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Bookworms Review: Nonfiction for the New Year

A lamp shines on a stack of nonfiction books. We are trying to read more nonfiction in the new year. Illustration by Pearl McNames.

As we move into the new year, one of our resolutions is to read outside of our comfort zone. We tend to read mostly fiction, so we decided to branch out for this issue and explore some nonfiction. For those who want to learn from the books they read, here is a list of nonfiction books we’ve read recently.

Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir detailing Westover’s childhood and young adult life as she was raised by a survivalist Mormon family. She was her parents’ only daughter who eventually overcame the ideas her family instilled in her in order to pursue a college education. It’s a story about abuse and the importance of education, and an incredible narrative of perseverance and survival.

If you have an interest in genetics or think you could spark one, we have two books for you, starting off with The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukherjee, which provides both a very readable breakdown of the history of genetics and, as the name suggests, an intimate genetic history of the author’s own family. The book finishes with a brief description of CRISPR, a technology that can be used to edit genes, and one scientist behind most of it: winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry and co-author of our next book recommendation, Jennifer A. Doudna. 

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Doudna and her former graduate student Samuel H. Sternburg, is a nuanced look at CRISPR and gene editing from both science and ethics perspectives. It’s a great deep dive into one of the biggest recent developments in genetics by one of the scientists most heavily involved. 

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is about both medicine and the complexity of human interaction but it is specifically about one person, Dr. Paul Farmer, a man dedicated to diagnosing and treating infectious diseases for those who need it most. You will quickly become caught up in his fascinating life and all of his complex ideas that challenge many commonly held beliefs about medicine. 

For anyone seeking a book with a non-Western perspective and feminist themes, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells the unbelievable true story of a woman resisting gendered expectations under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Lemmon writes about Kamila Sidiqi, an entrepreneur who became the breadwinner for her family in a time where women’s rights were incredibly restricted. Through the story of her tailoring business, we learn about society at that time and the resistance against it. 

A bittersweet story of our broken criminal justice system, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson shines a light on some of the many problems with the death penalty. It takes you on Stevenson’s journey with him as he works to get the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillian overturned, while telling other stories that also expose the many injustices of the United States criminal justice system. This book is a must read.

 For those looking for a narrative-style memoir, In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is the book for you. It explores mature themes with a voice that is reminiscent of fiction writing, and follows Machado’s relationship with her abusive girlfriend through the metaphor of the “dream house.” Immersive and inventive, this memoir subverts the expectations of its genre and gives insight into relationships that are often overlooked. 

Some of these books contain upsetting or triggering content. For more information on these subjects, or if you have any suggestions, reactions, or additional opinions on books you want to share with us, we welcome all emails sent to [email protected].

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Bookworms Review: Nonfiction for the New Year