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NPR staffers share their favorite nonfiction reads of 2024


School might be out, and vacation is hopefully on tap, but you might want to keep challenging those noggins this summer. Well, there's a book for that - several, actually. Books We Love, NPR's list of best reads, has a lot of recommendations. And today, some of our colleagues share their nonfiction favorites from 2024 so far.


ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I'm Eric Deggans, and I'm TV critic and media analyst for NPR. I want to talk about "Burn Book: A Tech Love Story" by Kara Swisher, this wonderful nonfiction book. Kara Swisher pulls off a magic trick here. She basically gives several books in one. One is her story of becoming media's most influential tech analyst, where she chronicles the rise of Facebook, Amazon, Google, X/Twitter. And she psychoanalyzes all these driven, mostly dude bros, who turn them into these world-shaking platforms.

But she's also got an affecting personal memoir, where she charts her journey as a gay woman, spouse, mother, journalist, entrepreneur and advocate. And there's this passionate critique of toxic technology, where she holds these dude bros to account for pursuing engagement through enragement. And it's all pulled together with this very nimble, sharp prose. She shows us how Silicon Valley works, how journalism works, how society works. And for all those reasons, why I really love "Burn Book: A Tech Love Story" by Kara Swisher.


DIAA HADID, BYLINE: I'm Diaa Hadid, and I'm an international correspondent for NPR. I'm based in Mumbai, India. I'm recommending the book "Smoke And Ashes" by Amitav Ghosh. This book is an engaging read into how the British Empire forced opium into China and effectively created a market for opium by creating addicts. Sound somewhat familiar?

Amitav Ghosh asks us to look at this history through the prism of what we now know about opioid addiction. He constantly brings up how unsympathetic historians once were to China's millions of addicts. They were blamed for the opium trade. Much of the opium sold by the British Empire was grown in India, but the impacts touch us all, even now.

Ghosh dives into how the opium trade created some of America's most respectable fortunes, like the family which built the boat upon which a certain anthem was written, "The Star-Spangled Banner." I can't stop thinking about this book and the impact of this trade, no less because opium lives on as a forceful, biological disruptor.


DARIAN WOODS, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Darian Woods, co-host of The Indicator from Planet Money.


WOODS: And I loved reading Hannah Ritchie's book, "Not The End Of The World." This is a book that sifts through the evidence on pollution, on extinction threats and on deforestation. And because it's taking a numbers first approach, it reaches some surprising conclusions about what a truly ecofriendly life could mean. Take food miles. Eating locally is not likely to affect climate change much. On the other hand, Hannah Ritchie does endorse things like meatless Mondays because beef is a major contributor to deforestation and climate change.

Now, not everyone will come away with the same cautious optimism around climate change that Hannah Ritchie does. But this book's perspective, which is more about data than feel-good fads, is an invaluable chaser, I think, to climate doom scrolling.


PREETI AROON, BYLINE: I'm Preeti Aroon, a copy editor of news articles on I recommend "Slow Productivity" by Cal Newport. If you're a white-collar knowledge worker, your life is likely overwhelmed by a dizzying flurry of emails and Slack messages breaking your focus. You breathlessly ricochet from task to task, yet never get any real work done.

Stop. Newport says the way we're working no longer works. I agree. But if enough of us embrace slow productivity, we can revolutionize the world of work.


DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Tumble out of bed, and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition and yawn and stretch and try to come to life.

TINBETE ERMYAS, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Tinbete Ermyas, and I'm an editor at All Things Considered. And one book that I love is "Who's Afraid Of Gender? " by Judith Butler. The book is driven by a central question. Why has gender become such a contentious issue in American life? And what does that tell us about how we're approaching some of the biggest problems facing us? Butler has a clear perspective, spelling out the dangers of a growing anti-gender ideology, as they put it, and encouraging us to reconsider the systems and the ideas that drive it.


ERMYAS: But the reason I love this book is because it's also an invitation to consider how we think about gender and what that might tell us about who we are. And whether you agree or not, I just appreciate being part of the conversation.


ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey. I'm Andrew Limbong, reporter on NPR's Culture Desk and host of NPR's Book Of The Day podcast. And the book I want to talk about is "There's Always This Year" by Hanif Abdurraqib. On its face, it's about basketball. Specifically, it's about Lebron James and his career. But it's also a pretty personal and moving meditation on loss and grief and the passing of time. Abdurraqib is from Columbus, Ohio, and he's about Lebron's age. And so there's this consideration about what it means to be great, what it means to be a legend, to be immortal...

LIMBONG: ...And what that can mean for those of us who, you know, aren't one of the greatest basketball players of all time. If you love basketball, there's some really beautiful sports writing here. But even if you're not a basketball fan, I think anyone who's ever thought about mortality can take something away from this book.


RASCOE: Yes, this is music from the "Space Jam: A New Legacy" soundtrack. And those recommendations, again, were - "There's Always This Year," "Who's Afraid Of Gender?" "Slow Productivity," "Not The End Of The World," "Smoke And Ashes" and "Burn Book." For the full list of books we love so far this year, visit 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.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
Darian Woods is a reporter and producer for The Indicator from Planet Money. He blends economics, journalism, and an ear for audio to tell stories that explain the global economy. He's reported on the time the world got together and solved a climate crisis, vaccine intellectual property explained through cake baking, and how Kit Kat bars reveal hidden economic forces.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.
Preeti Aroon
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
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