Best non-fiction books of 2019

It was a very strong year for non-fiction, these were the best books, more or less in the order I read them:

Toby Green, Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution.

Alain Bertaud, Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.

Eric Kaufmann, Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities.

James W. Cortada, IBM: The Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon.

Joanna Lillis, Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.

T.C.A. Raghavan, The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan.

Julia Lovell, Maoism: A Global History.

Ana Fifield, The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.

Charles Fishman, One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew us to the Moon.

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration.

Bruce Cannon Gibney, The Nonsense Factory: The Making and Breaking of the American Legal System.

Ben Westhoff, Fentanyl, Inc.

Ben Lewis, The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting.

Judith Grisel, Never Enough: the neuroscience and experience of addiction.

David Sorkin, Jewish Emancipation: A History of Five Centuries.

Matthew Gale and Natalia Sidlina, Natalia Goncharova.

Lydia Davis, Essays One.

Fuchsia Dunlop, The Food of Sichuan.

Frederic Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.

Alan Galley, Walter Ralegh: Architect of Empire.

Robert Alter, translator, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (or should that go under “fiction”?).

Pekka Hämäläinen, Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, more here.

And which book takes the very top prize for best of the year?  You can’t compare the Alter to the others, so I will opt for Eric Kaufmann’s Whiteshift and also Pekka Hämäläinen’s Lakota America, with Julia Lovell on Maoism and Alain Bertaud on cities as the runner-ups.  But again a strong year all around.

Of course the year is not over yet, this list is for your holiday shopping, I’ll post an update toward the very end of December.

In the meantime, apologies to those I missed or forgot…


Alain Bertaud, Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.
Elevators, up and down is 1D with momentum makes a 2D city hologram. Your city is determined by the simle quantizing tree trunk of riding vertically in city centers with lines to the elevatars almost always less than 3 or 4..

Judith Grisel, Never Enough: the neuroscience and experience of addiction.
The natural generation of neuro transmitter and uptake is atrophied. Causes imbalance in the center of the brain that controls hormone precursor. In the case of meth it is an actual fear of dying. In the case of opioids , any general ache of pain feels like a knife in the gut. The natural filtering is gone.

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“Frederic Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.”

I can attest this book got me very hot and bothered.

> (or should that go under “fiction”?).

How about ethics/metaphysics?

Increasingly, China and "progressivism" are setting themselves up as alternatives to the metaphysical and ethical approaches of the Bible, which - after secularization and hellenization - turned into Western societal tradition.

This non-fiction section lacks a single book on science. Are we allergic to numbers and hard science these days? In China, the children chose 'astronaut' for their top profession while in the USA and UK, the children chose 'YouTuber'. Do the math.

It sounds like the US is facing an imminent astronaut shortage. What are we gonna do?!?

Import diligent Chinese ones. Could pay them less too.

Maybe my kids will be YouTubing astronauts!

(Reminds me of the old joke: “I want to be Pope AND King.”)

Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

So many great books. I wish I could read more quickly.

> Alain Bertaud, Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.

Currently about 1/3 through this. While I find the content highly interesting, it confuses me how not a single review I found seems to mention that the writing is rather repetitive and poorly structured, and there's a lot of charts that are quite badly designed (also with typos in the captions etc.). Stylistically it sometimes reads a bit like Bertaud has an axe to grind and wants to tell urban planners how arrogant he thinks they are. It's a bit off-putting at times....

Cowen's link is to his blog post on this book in December 2018. My comment to the post, which I don't remember making (oh, the memory of memory), is pretty good. My point then was that "city planning" originally was done by landscape architects, the role of landscape architects being very different from their role today. My great uncle studied under Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. at Harvard, Olmsted being the son of the famous father with the same name (without the Jr.). Jr. created the first program in landscape architecture at Harvard. My great uncle spent the bulk of his career as the landscape architect for a western city. No, not creating zoning codes or land use regulations but what might be called "infrastructure" in the broad sense. He would locate and build public amenities like parks and other public spaces which served to draw people to them to live and work near them, just as the "infrastructure" in India has been doing successfully (see Cowen's linked blog post). The "market" may have shaped the city but "urban planning" (as I have described it) "nudged" it in the desired direction. It's an early application of the "nudge concept" popularized by two scholars at the Univ. of Chicago: Richard Thaler (economist) and Cass Sunstein (legal scholar). If you build it, they will come.

Speaking of repetitive and unstructured. Sheesh ray, would ya edit it down?

how about:

Dominion by Tom Holland

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to thank Tyler Cowen for sharing his knowledge throughout the year. I am amazed that someone can read so many books while also teaching and writing books.

I assume this is sarcasm (and I approve).

It was not sarcasm.

Wow, then you’re really pathetic.

While I'm frequently critical of Cowen, I have taken a number of his book recommendations over the years and found them excellent.

I have not read whiteshift, only about it in articles such as that at the link.

But I'm starting to think it hasn't aged well. Immigration, and for Americans "the wall," were something they talked about, but it didn't really turn out to be the endpoint.

Books (suggestions?) about the rise of authoritarianism seem more on target. Maybe something about the general decline of confidence in democracy, or Constitutionalism?

Fear of Hondurans was a tool to build a movement, and discarded as soon as it served it's purpose. Now it's about firing the Navy Secretary. A terrible progression.

Maybe something by Gary Kasparov?

thanks. Do you have any other tips about other books you haven't read?

He doesn’t care to think things through. Whiteshift is a fascinating discussion of how to make those Hondurans “white”: that is make them assimilate (in a neutral, tolerant sense) enough to become part of our tribe. We have values worth preserving and even emulating, even the value of discussing our values. It’s how we have achieved our country and how we will achieve our country and how we will keep achieving our country (in the words of the postmodernist nihilist Richard Rorty’s best book).

Except that nobody in their right mind cares about a country in the abstract divorced from the composition of its population and in the process of making hondurans "white" the adjective "ours" becomes ... let's say not relevant.

Accidentally, anyone who wants to live in a country that mestizos call "ours" can freely move to 15+ countries in Central and South America. But in the wet dreams of the liberasts making the commentariat of this blog (+ the mestizo-jew-chinese kaufmann) people who want to live in a (real) majority white country won't have that option.

If you could make everyone "white" and so make that term a substitute for "American," I might be interested.

But if you are only interested in elevating a portion of current American citizens, shame.

But you know that, "immoderate."

Untrue as hell. I’m interested in curbing illegal immigration because it’s illegal and very likely deleterious to our own, already here, citizens. At least until we see what the consequences of having 20 million illegals here might be.

Continent wide nimbyism? Yes perhaps it is.

From Cold War to Hot Peace by Michael McFaul?

The Plot to Destroy Democracy by Malcolm Nance?

It is starting to look like they weren't wrong, neither.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Russian president Vladimir Putin is also “the first Russian president of the United States,” bent on world domination, with President Donald Trump merely his puppet, argues this overwrought work of conspiracy theory...

The result is an unconvincing exaggeration of genuine misconduct into cartoonish supervillainy.

Yeah, maybe not top nonfiction territory.

"A new book written by an anonymous White House insider published this week has shed further light on the president's aversion to the Cold War-era alliance [NATO], alleging Trump claimed the U.S. is "getting raped" by its allies and pushed to ditch the accord."

What is this quote responding to exactly?

Are we back to conspiracies?

'should that go under “fiction”?': pretty much, until the Assyrians pitched up. Thereafter it was presumably built on Hollywood lines i.e. "based on a true story".

A harder question is 'how much of the NT is fictional?'

Atheists who make snarky comments about the Bible being fiction forget that something is fiction only if the author thinks it is non-factual, in much the same way that not every untruth is a lie.

There is a lot to learn from the Bible, but this is a spurious distinction. A lie is "an intentionally false statement." It requires falsehood and an intention. Fiction is "literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people." It only requires falsehood. Whether a work is fictitious no more depends on the writer's beliefs than the laws of physics depend on yours.

I think you want "fiction" to have the meaning you've given -- it gives you such a fun barb, after all -- but you are simply wrong. As an Evangelical Christian I think that the Book of Mormon is populated with imaginary events and people, but it simply is not a work of fiction. You and I may both agree that it is false, but it is not a work of fiction.

Paul ... Do you mean ‘false, but accurate’?

How about "A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions

“I trampled upon the pages of many books, gathering deadly, sour food from among the twigs, so many women, and so many males, so many ancestors, so much accumulated pestilence...”
-Raduan Nassar

Twenty-two books in eleven months, exhibiting a range of content ("the best"?) in terms of topicality, geography, historical period, et cetera, all commendable (in addition to all other texts read in the course of a year).

--but "the best"? The best that Amazon delivered to Tyler, at least: but how many non-fiction titles did US and UK publishers print in 2019? --on what other subjects, by what other writers?

Curious omissions:

--no titles on astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. (Does Fishman's book contribute copious new insights into the history of the Apollo program?)

--No title on climate science or the advent of Technogenic Climate Change (from NASA, et al.: eighteen of the nineteen warmest years on record have occurred since 2000 CE, which includes 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018).

--Nothing concerning the career of Christopher Marlowe, more the man of our era than Shakespeare can manage: Marlowe's relevance to our day is seen in his own career of espionage, his ample treatment of various megalomanias, his treatment of the topicalities of religious contest and ferment, his implicit critique of science and its will to power, even his dabbling in counterfeiting coinage. (Does Marlowe have an index entry in Galley's book on Raleigh? [Does Galley show any dependence on the scholarship of Dame Frances Yates in addressing Elizabethan occult intrigues?])

--No book-length account dedicated to examining the actual circumstances of adult literacy, adult sub-literacy, and adult illiteracy in the US today. (Data hard to find nevertheless suggest 30 million American adults are functionally illiterate . . . and many of them vote.)

Perhaps most tellingly: not a single title devoted to unpacking the perennial subject of "anthropology" in this era of momentous technical change, social and political challenges, and human responses thereto.

(Maybe we'll learn in 2020 whether any of these non-fiction accounts have been written or published.)


-- also, nothing about the railways

In life it's always something, in publishing it's always something else.

Highly appreciate if you could kindly read, “Kashmir As I see it - From within and afar” (RUPA India, May 2019, non fiction)

Available on Amazon, it has been reviewed in leading Indian newspapers.

Look forward to your comments.

terrible book, lacking in any sort of empathy

Take what you will from this: Not a single book in Tyler's list overlaps with the 10 currently up for 'Best Nonfiction of 2019' by Goodreads.
Not completely surprising since Tyler's tastes probably don't line up with the main population on Goodreads, but as a regular user of Goodreads, I found it a little interesting.

This is why we come here to visit. Thank you, sir.

Re: "Robert Alter, translator, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (or should that go under “fiction”?)."

Liven up the comments, eh?

Kinda sensasionilist and FB-like in an old-school, manual way.

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I think a good history book would be time well spent rather than academic drivel.... like

A book: This is the title

The use of the colon in the title is as obnoxious in non-fiction as it is in economics papers.

No books about genderqueer self-identification issues?

Can you suggest me a best book for my kids from here so that my kids will know about science books

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