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Essential Reading: The New York Times Notable Books of 2015

It’s been a great year for books! In 2015 we’ve published some truly illuminating and perspective-shifting nonfiction. Take a look at the ones the New York Times Book Review deem among the best of the year. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates Forget, for a moment, the ubiquitous comparisons to James Baldwin: Though fitting in many ways, they can distract us from how original Coates’s book truly is. Structured as a letter to his teenage son, this slender, urgent volume — a searching exploration of what it is to grow up black in a country built on slave labor and “the destruction of black bodies” — rejects fanciful abstractions in favor of the irreducible and particular. Coates writes to his son with a clear-eyed realism about the beautiful and terrible struggle that inheres in flesh and bone. Empire of Cotton: A Global History, by Sven Beckert If sugar was the defining commodity of the 18th century and oil of the 20th, then surely cotton was king in the 19th century. In this sweeping, ambitious and disturbing survey, Beckert takes us through every phase of a global industry that has relied on millions of miserably treated slaves, sharecroppers and millworkers to turn out its product. The industrialization of cotton rested on violence, Beckert tells us, and its story is that of the development of the modern world itself. Even today, he reports, an industry that is always looking for cheaper labor is engaged in a “giant race to the bottom.” The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf Alexander von Humboldt may have been the pre-eminent scientist of his era, second in fame only to Napoleon, but outside his native Germany his reputation has faded. Wulf does much to revive our appreciation of this ecological visionary through her lively, impressively researched account of his travels and exploits, reminding us of the lasting influence of his primary insight: that the Earth is a single, interconnected organism, one that can be catastrophically damaged by our own destructive actions. Once more, congratulations to all the Adult and Children’s authors and their publishers, who are recognized by the Book Review on their year-end lists. Click here for the complete list. If you’re looking for a gift for the holidays, check out our guide here.