CultureBooks & Media

The 5 Smart Books You Need to Read This Fall

Some of our favorite nonfiction authors dropped new books that explore everything from climate disaster to unusual acts of endurance

Some of our favorite nonfiction authors are dropping new books that explore everything from climate disaster to unusual acts of endurance. (Photo: Hannah McCaughey)
books

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. Outside does not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.

This fall we were spoiled by five of our all-time favorite authors releasing new books. They range from essay compilations to memoir to science writing, but all boast lyrical prose that explores what it means to be a human during these strange times. 

If You’re Body Positive

books
(Photo: Courtesy Doubleday)

The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson 

A huge amount of research went into this top-down introduction to the workings of the human body, covering everything from the skin and the skeleton to aging, reproduction, and death. But Bryson has a unique ability to camouflage his hard work and depth of knowledge with a light and self-effacing voice, which fans of his Appalachian Trail classic, A Walk in the Woods, will instantly recognize. He uses it to deliver an avalanche of surprising and eminently sharable facts about how our bodies—“a product of three billion years of evolutionary tweaks”—are built. (Ever wondered how many species of bacteria live in your belly button? Read on.) Like your favorite teacher, Bryson is someone who loves his subject. Before he’s finished, he’ll make you love it, too. ($30, Doubleday)

buy now


If You Are F–king Freaked Out by Climate Change

books
(Photo: Courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

We Are the Weather,  by Jonathan Safran Foer 

Foer begins his newest book as a climate-based argument for eliminating meat, eggs, and dairy from the American diet. But the novelist and author of Eating Animals is really too thoughtful and self-doubting to stop the conversation there. Probing the contradictions that seem built into how we talk, think, and write about global warming, he concludes that the only way we’ll actually do anything about the crisis is through a collective embrace of personal responsibility. “The ways we live our lives, the actions we take and don’t take, can feed the systemic problems,” he writes, “and they can also change them.” We Are the Weather is not just a polemic, it’s also a vigorous and unflinching meditation on Foer’s own status as a father—and a descendant of Holocaust survivors—trying to answer for his role in a man-made disaster. ($25; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

buy now


If You Want Training Advice from Animals

books
(Photo: Courtesy Knopf)

Running with Sherman, by Christopher McDougall  

Not everyone would understand the impulse to rescue a donkey from a hoarder, load it with mining tools, and lead it on a trail run in the Rocky Mountains. But burro racing is a real thing, involving real competitors who travel side by side with stubborn quadrupeds over distances that range from a few miles to an ultramarathon. To the author of Born to Run, now living with his family in Amish country, there was no better way for him to learn about humanity’s relationship with working animals than to train an equine named Sherman for the sport’s world championship in Fairplay, Colorado. If you can forgive the reliance on dad jokes, you’ll find a smart critique of the culture of conventional American sports. “You’ve got one hope of getting to the finish line,” McDougall writes, “and that’s to forget about dominance and ego and discover the power of sharing and caring.” ($28, Knopf)

buy now


If You Feel Like a Wanderer 

books
(Photo: Courtesy Penguin Press)

Travel Light, Move Fast, by Alexandra Fuller 

Fuller was born in England, raised in southern Africa, and resides in Wyoming. She has a gift for depicting the forces that compel people to move, and in her new memoir—written shortly after her father died in a hospital in Budapest—she reflects on how an itinerant farmer who chased zebras and drank to excess could also be a nurturing and perspicacious parent. Ultimately he helped her appreciate the value of restlessness and impermanence: although grief strikes her as “a place between countries, a holding pattern, a purgatory,” the author nevertheless emerges from it with a clearer understanding of what it means to have a home. ($27, Penguin Press)

Buy now


If You’re Trying to Make Sense of It All

books
(Photo: Courtesy Sarah Crichton)

Erosion, by Terry Tempest Williams  

Few writers can match Williams’s talent for capturing big, abstract notions of environmental justice and connecting them to the lived experiences of individuals, families, and communities. In this collection of essays, written between 2012 and 2019, the lifelong activist and educator celebrates the power of friendship and dialogue to bring about authentic change. “We tell stories that remind us we will resist,” she writes, “and insist that our communities be built upon the faith we have in each other.” Crashing oil and gas lease auctions and visiting tea ceremonies in the desert, Williams lyrically depicts global disputes over climate change and public lands through her own community of art making, collective organizing, and prayer. ($27, Sarah Crichton) 

Buy now

More Culture