2020 Staff Picks: Nonfiction

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Our expert staff members look back at the year and share their favorite titles.

  • Romance or The End: Poems

    2020 by Kahn, Elaine

    A profoundly moving collection of poems, and I'm not known to like poetry. Recommended by Adam.

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  • 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics

    2020 by Goldfarb, Bruce

    If you are a true crime fan and you would like to know more about the woman who changed the way that law enforcement approaches crime scenes, this is a great place to start. Recommended by Becca.

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  • And in the End: The Last Days of the Beatles

    2020 by McNab, Ken

    No stone unturned. If you like the music but aren't interested in the business (especially publishing), stay away. Otherwise, welcome to a rather forensic treatment of the band's final year together. Recommended by Adam.

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  • Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts

    2020 by Harkup, Kathryn

    You don’t need to be a Shakespeare buff to savor this deep dive into the real science and history behind the mostly horrible ways that characters die in his works. For an eye-opening education in the morbid aspects of early modern European life, give this clever book a try. Recommended by Steven.

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  • Eat a Peach: A Memoir

    2020 by Chang, David

    You may know Chang from one of his many Netflix series, you may have eaten at one of his restaurants, or you may even have his cookbook on your shelf. This is part memoir/part mental health journey/part leadership book. No matter how you're approaching it, it is a very relatable read. Recommended by Becca.

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  • Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America

    2020 by Thomas, R. Eric

    Self-deprecating, honest, quirky, hilarious, sweet, vulnerable, sometimes sad, always engaging, Thomas's memoir is top-notch. Recommended by Lukie, Becca, and Lynnanne.

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  • How to Feed a Dictator

    2020 by Szabłowski, Witold

    I love reading about food and cooking and am fascinated by dictators. Thanks to this quirky yet serious book by a globe-trotting journalist, I can finally indulge both interests at the same time! Recommended by Steven.

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  • Humankind: A Hopeful History

    2020 by Bregman, Rutger

    Bregman's thesis is that many different areas—anthropology, economics, individual and group psychology—are converging on a "New Realism" that recognizes that most people are as capable of compassion and cooperation as of cruelty and selfishness. Maybe it felt like the tying together of little of things I've read over the past several years; maybe I was just in the right head space for this message. Read it yourself and tell me what you think. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Officer Clemmons: A Memoir

    2020 by Clemmons, François

    As a lifelong fan of Mr. Rogers, I felt all of his neighborhood friends—human and puppet—were also mine. The musical Officer Clemmons was one of my favorites, so I was excited to read his memoir. I knew of some of his identity struggles from an interview years ago, but this book honestly discusses his struggles with race and sexuality and emphasizes the impact Fred Rogers and others had on his life. Recommended by Mandy.

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  • The Answer Is: Reflections on My Life

    2020 by Trebek, Alex

    I’ve read many celebrity (and game show host) memoirs, and this one was especially poignant, considering Alex Trebek’s terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis. While more anecdotal than tell-all, I enjoyed getting a glimpse into Trebek’s personal life and devotion to his family and causes close to his heart. Recommended by Mandy.

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  • The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood

    2020 by Wasson, Sam

    I love a good “making of” book, especially when we’re talking about Hollywood, and this deep dive into the classic '70s noir film, Chinatown, is impressively researched, providing beautiful mini-biographies of the film’s director, writer, stars, and players behind one of the greatest films ever made. Recommended by Chris.

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  • The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir

    2020 by Talley, André Leon

    If you live for the September issue of Vogue every year, and have read the magazine for ages, you know that Andre Leon Talley was a significant, formidable "force" there. His biography is full of juicy details about life at Vogue and, in particular, his relationship with editor in chief Dame Anna Wintour. Since Talley is an African American who made it really big in the fashion industry, this biography is especially important this year. Recommended by Mary S.

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  • The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

    2020 by Carter, Zachary D.

    A biography of the most important economist of the 20th Century. An economic history of the last hundred years. A philosophical inquiry into what the point of economic policy is, anyway. Sounds scintillating, right? But Carter kept my interest for 500+ pages, and I came away feeling I understood a lot more than when I started. Supporting turns from Virginia Woolf and other members of the Bloomsbury Set help move the story along. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz

    2020 by Larson, Erik

    If you love WWII historical fiction, you’ll probably love this true account of Winston Churchill's election as England’s Prime Minister while the country was inching into WWII through the bombing of London. It reads like fiction, including the reactions of Churchill’s family, friends, political allies and enemies, and ordinary citizens. I found it completely captivating. Recommended by Terry.

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  • The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers

    2020 by Weiner, Eric

    I’ve enjoyed all of Eric Weiner’s books, whether he’s writing about happiness, religion, genius, or philosophy, as here. Once again, he combines humor, travelogue, and self-help with charming personal ruminations on serious subjects of broad interest. Recommended by Steven.

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  • The World Is Always Coming to an End: Pulling Together and Apart in a Chicago Neighborhood

    2019 by Rotella, Carlo

    I was amused, saddened, and fascinated by this book. The author uses memoir, Studs Terkel-style interviews, deep dives into socioeconomic data, and cultural analysis to explain the real and imaginary existence of South Shore, a place that reflects Chicago (and America) at its best and worst. A wonderful complement to Michelle Obama's Becoming—she and Rotella grew up a few blocks from each other. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration

    2020 by Montross, Christine

    Because 95% of all people who are incarcerated will be going back to their communities, it is horrible that our corrections system routinely makes people with mental illness worse and often renders those who weren’t mentally ill unwell during their incarceration. The author, a psychiatrist (and poet) writes beautifully about the people trapped in this broken system—incarcerated individuals and staff alike. Recommended by Christie.

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  • You Belong: A Call for Connection

    2020 by Selassie, Sebene

    My favorite book of the year on navigating social and personal changes through meditation, mindfulness practice, and compassion. A wonderful book filled with wisdom, humor, insight, and hope. Sebene Selassie describes herself on the cover as “nerdy, black, immigrant, tomboy, Buddhist, weirdo," which made me pick up her book, and I'm grateful that I did. Recommended by Megan.

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  • You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington

    2020 by Coe, Alexis

    Most, if not all, books about our first president are written by the same demographic (white men) who tend to put Washington up on a pedestal of idolatry and awe. But Coe's accessible, witty, and heavily researched writing busts the myths and lore of our first Commander in Chief, presenting a portrait that is more accurate than what we've seen before. Recommended by Allyson.

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  • The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History

    2019 by Hill, Libby

    Expanded from a book the same author published in 2000, this is quite simply a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Chicago region. Or the natural world and humanity's relationship with it. Or environmental justice. Or Skokie's own O'Brien Wastewater Reclamation Plant, which turns out to be of global importance. Recommended by Andrew.

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