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Best of 2015: Non-Fiction

Updated: January 8, 2016

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!

Audrey at home : memories of my mother's kitchen with recipes, photographs, and personal stories
Dotti, Luca, 1970-
Call Number: 812.092 H5285Do

Audrey Hepburn fans will delight in this charming memoir from her son, Luca Dotti, about his mother, favorite family recipes, and trips. There are numerous personal photographs throughout the book.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Finnegan, William,
Call Number: 797.6092 F514

A coming-of-age memoir by the surfing-obsessed William Finnegan, who fell in love with the sport as a young boy, and continued surfing well into his adult life as an international journalist. Surfers and non-surfers alike will enjoy this well-written recounting of a life spent surfing.

The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers' Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse
Knight, Molly,
Call Number: 796.231 L8788Kn

Knight digs deep into the turbulent 2013-14 seasons of the Los Angeles Dodgers as they emerged from the bankruptcy of the McCourt ownership to the untold wealth of the Mark Walter and company ownership. A fascinating behind the scenes look at a team that was both succeeding on the field and sometimes coming apart internally. 

Between the world and me
Coates, Ta-Nehisi,
Call Number: 301.45096 C652-1

Considered by none other than Toni Morrison to be “required reading,” Coates' collection of essays delves into what it means to be black in American society. Intimate and personal, yet far reaching in its criticisms, this book’s unflinching honesty takes the status quo to task. Coates examines race and racism in America, both past and present, through the lens of his own full-life experience, in this open letter to his son.


Big magic : creative living beyond fear
Gilbert, Elizabeth, 1969-
Call Number: 155.3 G464

Gilbert brings her wit, wisdom and empathy first showcased in Eat, Pray, Love to this work, acting as a cheerleader for those souls hoping to lead a creative life.  

Broadcast hysteria : Orson Welles's War of the worlds and the art of fake news
Schwartz, A. Brad (Austin Bradley),
Call Number: 823 W454Sch

Brad A. Schwartz turned over every primary source stone in this engaging examination of what really happened on that fateful night in October 1938 when Orson Welles, the Mercury Theatre on the Air, and their band of aliens invaded the airwaves.


Dead wake : the last crossing of the Lusitania
Larson, Erik, 1954-
Call Number: 940.4514 L334

The sinking of the Lusitania, which helped prompt the United States to enter World War I, is told through the eyes of the ship’s crew, naval and government officials, and the crew of the German U-boat’s that sent the deadly torpedo.

Edible memory : the lure of heirloom tomatoes & other forgotten foods
Jordan, Jennifer A., 1970-
Call Number: 635 J823

Over the past few years heirloom vegetables have been the rage, but why? Sociologist Jennifer Jordan analyzes the big picture about this growing interest. One aspect is flavor, and another is nostagia for the memory of vegetables and fruits that really, truly had some unique fragrance and flavor.

Elon Musk : Tesla, SpaceX, and the quest for a fantastic future
Vance, Ashlee,
Call Number: 338.7 M987Va

Professional journalist Ashlee Vance presents an invigorating and well-researched biography of Elon Musk, a highly innovative and successful entrepreneur, scientist, and investor.  Musk’s current companies are SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity. He was formerly involved with PayPal,, and Zip2. Vance spent many hours interviewing Musk and covers his childhood up to his current phenomenal business ventures.


The gay revolution : the story of the struggle
Faderman, Lillian.
Call Number: 306.7660973 F144

Historian Lillian Faderman delivers a riveting and panoramic chronicle of the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) movement in the U.S. from the 1950s to the present day. Matching the excellence of her previous works, such as Gay L.A. and Surpassing the Love of Men, Faderman transmutes extensive research and interviews into a fascinating and gripping view of LGBT history. 

Get what's yours : the secrets to maxing out your social security
Kotlikoff, Laurence J,
Call Number: 332.01 K87-1

A trio of expert authors makes sense of the complexities and pitfalls of social security benefits in a way that is both thorough and even entertaining.The book offers background, facts, charts, tips, scenarios, and commentary to help readers understand their options and make better choices. A website for the book helps keep up with changes in the rules, such as those that came out after the book was published in early 2015.

Gut : the inside story of our body's most underrated organ
Enders, Giulia,
Call Number: 616.3 E56

Enders, a German medical student, wrote this fascinating and often irreverent book in German in 2014 and its English translation appeared in 2015. Enders is fascinated with all parts of the digestive system from top to bottom, literally. You will learn to appreciate what your gut does for you and how to cultivate the friendly bacteria. Fair warning: there will be poop.


Headscarves and hymens : why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution
Eltahawy, Mona, 1967-
Call Number: 301.412956 E51

Egyptian journalist and ardent feminist, Mona Eltahawy, fearlessly writes about misogyny in the Arab world, and calls for a women's revolution to match that of the Arab spring.

Headstrong : 52 women who changed science--and the world
Swaby, Rachel,
Call Number: 509 S971

This is a series of vignettes about female scientists who deserve more recognition than they have received, but is not a recitation of wrongs. Rather, it shows 52 unique, indomitable, free spirits and free-thinkers who were moved to overcome any obstacle because they loved what they did, and they wanted to know more.


How to be a heroine : or, what I've learned from reading too much
Ellis, Samantha.
Call Number: 809 E4715

Playwright Samantha Ellis examines what her favorite heroines have taught her about being a woman and an artist. Characters from myriad titles ranging from Wuthering Heights to The Valley of the Dolls illuminate Ellis’s Iraqi-Jewish heritage and development as a writer. An ideal read for book lovers, and guaranteed to enlarge your to-read list! 


Hunger makes me a modern girl : a memoir
Brownstein, Carrie, 1974-
Call Number: 789.14 B8853
Rock goddess and Portlandia Actress-Writer-Producer Carrie Brownstein returns to her childhood and musical beginnings in the Riot Grrrl feminist movement of the 1990s when she co-founded the iconic musical group Sleater-Kinney. Brownstein describes contending with how she was perceived by journalists and audiences being a woman in a rock band in this heartfelt and honest exploration of her professional and personal lives.

I'll have what she's having : my adventures in celebrity dieting
Harrington, Rebecca,
Call Number: 613.2 H311

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that while you may never know the glitz and glamour of being a Hollywood celebrity, you will also never, ever have to eat like one. Greta Garbo’s celery loaf alone is enough to convince anyone that being a starlet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  

Irritable hearts : a PTSD love story
McClelland, Mac,
Call Number: 616.8521 M126

Former Mother Jones reporter, Mac McLelland, recounts in shocking detail her descent into post-traumatic stress disorder ultimately brought on by covering the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. But even amidst the chaos of crumbling infrastructure and unimaginable suffering, she finds herself falling for a French soldier sent to aid in Haiti's recovery.


It's what I do : a photographer's life of love and war
Addario, Lynsey.
Call Number: 770.9 A222

Lynsey Addario is a driven international photojournalist who has traveled to the world's hotspots to document and present life during conflicts, revolutions and wars.  She is candid in her writing and her photography.

Ivory Vikings : the mystery of the most famous chessmen in the world and the woman who made them
Brown, Nancy Marie.
Call Number: 736.4 B879

The history, national origin and creator of the Lewis chessmen has been clouded with mystery and controversy.  Icelandic scholar and translator, Nancy Marie Brown, uncovers new information about the chess set, and weaves in the complex rich history of Iceland. You do not need to play chess to find this book interesting.

Lafayette in the somewhat United States
Vowell, Sarah, 1969-
Call Number: 92 L161Vo

Anytime Sarah Vowell writes a travelogue, and uses it to explore overlooked parts of American history, it is worth a look. As she travels from monument to monument with dubious family members and friends, we get the chance to learn about the Marquis de Lafayette and his experiences in the country he helped make.    


M train
Smith, Patti,
Call Number: 789.14 S656-3

In unsurprisingly poetic prose, both beautiful and personal, Patti Smith recounts memories plucked from various adventures in her life, from visiting a South American prison with her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, to surveying a Coney Island devastated by a storm, to holing up in a European hotel to binge-watch detective shows. 


The mad boy, Lord Berners, my grandmother and me : an aristocratic family, a high-society scandal and an extraordinary legacy
Zinovieff, Sofka,
Call Number: 789.24 B525Zi

A delicious tale of upper-crust English eccentrics between the World Wars, set in the magical realm of Faringdon, one of Oxfordshire’s last great country houses. Memoirist Zinovieff vividly recreates the meticulously staged soirees, hosted by her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy a.k.a.The Mad Boy, and his blue-blooded lover, Lord Berners, which made weekend stays at Faringdon both famous and infamous. But even more fascinating is the story of how the author came to inherit Faringdon, a legacy rooted in hidden homosexuality, misguided marriages, hellish honeymoons, and unwanted offspring. 


Mary McGrory : the first queen of journalism
Norris, John, 1964-
Call Number: 071.092 M147No

John Norris portrays the life of journalist Mary McGrory, who broke ground in the male-dominated newsrooms of the 1950s and 1960s, with her guts, gumption, calm observation, and detailed honest writing. She came from a working class Irish Catholic family that had a strong work ethic, which served her well. Without being salacious, Norris also writes about McGrory's personal and professional encounters with numerous well-known politicians. And with discerning insight documents the toll her career took on her personal life.

The millionaire and the bard : Henry Folger's obsessive hunt for Shakespeare's first folio
Mays, Andrea E.
Call Number: 027.11 F66Ma

A history of the publication of Shakespeare's plays is intertwined with the story and secrets of Henry Folger, and the building of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Misbehaving : the making of behavioral economics
Thaler, Richard H., 1945-
Call Number: 330.1915 T365-1

Professor Thaler has written a very readable and important work about the history of behavioral economics. Filled with many critical references to economic theory and laced with humor, it made many economics bestseller lists this year.


Krakauer, Jon.
Call Number: 364.153 K892

In 2011, reporter Gwen Florio exposed a pattern of mismanagement of, and failure to prosecute sexual assault cases in Missoula.The scandal eventually led to a Justice Department investigation and settlement. Krakauer describes the courageous struggle of several assault survivors to find justice, as well as the ways rape culture and a corrupt and adversarial judicial system allow repeat offenders to continue to assault new victims and threaten communities.


Modern romance
Ansari, ʻAziz,
Call Number: 817 A617

Aziz Ansari (self described bing bong comic) and Eric Klinenberg (NYU sociologist) team up for a thoughtful and hilarious examination of the intriguing world of online dating. Modern Romance succeeds because the book goes beyond easy explanations and delves into data obtained from singles who allowed researchers to mine their text messages, as well as feedback from hundreds of focus groups.


The monopolists : obsession, fury, and the scandal behind the world's favorite board game
Pilon, Mary.
Call Number: 795.4 P643

An entertaining look into the unknown story of one of the most beloved board games. It was previously thought that an unemployed Pennsylvanian had invented the game during the Great Depression and sold it to Parker Brothers.  That’s not exactly the truth.  The real story involves the Quakers, a feminist and traces back to Abraham Lincoln.


More Mexican everyday : simple, seasonal, celebratory
Bayless, Rick,
Call Number: 641.5972 B358-5

This is the most recent book on Mexican food, cuisine and culture from Rick Bayless, who owns several Mexcian restaurants in Chicago, and is the recipient of Mexico's Order of the Aztec Eagle, the higest honor awarded to foreigners.  Bayliss covers eveything from appetizers to desserts; includes different types of equipment; essential ingredients to have on hand; and "Four Secret Weapons I Always Have in My Refrigerator" and how all of us can make them.  Right now, his recipe for Chicken Barbacoa, p. 324, is on my must-make-it-soon list.

On the move : a memoir
Sacks, Oliver W.
Call Number: 616.8092 S121-2

In the final memoir written before his death on August 30th, neurologist Oliver Sacks vividly described the scenes of his eventful life: war-torn London in the 1940s, fitness obsessed Venice Beach in the 1960s, and the down-at-the-heels Bronx of the past five decades, where he achieved fame as a writer and treated patients with brain disorders. Sacks recounted the most stressful events of his life before he became well-known: coming out to his Orthodox Jewish parents, overcoming amphetamine addiction, and nearly losing a leg after a confrontation with a bull in Norway.


One of us : the story of Anders Breivik and the massacre in Norway
Seierstad, Asne, 1970-
Call Number: 364.9481 S458

This book tells the story of Anders Breivik and the horrific killing spree he undertook in Norway.  It provides an in-depth look at both the perpetrator and a selection of his victims, as well as a disturbingly thorough look at the actual man hunt Breivik executed. 

Out of line : the art of Jules Feiffer
Fay, Martha,
Call Number: 740.914 F297Fa

This retrospective covers the career of  legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who published a weekly cartoon in the Village Voice for forty-one years. Feiffer is also a noted children’s book illustrator (The Phantom Tollbooth), playwright (Little Murders), screenwriter (Carnal Knowledge)  and graphic novelist (Kill My Mother). 


Rice, noodle, fish : deep travels through Japan's food culture
Goulding, Matt.
Call Number: 641.0952 G698

In Japan, art and food meld into one, from the small local eatery to the more revered restaurants. Matt Goulding editor at the online journal Roads & Kingdoms, savors and appreciates the works of "shokunins" or artisans who take pride in the preparation and presentation of food. Goulding conveys such delight in what he experiences that readers will be salivating and dreaming of taking a foodie trip to Japan.

Rise of the robots : technology and the threat of a jobless future
Ford, Martin (Martin R.).
Call Number: 331.112 F699

Silicon Valley software developer, Martin Ford discusses how rapid technological advances will continue to erode the availability of jobs in many fields.  In previous decades, technology was to blame for the loss of tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.  Ford argues that blue-collar jobs will continue to be at risk, but increasingly sophisticated computer algorithms will also diminish the availability of traditional white-collar jobs in the legal, medical, and other professions.  Ford supports a basic or guaranteed income to ameliorate the coming economic challenges.


Selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed : sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids
Call Number: 372.1 S4655

A stellar collection of essays on the decision to forgo parenthood. Sixteen writers present thoughtful, poignant and humorous explorations of the factors that caused them to opt out of an experience still common to most of humanity, and describe how their childfree status has affected their lives.


The senator next door : a memoir from the heartland
Klobuchar, Amy.
Call Number: 92 K657

No mud-slinging here. The senior Senator from the great state of Minnesota recalls, with heart and humor, the path she took to public service. With election season heating up, it’s nice to be reminded that some politicians can be genuinely nice people. She is from Minnesota, doncha know? 


Sinatra : the chairman
Kaplan, James, 1951-
Call Number: 789.14 S615Kap-1

Continuing where Kaplan’s first volume, Sinatra: the voice left off, this book explores Sinatra at his very peak. He has just won an Oscar for best supporting actor for From Here to Eternity, and has met his creative match in composer Nelson Riddle. Despite his success, Sinatra still struggles with long held demons. Reading more like a novel than non-fiction, Sinatra: the chairman explores the wonder and enigma of the Chairman of the Board. 

Frank Sinatra—Best Supporting Actor, 1953 for From Here to Eternity



So you've been publicly shamed
Ronson, Jon, 1967-
Call Number: 153.72 R774

Pre-internet, if you made an off-color joke to your friends they might simply roll their eyes, or shake their heads in disbelief. But now with the explosion of social media, one off-color joke on Twitter can literally DESTROY YOUR LIFE (google Justine Sacco and Africa and prepare to cringe.) How does a person pick up the pieces of their life when their mistake (be it intentional or otherwise) is written all over the internet in permanent marker? And can shaming also be a force for good? Welsh writer Jon Ronson delves deep into the subject and the result is a highly informative, and super entertaining book. One of the best non-fiction reads of 2015!   


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness
Montgomery, Sy,
Call Number: 594.56 M788

Octopuses are fascinating animals and the book is at its best when Montgomery provides facts about the animal, its abilities, its personality, and even its cognition.  

The Sound of Music story : how a beguiling young novice, a handsome Austrian captain, and ten singing Von Trapp children inspired the most beloved film of all time
Santopietro, Tom.
Call Number: 791.1 S7246Sa

Quick, fun read detailing everything you could ever want to know about the beloved musical.  Includes behind-the-scenes anecdotes and a “Where are they now?” section about the cast, crew and original von Trapp family.  It even covers such present-day phenomena as the Hollywood Bowl sing-along.  Lots of fun tidbits pepper the book, like the titles the movie was shown under in various foreign markets:  The Rebel Novice (Spain), Zwucky Musicky (Russia), and in Italy—wait for it—All Together With Passion.  


Touch : the science of hand, heart, and mind
Linden, David J., 1961-
Call Number: 612.88 L744

This fascinating book explains how different types of receptor cells in the skin communicate with the spinal cord and the brain, and how the brain processes and interprets the signals it receives.  Aimed at the science neophyte, this is recommended to anyone who enjoys learning a bit about receptors work.


The upright thinkers : the human journey from living in trees to understanding the cosmos
Mlodinow, Leonard, 1954-
Call Number: 509 M685

How did we get to be who we are today? Mlodinow takes us on a journey from distant prehistory all the way up through quantum physics, searching for answers. Along the way he considers many great scientists and his father, a man with a limited education, who nevertheless joined him in that most human of activities: looking up at the sky and wondering.


Voracious : a hungry reader cooks her way through great books
Nicoletti, Cara,
Call Number: 641.5 N643

Cara Nicoletti loves food and its preparation, and she loves to read all kinds of books.  As a butcher, pastry chef and omnivorous foodie she combines two passions in this homage to food and literatue, which has recipes plus vibrant illustrations by Marion Bolognesi.

Waterman : the life and times of Duke Kahanamoku
Davis, David, 1962-
Call Number: 796.9092 K12Da

David Davis, an award-winning sportswriter based in Los Angeles, spent years researching this splendid biography of a great athlete. Duke Kahanamoku's exemplary career brings to mind Jackie Robinson's and Jim Thorpe's, showing us more about the opportunities and ills of our society than any routine sports hagiography.

We don't need roads : the making of the Back to the future trilogy
Gaines, Caseen, 1986-
Call Number: 791.1 B1268Ga

Author Caseen Gaines, a self-proclaimed fanatic of the Back to the Future trilogy, spoke with most of the principals involved with the films in order to piece together a complete history of their creation, filming, and aftermath. This light and fun read not only reveals everything a fan would want to know about the trilogy, but examines the indelible mark Marty and Doc have made on the pop culture pantheon.


The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World
Jaher, David
Call Number: 133.9 M328Ja

David Jaher’s spirited prose revives a spellbinding body of history. The horrific death tolls of World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic created a vast number of bereaved survivors. In an attempt to somehow reconnect with their lost loved ones, many turned to spirit mediums, who claimed to channel messages from beyond the grave. Interest in “Spiritism” became so pervasive, that in 1922, Scientific American, assembled a panel of experts, including the great magician Harry Houdini, to uncover any valid, empirical evidence of a genuine medium. When an enchanting Bostonian, known as “Margery, the Witch of Lime Street,” came forward to be tested by the panel, the controversial result left the examiners both shocked and divided.

Women after all : sex, evolution, and the end of male supremacy
Konner, Melvin.
Call Number: 301.412 K825

Konner makes the case for a brand of sex superiority in this book. He argues that the recent historical phenomena of a male tilted social construction of sex is an aberration compared to our deep past, and balance is in the process of being restored as we move into the future. 


Women artists : the Linda Nochlin reader
Nochlin, Linda,
Call Number: 709 N757-7

A collection of essays about women artists by art historian, scholar and professor, Linda Nochlin, whose writing is scholarly, provocative, and fascinating. These essays are from the past, but not at all dated, and in many ways are answers to another Nochlin essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" which also is included.

The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe
Morgan, Ann (Ann Beatrice),
Call Number: 028.9 M847

Travel the world by reading its novels, poetry, folktales, and other written works. That is what British journalist Ann Morgan did after the 2012 Olympics came to London. In one year she read a book from each of the 196 independent countries of the world, and blogged her reading adventures in A Year of Reading the World. The blog continues today with more reading adventures.  This book has a fantastic bibliography arranged alphabetically by country.  

The Wright Brothers
McCullough, David G.
Call Number: 629.13092 W954Mc

McCullough tells the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose work to improve the flying machine continued for years after their famous maiden flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir
Day, Felicia, 1979-
Call Number: 812.092 D2735

The inspiring story of a former lonely homeschooled girl who, with great perseverance, overcame her isolated childhood to become one of the most influential creators in new media, becoming an Internet star producing her own web series and owning her own production company. 



Zero zero zero
Saviano, Roberto, 1979-
Call Number: 351.765 S267

Gutsy Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, tackles the international world trade of cocaine. Direct and uncompromising as in his investigation of the Neapolitan mobsters, the Camorra, his analysis encompasses the big economic picutre as well as the personal human tragedies.