The best non-fiction books of 2016

by on November 28, 2016 at 12:28 am in Books | Permalink

In most cases, my review is behind the link, though a few times it leads merely to the Amazon page.  If I wrote only a few words about the book, I have reproduced them directly in this post.  And the books are listed, more or less, in the order I read them.  Apologies if I forgot your book, each year I do neglect a few.  Here goes:

Robert J. Gordon, Rise and Fall of American Growth, my review is here.

Marco Santagana, Dante: The Story of His Life.

Melancholy, by László F. Földényi.

Ji Xianlin, The Cowshed: Memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  The classic account of its kind, in this edition brilliantly translated and presented.

Robin Hanson, The Age of Em.  Unlike any other on this list, this work created a new genre.

Benedict Anderson, A Life Beyond Boundaries.

Tom Bissell, Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve.  Fun, engaging, and informative, worthy of the “best of the year non-fiction” list.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History.

Srinath Raghavan, India’s War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia.

Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon, Continental Drift: Britain and Europe from the End of Empire to the Rise of Euroscepticism.

Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying.

Peter Parker, Housman Country: Into the Heart of England.  It’s already out in the UK, which is where I bought my copy.

Lawrence Rosen, Two Arabs, a Berber, and a Jew: Entangled Lives in Morocco.  Superb descriptive anthropology.

Lyndal Roper, Martin Luther: Renegade and ProphetDue out in February, the UK edition is already out.  Substantive and delightful on every page.

Kerry Brown, CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping.

Richard van Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity through the 19th Century.

Christopher Goscha, The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam.  The best general history of Vietnam I know, and it does not obsess over “the Vietnam War.”  Readable and instructive on pretty much every page.

Andrew Scott Cooper, The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.

William Domnarski, Richard Posner.

Peter Laurence, Becoming Jane Jacobs.

Daniel Gormally, Insanity, Passion, and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess World.  A personal favorite, you can read this as a study in labor economics as to why people hang on to crummy jobs.

Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.  Short descriptions of places you ought to visit, such as ossuaries, micronations, museums of invisible microbes, the floating school of Lagos, the Mistake House of Elsah, Illinois, Bangkok’s Museum of Counterfeit Goods, and the world’s largest Tesla coil in Makarau, controlled by Alan Gibbs of New Zealand.  The selection is conceptual, so I like it.  I will keep this book.

Jean Lucey Pratt, A Notable Woman.

Ben H. Shepherd, Hitler’s Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich.

Sebastian Mallaby, The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan

Tim Harford, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

Julian Gewirtz, Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China.

Marina Abramović, Walk Through Walls.

Christopher de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.

shah

Here is Arnold Kling’s list.  Here is my list of the year’s best fiction.

I would describe this year as thick in wonderful, superb books, though I remain uncertain which of these is truly the year’s winner.  So many plausible contenders!  I can only promise I’ll continue to cover what comes out between now and the end of the year, and apologies if one or two of those above are from late 2015.

1 stephan November 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

Some excellent books on this list. I also enjoyed ” Heyday: Britain and the Birth of the Modern World”

2 prior_test2 November 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

Bloomberg columnist that needs to deliver daily output discovers the advantages provided by recycling.

3 Ray Lopez November 28, 2016 at 7:42 am

You should be thankful that we get to absorb the full coin of TC’s mind…if not for TC, we’d not be here. He’s given a virtual (and arguably virtuous) life to all of us…

4 mkt42 November 28, 2016 at 1:39 am

Mukherjee revised his book, _The Gene_, in response to withering criticism from a large number of biologists. Some claim that the book still gets epigenetics wrong, others defend it. Caveat lector. I haven’t decided if I’ll read the book but if I do, I’ll try to get the 5th printing.

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2016/07/28/publisher-tweaks-gene-book-after-new-yorker-article-uproar/

5 Ray Lopez November 28, 2016 at 7:40 am

That’s the scientific method, to revise. Even Newton, a true giant (he invented calculus, kept it to himself, and used it as a tool to write Principia, how cool is that?) revised his works after publication.

6 Thiago Ribeiro November 28, 2016 at 2:24 am

So this is what America has become…

7 Keith Marvel November 28, 2016 at 8:34 am

It’s become a book list? What does your comment even mean?

8 govco November 29, 2016 at 12:20 am

He’s talking about a Brazilian kicker winning an NFL football game as time expires, making the Chiefs great again. Verily, however, America is in decline, Res Ipsa Loquitor.

9 Will November 28, 2016 at 2:58 am

Surprised not to see Ryan Avent’s ‘The Wealth of Humans’ on this list.
https://www.amazon.com/Wealth-Humans-Status-Twenty-first-Century/dp/1250075807

10 Ray Lopez November 28, 2016 at 7:37 am

Just eyeballing the book cover by Avent, this looks like a journalist book along the lines of the classic Alvin Toffler book “Future Shock”, which was anticipation of trends, some of which he got right (are we living in an ‘electronic cottage’ now? Maybe, if you consider the internet, maybe not, if you consider that telecommuting is still not that popular).

11 boober bunion November 28, 2016 at 3:03 am

Fixed that for you:
Robin Hanson, The Age of Em. Unlike any other on this list, this work created a new genre of science fiction.

12 Ray Lopez November 28, 2016 at 7:20 am

Except when you include this 1994 classic by Egan, Permutation City (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permutation_City) What’s the difference between this work and Hanson’s? I’m sure there are a few differences, but the similarities are striking… like in Intellectual Property, there are always antecedents in any ‘invention’.

13 Robin Hanson November 28, 2016 at 8:56 am

I’m pretty sure you haven’t actually read Age of Em. If you did the differences would be obvious.

14 TuringTest November 28, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Ouch!

15 Mat November 28, 2016 at 3:23 am

A little bit surprised Reformations of Carlos Eire did not make the list. Too long?

16 Tyler Cowen November 28, 2016 at 7:25 am

A good pick, thanks, should be on the list too!

17 Ray Lopez November 28, 2016 at 7:30 am

TC: “Daniel Gormally, Insanity, Passion, and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess World. A personal favorite, you can read this as a study in labor economics as to why people hang on to crummy jobs.”

I read this book, and though it’s a bit self-serving at times, it’s funny and it hurts so good to read it, knowing that the poor English GM Gormally is due for a fall. I sponsor chess on occasion in the Philippines and I almost wanted to reach out to Gormally and sponsor him to play some PH GMs…I think he would match up good against them. I’ve seen his games and Gormally is pretty creative, for a “top 800 in the world” player (GM Gormally is ranked 781, see: http://ratings.fide.com/card.phtml?event=406465)

18 Ted Craig November 28, 2016 at 9:00 am

“Unlike any other on this list, this work created a new genre.”

I’m sorry, my eyes are stuck from rolling back.

19 DRDR November 28, 2016 at 9:15 am

You didn’t include Richard E. Feinberg’s Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy, which you had said would make the list.
http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/11/best-book-contemporary-cuban-economy.html

20 Tyler Cowen November 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

Yes I do always forget some, thanks…

21 TuringTest November 28, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Tyler is just showing off: There are over 30 books on this list, including a book that hasn’t even been published yet.

22 responsible D November 28, 2016 at 2:49 pm

I’m envious of Tyler’s capacity to read so much. I’d be interested to know how many additional non-fiction books he read (in whole or in part) that did not make the list.

23 Andreas Moser November 28, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Everyone has 24 hours every day. Everyone. Barack Obama, Tyler Cowen and you.

24 Larry November 28, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Hillbilly Elegy explains much, while remaining utterly heartfelt.

25 mkt42 November 28, 2016 at 8:14 pm

I have a friend who lives in WV who recommends _Hillbilly Elegy_, but I’m leaning toward reading George Packer’s _The Unwinding_ and Arlie Hochschild’s _Strangers in Their Own Land_. Some readers say that _Hillbilly Elegy_ is a little too focused on Vance’s experiences and milieu, rather than the spectrum of people and experiences.

But I haven’t read any of these books yet. _Hillbilly Elegy_ seems to be the most-read and to have attracted the most notice.

26 Flannery Bro'Connor November 29, 2016 at 9:17 am

I just read the free chapter on Amazon and was glad to see that the ems will be nice.

27 Mark B November 29, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Katherine Cramer, The Politics of Resentment? Better analysis of the social and economic forces behind Trump in the rural US than most I’ve seen

28 DK November 29, 2016 at 8:57 pm

“The Gene: An Intimate History” is an absolute junk. What’s really surprising is how little knowledge of concepts and facts the author demonstrates. One would think that his professional occupation should help him to navigate complexities but no, he is more incompetent than a run of the mill science journalist. Overeager political correctness permeating the book does not help either.

29 Ryan T December 27, 2016 at 10:02 pm

If TC makes a post requesting post suggestions, I’ll try to repost this post. But here is a suggestion for future posts based on this best books of 2016 post:

A few years ago, the Booker Prize did a “Best Booker.” I’d welcome something similar with TC/MR’s best non-fiction and fiction — maybe of the last five years, ten years, and twenty.

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