19 Works of Nonfiction to Read This Spring
Watch for deeply-researched philosophical histories, biographies that bring well-known stories to light and meditations on art and new ways to live. There’s plenty to love among the nonfiction coming to bookshelves this spring.
Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, by Jenny Odell
Odell’s best seller, “How to Do Nothing,” cautioned readers against an obsession with productivity. Now, she digs into the question of why human beings live on specific schedules. “When you start to think of time in more collective ways, trying to leave behind the individual time banks, it opens up the horizon of what’s possible in your and others’ time — together,” she said in a recent interview. The question of whether true leisure is possible remains open-ended, but the minutes pass by without notice in this well-researched book.
Random House, March 7
The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley: A Poet’s Journeys Through American Slavery and Independence, by David Waldstreicher
As a young child, Wheatley was taken from West Africa and sold to a merchant family in Boston, and eventually became the most significant Black poet of the 18th century and a cornerstone of trans-Atlantic literature. Waldstreicher offers a thorough investigation of the world that made her, calling attention to the people, religious politics and feminism that shaped her life and work.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 7
The Teachers: A Year Inside America’s Most Vulnerable, Important Profession, by Alexandra Robbins
The people who teach our children are overworked, underpaid, unsupported and contemplating quitting altogether. Robbins follows three teachers across one school year — a math teacher in the South, a special-education teacher in the West and an elementary school teacher on the East Coast — to weave an infuriating and heartbreaking story. “Teachers” reads like a great liberal arts lesson, with plenty of research to back up the book’s implications.
Dutton, March 14
We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America, by Roxanna Asgarian
In March 2018, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, a white couple who had adopted six Black children, carried out a ghastly murder-suicide, driving an S.U.V. with their family off a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway. Asgarian, a journalist for The Texas Tribune, set out to discover more about the children and how they came into the Harts’ care. The resulting book is a damning indictment of the American foster care system.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 14
Poverty, by America, by Matthew Desmond
Desmond, a sociologist, received a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Evicted,” about the housing crisis among America’s poor. In his latest, he looks at the causes of poverty in the United States, arguing that some people stay impoverished because it serves the interests of many others.
Crown, March 21
The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, by Jeff Sharlet
What might explain the allure of right-wing, militant thinking for millions of Americans? Sharlet, who has written at length about religious fundamentalism, conducted a yearslong study, talking with religious leaders, fervent advocates of gun ownership, QAnon believers and more. The central tension of this thought-provoking book is not whether the country will descend into chaos, but when.
Norton, March 21
Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope, by Sarah Bakewell
Bakewell illuminates the long tradition of humanism — which explores the moral dimensions of what it really means to be human — using the work of great philosophers, artists and writers. The beauty of her study is the range of her examples: We’re unlikely to see Charles Darwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Matthew Arnold and E.M. Forster, to name a few, together anywhere else outside of an encyclopedia.
Penguin Press, March 28
Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy, by Quinn Slobodian
The world is on high alert to threats against democracy, but Slobodian, a historian of ideas at Wellesley, calls attention to one of its biggest challengers: capitalism itself. “Capitalism works by punching holes in the territory of the nation-state,” he writes, going on to expose the lengths to which many free-market libertarians try to protect wealth “from the grasping hands of the populace seeking a more equitable present and future.”
Metropolitan Books, April 4
A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them, by Timothy Egan
Egan tells the story of the Klan’s rise to prominence in the 1920s, focusing on D.C. Stephenson, a Grand Dragon who helped spread white terrorist views throughout the country and drove the group’s strategy. Stephenson seemed nearly unstoppable until Madge Oberholtzer, whom he kidnapped and tortured, provided essential testimony on her deathbed that helped bring him to justice.
Viking, April 4
George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage That Saved the Monarchy, by Sally Bedell Smith
Smith has written extensively about the British royal family, and now explores the consequences of King Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936. Edward’s younger brother, King George VI (the father of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret), never expected to rule, but his supportive and stable marriage steadied the British public throughout World War II and beyond. Elizabeth II gave Smith access to her parents’ diaries, letters and other effects for this new book.
Random House, April 4
A Living Remedy: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung
In her second memoir, Chung looks at the politics of class, race and home. Chung, who was adopted, grew up in a mostly white community on the West Coast, and didn’t realize until she left home how economically vulnerable her family was. As she established a career, she grappled with guilt about having surpassed her parents, and years later, she sees how economic inequality has profound consequences for the end of life — even though death is called an equalizing force.
Ecco, April 4
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, by David Grann
In 1741, the Wager, a British ship during England’s war with Spain, wrecked off the coast of Patagonia. What happened next depends on whom you ask: The captain and his loyalists left the island and found themselves captive in Chile, while another party splintered off and spent their captivity in Brazil. To free themselves from mutiny charges, each party tells a conflicting story about the voyage. There is plenty of adventure in this new book, giving it the pacing of a thriller.
Doubleday, April 18
Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You: A Memoir, by Lucinda Williams
The prolific songwriter and singer draws on her Southern upbringing — she was raised in a home with a musically talented mother dealing with mental illness and a father struggling to find his way as a writer — and deeply personal catalog in this new autobiography.
Crown, April 25
Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, by Claire Dederer
An expansion of her essay “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?”, written in the wake of #MeToo, this book grapples with how to reconcile the legacies of artists whose behavior was reprehensible, from Michael Jackson to Pablo Picasso and beyond. Do geniuses get a free pass? Is female monstrosity different from male monstrosity? How should we balance moral outrage with an appreciation for the work? As Dederer poses these uncomfortable questions, she admits her own complicity, too.
Knopf, April 25
Ordinary Notes, by Christina Sharpe
In meditations that are historically attuned, riddled with moments of tenderness and brimming with righteous anger, Sharpe considers what it means for Black people to live and love in a society that resists change, refuses the responsibility of its previous racism — yet often feels compelled to ask for forgiveness.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, April 25
When the Heavens Went on Sale: The Misfits and Geniuses Racing to Put Space Within Reach, by Ashlee Vance
The spectacle of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other technology scions shooting themselves into space may give you the idea that the whole experience is an ego trip, but Vance, the author of a best-selling biography of Musk, encouragesreaders to think bigger. He follows four companies — Astra, Firefly, Planet Labs and Rocket Lab — in this interplanetary land grab, all with the hope of making Earth’s lower orbit the next site of technological innovation.
Ecco, May 9
King: A Life, by Jonathan Eig
Eig’s monumental work, the first major biography of Martin Luther King Jr. in decades, challenges the image of him as a peaceful advocate of incremental change. There’s plenty of new detail, including from recently declassified F.B.I. files, allowing King to emerge as a complex, humane figure.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May 16
A Life of One’s Own: Nine Women Writers Begin Again, by Joanna Biggs
In this trenchant and wide-ranging book, Biggs writes about starting over after divorce while seeking wisdom from a canon of great female authors. In Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, George Eliot, Simone de Beauvoir, Elena Ferrante and others, Biggs finds inspiration, advice and cautionary tales that shade her experience.
Ecco, May 16
Quietly Hostile: Essays, by Samantha Irby
It’s always entertaining to see Irby — a first-rate, self-deprecating mind — riff on the oddities of her own life. Things have been going pretty well for her lately (marriage, high-profile writing gigs, Hollywood calling for story ideas), and what’s most endearing about this new collection is that the voice is always brazenly, unapologetically hers. (The list of her pandemic panic buys alone is enough to send you reeling.)
Vintage, May 16