Best Nonfiction of 2012
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers
It may not be sexy, but this account of life in a Mumbai slum is so immersive that reading it counts as an actual life experience, one that reveals humanity at its most wretched and gloriously resilient.
Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Strayed's memoir of hiking the unforgiving Pacific Crest Trail should be required reading for 20-somethings looking to enter real adulthood. It's like a cooler, grittier, and more honest version of Eat Pray Love.
Anthony Shadid, House of Stone
The late two-time Pulitzer-winning journalist spent a remarkable career covering bloodshed in the Middle East and giving voice to other people's stories. His extraordinary final book tells his own story, of rebuilding his crushed spirit and his great-grandfather's abandoned home in Lebanon.
Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness
An in-depth look at the short life and chilling death of a young woman living in Japan.
Robert Caro, The Passage of Power
Caro's series about the life and times of Lyndon B. Johnson is like Harry Potter for serious history buffs. The much-anticipated fourth installment may be dense and lengthy, but Caro's literary prose style hurtles the narrative forward.
Jill Lepore, The Mansion of Happiness
The New Yorker writer applies her depth of knowledge and rather offbeat worldview to craft a probing, surprising, and wholly original examination of the way we view life stages from birth to death.
Will Schwalbe, The End of Your Life Book Club
While it's the memoir most likely to make you ugly-cry this year, Schwalbe's unique account of coping with his beloved mother's long, ultimately losing fight with cancer avoids sentimental pitfalls by focusing on their shared love of books.
Ellen Forney, Marbles
Forney's bracingly frenetic graphic memoir uses her own bipolar disorder to explore the queasily symbiotic relationship between mood disorders and creativity, with new takes on noted ''crazy'' artists like Vincent van Gogh and Sylvia Plath.
Mark Owen, No Easy Day
What was it like to be part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden? Find out in this well-told account written by one of the SEALs who were there.
Sam Kean, The Violinist's Thumb
Genetics may have been the most boring topic in your AP Biology syllabus, but Kean's surprisingly enthralling study of DNA focuses on the human side of science, explaining why some people are better hardwired to survive nuclear bombs, excel at the violin, or become cat ladies than others.