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NPR staffers share their non-fiction picks from Books We Love

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Are you looking for a great read for your next book club meeting, a surefire holiday gift idea or maybe something so fascinating and thought-provoking that you don't want to leave your chair? Books We Love, NPR's list of best reads from the year, has hundreds of recommendations, which we know is a lot. Luckily, we can help narrow it down. Today, here are some nonfiction suggestions from a few of our colleagues.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Hey, I'm Nell Greenfieldboyce. I'm a science correspondent for NPR. And the book I loved this year was by journalist David Grann. And it's called "The Wager: A Tale Of Shipwreck, Mutiny And Murder."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Now, that sounds like a lot of spoilers. You know, it's going to have a shipwreck, a mutiny and a murder. But believe me, there is nothing predictable about this book. It's the story of an 18th century British naval mission that goes seriously awry. And as a piece of nonfiction reporting, this is amazing. The book is so full of all kinds of incredible detail that really put you there in the moment. You know, what these sailors go through is almost unbelievable, but it's all true, every last twist and turn. And they just seem to keep coming. If you like Herman Melville or Patrick O'Brian sea stories, you are going to love this book.

JEFF GUO, BYLINE: Hi, I'm Jeff Guo. I am a host on NPR's Planet Money podcast. And the book I'm recommending is called "Asian Americans In An Anti-Black World" by Claire Jean Kim. And you know the kind of book that takes the world and turns it inside out and shows you, like, how everything is stitched together? This is that book for Asian American history.

I've always believed that everyone should know a little bit about Asian American history 'cause it's kind of like a Rosetta Stone for understanding just more broadly the story of race and rights and equality in America, you know? You go back to the 1880s and the laws that discriminated against Chinese laundries, or to World War II and the treatment of Japanese Americans or to this year's Supreme Court case about affirmative action at Harvard. This book unpacks all of those stories, shows you how Asian Americans have tried to navigate these categories of whiteness and Blackness. It's really smart and surprising and provocative and sometimes frustrating. It's a book that will really challenge how you think about America.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: My name is Leah Donnella. I'm the senior editor for NPR's Code Switch team, and one of my favorite books of the year was "Anansi's Gold" by Yepoka Yeebo. So tiny disclaimer - I'm a sucker for a good scam story - from Theranos to Fyre Fest to the recent Life at Sea cruise debacle - but this one makes all of those look like child's play.

"Anansi's Gold" is the true story of a con artist from Ghana who traveled the world spinning tales that wove together history, corruption and desire. He capitalized on people's dreams for a liberated Africa with the somewhat less noble aspiration for fabulous wealth to create one of the most successful grifts of all time. And even though you know from the beginning of this book that these tales that this guy is spinning aren't true, his misadventures are so compellingly catalogued that when all is said and done, you kind of forget who you should be rooting for.

(SOUNBITE OF SALLY WHITWELL'S "GLASSWORKS: 1. OPENING")

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Tom Huizenga here from NPR Music. Did you know that composer Philip Glass once had to slug a hater off the stage? That's how misunderstood the music we call minimalism was in the 1960s. It's still a bit misunderstood today, and that's one of the many reasons why I love this book titled "On Minimalism: Documenting A Musical Movement."

Now, today, minimalism in its many forms surrounds us, like, in pop songs and TV ads and movies. And it's endured long enough to document its history. And these authors have collected six decades of writing about minimalism for a super engaging view of the music and the people that make it. But more importantly, I think the book shines much-needed light on the lesser-known pioneers who guided minimalism's evolution - Americans like Julius Eastman and Pauline Oliveros to Dutchman Louis Andriessen. The book is extraordinarily researched, and it'll satisfy both the nerd and the neophyte.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIUS EASTMAN, WILD UP AND CHRISTOPHER ROUNTREE'S "FEMENINE: NO. 5, ALL CHANGING")

RASCOE: That was Tom Huizenga, who suggests "On Minimalism," Leah Donnella recommending "Anansi's Gold," Jeff Guo with "Asian Americans In An Anti-Black World," and Nell Greenfieldboyce, who recommends "The Wager." For more ideas, you can find the full list of Books We Love at npr.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIUS EASTMAN, WILD UP AND CHRISTOPHER ROUNTREE'S "FEMENINE: NO. 5, ALL CHANGING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Guo
Jeff Guo (he/him) is a co-host and reporter for Planet Money, NPR's award-winning podcast that finds creative, entertaining ways to make sense of the complicated forces that move our economy. He joined the team in 2022.
Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.
Leah Donnella is an editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.