The 5 biggest nonfiction books of the fall

Three book jackets
(Harper/Flatiron/Simon & Schuster)

On the Shelf

The Fall's Biggest Nonfiction

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On the heels of a surprisingly healthy two years — at least for book sales, and especially for political nonfiction — one big question looms over the fall: Can books on topics other than Donald Trump grab the collective attention of readers? These five books have the best shot and the most appeal. (And only one of them is about Trump.)

During the pandemic, book sales rose across the U.S. This fall, publishers are counting on major releases to keep it up — but also a return to normal.

Aug. 24, 2021

Book jacket for "Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement" by Tarana Burke
(Flatiron Books)

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement
By Tarana Burke
Flatiron: 272 pages, $29
Sept. 14

The #MeToo movement leader narrates her journey of healing from sexual assault, which inspired her to build one of the largest social forces in recent history. Oprah Winfrey called it “searing”, “powerful” and “needed.”

A split image of a man in red in the upper left corner and another man in blue in the lower right corner
(Simon & Schuster)

By Bob Woodward and Robert Costa
Simon & Schuster: 512 pages, $30
Sept. 21

Closing out his trilogy on Donald Trump (after “Rage” and “Fear: Trump in the White House”), Woodward is joined by the Washington Post’s Robert Costa to document not only the tumultuous downfall of 45 (for now) and the Jan. 6 insurrection but also the early months of Joe Biden’s administration. Details are locked down as usual, but publisher Jonathan Karp promises “it will be newsworthy on an international scale.”

Woodward’s journalism helped bring down Richard Nixon. But “Rage” it too ploddingly neutral and enamored of access to make a dent in this fallen age.

Sept. 15, 2020

"Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty" by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe.

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty
By Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
Harper: 336 pages, $30
Sept. 21

Journalist Anderson Cooper documents the rise and fall of his mother’s family, the Vanderbilts. With historian Katherine Howe co-writing, Cooper explores his great-great-great grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt’s insatiable hunger for money, which spawned an empire and built a fortune his heirs would spend in astonishing ways.

Sally Rooney, Anthony Doerr, Maggie Nelson, Richard Powers, Jonathan Franzen — the list goes on. Four critics on kicking off a big, bookish fall.

Aug. 24, 2021

"Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography," by Laurie Woolever

Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography
By Laurie Woolever
Ecco: 448 pages, $30
Sept. 28

The controversial recent documentary “Roadrunner” demonstrated two things: The public remains insatiably fascinated with the food-travel writer and TV host who died in 2018; and much remains to be told. Laurie Woolever, Anthony Bourdain’s longtime assistant, interviewed nearly 100 friends and colleagues of the host of “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations,” constructing an intimate portrait from the points of view of those who knew him best.

AI tech used to re-create Anthony Bourdain’s voice in a documentary is already stirring legal, labor and ethical issues — and making Hollywood production faster.

July 26, 2021

"Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19," by Matt Ridley and Alina Chan

Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19
By Matt Ridley and Alina Chan
Harper: 384 pages, $30
Nov. 16

Nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives, the mystery of its origins remains unsolved. Journalist Matt Ridley joins molecular biologist Alina Chan, who helped tweet the lab-leak theory back to life, to explore animal markets and labs, dig through records and data and analyze clues from the virus’s own DNA.