My favorite nonfiction books of 2015

the books I can't wait to read in 2015

Last week I shared my favorite novels of 2015, and the same rules apply to this nonfiction list: I’m calling these my favorites, but I’m holding them loosely. I hate choosing superlatives, and it’s likely I’ll realize in April that I totally forgot to include a great book I read in 2015 on this list.

This is the best nonfiction I read in 2015, regardless of publication date.

Best Nonfiction 2015
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Rubin’s much anticipated follow-up to her happiness books is all about habits: how we make them, why we break them, and how we can improve them. Rubin writes as a friendly expert: the chatty writing, illuminating insights, and story-driven narrative make this guidebook anything but dry and boring. Packed with relatable tales from Rubin’s life, which are easy to apply to your own. I find myself thinking about this book—and the insights I gained from it—on a regular basis. More info →
The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook

The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook

I just loved this wise, warm, and relatable collection of essays from the Washington Post weddings reporter. McCarthy dishes on what she’s learned on the beat, and shares her own insights on love and marriage (and breakups, including the one she endured her first day on the job), in essays bearing titles such as “Screw Meeting Cute,” Don’t Look for Lightning,” and “Top Ten Reasons to Call It Off.” I found this smart, funny, encouraging, and practical. More info →
Being Mortal: Medicine And What Matters In The End

Being Mortal: Medicine And What Matters In The End

I resisted reading this for a year because it sounded so heavy: it's a personal meditation on aging, death, and dying. But Gawande, a surgeon by trade, tackles weighty issues by sharing lots of stories to go with the research, making this book eminently readable. Ultimately, this book is about what it means—medically and philosophically—to live a good life. I'm so glad I didn't wait longer to read this: this book gave me a much better understanding of the wants and needs of my own aging family members. I found all the superlatives I'd heard bandied about to hold true: it's riveting, absorbing, paradigm-shifting, life-changing. More info →
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

I enjoyed this one much more than I expected, and was genuinely surprised at the lasting impact this book had on my life. Harris's secret to health and happiness is mindfulness—something he never saw coming either. Harris is an ABC news anchor, and his journey began when he had a panic attack on live television. His doctor quickly identified the underlying cause, but the panic didn't subside. He subsequently spent years investigating—personally and professionally—his own mindlessness, exploring the changes he needed to make in his life to be healthier and happier. Powerful story and strong writing combine to make one great read. More info →
The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir

In her latest book, Karr unpacks the key elements of great literary memoir and breaks down her own creative process. It’s not just a book for writers: of the book’s 200 pages, only 35 or so are devoted to “how-to.” Frequent readers will also enjoy a peek behind the curtain of Karr's work and that of dozens of other memoirists: what differentiates good work from mediocre, and why do some stories ring true while others falter? For those who'd like to read more, Karr provides a terrific (and long) reading list in the back of the book. This was a great reading experience. More info →
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life

I'd forgotten how good Reichl's food writing is: I loved this so much, I can't even tell you. This collection truly is as much memoir as cookbook: there's a story to accompany every single recipe. (I only made one recipe—the marinated london broil—but it was a hit.) I happened to sit down and read this (like a novel) right after we got back from New York, and I especially loved the copious number of NYC stories: I kept googling Manhattan shops, neighborhoods, and restaurants while reading. More info →
Coming Clean: A Story of Faith

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith

This memoir, which reads like a journal of Haines's first 90 days of sobriety, was absolutely fantastic. I didn't expect to resonate so powerfully with Haines's story about overcoming an addiction to drink, but as Haines writes, "we're all drunk on something." He makes the case that alcohol is just one of many ways to hide from our real lives, and that the journey to wholeness isn't easy for any of us. I was delighted to see this recognized as one of the year's best books in Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards. More info →
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

This is the book I can't stop talking about. Speck is a bit of a contrarian: at its heart, the book isn't about walking at all. Instead, Speck aims to show how we can deliberately plan urban spaces to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. At a deeper level, Speck reveals how our spaces shape our behavior, whether or not we're aware of it. Pragmatic, relevant, and completely fascinating. More info →
Four Seasons in Rome

Four Seasons in Rome

The subtitle on this one is a little weird: ignore it. This magical memoir is about the year Doerr, his wife, and his twin baby boys spent in Rome after he won a writer's residency grant. He found out about the award the same day they brought the twins home from the hospital. Doerr writes beautifully about his year abroad, from the everyday and the extraordinary: grocery shopping, sourcing baby gear (for twins!), his wife's illness, sightseeing, Pope John Paul II's funeral. I googled every street, church, and town he referenced. I loved his references to the novel he was writing while in Rome: many years later, it became All the Light We Cannot See. More info →

Runners-up: Big Magic, Tiny Beautiful Things, Let Your Life Speak, Dead WakeA Walk in the Woods.

P.S. My favorite novels of 2015.

The best nonfiction books of 2015


Leave A Comment
  1. Jess says:

    Being Mortal was SO good. My husband works at the Mayo Clinic (not a doctor) and I am trying to figure out a way to see if he can suggest that all doctors read it!

    Four Season in Rome was wonderful. Totally filled me with wanderlust. I have a secret obsession with Italy. It started with Inkheart and the descriptions there, and only continues to this day!

  2. Jeannie says:

    Being Mortal was also one of my favourites; my other top nonfiction reads for this year were Accidental Saints (Nadia Bolz-Weber) and Rising Strong (Brene Brown). When I posted my end-of-year book list on my blog I saw that I had 2x as much nonfiction as fiction — which is definitely becoming a trend for me. I totally blame it on you and all your great nonfiction recommendations. 🙂 Thanks.

  3. Mel says:

    Being Mortal is a great book that really made me think. I’ve told everyone I know to read it. 10% Happier is another favorite, and it is one of my go-to gifts. I loved All the Light You Cannot See, so Four Seasons in Rome sounds excellent.

  4. I really have only discovered how much I enjoy nonfiction this year. I’ve really enjoyed your recommendations and can’t wait to put all of these on my holds list from the library. I surprised myself by really liking Dead Wake and am looking forward to reading more Erik Larson in 2016.

  5. Saskia says:

    We read _Being Mortal_ at book club and it revealed an interesting split: for some lucky ducks it was life changing because they’ve been shielded from already having to deal with this sort of stuff–but for others, including me, it was an interesting book but not paradigm shifting because our paradigms had already shifted when our parents/siblings got sick or died. I liked the book, although I felt it could have been written a little tighter.

  6. Lindsay Lea says:

    I LOVED Better Than Before! It helped me learn so much about myself and I’m trying hard to apply that knowledge to my advantage. I’m an obliger ALL the way!

    I am currently searching our library’s catalog to put a hold on all the rest of these books. Thanks for the recommendations!

  7. Paula says:

    I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but The Art of Memoir and Better than Before keep popping up on best of lists. So, I think I’ll check them out. 🙂

  8. Cassie says:

    I’m not a big non-fiction fan. I did just read American Wife about Chris Kyle’s wife which was very touching. And I have Dead Waking on my to read list.

  9. laura says:

    OOh I want to read Four Seasons in Rome! My favorites of 2015 were:
    Found (Boyett) about everyday prayer with kids in tow
    Something Other than God (Fulwiler) about entering the Catholic faith from atheism
    700 Sundays (Billy Crystal) a sweet and funny memoir about his childhood
    Dad is Fat (Gaffigan) audio- his parenting anecdotes are mostly hilarious.
    As You Wish (Elwes) everything you wanted to know about the making of the Princess Bride
    The Boys in the Boat- for all the rowers and history buffs out there
    Hidden in Plain Sight (Buchanan) about increasing faith
    Operating Instructions (Lamott) a memoir of her son’s first year, relatable and funny
    Telling Secrets (Buechner) sharing the darkest moments of his life and meeting God there
    Also, Bread and Wine, Wild, Accidental Saints, I am Malala

  10. Megan says:

    I also liked Tiny Beautiful Things and 10% Happier. Two of my other favorites of the year were Just Mercy and Daring Greatly. Walkable City and Being Mortal are two I would like to get to next year. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Jocelyn says:

      I tried to listen to 10% Happier but he reads it himself and comes over as such an egomaniac. I really dislike his voice. On the other hand I have listened to ‘Uncovering Happiness’ by Elisha Goldstein (read by Eric Michael Summerer) a million times and I love it.

  11. donna says:

    Awesome post, Anne! I read way more fiction than non-fiction this year which is a bit of a change for me.
    My favourite non-fiction reads this year:
    Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman (I can’t stop recommending
    this one to everyone! It
    convicted me in so many ways.)
    They Left Us Everything by
    Plum Johnson
    It’s What I Do by Lynsey
    Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
    The News Sorority by Sheila
    Weller (almost done this one)
    Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth
    Reichl (currently reading)
    I also read and enjoyed Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony
    Doerr back in the spring!

    Thanks so much for all your incredible recommendations this and of course for the reading challenge! It helped me to get back into reading
    again. I read more books this year than I’ve ever read in my life.?

  12. cindy r says:

    THE LIAR’S CLUB is brilliant, a must-read for anyone hoping to ever write a memoir … or just write! FYI: Mary is facilitating a mini-workshop of the class she teaches at Syracuse Univ. in Greece this June. For info., check out her Facebook page.

  13. Susan says:

    I enjoyed Four Seasons in Rome so much, and the best part was I read it just before our train trip to Rome 🙂

    Being Mortal is waiting on my shelf, time to tackle

  14. I heard you talk about Walkable City on the Sorta Awesome podcast and immediately put it on my to-read list! Oh how I wish our city was more walkable. Also, after reading The Happiness Project, I’ve got Happier at Home and Better Than Before on my list. Can’t wait to dive in!

    • Anne says:

      I was disappointed when I found out Reichl was writing a cookbook instead of essays … and then very pleasantly surprised by how essay-driven this cookbook was. (And now I want to go back and re-read her memoirs!)

  15. Bianca S says:

    Great list! Thanks for sharing with your readers. I am a huge nonfiction/memoir fan and I am always trying to add to my TBR pile 🙂 I think 2015 was an excellent year for this genre. My number one recommendation of the year is a law enforcement memoir by retired police sergeant Tom Alessi called “And They Found No Witches.”( He and four fellow police officers were accused of theft, evidence planting, and excessive force even though they were completely innocent. The trial and media coverage ruined their careers and their lives but they stood strong and fought back against the justice department in a seemingly hopeless case. It is an inspirational read and I couldn’t believe it had actually happened. I hope you and your readers will check it out. It is definitely a must read for 2016!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.