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The Best Nonfiction of 2012

The EW staff picks their favorite nonfiction books of the year

1 Behind the Beautiful Forevers
by Katherine Boo
When we reviewed this book, we promised you it would be an award winner. As it happens, Behind the Beautiful Forevers won the National Book Award, and we bet it'll take home the Pulitzer, too. We're not here to brag about our predictive powers but to sing the praises of Boo's extraordinary feat of reporting and compassion. Beautiful Forevers is the story of an Indian slum that plays out like a Dickens novel. Is it painful to read? Sure. A lot of unforgettable things are. —Jeff Giles

2. Wild
by Cheryl Strayed
If you hate nature, don't worry: This isn't just a memoir about one woman's solo hike across 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. It's also about survival. And whether that means finding the strength to get through a divorce, a mother's death, and a struggle with heroin (as Strayed did), or facing extreme dehydration, rattlesnakes, and bears, Wild offers the best life lesson of all: Whenever you think you can't go on, all you have to do is keep walking. —Melissa Maerz

3. House of Stone
by Anthony Shadid
My mentor and former editor Anthony Shadid dedicated his life to covering conflict in the Middle East. When he died last February — at age 43 while covering the uprising in Syria — his heartfelt memoir about restoring his great-grandfather's abandoned home was just weeks away from publication. It's fitting that his final work was about building after he spent so many years witnessing destruction. —Anthony Breznican

4. People Who Eat Darkness
by Richard Lloyd Parry
This deeply reported look at the disappearance of a young British woman living in Japan in 2000 is a first-rate don't-talk-to-strangers creepfest, featuring the sort of blank-faced villain around which horror-movie franchises are built. It's also a fascinating exploration of Tokyo's weird "hostessing" subculture, the quirky Japanese criminal-justice system, and the woman's unexpectedly complicated father. —Rob Brunner

5. The Passage of Power
by Robert A. Caro
Call it The Agony and the Ecstasy of Lyndon Johnson. In the fourth volume of his epic LBJ biography, Caro tracks his subject from his lowest moments — as an impotent veep who was scorned by the Kennedys — to the days after the assassination, when the new president used all his political genius to push through civil rights legislation that restructured the nation. Rendered with Caro's trademark hyperdetailed prose, Passage is an addictive depiction of a complex, occasionally monstrous person performing the great work of his life. —Darren Franich

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