The Best Nonfiction Books of 2014
Tyler Cowen is consistently one of my favorite sources of reading material. There hasn’t been a year where I don’t find something new from his recommendations and this year is no exception.
He’s out with his 2014 list of the best nonfiction books. If he had to pick three favorites out of this list he would choose Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City, and Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition. (Also revisit his selections from 2013, and 2012.)
- Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century. Long, exhausting, and wonderful.
- Christopher Hale, Massacre in Malaya, a broader history than it at first sounds, fascinating from beginning to end.
- Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life.
- The Very Revd John Drury, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert.
- John Keay, Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition. An excellent treatment of how much work remains to be done in the “nation building” enterprise in South Asia.
- Alice Goffman, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City. A sociology graduate student hangs out with lawbreakers and learns about police oppression, an excellent micro-study.
- Gendun Chopel, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler, Tibetan scholar goes to India and records his impressions, unusual.
- George Prochnik, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of His World. I loved this one.
- I’ve only read the first half of the new Tom Holland translation of Herdotus’s Histories (I will get to the rest), but surely it deserves note.
- Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. This book won the National Book Award for non-fiction.
- David Eimer, The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China. A look at China’s outermost regions and their ethnic minorities. Just imagine that, we had two excellent popular China books in the same year.
- The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, by Davi Kopenawa. Repetitious in parts, sometimes incoherent too, but it offers a smart and unique perspective you won’t get from any of the other books on this list or any other.
- Jonathan Rottenberg, The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic. This treatment stresses the (partial) cognitive advantages of having a tendency toward depression.
- Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary, assorted facts and insights about the English language, you don’t have to feel like reading a book about poetry to find this worthwhile.
- David Sterling, Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition, huge, expensive, wonderful, more than just a cookbook though it is that too. I’ve spent some of the last few weeks learning these recipes and what makes them tick.
- Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. A good overview of how some of the main pieces of today’s information technology world fell into place, starting with the invention of the computer and running up through the end of the 1990s.
- Arthur M. Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.
- Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life.
- Jan Swafford, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. As good or better than the classic biographies of the composer.
- Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, vol. 1. This one I have only read a part of (maybe 150 pp.?), it is very long and does not fit my current reading interests, but it seems very good and impressive and also has received strong reviews. So I feel I should include it.
- Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins.
I ended up picking up copies of Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, Stalin, vol. 1, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph and Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.