Summer is in full swing, and it’s a great time to lay around outside with a book and soak up the sun. (While wearing sunscreen, of course.) There are eleventy hundred amazing books coming out this summer, and some of those are really excellent nonfiction reads. Sometimes a juicy true story or a deep dive into fascinating facts can really make your summer sizzle. You can’t handle the truth? Says who? That’s why I complied this list of eight knockout nonfiction books to read in July 2023!
In this list, there’s a biographical doorstopper about Garfield (the president, not the cat); a tragic historical event that changed the art world; memoirs of family, identity, and religion; a look at America’s secret societies; an anthology of powerful true crime pieces, and more! And if you’re looking for even more great nonfiction from this year, I highly recommend three of the year’s best books, We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian, A Living Remedy: A Memoir by Nicole Chung, and Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration by Alejandra Oliva. Say it with me now: “Yay, books!” Now, let’s get to it.
How We Do It: Black Writers on Craft, Practice, and Skill edited by Jericho Brown (Amistad, July 4)
30 of the most important and highly skilled Black writers discuss their experiences and offer tips from their vast expertise in the craft of writing. The incredible list of contributors includes Camille T. Dungy, Angela Flournoy, Nikki Giovanni,Terrance Hayes, Mitchell S. Jackson, Barry Jenkins, Tayari Jones, Jamaica Kincaid, Carl Phillips, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Rion Amilcar Scott, Natasha Trethewey, Jacqueline Woodson, and Tiphanie Yanique.
Owner of a Lonely Heart: A Memoir by Beth Nguyen (Scribner, July 4)
When Nguyen was only a baby, most of her family fled Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War and ended up in America. But her mother remained in the country of her birth, and Nguyen grew up without her. It wasn’t until almost two decades later she met her mother again. This is her moving story of growing up without a mother, how it shaped her life, and what it meant to her when she became a parent.
Evidence of Things Seen: True Crime in an Era of Reckoning by Sarah Weinman (Ecco, July 4)
True crime continues to be a subject that garners a ton of interest. Weinman, author of the true crime books Scoundrel and The Real Lolita, presents her second anthology comprised of works by some of today’s best writers. These are thoughtful, smart stories from the world of true crime, examinations of the genre, and the responsibilities of the people who tell these tales.
President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C.W. Goodyear (Simon & Schuster, July 4)
The name Garfield is synonymous with a lasagna-loving, Monday-hating cat, but few people know very much about the original Garfield, America’s 20th president. Goodyear has written the first comprehensive biography on Garfield, a meticulously researched look at his young life, his war service, his road to the presidency — and his assassination.
Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life and Sudden Death by Laura Cumming (Scribner, July 11)
Many readers are familiar with the paintings of The Goldfinch and The Girl with the Pearl Earring, if only because of the novels of the same name. But what many people don’t know is that in Holland in 1654, there was an explosion in the city of Delft at a gunpowder store. That blast killed hundreds of people, including Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch painter, and wounded thousands. And it very nearly killed Johannes Vermeer, who painted The Girl with the Pearl Earring. This is a concise, fascinating little book on the tragic event.
Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy by Colin Dickey (Viking, July 11)
Dickey is no stranger to strange and fascinating subjects, having authored fantastic books about such interesting and unusual subjects as saints, ghosts, and cryptozoology. This time, he turns his eye to the fears of America through the ages, and how those fears fueled belief in secret societies, and whether those fears have been founded or not. (Full disclosure: The author is a friend of mine, but I was a big fan of his work before he became a friend.)
When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era by Donovan X. Ramsey (One World, July 11)
In this must-read work, Ramsey dissects the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Partially fueled by politics and racism (quelle surprise), its prevalence as a story in the news drove racially motivated arrests and mass incarceration. This is an examination of those years told through the eyes of four people who experienced it, and a look at its legacy and the history it left this country.
Everybody’s Favorite: Tales from the World’s Worst Perfectionist by Lillian Stone (Dey Street Books, July 18)
And last, but not least, a humorous collection of essays about Stone’s need for perfection. She talks about her childhood and what shaped her drive to always be perfect, her anxiety as an adult and her need for perfection, and how she worked to let go of that need and work on enjoying things as they are.
For more great nonfiction, check out 8 Beautiful Books of Queer Science and Nature Writing, and be sure to sign up for True Story, our nonfiction newsletter.
Finally, you can also find a full list of new releases in the magical New Release Index, carefully curated by your favorite Book Riot editors, organized by genre and release date.