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Best of 2016: Non-Fiction

Updated: April 27, 2017

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!  For more book lists and featured book reviews, written by the LAPL staff, check LAPL Reads.

All the single ladies : unmarried women and the rise of an independent nation
Traister, Rebecca,
Call Number: 301.412973 T768

In 1960, almost 60% of Americans were married by age 29. Today, that figure is only 20%. All the Single Ladies is New York Magazine writer-at-large Rebecca Traister’s investigation into that phenomenon.  There are revelatory insights into why it’s not a completely new development; why the phenomenon does not transcend socioeconomic status; and what the consequences may be for America.


An American genocide : the United States and the California Indian catastrophe, 1846-1873
Madley, Benjamin,
Call Number: 970.4 C153Mad

From 1843 to 1873, the Native American population in California was leveled from approximately 150,000 to 30,000. This was not due to disease or starvation, but to a systematic slaughter of Native peoples who were in the way of land expansion by new settlers and the Gold Rush. Scholar and historian Benjamin Madley details the fact that prior to 1846, numerous explorers and settlers spoke about the friendliness of Native American tribes. After that time period, there was a concerted, documented effort by a broad spectrum of government agencies to portray the Native Americans as confrontational and dangerous.

The book : a cover-to-cover exploration of the most powerful object of our time
Houston, Keith, 1977-
Call Number: 085.1 H843

The book as a physical object has been around for over 2,000 years, and it is not at all dead or dying.  Keith Houston's history analyzes the physical properties of books, the printing and illustrating processes, and how the content and physical make-up reflect universal social, political and economic conditions.

Born to run
Springsteen, Bruce,
Call Number: 789.14 S769-2

In this candid memoir, Springsteen discusses his life as New Jersey’s favorite son, his Catholic upbringing, troubled relationship with his working class father, the musical influences of his youth, a failed marriage, and the rise of his political consciousness.  Extensive passages are devoted to well-known E Street Band Members: Vocalist  Patti Scialfa (Springsteen’s life partner), saxophonist  Clarence  Clemons,  guitarist Stevie Van Zandt, and drummer Max Weinberg. His writing style is a lyrical match to his songs.


A burglar's guide to the city
Manaugh, Geoff,
Call Number: 364 M267

No one knows as much about the space of cities, how cities are put together and can be pulled apart, as the people who use that space to commit robberies. This book is partly delightful heist anecdotes and partly a poem to the crowded, chaotic spaces we all live in. 


Cast of characters : Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the golden age of the New Yorker
Vinciguerra, Thomas J,
Call Number: 051 N532Vi

The early days of The New Yorker magazine had idiosyncratic writers, who merit being called cast of characters. Included are well-known writers: James Thurber, Charles Addams, E. B. and Katharine White, John O'Hara, Wolcott Gibbs, with accompanying zany stories, and other contributors, who have been overlooked: St. Clair McKelway, Frederick Packard, and John Mosher.

Cook Korean! : a comic book with recipes
Ha, Robin,
Call Number: 641.59519 H111

This wonderful graphic cookbook teaches Korean cooking with approachable directions and cute panels about cultural facets of the cuisine. Stand-out recipes include a description of hand-pulled noodles, and include common home cooking shortcuts like store-bought broth. Great for the culinarily curious and the adventurous home cook.

Crush : writers reflect on love, longing and the power of their first celebrity crush
Call Number: 157.3 C9575-1

In essay format, a number of writers share the story of their first celebrity crush.  Contributing writers include Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Roxane Gay, Emily Gould, and others.  The book is full of tales of the awkward moments of late childhood and early adolescence, and is sure to send you back to that period in your own life. 


Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles
Faragher, John Mack, 1945-
Call Number: 979.41 L881Far

There is nothing sweet, quaint, or gentle about the history of Los Angeles, especially during the last half of the 19th century.  It was a city of mob rule, violence and murder. Historian John Mack Faragher's extensive research presents a portrait of a city that is a match for any modern horror film.

Bruckman Rare Books Friends Award for 2018

Focus on playwrights : portraits and interviews
Johann, Susan, interviewer, photographer.
Call Number: 812.09 J647

Susan Johann photographed over ninety modern American playwrights. All photographs are in black and white, mostly double-page spread images that are connected with interviews. The style of poses and interviews vary, as do the plays and personalities of these remarkably gifted artists.


Frantumaglia : a writer's journey
Ferrante, Elena,
Call Number: 853 F373F

The very private writer Elena Ferrante presents one aspect of her life, as a writer. She does so in bits and pieces which is what frantumaglia means in Neapolitan dialect. In the current world with the need to know everything about everyone, there was conjecture about her true identity. As for this reader--I want more exceptional novels from Elena Ferrante, whoever she may be.

The geek feminist revolution
Hurley, Kameron,
Call Number: 814 H965

In this collection of essays Kameron Hurley explores geeky media and women’s place in it, as characters, audience members, and creators. Hurley shares her experiences watching and enjoying shows that weren’t made with her in mind; her experiences trying to create fully realized female characters; and her experiences talking about both of those things online. It’s the perfect book to read if you have ever walked into a dark comic book shop, had five white guys stare at you blankly, felt uncomfortable, and walked right back out again. 

The gene : an intimate history
Mukherjee, Siddhartha,
Call Number: 575.1 M953

From Pythagoras and Mendel, to Watson and Crick, this book follows the study of heredity. It moves from the sweeping and grandiose, like the ill-conceived promises of the eugenics movement, to the startlingly intimate, and includes the author’s own family history of mental illness.  

The genius of birds
Ackerman, Jennifer, 1959-
Call Number: 598.25 A182

The title says it all: the genius of birds. Ackerman takes a look at the many extraordinary mental feats of birds, and the many ways they use their brains. She explains what science is telling us about what these talents mean with respect to birds and to all intelligence.  Bird lovers will definitely want to pick it up, and so will anyone interested in the question of non-human intelligence.

Grunt : the curious science of humans at war
Roach, Mary.
Call Number: 355.0973 R628

Science writer Mary Roach explores the strange science of military bodies; everything from camouflage, to latrines, to amputations, to caffeinated gum, to not dying in a sinking, leaking submarine. All of this is accomplished with her trademark flair and willingness to ask the really weird questions. 


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Vance, J. D.,
Call Number: 323.30973 V222

This fascinating memoir examines the hidden culture of Appalachia’s “Mountain People,” and how learned behaviors conspire to prevent these hillbillies, identified as working (and non-working) blue-collar whites, dispersed throughout Rust Belt America, from advancing up the economic ladder. A graduate of Yale Law School, Vance describes how he narrowly overcame a difficult family life, in a depressed Ohio steel town. He turns his critical, but sympathetic eye to the barriers his hillbilly brethren have erected, hindering their own success.  

How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide
Quinn, Jane Bryant
Call Number: 332.01 Q7-3

Quinn, long-time personal finance columnist and author has written a comprehensive, clear, current and timely guide for a topic that worries many people.  She pulls together the thinking of many experts, and presents her own recommendations and advice about how to make your savings, investments, retirement plans, Social Security, pension, home equity, and insurance last as long as you do.


Idiot brain : what your head is really up to
Burnett, Dean.
Call Number: 612.8 B964

Dean Burnett takes a close, readable look at just what your brain is doing and how it works.  Written for the lay person, Burnett examines a great deal: from how the brain regulates the body: what we know about intelligence: and how the brain is influenced by other people.  The book looks at both what we know about how things work, as well as what we know about how things can go wrong.  An interesting book that is approachable for people with no underlying knowledge of the topic.

The industries of the future
Ross, Alec, 1971-
Call Number: 338 R823

Ross discusses the economic and social ramifications of critical innovations in the fields of robotics, genomic technology (mapping genes to understand disease), monetary technologies, big data, and cybersecurity. He examines the economic and social impact of these technologies from global, national, and regional perspectives.  The book has many interesting examples of the ways in which new technologies have and will continue to revolutionize the human experience. 


Lab girl
Jahren, Hope,
Call Number: 570.92 J25

Geobiologist Jahren has created a memoir of a life in “big science” that started with a life as the daughter of a community college science professor in Minnesota. She worked her way up through academia in a world that is not often welcoming to women, but persevered and got her own lab. Her life story is woven between stories about the lives of trees, the plants that are Jahren’s specialty and her passion.


Land of fish and rice : recipes from the culinary heart of China
Dunlop, Fuchsia,
Call Number: 641.5951 D922-4

It is not necessary to cook to delight in this spectacularly beautiful and informative cookbook from the knowledgable Fuchsia Dunlop, English writer and Chinese food expert. She explores the culture and food traditions of the Jiangnan region. "Jiangnan spans the eastern coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu, the city of Shanghai and that part of southern Anhui province known as Huizhou," and is known "as the land of fish and rice." Dunlop's thorough presentation of this region's food will be of particular interest to those who love Chinese cuisine.


Last night, a superhero saved my life : Neil Gaiman, Jodi Picoult, Brad Meltzer, and an all-star roster on the caped crusaders that changed their lives
Call Number: 741.5 L3495

Liesa Mignogna, an editor of children’s and young adult titles, has gathered together a group of essays by contemporary authors who tell about their love and connections with the super powered. The result is an astonishingly personal, heartfelt collection of essays that will be as recognizable as they are informative and heartwarming, while others are heartbreaking. 


The long weekend : life in the English country house, 1918-1939
Tinniswood, Adrian,
Call Number: 942 T591-2

This is the perfect book for Downton Abbey fans, and others. It covers the period between the two World Wars, and describes in sumptuous detail the changing status of country houses, as well as matters ranging from the relative heights of footmen and butlers to the alleged machinations of pro-Nazi members of Parliament. The book will have you swooning before the last page is turned


Los Angeles Central Library: A History of Its Art and Architecture
Gee, Stephen
Call Number: 027.47949 L881Ge

Writer Stephen Gee and photographer Arnold Schwartzman are perfect partners in creating this carefully researched and exquisitely photographed history of Los Angeles Public Library's Central Library. They cover the history of why it took more than 80 years, from conception to acutalization, for a building to finally appear. The result is a compelling and engaging history of the political and social leaders, artists and architects who created a building that is home to the largest public library collection west of the Mississippi.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Grant, Adam M.
Call Number: 658.314 G761

Grant breaks conventional wisdom about what it takes to harness creativity and act on innovative ideas. With chapters dedicated to topics such as idea selection, timing, networking, and managing anxiety, he provides a groundwork that’s workable and inspiring. 


The pigeon tunnel : stories from my life
Le Carre, John, 1931-
Call Number: 823 L456LeC-1

John Le Carré is the ultimate writer of spy novels. His own life has been as convoluted as any of the plots he creates. For now, this collection of essays provides the most candid perspectives and insights on the writer and former spy.

The Princess Diarist.
Fisher, Carrie.
Call Number: 812.092 F533-2

In her latest memoir, actress/writer Carrie Fisher reflects on her complicated relationship with Princess Leia, the character she first brought to life four decades ago in the original Star Wars film. Also discussed at length is the three-month affair she had with co-star Harrison Ford during the location shoot. Drawing from journals Fisher kept at the time, the memoir is at times a painful yet relatable chronicle of a 19-year-old who, despite being on the verge of international fame, is consumed with the raw emotions of unrequited young love.


Protein ninja : power through your day with 100 hearty plant-based recipes that pack a protein punch
Romero, Terry Hope,
Call Number: 641.63 R763-2 2016

Two of the most enduring and pernicious myths about plant-based diets are that (1) the food is bland and (2) they don’t provide enough protein. This cookbook should put those misconceptions to rest once and for all. With mouth-watering full-color photos and easy-to-follow recipes, even the most die-hard meat-eater will want a seat at this dinner table. 

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools
Morris, Monique W., 1972-
Call Number: 371.97 M877

Black girls account for more than one in every three girls arrested in schools, and just under one in every three girls referred to law enforcement. This despite the fact that only about one in every seven female students is black. Monique W. Morris explores the myriad ways that black girls are being unfairly criminalized in schools and allowed to fail and/or fall through the cracks.


Reasons to stay alive
Haig, Matt, 1975-
Call Number: 150.131 H149

One of the most pernicious effects of depression is how isolating it is. Even though nearly seven percent of adults suffer from it, they very often feel alone. So Matt Haig’s very granular memoir dealing with mental illness is particularly important because, though he chooses a very non-traditional way of dealing with his depression, his ever-present support network should nonetheless be a reminder to those similarly afflicted that they most certainly are not alone

The return : fathers, sons, and the land in between
Matar, Hisham, 1970-
Call Number: 810.92 M425

In 1990, Hisham Matar’s father, a Libyan diplomat and dissident against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, was kidnapped in Cairo, taken back to Libya, imprisoned in the infamous Abu Salim prison, and never heard from again. In 2012, Matar, his mother and his wife, return to Libya to find answers about his father's disappearance.

Rise of the rocket girls : the women who propelled us, from missiles to the Moon to Mars
Holt, Nathalia, 1980-
Call Number: 629.40973 H758

This book delves into the culture of women who worked as “human computers” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the 1940s, 1950s, and beyond. The author conducted hundreds of hours of first-person interviews, and went deep into the JPL and NASA archives. The book offers a personal take on the accomplishments of these women who worked in the gendered discrimination reality of the American workplace.  Despite the obstacles these women created a collaborative support network in order to advance American space exploration.

Sex object : a memoir
Valenti, Jessica,
Call Number: 301.41292 V155

Guardian columnist and founder of the Feministing blog, Jessica Valenti has written five other books, but this one is far more personal. She recounts her life growing up in New York, learning early on that her female body was treated differently from men’s bodies. Sometimes shocking, sometimes rousing, this memoir really brings home the need to continue the fight to get women on an equal footing with men. 

Shrill : notes from a loud woman
West, Lindy.
Call Number: 071.092 W518

Part hilarious memoir, part no-holds-barred apologia on fatness, this is a stand out in the abundance of new third-wave feminist nonfiction. Not one to beat around the bush, West calls out, by name, the much-loved journalist Dan Savage for his crusade against obese people, and a who’s who of edgy male stand-up comics for their insistence that rape jokes are funny and everything is fair game.


Something new : tales from a makeshift bride
Knisley, Lucy.
Call Number: 740.9999 K71-5

Anyone who has ever planned a wedding will tell you, it’s no party.There are family and friends, food, flowers, traditions, music, travel, reservations, clothes, and the dress. In addition there are all kinds of expectations. So many expectations and which ones will you be able to meet? Can anyone, even a handy, passionate graphic artist and writer like Lucy Knisley, make a wedding into the kind of experience they want to have?  

Soup for Syria : recipes to celebrate our shared humanity
Massaad, Barbara Abdeni, compiler, photographer.
Call Number: 641.71 M414

To bring money and attention to the crisis in Syria, photographer Barbara Abdeni Massaad asked world food writers, chefs and others to contribute a favorite soup recipe to a cookbook. Working with Interlink Press, the profits of the cookbook project “ . . .  will be donated to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR to provide urgently needed food relief for Syrian refugees.”


And then all hell broke loose : two decades in the Middle East
Engel, Richard, 1973-
Call Number: 956 E573

NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has been a key reporter, live from this hotspot. Over 20 years, he has witnessed key epoch-defining events reporting from the world’s pivotal area of conflicts: from the execution of Saddam Hussein to the uneven spread of the Arab Spring and even to his own kidnapping by (and eventual rescue from) a proto-ISIS terrorist group.


Threadbare : clothes, sex, & trafficking
Moore, Anne Elizabeth,
Call Number: 364.15 M821
A cultural studies tour-de-force graphic collection of comics that connects the clothing industry, global trade and gender politics. The book explores the clothing industry in Austria, connects with factories in Cambodia and explains the relationship between NGOs, sex workers and cheap labor. Perfect for politically minded older teens and adults who would like an explanation on global trade, fast fashion and unintended political consequences.

Time travel : a history
Gleick, James,
Call Number: 530.11 G556

Science writer James Gleick explores the concepts and realities of time travel, from its earliest references and forms in mythology and folklore to the present day. This book is like taking a seminar which is part science, part sociology, part philosophy and part popular culture, resulting in an entirely enjoyable, informative book--with no homework!


Trouble boys : the true story of the Replacements
Mehr, Bob.
Call Number: 789.14 R425Me

Mehr's definitive biography about a band with a knack for self-sabotage, self-destruction, and being in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time is a must read for fans of the pre-Nirvana indie rock scene.


Venomous : how Earth's deadliest creatures mastered biochemistry
Wilcox, Christie, 1985-
Call Number: 591.69 W667

What leads someone to devote their life to studying venom? If you take author Christie Wilcox as an example, you have to be a little crazy, a little adventurous, and a little in love with the some of the strangest animals on the planet, like the platypus. Who knew that the platypus was poisonous? 


The view from the cheap seats : selected nonfiction
Gaiman, Neil,
Call Number: 828 G141

World renowned fantasy writer Neil Gaiman presents introductions, essays, and speeches about writing, awards, comics, and people who’ve impacted him as an author and person in this collection. Sometimes funny, sometimes speculative, always insightful and passionate, this is a look into the mind of a man shaped by stories.


The way to the spring : life and death in Palestine
Ehrenreich, Ben,
Call Number: 309.569 E33

Unequivocally and unapologetically sympathetic to the movement for a free Palestine, this triumph in investigative journalism lays bare the myriad ways in which the Israeli Defense Force and residents of Israeli settlements in Palestine systematically work to keep Palestinians feeling powerless. The result of National Magazine Award winner Ben Ehrenreich’s three years of work in the West Bank, this work is enlightening and harrowing. It is recommended as compulsory reading for anyone interested in getting a fuller picture of the Middle East.

We were Feminists Once : from Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement
Zeisler, Andi, 1972-
Call Number: 301.412973 Z47-1

From Beyoncé and Aziz Ansari to Taylor Swift and Emma Watson, feminists and feminism have been increasingly in the headlines. But somewhere along the way, third-wave feminism has begun a shift from actions taken to labels you wear and identities you claim. Andi Zeisler, co-founder of the quarterly Bitch: The Feminist Response to Pop Culture, chronicles this shift and insightfully explains how it detracts from the overall project of winning equality for all women. 

West of Eden : an American place
Stein, Jean,
Call Number: 979.41 L881Stei

Jean Stein masterfully uses oral history to convey five stories that have shaped the social history of Los Angeles. A strata of personalities ranging from average people to members of LA’s influential elite are interviewed in order to construct a book that is intimate, surprising and a welcome addition to LA’s cultural narrative.

When Breath Becomes Air
Kalanithi, Paul
Call Number: 616.99424 K14

Even doctors become seriously ill, and of all people should know the warning signs of a deadly disease. Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a supremely talented and brilliant young neurosurgeon, proved to be more like the rest of us in ignoring what was, tantamount to flashing red lights, symptoms about his own cancer.

White trash : the 400-year untold history of class in America
Isenberg, Nancy,
Call Number: 323.30973 I78

This book takes a unuique look at American history by focusing on the story of poor, rural whites. These were the poor people shipped to the American colonies to get rid of them, and were used as disposable labor, and became a persistent underclass. Even if you ignore (as Isenberg all too often seems to) our history of slavery, the United States America has always had a profoundly poor population of “waste people” who pop up again and again in our cultural history and discourse, used as both jokes and villains.


Words are my matter : writings about life and books, 2000-2016 with a journal of a writer's week
Le Guin, Ursula K., 1929-
Call Number: 818 L521-4

Le Guin is a prolific writer, best known for science fiction, however her interests and writing ability are more wide-ranging: poetry, essays, children's books, book reviews, talks. This volume is a small compilation of her other writings, which reveal her bravery to express truth with clarity and wit.

You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain
Robinson, Phoebe,
Call Number: 817 R663

One of the big takeaways from the controversy over the Black Lives Matter movement is how little the average non-black person understands the daily, lived realities of African-Americans. Enter Phoebe Robinson. With disarming and often knee-slapping humor, the actress-writer-comedian offers a glimpse into the myriad unseen ways that blacks and other POCs (people of color) are othered, marginalized, or discriminated against on a daily basis, from being followed around in stores, to being expected to field intrusive questions and speak for the entirety of the black race, to the titular invasion of personal space when a white person wants to know if natural black hair feels like steel wool (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).


You will not have my hate
Leiris, Antoine,
Call Number: 322.42094436 L531

A year after his wife Hélene was killed in the Bataclan Theatre terrorist attacks in Paris, Antoine Leiris wrote this small, powerful book. She was the love of his life, the mother of their son, and their lives will never be the same. Leiris' decision not to hate those whose actions were ignited by hate, may appear to be saintly--it is not. This is a meditation on the consequences of hate, and how one man has chosen to deal with the aftermath on a daily, and probably eternal way. 

Zero belly smoothies
Zinczenko, David,
Call Number: 613.2 Z77-15

Peanut butter sandwich; Dark chocolate banana nut; Blueberry dazzler; Turmerican dream all are simple smoothie recipes, and there are over 100 more in this book. This is a simple introduction to smoothies and the health benefits they offer, using easy recipes and ingredients; an extensive section on the availability of various protein powders makes selecting a protein powder simple, based on nutritional needs and preferences. Each smoothie requires between three to six readily available ingredients, mainly fruits and vegetables.