2023 Staff Picks: Nonfiction

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

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

  • The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History

    2023 by Blackhawk, Ned

    Writing in the wake of The1619 Project (a debt he freely acknowledges), Blackhawk marshals a huge body of new scholarship to show that Native Americans were never “noble savages” destined for extinction; instead, they were and are an integral part of the American story whose refusal to either disappear or fully assimilate has shaped the nation’s laws, institutions, and culture. It richly deserves the National Book Award (here’s hoping!). Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Ordinary Notes

    2023 by Sharpe, Christina Elizabeth

    I'm in awe of the beauty and brilliance of this collection of 200 notes on racism, white violence, motherly love, poetry, art, and much more. Heartbreaking, deep, analytical, tender, and absolutely brilliant! Suggested by Megan.

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  • An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms around Us

    2022 by Yong, Ed

    The title isn't false advertising--this really is a book that makes the world seem far more "immense" than it did before. Yong invites his readers to consider planet Earth through the senses (spoiler: there's a lot more than five) of the creatures that share it with us. And like all the best nature books, it tells us a lot about ourselves. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession

    2023 by Finkel, Michael

    Stéphane Breitwieser stole more than 200 artworks from museums across Europe between 1994 and 2001. He was no master criminal, frequently stuffing priceless works of art down his pants or in his jacket. I found this book to be a fascinating read about a selfish and spoiled man, inept policing, and the desire to possess beautiful things. Suggested by Lynnanne.

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  • The Iliad

    2023 by Homer

    Emily Wilson is a force. She's one of the few translators for whom I ensure I read every bit of their notes, introductory materials, etc. because she brings a whole new life to materials that I have read many times, but never quite in this way. Suggested by Leah.

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  • Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives

    2023 by Kara, Siddharth

    Everyone who owns a smartphone should read this book. Kara did extensive research on the human rights abuses related to cobalt mining in the Congo, often putting his own life at risk to get to the bottom of this story. It’s not an easy read, but it is an important one. Suggested by Brenna.

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  • Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Legends and Lies about Our Past


    The author's thoughts on the ever-mutating concept of "American Exceptionalism" begin this collection, in which leading scholars seek to refute what they consider to be the worst distortions of their eras of expertise. Taken together, the essays amount to a powerful rebuke to the idea that the history profession should try to steer clear of present-day controversies. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Ask a Historian: 50 Surprising Answers to Things You Always Wanted to Know

    2022 by Jenner, Greg

    If you’re seeking a ponderous discussion of weighty historical quandaries, find another book because this one is lighthearted, fun, and trivial in the best way. Greg Jenner proves a charming and informed guide to such questions as why the devil is represented as a goat and how armored knights, um, relieved themselves. Suggested by Steven.

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  • The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet

    2023 by Goodell, Jeff

    I can’t remember the last time I was as simultaneously fascinated and horrified as I was while reading this book. Goodell isn’t explaining what will happen, he’s telling us what is happening even as “climate apartheid” allows those of us with access to luxuries-turned-necessities like air conditioning (the history of which goes back a lot further than you’d think) are able to ignore the worst of it...for now. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • The Creative Act: A Way of Being

    2023 by Rubin, Rick

    I enjoyed this book because it combines personal experiences and actionable advice. Rick Rubin writes about creativity broadly, so this book has a place for anyone and not just musicians. Suggested by Paul.

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  • The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking about Race

    2023 by Karim-Cooper, Farah

    The Great White Bard would have been a perfectly decent book if it had stuck to theory, but Karim-Cooper knows that you can’t understand challenging characters like Othello and Cleopatra without knowing how they were performed, from Shakespeare’s time to the present day. A book for anyone interested in Shakespeare, theater history, or the ways fiction acts as both window and (distorting) mirror. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope

    2023 by Bakewell, Sarah

    I enjoyed reading this for the amount of history it covers. I was interested in the relationship between humans and deism, and how it has pertained to the acquisition and availability of knowledge. Suggested by Susanne.

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  • The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration

    2023 by Bittle, Jake

    I was fascinated by this deep dive into the effects of climate change. The Great Displacement tells the story of communities that have been displaced or forever changed by floods, droughts, fires, and other natural disasters. This is well-researched narrative nonfiction. Suggested by Brenna.

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  • Food for Life: The New Science of Eating Well

    2022 by Spector, T. D.

    In all my years of, well, devouring any kind of writing about food and nutrition, I haven’t seen a book I trust more than this. Tim Spector cuts through food myths and overstatements with authority and provides rock solid advice on what and how we should be eating. Suggested by Steven.

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  • The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

    2023 by Grann, David

    The H.M.S. Wager disappeared in 1741 while rounding Cape Horn. The following year, a boat crammed with survivors reached Brazil, 3,000 miles away from where they’d been stranded. But the astonishing events that followed threatened to fit the castaways for a noose. Grann recreates the “wooden world” of an 18th Century warship, but the most compelling part of the story is the different ways the men reacted when the regimented society they knew failed spectacularly. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • How to Survive History: How to Outrun a Tyrannosaurus, Escape Pompeii, Get Off the Titanic, and Survive the Rest of History's Deadliest Catastrophes

    2023 by Cassidy, Cody

    Cody Cassidy keeps finding clever ways to make discussions of history and science enjoyably fascinating. In his latest book he surveys unpleasant times in the past to explain how a time-traveling person from the present might survive them. Great fun for fans of Randall Munroe. Suggested by Steven.

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  • The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History

    2023 by Plokhy, Serhii

    When “History” becomes a series of nationalistic myths, bad things happen. The version of Ukraine that gradually took shape over the three decades after 1991 has no place in Vladimir Putin’s version of Russian history. Covering everything up to the end of 2022, this is the third excellent book I’ve read by Plokhy, whose The Gates of Europe is probably the definitive history (the REAL kind) of his homeland in English. Suggested by Andrew.

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