We’re Surprised Steve Jobs’ Biography Wasn’t at the Top of Our List of the Best-selling Non-fiction of 2011

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If you need to be convinced that non-fiction isn’t just snooze-worthy text books and biographies, 2011’s bestsellers are the ones to get the job done. Although we’ve got some history covered, there’s also plenty of weird, comic, and straight-up scandalous.

5 Bossypants

This makes it onto the non-fiction list because it is technically a memoir. However Tina Fey doesn’t actually reveal very much about her life and the inner-workings of the shows she’s written for like Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. You only find out enough for her to have something to be funny about. Which is, after all, what she does for a living. Tina Fey’s strong point here is using the fact that she’s a woman for great comedy, without making it either offensive or preachy. She does it by sounding like she’s making fun of herself but in fact she’s probably making fun of you. Critics say that the narrative sounds like she’s not writing prose but still stuck writing sketch comedy. We can’t exactly figure out why that’s a problem.

4 Unbroken

If you secretly would rather be reading an action novel but want to be able to say that you’re reading history, this is your best bet. Louis Zamperini was an American track star who was training for the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo but instead ended up becoming a fighter pilot and making it to Japan a POW instead. His story is almost too dramatic to be believed and the author presents it as a suspenseful adventure where you can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next. It manages to be historically accurate while still presenting our charming hero as a guy who never screws up. He also kills a shark with a pair of pliers, which we think may make him badass of the century.

3 Steve Jobs

If you were dying, wouldn’t you want to appoint your own biographer? That’s what Steve Jobs did and that’s why his biography was released so soon after his death in October 2011. He commissioned Walter Isaacson and let himself and his family be investigated and interviewed. And what’s amazing is that the result is still believable. Sure his rivals are made to look bad and every product Steve Jobs worked on is made to look like a brilliant reinvention of our society. But Isaacson still manages to make it clear that Jobs was a bit of an asshole.

2 Heaven Is For Real

Most kids who have appendicitis are just hoping for some ice-cream afterwards (or is that tonsillitis?). Instead, Colton Burbo got a book onto the bestseller list. Granted, he almost died to get it there. His appendix burst just before he turned four years old and in the months and years after the surgery he explained how he had gone to heaven. He started describing biblical figures and family members who nobody had ever mentioned to him and so his father Todd, an evangelical pastor, wrote a book about it. Although published by a company specializing in books on Christian subjects, the book has sold well even outside of religion specialty stores. Barnes and Noble’s VP of marketing suggested that this is probably because people are just a little less cynical about four year olds. If they’d met some of the kids we know, we’re not sure that would be true.

1 In The Garden of Beasts

U.S. Diplomacy in Nazi Berlin in 1933: Sounds like someone’s undergraduate thesis, right? Don’t worry, it gets better. The book uses the records kept by William E. Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, and his family as a lens through which to see Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. It makes it easier to see how people living in the midst of things might not have been able to see where things were going. Sure, people are getting killed but Dodd is trying to finish writing his book about the antebellum American South (anyone else see some irony here?) and his 24-year-old daughter is enjoying her chance to flirt her way through a major European cultural center. Well, at least Nazi Germany was fun for somebody.

Think we missed one that’s going to change the world? Argue your case here.
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