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The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018

The year's best writing about place, policy, and personhood.

A lot of books about President* Trump were published this year, but none of them were very good — not even Bob Woodward’s. Instead, most of our favorite nonfiction books of 2018 focused on a particular place like Chicago, the Midwest, and America’s ever-rising coastlines, or on a timeless theme like parenthood, adoption, and growing up.

Ghosts in the Schoolyard:
Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side
By Eve L. Ewing
University of Chicago Press

Ewing’s debut poetry collection, Electric Arches, won our second annual award for poetry last year. Now, she’s back on the shortlist for her nonfiction debut, a compelling, deeply researched look at why the Rahm Emmanuel administration closed more than 50 public schools in 2013, and why it matters.

Interior States
By Meghan O’Gieblyn
Anchor

“A truly stunning collection of essays about the Midwest, and the book I’m most angry about not being able to cover this year. Add it to the canon, right next to Algren.” —Adam Morgan

Feel Free
By Zadie Smith
Penguin Press

Read our review.

Smith may be best-known for her fiction, but this essential collection of essays firmly establishes her as one of our great cultural critics.

High-Risers
Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing
By Ben Austen
Harper

With this book, Austen joins Natalie Y. Moore, Eve Ewing, and Alex Kotlowitz as one of Chicago’s great chroniclers of the devastating effects of bad public policy. This book — like The South SideGhosts in the Schoolyard, and There Are No Children Here — should be required reading.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
By Alexander Chee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

An absolute gift of a book for writers everywhere. Every single essay is a pearl.

Rising
Dispatches from the New American Shore
By Elizabeth Rush
Milkweed Editions

Read our interview with Rush.

“A thoughtful, fascinating, and often deeply moving look at some of the country’s most vulnerable populations, and one of my favorite books of the year.” —Amy Brady

Small Animals:
Parenthood in the Age of Fear
By Kim Brooks
Flatiron Books

“The Edgewater resident’s new mix of memoir and reportage, arriving on the heels of a viral essay about being arrested for leaving her son in the car for five minutes, explores the escalating relationship between parenthood and fear in America.” —Adam Morgan, Chicago magazine

All You Can Ever Know
By Nicole Chung
Catapult

“In her debut memoir, Nicole Chung challenges the traditional adoption narrative and sheds light on the complicated reality of being a transracial adoptee.” —Taylor Moore in the Chicago Review of Books

The Word Pretty
By Elisa Gabbert
Black Ocean

“Gabbert is one of the best essayists of our generation (and one of our best tweeters). This book will add wrinkles to your brain.” —Adam Morgan

Night Moves
By Jessica Hopper
University of Texas Press

“In her new memoir, Hopper paints a vivid impression of what the city was like in the mid-aughts for a creative writer coming into her own. She finds the spirit of Chicago in its lower depths — on late night streets, at after-hours soirees, and in endless conversations between friends.” —Kerry Cardoza, Chicago magazine

1 comment on “The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018

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