12 Mid-Year Favorites from 2019’s New Nonfiction

What’s the best nonfiction you’ve read so far this year? Any standouts yet? Looking back from the halfway point, I think it’s already been a pretty good year for nonfiction.

In no particular order, here are my favorites from the new nonfiction published in the first half of 2019.


Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, by Benjamin Dreyer – Random House’s chief copy editor draws on his years of hard-earned experience for a style guide that will not only help you write better no matter what you’re writing, but is massively readable and laugh-out-loud funny. If you never thought a book like this could be so compelling, allow yourself to be proven wrong. Amazon / Book Depository


The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, by Bridgett M. Davis – Novelist Davis recounts her mother Fannie’s unusual work running the Numbers, the illegal gambling game that “made a way out of no way” for their family in 1950s-’60s Detroit. She also gives a vibrant picture of Numbers culture and its significance to the community. I’m surprised I haven’t been seeing this book everywhere because it’s superb. Amazon / Book Depository


The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband From a Deadly Superbug, by Steffanie Strathdee & Thomas Patterson – HIV researcher Strathdee discovered phage therapy (using viruses that eat bacteria) after her husband, Patterson, fell ill with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A little-known method with a long history, through her efforts and those of a dedicated team of doctors and researchers worldwide, it saved Patterson’s life. I thought this would be too alarming, but it’s informative, fast-paced, and hopeful. Amazon / Book Depository


The Book of Delights: Essays, by Ross Gay – “Essayettes” on a year of the little things, people, and scenes that delighted poet Gay. Equal parts weird, funny, heartwarming and bittersweet. And not relentlessly sunny; he addresses topics like being a black man in America and the racism it entails. He has a lovely, poetic storytelling style, and helps open your eyes to what instances of delight exist in your own day to day. Amazon / Book Depository


Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (A Memoir with Recipes), by Boris Fishman – Fishman tells his family’s story, immigrating to New York from Belarus in the 1980s, through food. In novel-like detail he explores family bonds and how he had to differentiate himself, plus the role of food in memory, identity, and belonging. Bonus: even if you think you’re no fan of Eastern European cuisine, I promise some of the recipes will positively surprise you. Amazon / Book Depository


A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell – Biography of Virginia Hall, the American spy who aided the French Resistance, among countless other feats, contributing mightily to Allied victory. Hall was exceedingly humble and never sought accolades, perhaps one reason why her story isn’t more widely known, but Purnell does her (and her many impressive associates) justice in a gorgeously written history. Amazon / Book Depository


The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un, Sun of the 21st Century, by Anna Fifield – Fifield achieved the near-impossible with a biography of enigmatic North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Far more entertaining than it ought to be, she makes politics, history, and foreign relations effortlessly understandable, no easy feat in this area. This is probably the book that’s popped up in my thoughts most after reading it this year, I think it’s made me a much more informed news consumer. Amazon / Book Depository


The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, A Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation, by Rich Cohen – Cohen tells a dark, eerie story from a (thankfully) bygone era when pirates, one in particular with a menacing backstory, roamed a grittier New York. It’s an excellent little history–laser-focused on the crime story but perfectly weaving in the maritime city atmosphere, changing neighborhoods, and rich context of the period and culture. Amazon /Book Depository


Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, by Amber Scorah – A former Jehovah’s Witness writes about her time as a secret missionary in China. In a restricted society doing underground work, she began questioning her beliefs and ultimately abandoned the faith. The prose is beautiful and affecting, and strikingly candid. Amazon / Book Depository


Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep – Harper Lee’s second book, The Reverend, a layered true crime narrative akin to the famous In Cold Blood she’d helped her friend Truman Capote write, was destined to go unfinished. Cep traces both the Deep South story that captivated her and why Lee abandoned it. She writes luminously and weaves together many cultural, historical, and literary threads that are all somehow fascinating, even insurance fraud. Amazon / Book Depository


Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power, by Anna Merlan – Journalist Merlan examines recent conspiracy theories and their place in the sociopolitical landscape. Most of these movements are recognizable from the news (sigh) but in addition to tracing their roots, she’s bravely attended conventions, marches, and cruises (shriek), providing an up-close, descriptive look at what’s going on and why. Amazon / Book Depository


The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed By Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold – This book not only surpassed my expectations, it set the bar permanently higher. In biographies collecting what’s known about the “canonical five” victims of Jack the Ripper, Rubenhold deftly tells a social history that gives these women back so much that history has taken from them. Revealingly, the reduction of their complex lives into merely “prostitutes” wasn’t only insensitive, but incorrect. Amazon / Book Depository

Have you read any of these, or will you? What are your favorite nonfiction new releases so far this year?

38 thoughts on “12 Mid-Year Favorites from 2019’s New Nonfiction

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  1. I read Furious Hours in June and just finished The Last Pirate of New York this morning. It was interesting that both looked at historical crimes that I had never heard about beforehand. Hearing about police work and court cases from those time periods was fascinating. Both great books!

    I am hoping to read The Five next!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh do so love a best of list! Godammit, I have not read a single one of these!! Though I do have Dreyer’s on order at the library (whoever has it out on loan at the moment, please get on with it, I need it now!) Perfect Predator is on my list but sadly not available in my local libraries, outrageous! I just added Republic of Lies to my list yesterday. I ought to read The Five as I have just really enjoyed a UK TV series on Netflix called Whitechapel, which starts with a modern day mystery linked to the Ripper, have you seen it?

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      1. It is, but as much as I’ve tried to learn from his lessons I have yet to successfully implement them in quick online writing and commenting. I like to pretend they don’t apply here!

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    1. Definitely read The Five, I loved it! It was just so all around well done, really impressive. I haven’t heard of Whitechapel but I’m so intrigued now!! Thanks for the suggestion 🙂 I’m going to check it out. Maybe Perfect Predator hasn’t been released in the UK yet? I’m sure you can buy it anyway but I prefer using the library as much as possible too! And Republic of Lies is great, kind of depressing because ugh, I can’t believe what people are willing to believe, but very informative.

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  3. This looks like a great bunch! The Casey Cep is on my TBR list.

    I’ve only read 5 nonfiction books so far this year – that seems a little low for me even with my preference for fiction. But my favorites so far are Bad Blood and The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner (anti-diet/self-help/body positivity.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great list! I am really looking forward to checking out Furious Hours, and will add The Five to my TBR as well. It sounds excellent! (For wanting to take a break from serial killer nonfiction, I am not doing a good job of letting my TBR reflect it. Oops! Perhaps it will be a short break after all!)

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    1. The crime story in Furious Hours does involve an alleged serial killer, but not the kind from the John Douglas books. It really doesn’t read that much like true crime either, I didn’t think so, at least…it’s got a lot of different stories going on, about the literary world of that time and Lee’s biography so it doesn’t feel like all it’s about murder. And The Five is barely true crime even though it’s kind of marketed that way, I was so surprised by it. The women’s deaths are barely mentioned at all, and there’s next to nothing about Jack the Ripper, his crimes or theories about it, nothing. It’s really just about their lives before they hit low points and how their circumstances changed, what falling on hard times in Victorian England could be like. So I promise they’re good choices even while you’re taking a serial killer break 😉I’m excited to hear what you think of them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s good to know, I was originally more interested in Furious Hours for the Harper Lee info so I’m glad that’s a main focus.
        And The Five just keeps sounding better! I would love to read about women falling on hard times in Victorian England.
        I must pick up both of these! And I hope you find as many favorites in the second half of the year as the first. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lee’s story is a big focus, pretty much the book’s entire second half, or even a bit more. I wasn’t expecting it be so biographical but it was great. Definitely give them both a try 🙂 I hope you’re finding lots of good ones this year too!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I read a review of The Five by another book blogger friend just today! I think you published your review before we met. If you’re interested in the sort of mild outlaw life of numbers runners, like that of the woman from Detroit, you’d likely enjoy The Autobiography of Malcolm X, who was a numbers runner, a steer, and had several other hustles.

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    1. I had a review copy of it so published it around the time it came out, I think in April..that was probably before we met! It’s so good though, just a really fascinating look at society and the difficulties women faced when something went wrong in their lives at that point. I didn’t know Malcolm X had also been a number runner, that’s so interesting.


      1. I was at the University of Notre Dame library yesterday. This place is HUGE. And as I was walking along trying to find the right aisle, I saw a book sticking out called MY LIFE AS A NUMBERS RUNNER and I just started giggling. We bloggers are all so close it’s weird. I think about all of you quite a bit!

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      2. Oh that is too funny!! I know what you mean, I’ve been aware of so much I would’ve completely missed since I started blogging, and it’s nice when you have little surprising serendipity-like moments like that 🙂


  6. The only one I’ve read is Furious Hours though a couple fo the authors made their way onto my wishlist when you reviewed them – The Last Pirate of New York and The Five. I loved Furious Hours – great book both for the true crime aspect and the stuff about Harper Lee!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wasn’t Furious Hours just so good! I liked both aspects too, and so often in books that blend narratives like that I end up really preferring one over the other. There they both just worked so well! Definitely check out Last Pirate and The Five, I thought they both were fantastic.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think A Woman of No Importance and The Library Book are the best non-fiction books I’ve read so far this year, but I’ve read much less non-fiction than normal. I will definitely be picking up The Perfect Predator, though – it sounds fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Library Book was hands-down my favorite from what I read last year. It’s one that I really want to read again too, it seems like you could pick up something different every time you read it. Just so good! The Perfect Predator was excellent, so interesting and really inspiring too.


    1. I’m so excited that all of them appealed to you!! But oh gosh, I don’t know where to tell you to start…maybe The Book of Delights? It’s an easy read especially when you’re busy, and one that helps keep your eyes open to little happy things and everybody could use that! Or since you need some distraction, I think The Last Pirate of New York, The Five, The Great Successor, and The Perfect Predator were the most distracting of these. Can’t wait to hear what you pick and what you think of them!

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  8. I really want to read The Five, and I have an ARC so I have no excuse not to pick it up soon. This will come as a huge surprise but my favorite nonfiction release of the year is definitely Say Nothing, but I can’t stop thinking about Constellations by Sinead Gleeson as well. I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction this year and as always I partially have you to thank!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely loved The Five, it wasn’t what I was expecting, and was especially impressive since there were still pieces missing from some of the narratives of their lives, sbut she did amazing work filling in around that. I know I need to read Say Nothing, I really don’t know why I can never seem to get in the mood for it!

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