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10 new thought-provoking nonfiction books

Go beyond the old high school history books, as these nonfiction authors tackle the real world

By Tiffany Gibert |
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School is back in session! Except, not for a lot of us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still like to read books that fuel our brains and challenge our beliefs. Reading—reading anything, from poetry books to fairy tales—is about being a lifelong learner, after all. And though NYC is filled with amazing classes, you don’t need to enroll anywhere to continue enjoying the benefits of literature. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some excellent recent books to keep your cerebral cortex in fine form. It’s the best of both worlds, really: All the intellectual engagement, no pop quizzes.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt (Picador, $25)

Politt, a New York feminist icon, tackles the hot-button abortion issue, which, 40 years after Roe v. Wade, still makes headlines nearly every day. Her searing new book calls out for the reclamation of women’s rights and women’s bodies, and even staunch pro-choice advocates will learn something from her powerful arguments.

Buy Pro

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The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg (Crown, $25)

In 2010, Nordberg wrote a groundbreaking story about Afghanistan’s bacha posh: young girls presented to the world as boys. In a culture ruled by men, this practice has a wealth of economic and social motives, which the journalist investigates through research and interviews in a moving narrative of oppression and subversion. 

Buy The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality by Suzanna Dunuta Walters (NYU Press, $29.95)

In a sharp cultural critique, Walters asks, how far have we really come in our attitudes and perceptions of the LGBT community? Her answer: Not far enough, not even close. While it may appear otherwise—from gay characters on TV shows to wider legal acknowledgment of gay marriage—the author argues that we are still a long way from equality.

Buy The Tolerance Trap

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No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal (Metropolitan Books, $27)

A Taliban commander. A warlord. A village housewife. These are the three people whose lives journalist Gopal chronicles in his account of the Afghan war, weaving together the intimacy of their stories with a larger narrative of mistakes and misconduct during this ongoing international conflict.

Buy No Good Men Among the Living

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial, $15.99)

It’s truly been the year of Roxane Gay: First, a brilliant novel, and now one of the year’s must-read essay collections. With humor, bravery and cutting insight, Gay moves fluidly between topics ranging from abortion and being a woman of color to the TV show Girls and Sweet Valley High books.

Buy Bad Feminist

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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster, $30)

The best-selling author of The Shock Doctrine returns with a resounding call-to-arms about the urgency of climate change. Klein looks at how communities of the world can—and must—reduce greenhouse emissions to alter not only the devastating trajectory of climate change but issues of equality, democracy and economies.

Buy This Changes Everything

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig (W. W. Norton & Company, $27.95)

In a riveting social and scientific history, Eig charts the evolution of birth control through four major players who joined their scientific smarts, wealth and belief in reproductive freedom—and in doing so, revolutionized human sexuality.

Buy The Birth of the Pill

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Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury, $16)

Some topics are still hard to talk about, among them the rigid boxes of gender roles that persist into the 21st century. Journalist and activist Penny translates her experiences in radical subcultures of the U.S. and U.K. into a manifesto of all things “unspeakable.”

Buy Unspeakable Things  

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright, $23.95)

Pulitzer-Prize winning biologist Wilson isn’t afraid to tackle the big questions, and this is…well, probably the biggest question there is. With his unique blend of science and philosophy, the author examines evolution, technology and our place in the cosmos, all while circling around one key word: Why?

Buy The Meaning of Human Existence

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