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BEST OF 2019

The Best Books of 2019: Nonfiction

Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child," Laura Cumming (Scribner) How do you unravel a family mystery? In Cumming’s gorgeous, evocative memoir, she unearths the secrets and lies around a long-ago kidnapping, and in the process, meditates on ways of seeing.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present,” David Treuer (Riverhead) Beginning with a foundational outrage — the Army’s massacre of hundreds of Lakota people — Treuer writes a fresh, unconventional modern Native American history, a story of endurance, resilience, and creativity.

How to Be An Antiracist," Ibram X. Kendi (One World) People of any racial background need to fight hard against the pervasive atmosphere of white supremacy that surrounds us; in this smart, sensitive guide, Kendi offers ammunition for the battle.


Know My Name: A Memoir," Chanel Miller (Viking) Known as Emily Doe in the years following her sexual assault on the Stanford campus, here Miller writes beautifully about her journey to reclaim her name and life. An essential document in the literature of survival.

Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future,” Kate Brown (Norton) When Chernobyl’s reactor 4 melted down in 1986, it damaged not just a town (the abandoned nuclear city of Pripyat) but an entire region’s ecosystem, not to mention the world’s sense of safety in a nuclear age. A troubling meditation on power (in all senses) and danger.

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us,” Rachel Louise Snyder (Bloomsbury) Snyder tells the stories of victims, survivors, and perpetrators of domestic abuse, as well as those who study and work on the problem. This is an important work, brimming with empathy and compassion.

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth,” Josh Levin (Little, Brown) History, sociology, and true crime come together in this wild tale of the complicated real woman behind Ronald Reagan’s corrosive “welfare queen” stereotype.


Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland,” Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday) A gripping, beautifully written chronicle of the crimes and wounds suffered during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, centering on the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a mother of ten.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey (Penguin Press) In this propulsive narrative, the New York Times journalists who helped take down predatory producer Harvey Weinstein tell how they got the story.

The Yellow House: A Memoir," Sarah M. Broom (Grove) An extraordinary debut memoir in which Broom tells the intricate, richly layered story of the family and the place that nurtured her.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at