Everyone has been talking about what a great year it was for fiction, but nonfiction had its stars as well. Amid a number of glorious blockbusters — the kind of books, like Andrew Solomon’s “Far From the Tree” or Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” that marry daunting amounts of reporting and research with gorgeous, novelistic prose — were dozens of smaller gems. In fact, smallness itself seems to be a growing trend in nonfiction, whether in a venerable series such as Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction books or in newer forms, particularly the brief paperback originals that accompany or follow e-books. We will see more of these, especially in narrative nonfiction, as the boundaries between print and online publishing continue to soften.
Another trend this year saw those gee-whiz books centering on neuroscience looking a little less fresh; what we want now, it seems, is more philosophy. Perhaps it was ever thus, as scientific advances leave us wondering what really matters in a life where, increasingly, anything seems possible. The last few years have seen a flood of books about how our brains are wired; the next will likely have us reading (and thinking) more about what our hearts need. In no particular order, here are the books from 2012 that profoundly engaged both heart and mind. Kate Tuttle