Best of 2018: Non-Fiction

Updated: January 26, 2019

The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. For more book lists and featured book reviews, check LAPL Reads.

1,000 books to read before you die : a life-changing list
Mustich, James,
Call Number: 028.3 M991

If you don't know what to read, or think there is nothing left to read, then pick up this book (all 3.4 pounds of it), and be reawakened and refreshed to the joys of reading widely and deeply. The list includes fiction and non-fiction, arranged alphabetically by authors' last names. Mustich then adds a type of addendum, "A Miscellany of Special Lists". This book will make you want to live longer to read more.

American audacity : in defense of literary daring
Giraldi, William,
Call Number: 813.09 G516

William Giraldi is a literary critic who glories in reading good books. A man with high standards and catholic tastes, who completely justifies his very strong opinions. His essays are hallmarks of how to present well-documented points of view, which he does joyously, while firing up our reading interests about books and other topics.

Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition
Weisman, Jon, 1967-
Call Number: 796.231 L8788We

Jon Weiseman, writer and Dodger maven, writes about a golden period of baseball pitching, and why we love those Boys in Blue, even though sometimes they drive us crazy.

Sedaris, David,
Call Number: 817 S447-8

Focusing mostly on the aftermath of his sister’s suicide, the inimitable David Sedaris has assembled, the way only he can, a collection of essays that is simultaneously tragic and hilarious. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll need a drink. This is possibly his best collection yet.

Conan Doyle for the defense : the true story of a sensational British murder, a quest for justice, and the world's most famous detective writer
Fox, Margalit,
Call Number: 364.941 F793

Arthur Conan Doyle may resemble, by his own admission, Watson more than he does Sherlock Holmes. But in this book he redeems himself because we find a man dedicated to justice and capable of using Holmesian logic against the police, and against his own prejudice, to reopen a cold case, a murder, and to find justice.


Cool Tokyo guide : adventures in the city of kawaii fashion, train sushi, and Godzilla
Denson, Abby, author, illustrator.
Call Number: 952.05 D413-1

A travel guide in graphic novel form, Cool Tokyo Guide features comic book scribe Abby Denson’s fun and brightly colored drawings with interesting and helpful facts about the capital of Japan. Aimed primarily toward the young (and young at heart), it offers tips on shopping for manga, finding vegetarian-friendly restaurants, how to wash at a holy shrine, where to take a hot sake bath, and more.


Dear America : notes of an undocumented citizen
Vargas, Jose Antonio,
Call Number: 301.45 V297

When a teenaged Jose Antonio Vargas goes to the DMV to apply for a driver’s license, he is gobsmacked to find out that his green card is fake and that his mother had shipped him off to the United States from the Philippines illegally. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas reveals the ways he learns to hide his undocumented status while working for some of America’s premier journalistic institutions, and what leads to his to decision to “come out,” and how he becomes an activist for immigration reform.


Dear Madam President
Palmieri, Jennifer,
Call Number: 301.412 P179

Ostensibly an open letter to whoever, one day, becomes the first female president of the United States, Dear Madam President also serves as a postmortem of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, peppered liberally (no pun intended) with insights Palmieri gleaned from her work with both the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, and John Edwards’ doomed presidential campaign.


Don't Stop the Presses!: Truth, Justice, and the American Newspaper
Morrison, Patt
Call Number: 071.09 M881

Patt Morrison, journalist and writer extraordinaire, documents the history and importance of the American newspaper, whose reporters and journalists we need now, more than ever. HIstorical photographs highlight the chapters, but it is Morrison's trenchant and witty narrative that will hold you captive.

Dopesick : dealers, doctors, and the company that addicted America
Macy, Beth,
Call Number: 351.765 M177

A devastating chronicle of the current opioid addiction afflicting America, Macy’s book opens a window on the machinations of pharmaceutical companies, executives, sales people and unethical doctors that directly led to the epidemic. The book gives the big picture, but also provides personal details about the lives lost and the dedicated people on the front lines of this plague. This book conveys a sense of the immense tragedy unfolding right now in this country.


Double vision : the unerring eye of art world avatars Dominique and John de Menil
Middleton, William, 1961-
Call Number: 709.2 M545Mi

A history of a private collection that is open to the public. John and Dominique de Menil never could be considered parvenus to the art world since they began collecting in the 1940s. The collection includes paintings,sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs and rare books. The main part is located in Houston in a building designed by Renzo Piano, but readers will find more information that covers other aspects of the Menil Foundation, and the artists the couple knew over the years. An absolute necessity for those who love modern art.

Edna Lewis : at the table with an American original
Call Number: 641.092 L673Ed

A collection of essays that pay tribute to cookbook writer, master chef and outspoken activist.  She brought proper attention to good Southern cooking.

Fashion Climbing : A Memoir with Photographs.
Cunningham, Bill.
Call Number: 770.914 C9723-1

Photographer Bill Cunningham was best known for two photo features in the New York Times: on the street and high society. There was a great deal more to his life, and his autobiography fills in the gaps found in the documentary, Bill Cunningham New YorkAs Anna Wintour famously stated, "We all get dressed for Bill," because he only photographed men and women dressed in attire that he found interesting.

Fear: Trump in the White House
Woodward, Bob, 1943-
Call Number: 320.973 T871Woo

Along with fellow Watergate sleuth Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward’s name has become synonymous with investigative journalism and presidential exposé. In Fear, his nineteenth book, Woodward provides a stultifying look into the administration of the United States’ forty-fifth president. But unlike much of the ink that has been spilled over Donald Trump’s presidency, this book manages to limn many in the West Wing with a level of pathos one would not expect. 

Feels Like Home: Reflections on Central Library
Call Number: 027.47949 L881Fe

Painful memories of the devastating 1986 fire, which destroyed one-fifth of Central Library’s holdings, are starkly juxtaposed with euphoric feelings about the library's reopening in 1993. Moving photographs reflect how the institution came back—with sizable public support—to a bigger and better facility after being closed seven years for renovation and expansion. An architectural landmark built in 1926 was greatly expanded and modernized. Bruckman Rare Books Friends Award for 2019

Feminasty : the complicated woman's guide to surviving the patriarchy without drinking herself to death
Gibson, Erin,
Call Number: 817 G448

Fun, audacious, and informative, these essays cover everything from STDs, to street harassment, to the luxury tax on tampons. While going over things keeping women up at night, Gibson’s sense of humor and optimism cuts down on the need for enraged book flinging, or binge drinking.       


The fighters : Americans in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq
Chivers, C. J. (Christopher John),
Call Number: 355.092 C543

C. J. Chivers, journalist and former Marine Corps officer, pays homage to six combatants who have served in war campaigns since 9/11. We rarely know what soldiers have experienced during and after service, but these up-close and personal accounts will illuminate the concept of sacrifice. This is not only a book for those who support the military, it is for everyone.


Frenemies : the epic disruption of the ad business (and everything else)
Auletta, Ken,
Call Number: 659.09 A924

For many years Ken Auletta has been observing and writing about politics, social and cultural changes, business, media and advertising. Long before anyone else, he saw the current problems that are now confronting all of us via social media.

Heart : a history
Jauhar, Sandeep, 1968-
Call Number: 612.17 J412

This is both a history of surgical interventions to heal the heart, and a personal meditation on illness, family, loss, and living. The author, a cardiologist who has lost several family members to heart disease, takes time to examine both the work of doctors trying to fix hearts and the lives of people living with heart disease, for a book that is touching and ultimately, hopeful. 

Hippie food : how back-to-the-landers, longhairs, and revolutionaries changed the way we eat
Kauffman, Jonathan,
Call Number: 641.0973 K213

The foods many of us eat today, from tofu to curry, didn’t just happen. They arose and were accepted in a particular culture and time; influenced by political movements, travel, experimentation, and a whole shelf of cookbooks that shaped the dining choices of a generation.    


House of Nutter : the rebel tailor of Savile Row
Richardson, Lance, 1984-
Call Number: 746.52 N985Ri

Lance Richardson fills a gap in fashion history--the life and times of the renegade tailor of Saville Row.  In 1960s' swinging London, Tommy Nutter was the renowned tailor of Saville Row, who dressed Elton John, Bianca Jagger, the Beatles and others. Nutter brought a new flair to classic tailored suits.

Human errors : a panorama of our glitches, from pointless bones to broken genes
Lents, Nathan H,
Call Number: 612 L574

Rather than eulogizing humans as the epitome of evolution, the author shines a spotlight on just where evolution has failed us. Lents goes from our poorly designed, or at least not completely evolved, knees to our bad backs, from our tendency to dietary issues, to our propensity for misinterpreting data and beyond in this book that is aimed directly at the non-expert.

I can't date Jesus
Arceneaux, Michael,
Call Number: 306.7662092 A668

In this highly rated collection of 17 essays, Michael Arceneaux, best-selling author of I don’t want to die poor, describes his early life as a young, gay, black man growing up in a religious southern household.

I'll be gone in the dark : one woman's obsessive search for the Golden State Killer
McNamara, Michelle,
Call Number: 364.9794 M169

The incredible work of the late Michelle McNamara, who dedicated so much of her life to tracking down the Golden State Killer, a prolific and terrifying serial killer who haunted California during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Though he was not found in her lifetime, her work helped detectives who arrested the main suspect shortly after the release of her book. This one will keep you up at night

The immeasurable world : journeys in desert places
Atkins, William (Editor),
Call Number: 950 A874

There are large swaths of desert on the Arabian Peninsula known as the Rub' al Khali or the empty quarter, which have intrigued numerous explorers and adventurers. British writer William Atkins set out to visit these areas and follow the adventures of those who preceded him. This geographical area is more challening than can be imagined, and the desert crossing of T. E. Lawrence as portrayed in the movie Lawrence of Arabia pales in comparison.

In extremis : the life and death of the war correspondent Marie Colvin
Hilsum, Lindsey,
Call Number: 071.092 C727Hi

War correspondent Lynsey Hillsum's biography and memoir is about fellow war correspondent, Marie Colvin who was killed in Holms Syria in 2012. Colvin, the subject of a recent movie, was a leading war journalist who covered many international areas of war and conflict, some places where male journalists would not dare to go.  Colvin was brave and determined to be where the action was, so as to report first-hand what was taking place.

In pieces : a memoir
Field, Sally.
Call Number: 812.092 F456

Field’s painfully honest and frank memoir focusing on her childhood and the early years of her career is among the more resonant celebrity autobiographies. Field shows that her ability to embody the plucky, confident heroines of television and film stood in contrast to the crisis of confidence she struggled with as an individual. The end result is a well-written book that is raw, insightful, and cathartic. A welcome contribution from a woman who helped shaped the landscape of American popular culture.


Invisible : the forgotten story of the black woman lawyer who took down America's most powerful mobster
Carter, Stephen L., 1954-
Call Number: 810.92 C325

Stephen Carter's biography is about his grandmother and lawyer, Eunice Hunton Carter, who overcame gender and racial prejudice. In the legal profession she was a force to be reckoned with, having put together a plan to take down Lucky Luciano, head of the Mafia.  During the 1940s she was the most famous African American women in the United States,

The Library Book
Orlean, Susan.
Call Number: 027.47949 L881Or

On the surface, The Library Book is about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, particularly about the devastating fire in 1986 that destroyed 400,00 books and damaged hundreds of thousands more. This part of the book is a true crime story as she explores the possible origins of the fire, and the investigation at the time. It is also a book about the sometimes eccentric City Librarians of the past, and the role of the library in the rapidly growing City of Los Angeles.

More than that, the book is a love letter to libraries everywhere, highlighting the importance of libraries to the vitality of a city and the value they bring to individual lives. While it was a delight to read about colleagues, and the history of the institution all of us proudly serve, the book is a poignant reminder of the personal love of libraries and reading that was fostered by many of our parents, as well as the necessity and relevance of the profession we love.

Los Angeles City Hall: An American Icon
Stephen Gee

When Los Angeles City Hall was completed in 1928 it was the tallest building in the Los Angeles basin. Stephen Gee presents a history of a building which some may take for granted, or not even consider as a significant work of architecture since it has been eclipsed by glitzier, larger and taller buildings in DTLA. There were various ideas about the proposed building, which provide insights into LA’s early history. In addition to the overall history of City Hall, Gee emphasizes the artistic features and functions of the building. Sandra Stojanovic’s contemporary photographs are sensational. The book also includes historical photographs in color, black and white, drawings and blueprints.

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Harkup, Kathryn,
Call Number: 823 S545Har

One of the best books published in 2018 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Thoroughly researched and incredibly readable, this book is part biography, part literary analysis and part scientific examination of the principles and theories that impacted and influenced Shelley while writing the novel. It is a fascinating and compelling exploration of the creation of one of the most important novels of the last two hundred years. 

The mirage factory : illusion, imagination, and the invention of Los Angeles
Krist, Gary,
Call Number: 979.41 L881Kri

Krist contends that the narratives of William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith and Aimee Semple McPherson were emblematic of the social, technological, economic and spiritual mythology that shaped the development of modern Los Angeles. The book is brought to life by an engaging cast of historical figures, some exciting storytelling and a provocative thesis. A compelling and engaging book for anyone interested in Los Angeles history.  


My American dream : a life of love, family, and food
Bastianich, Lidia,
Call Number: 641.092 B326

Lidia Bastianich is a successful restaurateur, televsion host of numerous cooking programs on PBS, and cookbook author. In this heartfelt autobiography and memoir, she recounts her family's history in post-World War II Pula, Istria, then part of Italy, and how they eventually came to America. Filled with joy and hope, Basitanich's life is the embodiment of what it means to be an immigrant and find a new life in the United States.

My life as a goddess : a memoir through (un)popular culture
Branum, Guy, 1975-
Call Number: 817 B821

Branum comes from a part of California that rarely shows up in movies. He goes to college, to law school, and to Hollywood in order to remember (as Leto does in Greek mythology, when she turns a group of creeps into frogs) that despite being bullied and harassed, he is a goddess.   

Not that bad : dispatches from rape culture
Call Number: 301.412973 G285

This is a collection of essays from women and men living and dealing with rape culture. Reading the opening page of each new essay takes a moment of courage. But it’s worth it to hear the voices of people who are often overlooked, disbelieved, and silenced, and to know that neither they, nor you, are alone.


Kiazim, Selin,
Call Number: 641.5956 K46

Chef and restaurateur Selin Kiazim presents recipes for Turkish-Cypriot cuisine in this gorgeous book. She presents easy to follow recipes in a clear format, with numerous color photographs.

The prodigal tongue : the love-hate relationship between British and American English
Murphy, M. Lynne,
Call Number: 420 M978

Linguist and American expat Lynne Murphy, founder of the blog Separated by a Common Language, investigates the cultural, historical, and political reasons that American English and British English have the complicated relationship they do. Often funny and always enlightening, this book is a treat for word nerds on both sides of the Atlantic.


Red card : how the U.S. blew the whistle on the world's biggest sports scandal
Bensinger, Ken.
Call Number: 796.272 B474

Hiow about a book about a complicated white collar crime involving soccer that takes place over multiple continents in multiple languages? Fortunately, Bensinger makes the narrative of this case very entertaining to read. It is good to read about a case where the good guys are way smarter than the bad guys. After finishing this, you may wonder how FIFA has ever successfully held a World Cup, or any tournament.

Ritz & Escoffier : the hotelier, the chef, and the rise of the leisure class
Barr, Luke,
Call Number: 647.94 R615Ba

Ritz and Escoffier were the best hotelier and chef of their time. This book gives us a glimpse into Ritz and Escoffier’s process downstairs, and the upstairs world of celebrities and royalty that they catered to, even as the century ended and both of those worlds changed.  


Itzkoff, Dave,
Call Number: 812.092 W726It

In this warts and all biography of Robin Williams, Itzkoff paints a vivid picture of Williams’s maturation from a sensitive, lonely, rich kid to a nervy, comic wunderkind, starved for the instant connection of live performance. While the ups and downs of Williams’s film and television career are extensively documented, along with his struggles with drug addiction, the most poignant passages in the book deal with Williams’s tragic decline from Lewy Body Dementia prior to his suicide.

The Sioux Chef's indigenous kitchen
Sherman, Sean, 1974-
Call Number: 641.597 S553

There is an inherent richness to Native American cuisine presented in this James Beard 2018 Best American Cookbook.  Chef Sherman introduces us to indigenous ingredients cooked up in flavorful and interesting ways, and pays tribute to the cuisine of the Dakota and Minnesota territories. A beautiful and informational book with clearly printed directions, color photographs, and an index.

Small fry
Brennan-Jobs, Lisa, 1978-
Call Number: 338.4C67 J62Bren

A series of vignettes depicts the life of the author growing up in Palo Alto and what it was like living and dealing with her famous father, Steve Jobs. The author recalls different stories from her past, moving back and forth in time to expertly paint a picture of the complexities of growing up between two different households with a father that was unpredictable.


Squeezed : why our families can't afford America
Quart, Alissa,
Call Number: 323.32 Q15

The executive editor of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Alissa Quart knows first hand what it’s like to be part of what she calls the Middle Precariat, the erstwhile solid bourgeoisie, whose social standing and comfortable lives were guaranteed by higher education, steady employment, and reliable family networks. But a rapidly changing America has caused that bedrock foundation to crumble, and the old paths no longer lead to the American Dream. 

Sweet Home Cafe cookbook : a celebration of African American cooking
Lukas, Albert, 1968-
Call Number: 641.5973 L9535

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016, and is home to Sweet Home Café, which celebrates African American contributions to American cuisine. Some of their classic recipes are available to everyone in this user-friendly, beautiful book. Color photographs are throughout, and historical information provides background to each recipe.

This will be my undoing : living at the intersection of black, female, and feminist in (white) America
Jerkins, Morgan,
Call Number: 301.412973 J55

The first essay in Morgan Jerkins’ debut collection is a story about how, as a young black schoolgirl, she had been rejected by the cheerleading squad because “they don’t accept monkeys like you on the team.” And thus begins a no-holds-barred catechism of what life is like for African-American girls and women. You’re gonna want to take notes. 

To shake the sleeping self : a journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a quest for a life with no regret
Jenkins, Jedidiah,
Call Number: 970 J518

With his thirtieth birthday fast approaching, erstwhile lawyer Jedidiah Jenkins decides to fight his looming torschlusspanik and spend 16 months bicycling 14,000 miles from Oregon to Patagonia. What follows is a picaresque travelogue in which he contends with the scars of European colonialism, his deeply ingrained Christianity, his dawning sexual identity, and his complicated relationships with his divorced parents.


When they call you a terrorist : a Black lives matter memoir
Khan-Cullors, Patrisse.
Call Number: 301.45096 K4455

Artist, intellectual, and organizer from Sherman Oaks, CA co-founded a global movement with a hashtag #Black Lives Matter in response to the acquittal granted to George Zimmerman after his murder of Trayvon Martin. A memoir of one person’s drive to make the world better for people of color, provoked by the her daily fear for her brother and the harsh realities of being a black man in America. Patrisse Khan-Cullors intimately shows the reader her fight to preserve the dignity and respect for the people she loves and respects.


Wild honey & rye : modern Polish recipes
Behan, Ren,
Call Number: 641.59438 B419

Modern and classical recipes reflect the Polish culinary heritage of former criminal lawyer and writer/blogger (My Polish Kitchen), Ren Behan. There are double-spread pages, many with close-up color photographs of completed dishes---mouth-watering goodness to the max.

You're on an airplane : a self-mythologizing memoir
Posey, Parker, 1968-
Call Number: 812.092 P855

In this peripatetic autobiography by the  “Queen of The Indies,” Parker Posey chronicles  her rise from a thespian country girl in the Deep South to starring or supporting roles in many of the most critically acclaimed independent films of the last three  decades. Posey, who started her career in soaps, is known for her offbeat sense of humor, colorful fashion choices,  and willingness to take on any role, no matter how challenging. Her performance in Party Girl as Mary, an irreverent library clerk, belied the stereotypes many people have about the library profession.