1. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
Confronted with a terminal cancer diagnosis at 36, neurosurgeon Kalanithi chose to share his struggle, and this posthumous memoir is his final gift: a profoundly moving meditation on mortality propelled by wit, humility, and an undiminished sense of wonder.
2. The Gene: An Intimate History, Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Pulitzer Prize-winning physician’s latest is a brilliant biological primer and a nuanced exploration of ethics, but it’s also just a great, endlessly engaging read.
3. Evicted, Matthew Desmond
By narrowing his focus to residents of Milwaukee’s most impoverished areas and telling their individual stories with depth and empathy, the Harvard sociologist provides a damning indictment of American bureaucracy and economic inequality. His book should be required reading in an election year, or any other.
4. All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister
Traister’s illuminating history of women who haven’t put a ring on it, whether by choice or by chance, is smartly placed in a larger historical context and enriched by compelling personal narratives.
5. Grunt, Mary Roach
Add soldiers to the list of subjects—sex, space travel, your digestive tract—Roach has explored in fascinating detail. Here she takes on the challenges the military faces to keep its fighters safe and healthy with her trademark flair (and zingy footnotes).
6. Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart
The sudden loss of a child is indelibly rendered by Hart, a cartoonist who lost his sunny, inquisitive daughter days before her second birthday. In stark pen-and-ink panels, he pours his heartache onto the page with painful honesty and profound grace.
7. Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
Jahren—a Berkeley Ph.D., University of Hawaii professor, and celebrated researcher in her field—brings the joy of geobiology to readers who may not know an acorn from an isotope; she’s that good at conveying her endless passion for the natural world in nervy, relatable prose.
8. The Sound of Gravel, Ruth Wariner
There’s an undeniable car-crash appeal to this exposé of a childhood spent in a polygamous Mormon cult in Mexico, but Wariner’s memoir isn’t merely salacious; it’s a bracing, unforgettable story of survival.
9. Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig
Depression is hard; terrible advice is easy. U.K. journalist Haig, who has waged his own lifelong battle, wisely eschews platitudes and misplaced pity; instead, with clear-eyed engagement, he brings a shadow illness into the light.
10. A Mother’s Reckoning, Susan Klebold
It took Klebold more than 15 years to process the guilt, grief, and overwhelming shame that branded her family after her son Dylan and his friend Eric Harris sprayed Columbine High School with bullets, killing 13 and injuring 24 more. Reckoning doesn’t provide answers, but it’s lucid, brave, and remarkably honest.