After another year of featuring the smartest non-fiction books, we’ve chosen our top 10 titles of the year. The books below, presented in alphabetical order by author, span the globe in their reach. They took us to China and Africa, Eastern Europe last century and the American political trenches in the last few years. Check them out, read our reviews, and pick up a copy for the holidays.
Said Amir Arjomand’s After Khomeini: Iran Under His Successors. Arjomand creates a portrait of post-revolutionary Iran that is superbly nuanced and detailed.
Deborah Brautigam’s The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa. Brautigam provides a new way to see China’s economic growth, offering context for all the fearful headlines about its relationships with African countries.
George Michelsen Foy’s Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence. A New Yorker’s quixotic search for quiet in his city.
Ian Johnson’s A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. Johnson’s essential history of U.S. policies on Islam reads like an adventure story.
Stephen Kinzer’s Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future. Kinzer draws impressive connections between many histories.
Matt LaBash’s Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys. LaBash’s offbeat essays transcend political lines and show sympathy for the small players without fawning.
Olivier Philipponat and Patrick Lienhardt’s The Life of Irene Nemirovsky: 1903-1942. The public and private drama of a novelist who captured her time.
David Remnick’s The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. Remnick offers an unusual theory for our president’s incredible career: boredom.
Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Ridley explains why every era has its doomsday prophecies, but the world keeps getting better.
Stephan Salisbury’s Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland. Salisbury tells the story of the first mosque that a major American city tried to take down.
*Photo courtesy Horia Varlan.