10 Best Non-Fiction books of 2017

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This list originally appeared in the Secret Posts in December 2017.

Click here to read the 10 Best Fiction Books of 2017.

Sometimes I feel like people don't read enough non-fiction. They assume it's boring or self-serving or something, but I think they just haven't found the right books yet. I read a range of non-fiction from memoir to business books, and here are the best of 2017: 

#1. So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Being on social media daily has made me regularly think about the points made in this book. Our human tendency to get the pitchforks out online, as well as why some people can navigate public shame more than others has been illuminating to my personal behavior and to explain how our culture got to where we are right now. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed was written before the 2016 election, but it helped me understand how America ended up with a President Trump and how the internet is changing history. If you’re interested in these type of topics at all, then you have to pick this one up.

#2. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

I’ve been talking about this one a lot lately: on Sorta Awesome, on Smartest Person in the Room, and it landed on my Best Books To Give guide. This is almost more of a reference book than a something you would read straight through, but I have taken SO MUCH from this one in the last few months. It’s broken into three sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, and includes the best excerpts, advice, and quotes from the high powered, successful people that Tim Ferriss has interviewed over the years for his books, blog, and podcast. I maintain that Tools of Titans makes an excellent gift, but it’s also a nice thing to keep in your own home office. I will also be diving into his new one called Tribe of Mentors soon. 

#3. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Reading this book made me realize that I knew only the tiniest sliver of Native American history, even though it’s something we’re required to study growing up in Oklahoma. Killers of the Flower Moon is the back story of the rash of murders of Native Americans in the 1920’s, coinciding with the wealth that had poured into tribes when oil was discovered on their land. At the same time, the government was forming the FBI in Washington D.C. And these murders were the first big case that the department took on. The writing here can be a little dry, but the content is fascinating, sad, and a necessary part of learning about American history.

#4. Deep Work by Cal Newport

This book was a real kick in the pants for me. I secretly knew that I haven’t been doing much deep work in the last few years - and that I had let stupid stuff like email and social media become a stand-in for real work - but Newport’s book really put a highlight on the output I could be achieving. This book is challenging but not shaming, and I came away from it with real tools to apply to my goals in 2018. I read this at the end of the summer and approached a lot of my work in the fall with a different attitude, and one that has caused several quality pivots in how I structure my days. One caveat: there are a few sections, especially towards the end that felt unrealistic to my life as a work at home mom. However, reading it through the lens of taking what works for me and dismissing the rest, Deep Work is one that I’m still mulling over. 

#5. After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry

I read several books in the subgenre of “true crime memoir” this year, including A Mother’s Reckoning, discussed below, Fact of a Body (on kindle sale right now!) which was very well written, and After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry, which was the best of this group. The memoir is an account of a child who overheard her mother being murdered down the hall, and everything that came in the decades after. Not only was this story well written and vulnerable, Perry unfolded the various elements to the crime and the family and the culprit in the most interesting way. I started this book not knowing if there would be a “conclusion” or not, and was really impressed with how she handled the emotional and legal events.

#6. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

I bought a big box of these books and shipped them to a girls weekend this fall. That’s how much I wanted all of my girlfriends to read this one. You Are A Badass is all the self-help advice you’ve ever needed to hear or be reminded of, with introductory lessons in following your energy and intuition, with an encouraging (but not cheesy!) tone.

#7. Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

This book of hilarious essays on all kinds of subjects ranging from parenthood to marriage to girlfriends. I laughed out loud multiple times while reading it. As you can see from the rest of my general reading list, I don’t read a ton of humor. I enjoy it when it’s well done, but my taste errs on the darker side. So I guess I was surprised at how funny and enjoyable I found this book, although I shouldn’t have been because Hatmaker makes me laugh online all the time. But Of Mess and Moxie came along at just the right time.

#8. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

This is another one that landed on the Best Gifts to Give guide, and while it’s not my very favorite Brene Brown book (that award goes to this one), it is so relevant to what is happening in our world right now. It’s a short read, but gives you a lot to think about it terms of your own courage, and how you act towards others who are being brave. I’m a certified Brene Brown fangirl, and this book did not disappoint. 

#9. A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold

At first glance at my long reading list this year, I didn’t think this one would make the cut. Sue Klebold’s son Dylan was one of the two perpetrators of the Columbine school shooting, and so her perspective is both interesting and a matter to be treated carefully. I thought she did a really good job of giving her family’s side of the story, this had to be a terrible task for many reasons. And this wasn’t an easy read, as it was difficult to feel sympathy for Dylan and read such a Klebold-focused narrative when as a culture we know parts of the bigger story. However, as time has gone on, I still think about this brave book and what her ultimate mothering message is, which is to say that this tragedy could happen in even the most “normal” of families, so be diligent about parenting your depressed teen. And so it unexpectedly landed on this list.

Before reading A Mother’s Reckoning, I highly, highly encourage everyone to read Columbine by Dave Cullen. It is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read, and even with the tough subject matter, I think it’s an important read to understand media driven stories and culturally accepted narratives (and how they’re both usually wrong).

#10. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I do not watch The Daily Show, and was completely unfamiliar with Trevor Noah. But this book was recommended to me so many times that I knew I had to pick it up as a memoir lover. It is what everyone says it is: incredibly well written, thoughtful, funny, an incredible story, and also teaching us about a part of modern African history that most Americans probably wouldn’t get without Noah’s voice in pop culture. Born a Crime was one of the last things I read this year, and also one of the best.

Looking for more book talk? I talk about a lot of these books in the latest Smartest Person in the Room Episode #28: Best of Books & Reading 2017. A few of these I talked about back in June on SPITR in Episode #21: Summer Books & Reading.