Our favorite non-fiction books of 2019.
Christina Thompson's The Sea People is a page-turning history of how Polynesia was populated and a history of the various theoretical conjectures of how those islands were populated. In tracing those two intertwined histories side-by-side, Thompson manages to create an utterly compelling narrative that blends popular history with sea-going derring-do. This book will delight nautical buffs and history lovers alike.
Gods of the Upper Air is a good book for our moment, when dubious race science is yet again sadly making inroads in the popular imagination. Tracing the career of anthropologist Franz Boas and his students--who included Margaret Mead and Zora Neale Hurston (the chapters on these two are worth the price of the book alone)--King demonstrates the value of firsthand fieldwork to refute the various theories on what makes a human, a human. The book reads like the best kind of popular history, full of vivid characterization and insight that reflects our current moment. Highly recommended.
A friend called Purdy "our Thoreau," and I think no two word assessment more accurately sums up Purdy's down-to-earth--and deeply rooted--politics. This slim book provides a roadmap for reclaiming the land that we love. I admire it and turn to it often.
Anne Boyer's The Undying is a haunting and wise examination of the resilience, strangeness, and precariousness of living in a human body -- particularly one that relies on our healthcare system. Boyer's writing about her experience as a breast cancer patient is as visceral and poetic as it is lucid in its analysis of the 'cancer industry.' Hers is an experience shared by so many women, but I'd never read it laid bare quite like this.
I admit: I am a big fan of Rachel Cusk and will read anything she writes. So I was very excited to pick up her essays, which display the remarkable erudition and analytical focus of this writer who has, with her Outline trilogy, finally earned the audience she so deserves. These essays will appeal to anyone who enjoyed those books, with their mixture of clinical detachment and keen observation, but also expose Cusk's more vulnerable side.