Back Pocket RA: Nonfiction | Wyatt’s World

It was a big year for nonfiction, with memorable books about the divisions riving the country, the intimate journey of dying, and the state of women in the world. It was also a year that celebrated achievements in work, examined the past, and shed light on current conditions. These five titles span that range and are likely to be long remembered.

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by labgirl-jpg122216Matthew Desmond (Crown).
    This accessible and important work gathered critical notice and praise from all corners and is clearly destined to become a modern classic of fieldwork and sociology. Desmond investigates the lives of those who spend almost everything they have on housing, illustrating the tragic inequality of America and how poverty spins out seemingly inescapable traps. [A 2016 LJ Top Ten Best Book.—Ed.]
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Knopf).
    This richly illuminating and brilliantly crafted memoir shares what a life in science is like. It is about many things—the lab work Jahren undertakes, her relationship to that work, her family, and central friendship with lab partner Bill—but at its heart, it tells of a life’s purpose and a life lived with purpose.
  • The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (Norton).
    Two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, developed a critical theory of how the mind operates that we all should understand: our minds are often irrational and easily led astray. Lewis brings his winning style—a mix of clarity, story, and rigor—to account for the idea and the science behind it.
  • Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy (Little, Brown).
    This stirring combination of true crime and history illustrates the best of a perennially popular genre blend. In 1899 Virginia, two young boys, albino African Americans, were exhibited as freaks in a traveling circus, separated from their mother, whom they were told had died. Then one day the circus came back to town, and their mother faced down the police, the head of which founded the local branch of the KKK, to get them back.
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (Morrow). The subject of a just-released blockbuster movie already getting Oscar buzz, Shetterly’s inspiring account details the lives of African American women who helped shape the space race, working as human computers in Langley, VA, during the height of the Cold War and the civil rights movement.
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at