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This has been an interesting year in Non fiction. These are the ones that I think hands down have been the best.

Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison– Nell Bernstein (New Press)

An unsparing look at the U.S. network of detention centers for juvenile offenders, in which more than 66,000 youths are currently confined. Journalist Bernstein shows both abuse-ridden institutions and those dedicated to reform, but concludes that the system as a whole seems impervious to positive change.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir– Charles M. Blow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In this brave and affecting memoir, New York Times columnist Blow describes growing up poor, African-American, and sexually conflicted in the 1970s Deep South, and of overcoming the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an older cousin.

The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation– David Brion Davis (Knopf)

In the magisterial conclusion to his trilogy, Davis examines the end of the institution of slavery, the unintended consequences of its abolition, and the tragic legacies of its existence—primarily racism—that remains today. It’s a difficult and complex book, with lessons to be learned.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace– Jeff Hobbs (Scribner)

Writing with novelistic detail, Hobbs narrates the life of Robert Peace, his college roommate at Yale, from a Newark, N.J., ghetto, born to an impoverished single mom and a father who went to prison for murder. After getting a biology degree, Peace returned to Newark to became a drug dealer and was eventually shot to death by rivals.

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life– Allyson Hobbs  (Harvard University Press)

Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.

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2014’s 5 Best Books Non Fiction  was originally published on