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16 New Nonfiction Books for Winter

Enjoy a stack of great reads from Martha Stewart, Neil deGrasse Tyson and more

spinner image nonfiction books collage of books by ibram x kendi sanjay gupta neil degrasse tyson martha stewart and others
One World / Penguin Random House / Simon and Schuster / Workman / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / HarperCollins / National Geographic / Atria Books / Getty Images

If you're looking for a new book that will educate, fascinate or motivate you this winter, at least one of these 16 picks should do just that. They include advice from CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta on how to keep your brain sharp, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest on the mysteries of the universe, explorations of African American history and the lively life of Mozart, plus an appealing homage to the pleasures of doing absolutely nothing.

Mozart: The Reign of Love 

Jan Swafford

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There may be no one better to tell the exuberant story of the life, loves and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart than composer and author (Beethoven and Johannes Brahms) Jan Swafford. Musicians may most fully appreciate Swafford's more detailed descriptions of Mozart's canon in this dauntingly thick 832-page biography, but nonprofessional music fans and history lovers of all sorts are likely to be drawn in by the colorful portrait of an artist famous for both his talent and lust for pleasure.

Dec. 8

In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You're Not Around Later

Abby Schneiderman, Adam Seifer and Gene Newman

Tech entrepreneurs Schneiderman and Seifer are the creators of Everplans, a simple program to help people organize their lives so their survivors won't face chaos. Their practical new book does the same, methodically dividing suggested tasks into levels of necessity, from urgent (compiling Social Security numbers and passwords, creating a will) to nostalgic (saving items that have personal meaning). The authors have thought of everything — including suggesting readers “remove skeletons from your closet” (embarrassing personal items, for instance) and gather your signature recipes so they can be easily passed on to people you love.

Dec. 22 

Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age

Sanjay Gupta

Neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta reassures us in his new book, Keep Sharp, that we can keep the brain resilient as we age. The CNN medical correspondent, who has spent the past year calmly and credibly reporting on how to keep healthy during the pandemic, knows the topic inside-out and reassures his readers: Misplace keys once in a while? Totally normal. Cognitive decline? Not inevitable. The book, based in part on the work of AARP's Global Council on Brain Health, offers an easy-to-adopt 12-point program for developing a more resilient brain and keeping it sharp.

Tips From Sanjay Gupta, M.D., to Boost Your Brain Health

Jan. 5 

Martha Stewart's Very Good Things: Clever Tips & Genius Ideas for an Easier, More Enjoyable Life

Martha Stewart

DIY doyenne Stewart is sometimes dismissed for setting a frustratingly high bar for domestic perfection — suggesting we craft our own lavender-scented candles and the like — but her new guide is refreshingly practical. It's full of tips, hacks and ideas she likes to call Good Things. Ever think of using lip balm to unstick a zipper? Want to make flakier biscuits, better brewed tea, foolproof scrambled eggs and fresh-looking guacamole? Well, Martha will tell you how. She also includes a cornucopia of ideas for gardening, crafting, entertaining and organizing, with 200 color photos. Good things, all.

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Jan. 5

Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Olga Mecking

Remember hygge, the Danish word for a cozy lifestyle? Now we've got niksen, another Scandinavian gem of a concept, described in this book that encourages task-oriented readers to not just stop feeling guilty about doing nothing, but to embrace it. Multitasking is your enemy, says Mecking, who explains that she realized how badly Americans needed niksen after her 2019 story for the New York Times “The Case for Doing Nothing” went viral. “If we can stop being so busy,” she writes, “we can start being happier, more creative, more productive, and better at making decisions.” Message: Learn how to do nothing and you'll be better at doing everything.

Jan. 12 

The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America

Bradford Pearson

In 1942, America forced more than 120,000 Japanese Americans into incarceration camps, including 14,000 in Cody, Wyoming, where Pearson uncovered the never-before-told story of the Eagles, a high school football team with Japanese American players that managed to triumph over every other team in the area despite facing extreme racism and being held behind barbed wire. When these young champions were drafted to fight in the war, they were confronted with an impossible choice: Resist and go to prison for refusing to enlist or agree to fight and possibly die for a country whose citizens considered them their enemy. The book dives deep into those dark times, as well as into the broader history of the era and emotional politics of American immigration.

Jan. 5 

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

coedited byIbram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Kendi (author of How to be an Antiracist) and Blain, president of the African American Intellectual History Society have produced an innovative examination of 400 years of African American history — beginning in 1619, when the first slave ships arrived, to today's Black Lives Matter movement. The book operates as a communal diary, with essays and sketches by 90 black writers (poets, historians, journalists, activists, lawyers and more), each concluding with a powerful poem. From Allyson Hobbs’ exploration of racial passing to historian Peniel Joseph's look at the Black Power movement, this may be one of most diverse and important books on race you'll read this year.

Feb. 2 

Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going

Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Trefil

Think science is incomprehensible? Superstar astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, planetary scientist, author, radio show host of Cosmic Queries and director of the Hayden Planetarium, is here to help, along with physicist James Trefil. Their dazzlingly illustrated book answers big questions: Are we really alone in the universe and how can we tell for sure? Why do we use radio frequencies to try to reach ET? Does life have to depend on carbon? What do we really know about dark matter? (Answer: not so much.) It manages to make astrophysics accessible and interesting — even if you weren't a science major.

March 2 

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions

Michael Moss

Hungry? If you're reaching for what's easiest, sweetest or saltiest, you're probably grabbing processed food, and that, says New York Times best-selling author Moss, is because the food industry has made you addicted. He explains how our bodies are wired to want sugar, and that's the reason food companies add 56 different kinds of it to their foods. And don't be fooled: Companies like Nestlé, Mars and Kellogg find legal loopholes to make “healthier diet foods” just as bad for our bodies as junk foods, raising obesity rates and encouraging compulsive eating. Moss's recipe to overcome their efforts is to understand how the industry manipulates us and retrain ourselves to appreciate real food.

March 2 

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Walter Isaacson

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but the ability to manipulate our genes to cure disease and keep viruses at bay is a reality now, thanks to CRISPR — a tool for editing DNA that was developed by 2020 Nobel Prize-winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues. Isaacson, the author of best sellers Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs, offers a startling, insightful look at this lifesaving, hugely significant scientific advancement and the brilliant Doudna, who wrestles with the serious moral questions that accompany her creation. Should this technology be offered to parents to tailor-make their babies into athletes or Einsteins? Who gets altered and saved and why?

March 9

More winter nonfiction of note:

The Search for John Lennon: The Life, Loves, and Death of a Rock Star by Lesley-Ann Jones

A personal, frankly subjective look at the man and legend whose influence, the author argues, is eternal. Read our excerpt here. (Dec. 1)

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning by Tom Vanderbilt

Journalist Vanderbilt details and celebrates the psychological benefits and pleasures to be found in taking on new challenges at any age. (Jan. 5)

Walking With Ghosts: A Memoir by Gabriel Byrne

The Usual Suspects star is a stellar writer, offering frank and humble descriptions of his difficult Irish childhood and rise to fame. (Jan. 12)

Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller

The author describes how high incarceration rates tear apart families and ravage communities. (Feb. 2)

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates

The billionaire philanthropist argues that to avoid a climate catastrophe, the world needs to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from 51 billion tons to zero, and explains how that's possible. (Feb. 16)

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

This is Gates's companion book to his fascinating PBS documentary, The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, airing Feb. 16 and 23, about the complex role the church has played in the lives of African Americans. (Feb. 16)

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