50 Notable Works of Nonfiction from the Past 50 Years

Just as we considered the most notable works of fiction this summer, we thought we’d turn now to nonfiction titles that have been published since Bookshop Santa Cruz opened its doors in 1966, and have created a list of 50 nonfiction notables in honor of our golden anniversary. (You can find our other lists of 50 notables—fiction, science fiction, and cookbooks—on our website and in the store.)

Once again, the task was more easily said than done. As they are so tied to the time in which they were written, how does one determine notable in an ever-changing landscape? Was it landmark in its moment, like All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein? Was it the undeniable beginning of a new genre of books, like The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell? Or was it just so singular, so significant, that it demanded inclusion, like The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston? Each book (and just as many left off the final list) has its own reason for being notable, standing out in its own time and extending itself into the future. What a pleasure to tease out these possibilities and what a brutal task to select among them.

Further, the forced boundary of 1966 was both a blessing and a curse, as it was a much-appreciated external filter of titles but it also made us long for 10 more years of existence, since it seemed inconceivable to not include books like Night by Elie Wiesel (1956) or Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (1961). The good news is that all of these books still exist for our enrichment and enjoyment, regardless of their inclusion on Bookshop’s birthday lists, and it is up to us as a community of readers, booksellers, and world citizens to keep books like these alive and well, so that we may look back on them in another 50 years, delighted to see them still in the mix and pleasingly anguished to have to pick between them for our 100th birthday celebration.

50 Notable Works of Nonfiction (In chronological order)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, 1966

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, 1968

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, 1968

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, 1968

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, 1969

Be Here Now by Ram Dass, 1971

Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, 1971

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, 1971

Ways of Seeing by John Berger, 1972

Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James Houston, 1973

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, 1974

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, 1974

Working by Studs Terkel, 1974

All the President's Men by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, 1974

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, 1976

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, 1976

Dispatches by Michael Herr, 1977

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, 1980

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Mathiessen, 1983

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, 1985

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner, 1986

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, 1988

Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, 1992

A History of God by Karen Armstrong, 1993

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, 1994

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin, 1995

The Color of Water by James McBride, 1995

Angela's Ashes

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, 1997

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, 1997

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace, 1997

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, 1998

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, 1999

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, 2000

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, 2000

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, 2000

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, 2000

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, 2001

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, 2003

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, 2003

Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, 2004

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, 2006

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, 2007

Just Kids by Patti Smith, 2010

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

 

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