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 2015: Core Nonfiction

By Elizabeth Nelson (business), Liz French (consumer health), Derek Sanderson & Erin Shea (memoir), Stephanie Sendaula (religion & spirituality), and Henrietta Verma (sci-tech).


courage to act_resizedBernanke, Ben S. The Courage To Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath. Norton. ISBN 9780393247213. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780393247220. ECON

Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, has had every decision he made in response to the Great Recession dissected and analyzed by others. Here he shares his take on the crisis and the decisions he made during that time. ­Bernanke also offers readers a look into his life and how it shaped his approach to the crisis. (Xpress Reviews, 11/20/15)

Bock, Laszlo. Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. Twelve: Grand Central. ISBN 9781455554799. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781455554805. BUS

Bock, leader of Google’s People Operations, offers an inside look at what makes Google a great place to work, outlining some of the carefully considered processes for hiring, promoting, and working in a collaborative environment. His principles are actionable for businesses of all sizes, or the book can be enjoyed for the look into how Google works. (LJ 2/15/15)

Diamandis, Peter H.  & Steven Kotler. Bold: How To Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. S. & S. ISBN 9781476709567. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781476709604. BUS

The coauthors of Abundance team up again in this “manifesto and manual” designed to serve as a playbook for entrepreneurs wanting to turn an idea into something bigger. After covering the basics of how technology has disrupted innovation, they tackle competition, crowdfunding, and more to show how companies can raise capital and build community around a great idea.

Fraser, Steve. The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316185431. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316333740. ECON

Fraser (Every Man a Speculator; Wall Street) looks at the history of capitalism in the United States in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the lack of resistance to organized wealth. Part history, part politics, and part economics, this book probes an important question and should appeal to those who seek greater understanding of the inequalities in America today and the path that led us here. (LJ 1/15)

Thaler, Richard H. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. Norton. ISBN 9780393080940. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393246773. ECON

Thaler, one of the creators of the field of behavioral economics, offers a humorous and insightful account of the history of the field. He covers the evidence behind the idea that human actors are often less than rational, a departure from the assumptions of traditional economic thought, and how “misbehaving” transpires in economic decision-making. On display is Thaler’s ability to distill big ideas into easily understood language.

consumer health

dementia caregiver_resizedAgronin, Marc E. The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders. Rowman & Littlefield Education. ISBN 9781442231917. $36; ebk. ISBN 9781442231924. HEALTH

This practical guide by a geriatric psychiatrist couldn’t be more timely (cases of Alzheimer’s disease are expected to quadruple worldwide within the next 50 years). Pointers and tips for nonprofessionals, including topics such as respite time for caregivers and possible legal matters, guide them toward providing quality care. (LJ 11/1/15)

DeVita, Vincent T & Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable—and How We Can Get There. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. ISBN 9780374135607. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374714178. HEALTH

An oncologist father and his science journalist daughter cheer on the anticancer team in what reviewer Janet Crum called a “lively personal history of cancer treatment sprinkled with biography, patients’ stories, politics, doctors behaving badly, and plenty of unvarnished opinion.”
(LJ 9/15/15)

Forrester, James. The Heart Healers: The Misfits, Mavericks, and Rebels Who Created the Greatest Medical Breakthrough of Our Lives. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250058393. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466862555. MED

Heart surgeon Forrester traces the history and development of cardiac surgery, from bold and perilous experiments to the lifesaving strategies and practices of modern times. Barbara Bibel called this an “excellent book for readers interested in medical history and those who want to understand modern medical procedures.” (LJ 7/15)

Nagoski, Emily. Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. S. & S. ISBN 9781476762098. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476762111. HEALTH

A wittily titled manifesto and sex education manual that ­Rebecca Raszewski said “will empower women to be at peace with their bodies and their sexual well-being” and “to understand why their sexual desire is so different from men’s,” this book by Smith College wellness educator and blogger Nagoski discusses everything women always wanted to know about sex.  (LJ 3/15/15)

Offit, Paul A. Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine. Basic: Perseus. ISBN 9780465082964. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780465040612. MED

Offit, a pediatrician and educator, takes on faith healers and others who eschew medical treatment for themselves or their children, often with fatal results. Barbara Bibel said, “Offit masterfully points out that the denial of medicine in the name of religion actually rejects the basic teaching of religious faith: relieving suffering, providing hope, and treating others as one would wish to be treated.” (LJ 5/1/15)


Alexander, Elizabeth. The Light of the World: A Memoir. Grand Central. ISBN 9781455599875. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455599851. memoir

When Alexander’s beloved husband Ficre dies suddenly, the life she has built with him for their two sons seems to shatter. This gorgeous, shimmering account from a finalist for the ­Pulitzer Prize in poetry is an homage to the 15-year partnership she and her husband shared. (Memoir, 2/19/15; ow.ly/UAczP)—ES

point of vanishing_resizedAxelrod, Howard. The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude. Beacon. ISBN 9780807075463. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780807075470. memoir

Particularly touching and personal, this memoir bears obvious comparison to Henry ­David Thoreau’s Walden and to Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. A deeply felt and moving journey into no longer taking life, or the world around us, for granted. (Memoir, 9/21/15; ow.ly/UAd6Z)—DS

Coyote, Peter. The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education. Counterpoint. ISBN 9781619024960. $26. memoir

Actor Coyote’s memoir tells how Zen helped him rediscover value in his life, after years of drug abuse and living in dirty, impoverished conditions. Remarkably forthright and insightful, his story may inspire others to add a bit of Zen to their lives. (Memoir, 3/12/15; ow.ly/UAdls)—DS

Hodgman, George. Bettyville. Viking. ISBN 9780525427209. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698158450. memoir

Readers from many backgrounds will identify with the author, who is a gay man, because his book is a plea for us to accept everyone for whom they are, no matter their story or the life they may lead. A superior memoir, written in a witty and episodic style. (Memoir, 1/21/15; ow.ly/UAeRo)—DS

Kozol, Jonathan. The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father One Day at a Time. Crown. ISBN 9780804140973. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780804140980. memoir

Kozol is best known for his books on the inequalities of the U.S. public education system, and here he turns his attention to another type of inequality: aging. A compassionate, finely wrought, and illuminating look into one family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. (Memoir, 6/3/15; ow.ly/UAew5)—DS

Lawson, Jenny. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. Flatiron. ISBN 9781250077004. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250077011. memoir

This delightful memoir by the author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened invites readers into the hilarious strangeness of her mind. Readers with mental illness or those who love someone with mental illness will especially enjoy this personal account. Lawson makes depression and anxiety hilarious.
(LJ 9/1/15)—ES

Marshall, Dan. Home Is Burning; A Memoir. Flatiron. ISBN 9781250068828. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250068859. memoir

In this darkly comedic account, Marshall deals with his father’s sudden ALS diagnosis the only way he knows how: with denial, booze, and an acute potty mouth. He writes what most would consider impossible: a laugh-out-loud grief memoir. (Memoir, 10/16/15; ow.ly/UAfmh)—ES

Martin, Wednesday. Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir. S. & S. ISBN 9781476762623. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476762722. memoir

When Martin and her husband move to the Upper East Side of Manhattan in search of a more kid-friendly neighborhood, she observes some of the same ritual behaviors she studied in her primatology program at Yale. A fascinating anthropological look at New York City’s upper crust. (Memoir, 4/15/15; ow.ly/UAfzw)—ES

Modiano, Patrick. Pedigree: A Memoir. Yale Univ. tr. from French by Mark Polizzotti.  ISBN 9780300215335. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780300216721. memoir

A truly wonderful book about a very difficult childhood. Echoes of the gray, bleak, yet resilient mood of François Truffaut’s 1959 film The 400 Blows are felt throughout, perhaps because both works share post–World War II Paris as the setting. This is a book that demands rereading. (Memoir, 9/21/15; ow.ly/UAd6Z)—DS

Smith, Tracy K. Ordinary Light: A Memoir. Knopf. ISBN 9780307962669 $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307962676. memoir

Smith’s coming-of-age memoir describes her attempt to make sense of her beliefs, her mother’s cancer diagnosis, and her own identity as a black woman in post–civil rights America. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and exhibits her command of delicate prose in this luminous memoir.—ES



galileo's middle finger_resizedDreger, Alice. Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science.  Penguin. ISBN 9781594206085. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698155961. sci

Dreger, a clinical medical ethics and bioethics professor at Northwestern, “makes the case that an assault is taking place on academic and intellectual freedom,” explained reviewer Beth Dalton, who praises Dreger’s journalistic prose and her crusade to establish research and reporting integrity as the guiding forces in science today. (LJ 2/15/15)

Montgomery, Sy. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. Atria. ISBN 9781451697711. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451697742. sci

LJ’s Lisa Peet noted in her review of naturalist Montgomery’s work that while searching for this fascinating creature’s soul, the book portrays octopi as “sophisticated camouflage artists [that] can solve puzzles, and demonstrate distinct preferences for people, places, and tastes.” The book also paints a vivid picture of the people who love cephalopods and, best of all, will be accessible to middle schoolers through adults. (LJ 6/1/15)

O’Connor, M.R. Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction, and the Precarious Future of Wild Things. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781137279293. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466879324. sci

O’Connor examines the future of biodiversity and conservation if it becomes possible to perform a Jurassic Park–like feat with extinct creatures’ DNA. Pair with Beth Shapiro’s How To Clone a Mammoth: The ­Science of De-­Extinction for a thorough education on the possibilities of bringing back animals we’ve long thought gone forever. (LJ 9/1/15)

Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. Avery. ISBN 9781583334676. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101639641. sci

Featuring a foreword by the late Oliver Sacks, Wired science reporter Silberman’s meticulously researched and compelling narrative explores the history of autism and shows how what we now think of as a disorder can be viewed as a neurological difference. Silberman explores the history of autism, especially Hans Asperger’s work with patients, and outlines how, with the right level of understanding and assistance, autistic people can have full, meaningful lives.

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Knopf. ISBN 9780385350662. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385350679. sci

Wulf chronicles the life and work of a man considered to be the first ecologist. Reviewer Henry T. Armistead called the biography of von Humboldt (1769–1859) “masterful” and “important” and noted that it covers an underappreciated man who influenced countless other luminaries and was far ahead of his time in scientific thinking.
(LJ 11/15/15)



  1. Jeffrey Stern says:

    Great choice in selecting The Point of Vanishing, by a first-time author, Howard Axelrod. I agree with Geraldine Brooks, who called it “a sensitive and sensual book about seeing and feeling deeply, witty, wise and beautifully written from beginning to end.”

  2. Karl Helicher says:

    Great choice, as always. Etta, congratulations on your new job and on the wonderful job you did for LJ as editor! You will be missed.

    • Henrietta Verma Henrietta Verma says:

      Thank you very much, Karl, I really appreciate that. It’s been easy to look good with such great reviewers as yourself.