It’s been said that reading literary fiction produces more empathetic people, but the depth of this year’s notable nonfiction titles prove that the same is true for all readers. Nonfiction pieces create a gateway into the public consciousness, and their success, failure and long-term resonance highlight the lines that connect us. Nothing’s more compelling than the truth, and if you love uncovering the facts, get wrapped up in one of the following picks for the best nonfiction books of 2015.
1. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Helen Macdonald’s book has captivated readers since its release in March, and it’s easy to see why. H is for Hawk chronicles Macdonalds’ fascinating journey to train one of the most ferocious predators, the goshawk, while grappling with the grief of losing her father. An intertwined exploration of falconry and bereavement, the book deserves its equally accurate labels of nature writing and memoir. This extraordinary text will delight history enthusiasts, literary buffs and nature lovers alike, proving that H is for Hawk delivers a unique yet accessible story. -Frannie Jackson
2. Madness in Civilization by Andrew Scull
In this centuries-spanning history, Andrew Scull reveals how mental illness was treated by numerous societies. Shining the spotlight on those who shaped the public perception of mental illness-without moralizing or excusing the often abusive treatment prescribed-Scull explains that the phases of our understanding of mental illness exist on a continuum. Madness in Civilization ultimately tears down the supposed barriers between society and the mentally ill, highlighting the many ways so-called “madness” has been appropriated, marginalized and understood in the course of human history. -Bridey Heing
3. Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple
Artist and journalist Molly Crabapple takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the early 21st century from New York to Paris to Guantanamo Bay and back again. It’s a personal history unlike any other told in Molly’s frank and vulnerable prose, fitting one artist’s story of gusty survival into the wide arc of recent events.
4. It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson
Eighty-two-year-old songwriter and American icon Willie Nelson still has stories to tell, and he tackles his most complex tale yet with It’s a Long Story: My Life. The 400-page reflection on Nelson’s days on Earth might seem redundant to some fans. He published a book of road tales two years ago titled Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, an autobiography back in 2000-and who could forget 2007’s philosophical Tao of Willie? But It’s a Long Story proves to capture the Red Headed Stranger in a direct light, and fans have plenty to gain within its pages. -Tyler R. Kane
5. On the Move by Oliver Sacks
Fans of the late Dr. Oliver Sacks have waited decades to dive into a proper memoir of the life of the famous and charismatic neurologist. Throughout his 60 years in medicine, Sacks touched lives and expanded minds, filling several books with case studies from real patients. While he slipped a handful of case studies into this memoir, On the Move highlights more personal encounters, never shying away from disconcerting exchanges or heartbreaking interactions. Shedding light on his experience as a gay man in 1960s America, his supernatural attraction to motorcycles and his Herculean triumphs at weightlifting at Muscle Beach, this memoir celebrates the life of an inherently empathetic
6. The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret
If you’ve listened to 10 or more episodes of This American Life, you’ll know Etgar Keret for his hilarious, surreal and insightful stories. If he can hold the attention of host Ira Glass, it’s fair to say he can capture the attention of us all. The Seven Good Years, Keret’s first collection of nonfiction, proves as playfully profound as any of his fiction. Focusing on the years between the birth of his son and the death of his father, Keret critiques and celebrates family life, living in Israel and the art of writing-all while maintaining a coherency of tone and purpose most writers should envy. -Mack Hayden
7. “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a letter to his teenage son, Coates grapples with the implications of race in America, especially for the black men and women who still today face a disproportionate amount of prejudice. As Coates attempts to answer tough questions surrounding race, he shares his own story of finding his place in the world through both personal narrative and reimagined history. Winner of 2015 National Book Award.
8. “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson
Though scarlet letters might be a thing of the past, public shaming is alive and real, especially with the rise of social media. To uncover the phenomenon behind modern-day public shaming – from Justine Sacco’s tasteless Twitter joke to Jonah Lehrer’s widely-publicized plagiarism scandal – Ronson explores the implications and consequences of what it means to be called out and publicly bullied today.