9/15/14)

Boyle, Christina. An American Cardinal: The Biography of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250032874. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250032881. REL

Journalist Boyle’s debut humanizes Dolan, tracing his life from humble beginnings in Missouri to his achievements as a church historian and professor, rector of two seminaries, and parish priest. The author also describes Dolan’s competency as a church administrator in the midst of priestly sexual misconduct scandals in St. Louis, along with his rise to his current position as Archbishop of New York. (LJ 10/1/14)

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything. Grand Central. ISBN 9781455501762. $26; pap. ISBN 9781455501748. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781455501755. REL

Ehrenreich’s (Nickel and Dimed) family’s staunch atheism often made her an outsider as a child but also gave her the tools and freedom to question everything around her, including religion. Her engaging title demands that its readers question the world around them and everything they believe about it. Essential for anyone with an interest in religious studies, contemporary history, or memoir and biography. (LJ 4/15/14)

Lamott, Anne. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594486296. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698189744. REL

Lamott (Help, Thanks, Wow; Some Assembly Required), one of the foremost liberal Christians writing today, here brings together a range of heartfelt journalistic and spiritual essays, which have all the pleasures and accessibility, the humor and surprise, of her longer books. A must for all Lamott fans, and a fine point of entry for new ­Lamott readers. (LJ 11/15/14)

Tutu, Desmond & Mpho Tutu. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. HarperOne. ISBN 9780062203564. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9780062203571. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062203588. REL

Winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a former archbishop, Tutu here pens his second collaboration with his daughter Mpho, following his previous accounts of his life and his work with the commission with what amounts to a guide to practical sainthood and a how-to on forgiveness. (LJ 2/15/14)