Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Nonfiction Books I'm Thankful I Read

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I love Thanksgiving. I love Nonfiction November. Let's mash them together and create something extra awesome. Here are 10 nonfiction books I'm thankful I read. I'm glad I read them because they're entertaining, inspiring, or taught me about the world. I hope you like them as much as I did.

🦃  Nonfiction Books I'm Thankful I Read  🏈


Technology / Politics

In an era of increasing social isolation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are among the most important tools we have to understand each other. We use social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society but, as Chris Bail explains, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Breaking the Social Media Prism challenges common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, revealing that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.

Drawing on innovative online experiments and in-depth interviews with social media users from across the political spectrum, this book explains why stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less. Bail takes you inside the minds of online extremists through vivid narratives that trace their lives on the platforms and off, detailing how they dominate public discourse at the expense of the moderate majority. Wherever you stand on the spectrum of user behavior and political opinion, he offers fresh solutions to counter political tribalism from the bottom up and the top down. He introduces new apps and bots to help readers avoid misperceptions and engage in better conversations with the other side. Finally, he explores what the virtual public square might look like if we could hit reset and redesign social media from scratch through a first-of-its-kind experiment on a new social media platform built for scientific research.

Providing data-driven recommendations for strengthening our social media connections, Breaking the Social Media Prism shows how to combat online polarization without deleting our accounts.

Why I love it: Weirdly, I found this book comforting. It confirmed some of my suspicions and helped me realize that I'm not going insane. (It's always a good day when you realize you're not going insane.) A team of researchers discovered that Americans aren't actually as politically polarized as we believe. Our political conversations have just been hijacked by extremists who attack moderates and discourage them from participating in discussions. Americans think we're polarized because moderates aren't talking. We only see the incessant yammering of extremists. The author isn't optimistic that our current social media platforms can fix the problem, but he has ideas for new platforms that will encourage moderates without rewarding trolls. I hope he gets funding to test his ideas. If you're interested in how social media shapes our perceptions, you need to read this book. It's thoughtful and well-researched.

Buy it on Amazon


History / Sociology

100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens.

How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?

In Sapiens, Dr Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical–and sometimes devastating–breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behavior from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come?

Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power, and our future.

Why I love it: If you took everything that interests me about humans and crammed it into one book, you’d come up with this one. It delivers exactly what it promises in the title. It starts by talking about six different species of human-like creatures and then follows Homo Sapiens through history. It’s provocative and thought-provoking. I didn’t always agree with the author’s conclusions (especially about the agricultural revolution), but he argues his points well enough that I can see where he’s coming from. I’m surprised at how quickly I flew through this book. It’s massive and more academic than what I usually read, but I couldn’t put it down because the writing style is engaging, and the author asks interesting questions. I love that the book focuses on humanity as a whole and not on individual humans. I need to find more history books like this one. Recommendations, please.

Buy it on Amazon


Medicine / Survival

A true-life scientific thriller no reader will forget, Surviving the Extremes takes us to the farthest reaches of the earth as well as into the uncharted territory within the human body, spirit, and brain. A vice president of the legendary Explorers Club, as well as surgeon, explorer, and masterful storyteller, Dr. Kenneth Kamler has spent years discovering what happens to the human body in extreme environmental conditions. Divided into six sections—jungle, high seas, desert, underwater, high altitude, and outer space—this book uses firsthand testimony and documented accounts to investigate the science of what a body goes through and explains why people survive—and why they sometimes don’t.

Why I love it: If you’re interested in medical nonfiction, this book is completely captivating. And completely horrifying. It kept me awake for several nights because I couldn’t stop reading. The author is an “extreme medicine” doctor who works with astronauts, deep ocean divers, and mountain climbers. The book is about what happens to the human body in environments that are not human friendly. The stories the author tells are simultaneously terrifying and amazing. That’s why I couldn’t stop reading them. I like every chapter, but I think my favorite is the one about Everest. I’m never going to climb that mountain. Nope, nope, not worth the potentially horrific side effects . . . .


Buy it on Amazon


History / Biography

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.

In this gripping narrative, Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most infamous events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah's journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative.

Why I love it: You'll be grateful that you're sitting in a warm room while you read this book. It's the type of story you can't believe is true. It's too scary. Who wants to starve to death in the freezing wilderness with 80+ random strangers? Nobody! There are a lot of books about the Donners, but I recommend this one because the author doesn't just retell the familiar story that most Americans already know. He puts the story in historical and scientific context to help the reader understand how and why everything went wrong for the Donner Party.


Memoir / Essays

One of the comedy world's brightest new voices, Trevor Noah is a light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race and identity, sharing jokes and insights drawn from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. As host of the US hit show The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he provides viewers around the globe with their nightly dose of biting satire, but here Noah turns his focus inward, giving readers a deeply personal, heartfelt and humorous look at the world that shaped him.

Noah was born a crime, son of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the first years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, take him away.

A collection of eighteen personal stories, Born a Crime tells the story of a mischievous young boy growing into a restless young man as he struggles to find his place in a world where he was never supposed to exist. Born a Crime is equally the story of that young man's fearless, rebellious and fervently religious mother—a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence and abuse that ultimately threatens her own life.

Why I love it: It's both accessible and hilarious. You’ll learn a ton about South Africa’s history, culture, and government, but you’ll never feel like you’re learning because Trevor Noah is an entertaining storyteller. I don't understand how he survived his childhood. He got himself into so much trouble!



In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries.

Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life—why did he leave? What did he learn? As well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

Why I love it: The history of hermits is surprisingly fascinating. You'll have to keep reminding yourself that this is a true story with real people. Christopher Knight is an unusual human. I’m not a people-lover, but I don’t think I could live like he did. That lifestyle is a little too lonely. (Also, I'm way too clumsy to be a successful burglar.)


Sociology / Economics / History

Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of 21st-century America's most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Why I love it: "Love" is the wrong word. This book is scary. It's like a distressing peek into my future. I can easily imagine myself living in grinding poverty and spending all my money on rent. If you're curious about homelessness in the US, you have to read this book. It's compassionate, well-researched, and offers possible solutions.



In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world.

In her memoir, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.


Why I love it: On the surface, it seems like I’d have nothing in common with Michelle Obama because she’s a celebrity, and I’m a friendless weirdo who barely leaves my house, but I found this book surprisingly relatable. Michelle talks about perfectionism, infertility, health problems, money, life-altering career switches, and the struggles of balancing work and family. There are fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about life in the White House. She’s very honest about her experiences. I highly recommend the audiobook. The author narrates it herself, and the tone is conversational, like a chat with a friend.


Buy it on Amazon


Adult Nonfiction / Memoir

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag." In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Why I love it: It's an edge-of-your-seat memoir. Bad things keep piling up and piling up until you wonder how the author can stand it. This story is harrowing, but it's also a celebration of resilience. If you want something, go for it. Don't let your past hold you back.

Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

Psychology / Self-Help / Memoir

After a stint policing the rough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, Chris Voss joined the FBI, where his career as a hostage negotiator brought him face-to-face with a range of criminals, including bank robbers and terrorists. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession, he became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues to succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles—counter-intuitive tactics and strategies—you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.


Why I love it: The author is a former hostage negotiator who teaches readers how to talk to strangers and get what they want out of the conversation. The author doesn’t pad the book with unnecessary fluff. He gets right to the point, gives clear examples, and uses bullet points to summarize the most important parts of each chapter. It’s an extremely readable guide that I can see myself referencing in the future. The author also tells stories of his time as an FBI hostage negotiator. I could not do that job. There’s too much pressure! The book mostly focuses on business negotiations where there is money at stake, but many of the author’s tips can be applied to any negotiation situation.


Buy it on Amazon

Talk to me about the books you're thankful you read.


  1. I love reading nonfiction because sometimes it is really amazing to read about things that can't possibly be true, but are!

  2. Thanks for sharing these. I still need to read Michelle's memoir. I do love nonfiction. I'm currently reading The Killer Across the Table.

    Lauren @ www.shootingstarsmag.net

  3. Love this! I wish I had known about Nonfiction November sooner. I would have planned to read more nonfiction. There is always next year.

  4. I've read Educated and Born a Crime. Not as big into Non fiction as you are, perhaps I need to try harder!

    Next year I will try for non fiction November...

    Happy Thanksgiving AJ!

    Elza Reads

  5. These look wonderful! I rarely read nonfiction to be honest. I own the Michelle Obama book though. I hope to read it one day.

  6. Lovely list! I hardly ever read nonfiction, but I do always want to try more of it and you have some fascinating picks here. I'd love to listen to the audiobook for Becoming.

  7. Born a Crime, Becoming, and Educated were all excellent

  8. The social media book sounds fantastic, especially with what's going on over at Twitter. wow, talk about timely. And Sapiens... that first line... so interesting! There were six?? Wow.

    Obama's book sounds fabulous.

  9. Everyone seems to love Educated. I have only heard good things. I had no idea hermits were that fascinating.

  10. Breaking the Social Media Prism sounds really interesting

  11. I listened to Becoming and I am so grateful I did. Nice list!

  12. Evicted was terrifying. "There but for the grace of God," and all that. Whew.

    And when will I finally read Born a Crime?!

  13. I'm sad that I've mostly missed Nonfiction November but I enjoyed your list! Breaking the Social Media Prism sounds fascinating. There are days when I get disgusted and swear I'm going to delete all my accounts but I truly love seeing posts from family and friends who I can't keep up with in any other way. I've watched my high school classmates' children grow up on Facebook! They aren't even posting political things; I keep my friend/follow list well curated. But all the ads and news stories drive me batty some days.

    I think you may have mentioned Surviving the Extremes last year? At any rate, it's on my TBR and I think I found it through you. I haven't gotten around to reading it yet but it still sounds so good to me.

    Born a Crime is on my list as well. Someone recommended the audio version but the last time I checked, none of my libraries has that format. It's so weird. I keep putting off reading it, hoping to find the audiobook one day.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. I could see myself reading all these books. The Trevor Noah's book sounds both depressing and funny.

  15. I used to rarely read non-fiction, and committed to reading at least one a month. Lately, I've been reading more than that, and I've definitely found a few from this list to add to my TBR. This is a great list, so thanks for the recs!

  16. THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE is excellent, isn't it? So gripping. Brown does an excellent job making you feel as if you're right there along with those poor stranded pioneers. Harrowing is right!

    Happy TTT!

  17. I still have Becoming on my TBR. I need to read it!

  18. I always feel like I don't read enough nonfiction - I'm worried the "heavier" subjects will be too text book like. But, I guess the worst that could happen is a DNF, the best is that I finish the book, love it, and learn something. I've read Noah's book and couldn't put it down; it's excellent. Also Educated, Becoming and I was surprised to see the hermit book here. I don't think I've ever seen someone that's read it. It was quite an unusual story. Thanks for sharing and reminding me there are good nonfic out there!
    Have a terrific week.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

  19. I've been getting more into non-fiction over the past few years, especially memoirs! I really loved both Becoming and Born A Crime, each were one of my favourite books in the years I read them, I definitely feel like I appreciated Born A Crime much more having read it after I'd been to South Africa than I would have before: I was in Cape Town, not Johannesburg, but I definitely had more of an insight into the country than I would have if I'd read it before I went there.
    My TTT: https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2022/11/22/top-ten-tuesday-395/

  20. Love this idea for a post! I've been reading more non-fiction the last couple of years. I loved Becoming and I'm so excited for her second book coming out soon!

  21. Yes I liked a few of these: the Donner Party book is excellent and so is Michelle Obama's memoir, and the Chris Knight book is pretty wild to imagine. I haven't gotten up the courage yet to read the Tara Westover book ... It might enrage me about her parents. Hmm.

  22. Just today I was thinking about listening to Michelle Obama's audiobook. Thanks for sharing! :-)

  23. Great list! I have only read Sapiens and Born a Crime, though I did get started on Educated and then had to return it to the library before I could finish it (somehow never got around to reading it again).. Becoming has been on my list for a while, and now adding the others as well :-)

  24. Nice job on an interesting topic! I am especially intrigued by the one about the Donner party. They have always fascinated me.

  25. Great combination topic! I've only read Trevor Noah's book off this list but I do have Becoming and Educated on my shelves and I've been wanting to read those for a while now. But I just added The Indifferent Stars to my TBR cos I've never heard of this tale before and it has definitely piqued my interest! Sounds horrifying and I want to know more.

  26. I was considering ready Sapiens, but then a friend told me the science there is really bad actually

  27. I've been debating whether too read Trevor Noah's book since I saw it. I think he's a great comedian so I might give it a try x

  28. A fantastic collection of nonfiction books! Thanks for stopping by my blog last week.

    Pam @ Read! Bake! Create!

  29. I just finished listening to Never Split the Difference. Educated has been on my wish list for a while.

  30. I need to read more non-fiction! I've been trying to do one non-fiction book a month this year and I'm going strong but I want to continue it. I'll have to add some of these to my list to try :)

  31. I had and think I still have Educated on my TBR. I enjoy reading non-fiction but only at certain times of the day, LOL!