Holiday Books Gift Guide: Engaging nonfiction about sports heroes, movie stars, physicists, L.A. and more


Politics & History


An American History in Haunted Places

Colin Dickey

Viking, $27

Part history, part road trip chronicle, Dickey takes a look at America's haunted locations such as the Winchester Mystery House, and what they tell us about our nation’s fears.

My Own Words

Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Simon & Schuster, $30

A collection of speeches and essays about life and the law from Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a.k.a. “the Notorious R.B.G.”

Time Travel

A History

James Gleick

Pantheon, $26.95

An exploration of the history of time travel that also asks why the concept has had such an outsize effect on the human imagination.

Other Minds

The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Peter Godfrey-Smith

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27

The philosopher, science historian and deep-sea diver combines his passions in a deeply intelligent book about intelligence, both human and cephalopod.

Necessary Trouble

Americans in Revolt

Sarah Jaffe

Nation Books, $26.99

This deep dive into contemporary American protest movements, such as the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter, comes at an appropriate time for a starkly divided country.

Dolce Vita Confidential

Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome

Shawn Levy

W.W. Norton, $27.95

This fun tale tracks the 1950s Italian film scene, aided by glamorous fashion designers, American films and their stars, whose bad behavior fueled the proto-paparazzi.

The Paths Men Take

Jack London

Contrasto, $24.95

Writer Jack London was also a photographer. This stunning book combines excerpts from his nonfiction with related pictures he took pictures he took at the cusp of the 20th century.


Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South

Beth Macy

Little, Brown, $28

A deeply-researched, almost-forgotten story of two African-American albino brothers who were kidnapped around 1900 in Virginia and forced to perform in circuses.

Nothing Ever Dies

Vietnam and the Memory of War

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Harvard University Press, $27.95

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist examines how the Vietnam War has resonated in the cultures and histories of Vietnam and the United States.

The Battle for Syria

International Rivalry in the New Middle East

Christopher Phillips

Yale University Press, $30

The London-based academic argues that the Syrian civil war is the result of several countries, including the United States and Russia, jockeying for power in the Middle East.

Crazy is the New Normal

Tom Tomorrow

IDW Publishing, $19.99

A collection of "This Modern World" comic strips from 2013 to 2016 from the irreverent, alternative political cartoonist Tomorrow.

American Heiress

The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

Jeffrey Toobin

Doubleday, $28.95

The story of Hearst, who was kidnapped by political radicals in 1974 and later joined their cause, the dramatic criminal trial that followed and its powerful impact.

Welcome to the Universe

An Astrophysical Tour

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss and J. Richard Gott

Princeton University Press, $39.95

Inspired by a Princeton astronomy class that the three scientists taught together, this book provides an introductory look at the mysteries of the cosmos.

The Attention Merchants

The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

Tim Wu

Knopf, $28.95

The author of “The Master Switch” presents a history of how companies and brands have long used advertising to invade the psyches of American consumers.

Twenty-Six Seconds

A Personal History of the Zapruder Film

Alexandra Zapruder

Twelve, $27

A look at how the famous footage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was recorded and its legacy in American culture, written by the granddaughter of the man who filmed it.

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L.A. & the West

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants

Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank, and Played

George Geary

Santa Monica Press, $45

An illustrated history of the city’s most iconic eateries, from the early days of Musso and Frank (it’s still around) to the era of Wolfgang Puck.

Domestic Scenes

The Art of Ramiro Gomez

Lawrence Weschler and Ramiro Gomez

Abrams, $35

Gomez is a child of immigrants; his breakthrough art riffs on familiar images while inserting domestic help, often people of color, into the picture. Weschler writes the text.

Silver Lake Bohemia

A History

Michael Locke and Vincent Brook

History Press, $21.99 paperback

A chronicle of the hip Los Angeles neighborhood, which for decades has been home to authors, artists, musicians and activists.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors

People and Wildlife Working It Out in California

Beth Pratt-Bergstrom

Heyday and the National Wildlife Federation, $18

L.A.’s mountain lion P-22, porpoises in San Francisco Bay, coyotes, wolves and the movement to create space in our cities to co-exist with wildlife.

Los Angeles Central Library

A History of Its Art and Architecture

Arnold Schwartzman and Stephen Gee

Angel City Press, $45

Photographer Schwartzman and historian Gee present a heavily illustrated history of the 90-year-old jewel of the Los Angeles library system.

Down, Out, and Under Arrest

Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row

Forrest Stuart

University of Chicago Press, $27.50

The 20-block region of L.A.’s Skid Row is the nation’s densest population of the homeless; this book examines the efforts (and mistakes) of police there.

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Heroes & Changemakers

Writings on the Wall

Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Time Books, $27.95

The Lakers legend presents essays that explore racism, politics the contemporary moment and his own experiences as an African-American Muslim in the United States.

How To Make A Spaceship

A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight

Julian Guthrie

Penguin Press, $28

The story of Peter Diamandis, the entrepreneur who organized a competition among teams vying to become the first civilians to successfully send a pilot into space.

When We Rise

My Life In The Movement

Cleve Jones

Hachette Books, $27

In his new memoir, the San Francisco activist chronicles his years in the LGBTQ rights movement and his creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Settle for More

Megyn Kelly

Harper, $29.99

The Fox News anchor's memoir about her road to success in journalism, including details about her difficult interactions with Roger Ailes and Donald Trump.

A Truck Full of Money

One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success

Tracy Kidder

Random House, $28

A look at the life of Paul English, the quirky entrepreneur who sold his website Kayak for $2 billion, then immediately went to work trying to figure out how to donate it all to charity.


The Life of Kobe Bryant

Roland Lazenby

Little, Brown, $32

Bryant, who led the L.A. Lakers to five NBA championships, was phenomenal on the court. This biography looks at the shooting guard’s flaws as well as successes.

You Will Not Have My Hate

Antoine Leiris

Penguin Press, $23

In this short, powerful memoir, the husband of a woman killed in the attack on the Bataclan Theater in Paris writes about his grief and his refusal to give in to bitterness.

They Can’t Kill Us All

Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement

Wesley Lowery

Little, Brown, $27

The Washington Post reporter examines police violence against African-Americans and how communities and activists are trying to make a difference.


The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency

James Andrew Miller

Custom House, $29.99

The juicy, bestselling behind-the-scenes history of CAA, the talent agency that launched in 1975 and changed how Hollywood does business.

Ray & Joan

The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away

Lisa Napoli

Dutton, $27

The author takes a look at the marriage of Ray Kroc, who made McDonald’s into a global empire, and his third wife, Joan, who eventually donated billions of dollars to charity (in ways Ray wouldn’t have liked).

A Life Well Played

My Stories

Arnold Palmer

St. Martin’s Press, $22.99

The new volume from the golf legend who died in September is part memoir told through stories and anecdotes, and part advice book.

The French Chef in America

Julia Child’s Second Act

Alex Prud’homme

Knopf, $27.95

The famous chef’s great-nephew tells the story of her life after the publication of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," when she became an overnight celebrity in the U.S.

The Pope of Physics

Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age

Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin

Henry Holt, $30

A biography of influential Italian scientist Fermi, who won the Nobel Prize in physics and who supervised the team that built the first nuclear reactor in the world.


Abby Wambach

Dey Street, $26.99

In this candid memoir, the soccer star and Olympic gold medalist discusses her record-breaking athletic career as well as her struggles with drug and alcohol abuse.

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Last Girl Before Freeway

The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers

Leslie Bennetts

Little, Brown, $28

Can we talk? This biography of the comedian looks not only at her life but at the effect she had on American comedy and culture.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks

Mark Frost

Flatiron Books, $29.99

The co-creator of the television cult classic presents a mysterious novel about the bizarre town, just in time for the return of the series directed by David Lynch.


Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded

Hannah Hart

Dey Street, $23.99

The host of the popular YouTube series "Drunk Kitchen" presents personal essays about love, sex, faith, family and more.

Love for Sale

Pop Music in America

David Hadju

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27

The longtime music critic, writing as both a historian and an unabashed fan, takes a fresh look at pop music, tracing a line from Bessie Smith to EDM.


Tippi Hedren

William Morrow, $28.99

The actress writes of Hollywood, her painful working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, her animal activism and a legacy that’s definitely not for the birds

Around the Way Girl

Taraji P. Henson with Denene Millner

Atria/37 INK, $26

Henson, who stars as the incomparable Cookie in “Empire,” writes frankly about her experiences as a black actress in Hollywood and her life as a single mother.

The Keys

DJ Khaled

Crown Archetype, $18

All he does is win, and now he wants to teach you how: the Miami hip-hop sensation presents the keys to his success, such as "Don’t ever play yourself" and "Don’t deny the heat."

Born a Crime

Stories from a South African Childhood

Trevor Noah

Spiegel & Grau, $28

The comedian and host of “The Daily Show” recounts — both hilariously and movingly — the challenges of growing up mixed-race in South Africa, which was still under apartheid when he was born in 1984.

You Can’t Touch My Hair

And Other Things I Still Have to Explain

Phoebe Robinson

Plume, $16 paper

A collection of comic essays about race, politics and pop culture from the comedian and co-host of the popular podcast “2 Dope Queens.” 

How to See

Looking, Talking, and Thinking About Art

David Salle

W.W. Norton, $29.95

Art doesn’t have to be intimidating, painter Salle argues in this essay collection about contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Roy Lichtenstein.

The Daily Show (The Book)

An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests

Chris Smith

Grand Central Publishing, $30

The satirical news show as experienced by its staff and guests, including Samantha Bee, Lewis Black, Glenn Beck, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Hodgman, Craig Kilborn, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore.

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary

The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936

Edward Sorel

Liveright, $25.95

The cartoonist’s lively telling of the sex scandal that embroiled film actress Astor in 1936, and his fascination with its mysteries.

Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen

Simon & Schuster, $32.50

The Boss pulls back the curtain on his life, from growing up Catholic to his glory days as a young rocker in New Jersey and his evolution into one of America’s most iconic performers.

Beatles ’66

The Revolutionary Year

Steve Turner

Ecco, $27.99

The story of the year the Fab Four ditched their clean-cut image, stopped touring, got political and released "Revolver," one of rock's most influential albums.

I Am Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson with Ben Greenman

Da Capo Press, $26.99

The Beach Boys legend once thought he just wasn’t made for these times, but in his new memoir, he reflects on his brilliant career and his successful struggle against his personal demons.

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At Home

Plant Craft

30 Projects That Add Natural Style to Your Home

Caitlin Atkinson

Timber Press, $24.95

Step-by-step instructions for 30 projects that make your home a little greener; most are stylish, creative ways to bring living plants inside.

The Handmade Life

A Companion to Modern Crafting

Ramona Barry and Rebecca Jobson

Thames and Hudson, $40

An illustrated guide to 34 crafts, including weaving, origami, marbling and needlepoint, paired with photos of recent works by fine artists and artisans in each field.

On Living

Kerry Egan

Riverhead, $24

A hospice chaplain shares the life lessons she’s learned from people facingdeath: how to be courageous, how to be compassionate and empathetic, and the many ways to express love.

The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs

An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World

Padma Lakshmi with Judith Sutton and Kalustyan’s

Ecco, $39.99

An illustrated guide to the spices of the world, co-written by Lakshmi, the “Top Chef” host, will tell you all you need to know about the difference between cardamom and coriander.

The Book of Joy

Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

Avery Books, $26

The result of a long conversation between the Nobel Peace Prize winners, this book offers advice on how, in a world filled with tragedy and hatred, to experience joy.

Lucky Dog Lessons

Train Your Dog in 7 Days

Brandon McMillan

HarperOne, $27.99

This book from the star of the CBS show “Lucky Dog” will teach you how to raise an obedient, well-adjusted furry friend.

Good Clean Fun

Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop

Nick Offerman

Dutton, $35

The latest from the carpenter and “Parks and Recreation” star combines project instructions with humorous essays about life behind the bandsaw at his Los Angles woodshop.

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