Journalist Buzz Bissinger is the author of the sports classic Friday Night Lights. His new book, The Mosquito Bowl, focuses on Marines stationed in the Pacific in 1944 and a football game they played shortly before the invasion of Okinawa.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (2012)
This is the best nonfiction book, of those I've read, of the past 35 years. Boo's depiction of the Indian slum Annawadi, in the shadow of new hotels supposedly heralding Mumbai's transformation, is unforgettable. The writing is elegant and sophisticated and the reporting absolutely mind-blowing. Buy it here.
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (2010)
Set at a down-and-out West Virginia racetrack, this is a tour de force, creating the atmosphere of a place no one cares about except the indelible characters consigned to work there. Virtually every sentence is thick and lush. You can practically see, taste, and smell this pothole of sadness, obscurity, dark humor, and resilience. Buy it here.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
Capote controversially labeled this true-crime book a "nonfiction novel." But the depth of reporting is magnificent, and the writing spellbinding. The first three pages alone are worth the price of admission, creating a sense of place better than anything I've ever read. Buy it here.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)
Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad won a Pulitzer Prize, but for my money, Manhattan Beach is better — a full-speed-ahead narrative I raced through. It reads like novels used to read. Egan is not only a superb writer but a tireless reporter and researcher, using riveting detail to re-create the atmosphere of World War II and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Buy it here.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
Towles' novel is like a grown-up version of Eloise, but far more captivating, because it concerns a Russian count placed under house arrest and consigned to spend the rest of his life at the famed Metropol hotel. You blaze through it and finish hungering for more. Buy it here.
Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas (1985)
I read this Pulitzer winner in my early 30s and couldn't believe the depth of the reporting and writing. I was intimidated: I had entertained writing a book, but there seemed to be no way I could write one half, one quarter, or even a 10th as well. Common Ground is about Boston's 1970s busing crisis. But it's really a depiction of America — endlessly fractured by race, politics, and the church. Buy it here.
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