The Best Nonfiction of 2023

Our favorite reads brought history vividly to life, explored the far reaches of the natural world, enhanced our understanding of social issues and told poignant, memorable life stories.

The latest enthralling historical narrative from National Book Award-winning author Timothy Egan focuses on the rapid rise and spectacular collapse of the KKK in the 1920s.

In his memoir, award-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen “re members” and “dis remembers,” excavating and reassembling memories as if working on his family’s portrait.

Rebecca Renner’s Gator Country follows an undercover mission to expose alligator poachers in the Everglades, revealing the scraggly splendor of the region’s inhabitants.

Journalist and historian Jacob Mikanowski manages to pull off the nearly impossible—an accessible and detailed history of Eastern Europe that spans 2,000 years in under 400 pages.

Kidada E. Williams demonstrates that the progress of the post-Civil War Reconstruction was hampered by a not-so-secret war against Black citizens.

Jonathan Eig’s monumental biography takes Martin Luther King Jr. down from his pedestal, revealing his flaws, needs, dreams, hopes and weariness.

Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Turning the last page, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders.

Beth Nguyen has only spent 24 hours with her mother over the course of her adult life, and her revelatory memoir depicts all the love and anguish bound up with this fact.

With a straightforward scrutiny that reveals without judging, Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder offers a long, hard look at the lives of homeless people in Rough Sleepers.

Anthropologist Alexa Hagerty’s extraordinary memoir pays tribute to the victims of genocide in South America, whose bones Hagerty returned to their grieving families.

For Leta McCollough Seletzky, the famous photo of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination is particularly haunting—because her father was the one trying to administer first aid.

Pulitzer finalist Elizabeth Rush combines memoir, reportage and science writing in a lyrical, women-centered addition to the Antarctic canon.

The Underworld is Susan Casey’s dazzling answer to the age-old, tantalizing question about the ocean’s abyss: “What’s down there?”

David Grann’s narrative nonfiction masterpiece about an 18th-century man-of-war that ran aground in South America reveals humanity at its best and worst, from heroism to cannibalism.

Tahir Hamut Izgil’s beautifully written memoir is one of the only firsthand accounts available of the ongoing genocide of Uyghur people by the Chinese government.

Previous Best Nonfiction lists

Recent starred nonfiction

In the dreamlike Underworlds, Stephen Ellcock pulls off an impressive feat in gathering material from sources as diverse and multifaceted as an underground ecosystem.

Chasing Bright Medusas is an inspired biography of Willa Cather’s life and work that conveys the author’s complexity with affection and admiration.

Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine keeps the legendary artist in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional.

Peter Englund’s November 1942 chronicles World War II through the lives of 39 people in a single month, creating a significant contribution to our understanding of war.

Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House illustrates sumptuous interior designs that may make you tremble with sheer want.

Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers a prismatic view on the sonic democracy that was Sonic Youth.