Parul Sehgal and John Williams of the New York Times look at picks for best nonfiction books of 2014 in "The Book Reader."
The following is part one of our look at the 10 Best Books of 2014.
To compile the list, editors considered the hundreds of books written about in the Book Review's pages since last year's list was announced. They eventually narrowed the candidates down to 10 books: five fiction and five nonfiction.
We start the nonfiction list with "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant"?, a sublime, devastating, improbably hilarious memoir by the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast about caring for her parents in their old age.
The list also includes "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert travels to some of the world's most remote corners to examine how climate change threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century. Kolbert is a rigorous environmental writer who manages to make her subject as riveting as any thriller.
Next is Hermione Lee's biography of the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, the author of such classics as "The Blue Flower." Fitzgerald grew up steeped in literature but, sidetracked by the vicissitudes of life, only published her first book at 58 and did not become famous until she was 80.
"On Immunity" by Eula Biss is a gripping blend of memoir, science journalism and literary criticism. Biss' deeply researched yet personal book examines what the fear of vaccines tells us about larger social anxieties.
Rounding out the list is "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David," Lawrence Wright's sharply drawn portrait of the three clashing personalities who hammered out a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that remains the most profound diplomatic achievement to emerge from the Mideast conflict.
Parul Sehgal's favorite nonfiction book that didn't make this list is “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by the physician Atul Gawande, an illuminating and impassioned meditation on approaching death and living better with age-related frailty and serious illness.
John Williams' honorable mention for nonfiction goes to "The Trip to Echo Spring" by Olivia Laing, a look at the role alcoholism played in the lives and careers of six famous writers, including Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book is engaging in its own right, but it will also send readers excitedly scrambling back to the original work by these authors.
The next Book Reader will take a look at the New York Times' best fiction releases of 2014. For more on the year's most noteworthy books, visit nytimes.com/books.