Monitor staff picks the best 2018 nonfiction titles

Rick Bragg's 'The Best Cook in the World' and 'Enlightenment Now' by Steven Pinker were two of our favorites for this year.


'The Beekeeper' is by Dunya Mikhail and 'Fisherman's Blues' is by Anna Badkhen.

Monitor reviewers ventured far and wide across the landscape of nonfiction this year. From the plight of a Senegalese fishing village to the slave trade to the life of Gandhi, these books reflect powerful ideas and personal stories. We hope that the books on this list will inspire your holiday gift-giving and that reading them will make you an even better-informed citizen of the world. To read the full reviews of many of these books, visit

No Turning Back, by Rania Abouzeid

W.W. Norton, 400 pp.

Rania Abouzeid, who conducted life-threatening reporting to make the book happen, based “No Turning Back” on personal stories of those affected by the Syrian civil war. She gives voice to a handful of the millions of Syrians whose lives were tragically upended by war. 

Fisherman’s Blues, by Anna Badkhen

Penguin, 304 pp.

Veteran journalist Anna Badkhen lived in and spoke with many of the residents of Joal, the biggest artisanal fishing port in Senegal, learning about their struggles as their way of life is challenged. 

The Best Cook in the World, by Rick Bragg

Knopf, 512 pp.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Rick Bragg is also a loyal son in this book about his mother. Bragg recalls how food indicated class and the tales that are attached to each recipe. 

Gandhi, by Ramachandra Guha

Knopf, 256 pp.

This work is the second in Ramachandra Guha’s two-part series, and the book’s details of Gandhi’s life help the reader comprehend how he influenced the world. 

Reporter, by Seymour M. Hersh

Knopf, 368 pp.

Legendary New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh, who has won awards including the Pulitzer Prize, looks back on his storied career, which included covering Watergate for The New York Times and revealing the My Lai Massacre to the world. 

Patriot Number One, by Lauren Hilgers

Crown/Archetype, 336 pp.

This is the story of Zhuang and “Little Yan” Liehong, immigrants from China who settle in New York City.  

Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston

HarperCollins, 208 pp.

This book was published 87 years after Zora Neale Hurston finished her account of the life of Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the slave trade. 

The Pope Who Would Be King, by David I. Kertzer

Random House, 512 pp.

“The Pope and Mussolini” author David Kertzer returns to the papacy with “King,” which tells the story of Pope Pius IX, whose prime minister was assassinated, forcing him to flee into exile. 

The Soul of America, by Jon Meacham

Knopf, 256 pp.

Is the political time we’re living in unprecedented? Far from it, says author Jon Meacham, who looks back at other protests and disagreements between political parties.

The Beekeeper, by Dunya Mikhail

New Directions, 240 pp.

Talented poet Dunya Mikhail tells the story of the Yazidi women from northern Iraq who were forced to leave their homes and were sold into sexual slavery. 

Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker

Viking, 576 pp.

Author Steven Pinker is back with more good news, detailing the progress made by people since the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Something Wonderful, by Todd S. Purdum

Henry Holt, 400 pp.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II changed American culture with their revolutionary musicals, including “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” and “The Sound of Music.” Todd Purdum looks at the partnership. 

Rising Out of Hatred, by Eli Saslow

Knopf, 304 pp.

The book’s subject, Derek Black, was born into a family of white nationalists. How he learned to think differently is an inspiring tale. 

Reagan, by Bob Spitz

Penguin, 880 pp.

The latest biography of the Gipper shows how the public’s memories of him are still affecting politics. 

Chesapeake Requiem, by Earl Swift

HarperCollins, 448 pp.

Journalist Earl Swift shares his experience with the vanishing Tangier Island, widely regarded as one of the first communities in America to be destroyed by a warming Earth. 

Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World, by Miles J. Unger

Simon & Schuster, 480 pp.

Miles Unger’s new book depicts the legendary artist’s early days in Paris, a time in Picasso’s life that included the creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” 

The Woman’s Hour, by Elaine Weiss

Penguin, 416 pp.

Elaine Weiss depicts the time directly before the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the vote. 

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