Dan Slater’s vibrant The Incorruptibles chronicles the homegrown vice squad that took down New York City’s most notorious turn-of-the-century gangsters.
Dan Slater’s vibrant The Incorruptibles chronicles the homegrown vice squad that took down New York City’s most notorious turn-of-the-century gangsters.
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Unearthed letters from Sylvia Plath may have shocked the world in 2017, but Loving Sylvia Plath shows we’ve long had all the evidence we needed to condemn her abuser, poet Ted Hughes.

When the farm-to-table concept became widely popular 15 years ago, Nicola Twilley “got stuck on the conjunction. What about the to?” Her deeply researched and highly engaging second book, Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves, invites the reader on a quest to understand “what happen[s] between the farms and the tables.”

Twilley—co-author of Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine, regular contributor to The New Yorker and co-host of the award-winning Gastropod podcast—spent a decade tracing the history and contemplating the future of artificial cold. In Frostbite, she considers how we got where we are today: enjoying whatever food we want when we want it, but with unintended consequences for our health and environment.

Twilley notes that “Artificial, or mechanical, cooling . . . wasn’t achieved until the mid-1700s, it wasn’t commercialized until the late 1800s, and it wasn’t domesticated until the 1920s.” Now, the “cold chain” is so ingrained in our way of life that we take it for granted. From hard science to fascinating history, major machinery to quirky theories, Frostbite explores seemingly every aspect of our refrigeration-dependent existence as the author visits banana-ripening rooms in New York City and cheese caves in Missouri; travels to China to learn about its booming pork industry; has coffee in California with “the world’s first and only refrigerator dating expert” and much more.

While refrigeration reduced dependence on salt as a preservative, Twilley notes, it reduced consumption of fermented foods and “everyday exposure to microbes,” too, thus increasing gut inflammation. It has also increased food waste, released toxic substances into the environment and altered our connection to the natural world. She contends that “refrigeration was implemented, for the most part, in order to optimize markets rather than human and environmental health.”

What’s a concerned refrigerator-user to do? After all, the appliance is “an underappreciated engineering marvel . . . a reliable, relatively simple box that, without fuss or fanfare, harnesses the powers of nature to supernatural effect, performing the daily miracle of delaying matter’s inevitable decomposition and death.” Frostbite, a decidedly interesting and insightful book by an impressively intrepid reporter, offers compelling food for thought about the role of cold in our lives, for better or worse, now and in the future.

Interesting, insightful and impressively intrepid, Frostbite offers compelling food for thought about the role of cold in our lives.
Audrea Lim’s magnificent, provocative Free the Land illuminates how American ideas about land ownership contribute to social injustice.

Science journalist Sadie Dingfelder has known since childhood that she isn’t great at remembering people or faces. But for decades, she failed to notice that other people didn’t make the mistakes that she did, like hopping into strangers’ cars, or getting lost in her brother’s small house. After she mistook another man for her husband in a grocery store, Dingfelder began to wonder if her quirks indicated something larger. She decided to undergo a test and learned that she’s faceblind: She truly doesn’t remember faces. 

But that’s only the beginning of what she learned over the next year. “Welcome to my midlife crisis,” she writes in her charming debut, Do I Know You?: A Faceblind Reporter’s Journey into the Science of Sight, Memory, and Imagination. “There will be no fast cars or sexy pool boys, but there will be answers to questions that have dogged me my entire life. Mysteries like: Why didn’t I ever learn how to drive? Why hasn’t anyone ever asked me out on a date? Why was I so lonely as a kid, and how did I manage to make so many friends as an adult? (And why, despite having so many friends, do I still feel lonely?)” Dingfelder soon learned that along with faceblindness, she’s stereoblind—the world she sees is flat, not three-dimensional. She also learned that her brain doesn’t create its own mental imagery; when she reads a novel, her brain doesn’t create pictures or scenes. 

Dingfelder weaves her story into the science of how brains process information like faces and names, and how one type of neurodiversity, like faceblindness, is often linked to another. Throughout Do I Know You?, she’s both cleareyed and vulnerable, and though her mishaps and misunderstandings are often comical, she also conveys the losses that she’s only recently begun to mourn. 

Do I Know You? offers a specific story about one woman’s neurodiverse brain (and the book’s appendix offers practical resources for parents who think their child might be faceblind or stereoblind), but Dingfelder makes the specific universal, showing readers both the remarkable diversity in how our brains encounter the world, and how much more we still have to learn about ourselves.

In Do I Know You?, faceblind journalist Sadie Dingfelder explores her condition and reveals the remarkable neural diversity of humans.
Emily Nussbaum’s illuminating Cue the Sun! tells the sometimes sordid, sometimes exuberant story of reality TV “through the voices of the people who built it.”

Although the smooth veneer of AI might gleam with a new-car sheen, the rough edges below the surface reveal its inherent inequalities. Madhumita Murgia, the first artificial intelligence editor for the Financial Times, writes in her probing Code Dependent: Living in the Shadow of AI that generative AI “is altering the very experience of being human.”

Murgia illustrates the ways that AI affects all areas of our society from health care and policing to business and education. “Our blindness to how AI systems work means we can’t properly comprehend when they go wrong or inflict harm—particularly on vulnerable people,” she writes. Drawing on deep research and interviews with individuals around the world, Murgia humanizes this claim by introducing readers to the people at risk, as well as to those endangering them.

Sama, a U.S. company that outsources digital work to East Africa, promises financial and social mobility to people living in poverty. Daniel, a South African migrant, was told he would be working with marketing content. But when he got to work, he discovered that his job was to spend hours viewing images of “human sacrifice, beheadings, hate speech and child abuse,” all for a salary of $2.20 per hour. Officially, he was flagging graphic and illegal content, but he was also training Facebook’s algorithms to identify this sort of content on their own. Daniel sued Sama and Meta, telling Murgia, “These companies are only interested in profit and not in the lives of the people whom they destroy.” His lawyer, Mercy, is even more pointed about the inequities of the AI industry: “‘All revolutions are built on the backs of slaves. So if AI is the next industrial revolution, then those who are working in AI training and moderation, they are the slaves for this revolution.”

Murgia also shows the promise of AI. In western India, Ashita, a doctor, uses an app called Qure.ai to help screen for diseases like tuberculosis in rural areas that lack access to health care, allowing her to deliver lifesaving care more quickly. Her usage data and communication with developers improved the software so that it could be rolled out more widely, and tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment shot up 35% in the region.

Code Dependent is full of such bracing, complicated stories throughout as it uncovers the perils and promise of AI.”

 

Madhumita Murgia’s bracing Code Dependent puts human faces to debates about AI’s perils and promises, revealing both the potential harm and good that this technology can do.
Blame the Stars, by the creator of popular Instagram account @Horror.Scoops, provides offbeat takes on astrology that will keep readers giggling and contemplating their next steps in life.
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The last decade of American political terror isn’t some accidental phenomenon. As award-winning journalist Elle Reeve intimately conveys, the “alt-right” movement is the result of several racist and misogynistic hate groups born in the least moderated parts of the internet, who have aligned with powerful Republicans and whose primary focus is white supremacy. Black Pill: How I Witnessed the Darkest Corners of the Internet Come to Life, Poison Society, and Capture American Politics is Reeve’s investigation into the network and ideologies of the alt-right’s most key players. Some of them have left the extremist organizations that once consumed them; others are still pulling the strings. 

Her profiles of Matt Parrott and Matt Heimbach, the neo-Nazi co-founders of the Traditionalist Worker Party and one of the driving forces behind the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, are among the most illuminating. The men lament their middle-class upbringings, their feelings of alienation, their crumbling personal and professional lives, their hatred of their dads and even their diagnoses of autism. But these qualities, Reeve contends, are not an excuse for facism and hatred. 

Rather, Reeve shows, QAnon followers, Proud Boys and other extremist groups share the opinion that they’re somehow being cheated out of what is “owed” to them—money, women, sex, power, respect—and that failure to obtain their desires is the failure of the nation. It’s not just that they think they’re losing to minorities, women and leftists: They think the soul of the nation is lost, too. This fear is not new, but the digital space has made white supremacist content easier to access, build community around and impact the political landscape in dangerous ways.

Reeve is a phenomenally skilled interviewer, able to motivate her subjects to reveal more than they probably should. She offers what they went online to find in the first place—an open ear to share their unbridled opinions, no matter how bigoted. Some of the people Reeve interviews distance themselves from the hate groups they called home—Parrott, Heimbach and Richard Spencer among them. But Black Pill also makes clear that once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. “The movement,” Reeve writes, “will get you punched, sued, jailed, divorced, bankrupt. But it will never let you go.” 

“You get to a certain point where everything is just like that Springsteen song, ‘Glory Days,’” a rueful Heimbach tells Reeve. “You just sit around like, Man, remember 2015?” Still, Black Pill doesn’t ask for our sympathy—just a willingness to peer into the dark. 

Elle Reeve’s powerful Black Pill brings members of the internet's most vicious, infamous hate groups out of the shadows, exposing the roots of extremism.
The Secret Garden meets Nora Ephron in Priyanka Mattoo’s riotously funny memoir in essays, Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones.
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Women run everywhere: up mountains, on the beach, along city roads and country paths. They run for their health, to compete, for the joy of feeling lungs, heart and legs work in harmony. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a world where women don’t run. But in Better Faster Farther: How Running Changed Everything We Know About Women, sportswriter and essayist Maggie Mertens reveals that the history of women’s running was never smooth. Instead, it was like a hurdle race, but one where the obstacles became taller and harder over time.

As Mertens reports, nearly everything conspired against women who wanted to run. It took generations of stubborn, passionate athletes simply to get to the starting line. Mertens opens the book describing the erroneous reportage on 1928’s first Olympic women’s 800-meter race, which claimed that the competitors dropped like flies at the finish line. Male-dominated sports associations barred competitions for women. Doctors declared that running would cause irreparable damage to their reproductive organs. 

If a woman wanted to run, she was deemed either dangerously masculine, seriously misguided or mentally ill. Better Faster Father profiles dozens of athletes who faced these charges. Before Bobbi Gibb snuck into the 1966 Boston Marathon and became the first woman runner to complete it, her parents had sent her to a psychiatrist to “cure” her of her passion for running. When runners like Mary Decker and Mary Cain developed osteoporosis, sports scientists blamed feminine frailty, rather than ill-informed coaches who made their protégés starve themselves.

Women ran marathons and broke track records, but, as Mertens details, new barriers kept being erected, supposedly to protect women’s opportunities, including denying participation of trans and intersex athletes. Transgender women were and are targeted, even though their performance on the track is comparable to cisgender women competitors, and the “advantage” of testosterone remains unproven. Genetic testing, invasive physical exams and testosterone tests were and are performed on women deemed too fast, too muscular, too competitive to be female. 

And yet, women run. Like Jasmin Paris, who holds the world record for the Spine Race, a grueling 268-mile ultramarathon up and down the Pennine mountains. And Paula Radcliffe, who controversially kept training up until the day she gave birth—and won the 2007 New York City Marathon nine months later. Every woman you see jogging in the park or sprinting at a track meet. All prove that women can, indeed, run. 

For centuries, women were discouraged from running. Better Faster Farther chronicles how and why they ran anyway.
Appetite for Change collects recipes from the predominantly Black residents of Minneapolis’s Northside community, and shows the positive social power of growing, preparing and enjoying fresh, wholesome food.
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The media obsession that followed jewel thief Arthur Barry in the 1920s and ’30s looks familiar today, as true crime podcasts and TikTok “investigators” descend on the buzziest, splashiest cases, ethics and tact be damned.

The crimes of Barry, detailed in Dean Jobb’s A Gentleman and a Thief: The Daring Jewel Heists of a Jazz Age Rogue, typically did not cause too much harm (with notable exceptions). He targeted the fabulously wealthy in and around Jazz Age New York City. “Anyone who could afford to wear a $100,000 necklace could afford to lose it,” he said, predating the similar ethos of Cary Grant’s character in To Catch a Thief.  

Jobb’s book tells Barry’s full story, from his hardscrabble youth to service in World War I to the crimes that made him famous. At times, it can feel that the buildup is too thorough, too slow, but the narrative soon gets a move on. The story of Barry’s escalating crimes—from robbing normal rich bankers in the suburbs to casing literal royals ensconced in an opulent estate—followed by his inevitable downfall, is breezily told. Even after he is caught (how investigators fingered him for the crimes is not entirely clear here), the story is not over, as Barry can’t help but find the limelight again. 

Barry’s escapades have elements of our favorite fictional thieves and con men. He palled around with a future king and the Long Island set that inspired The Great Gatsby. Though he comes off as glamorous and charismatic, Barry was no Robin Hood: He stole millions of dollars’ worth of precious gems, only to quickly spend almost all of his proceeds on luxury cars, blowout nights on the town and gambling sprees. 

Too bad today’s omnipresent surveillance would make it nearly impossible to walk into the Plaza Hotel and walk out with someone’s famous jewels, and not immediately be tracked down. 

But Barry could. At least for a while.

You can’t help but root for the glamorous gentleman jewel thief at the center of Dean Jobb’s immersive true crime saga, the aptly titled A Gentleman and a Thief.
In Rewire, neuroscientist Nicole Vignola provides a remarkable toolkit rife with practical strategies and tips for self-improvement.

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