1.) "Down in My Heart" by William Stafford. He is mostly known as a poet and rightly so. But this little book(94 pages) is a treasure. From 1942-1945 Stafford was held in a conscientious objector's camp for his refusal to join the U.S. Army. This is no silver spoon youth whining. His stance is measured and his beliefs often do waver--but never fully break.
2.) "A Book of Reasons" by John Vernon. After the death of his brother the author is left to sort his things. What follows is the full discovery of his brother as a recluse. The items found become a part of who this man was and interspersed with the personal narrative is a brief history of certain items. There are lots of sad family books--and this one is sad--but it is also ultimately a story of one brother's love for another both in life and death.
3.) "Mystery and Manners" by Flannery O'Connor. This is her lone book of non-fiction and it is a collection of essays, speeches and articles. Her main topics and issues have been discussed critically ad nauseum. She is the queen of southern gothic. Yet she possessed humor and tenderness that are often overlooked. The essay on the peacocks she kept as pets is worth the price alone.
4.) John McPhee, is to me, the perfect non-fiction writer. His topics are widely varied. He does research that influences his work but does not overtake it. He's both funny and profound. He lets the subjects speak for themselves. I will not go on. I could pick almost any of his books but I've decided on "Levels of the Game" which is micro-story at its finest. This is, ostensibly, an account of one tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in 1968. The two could not have been more different in background, style or temperment. So the book is about sports, yes. But it is also about competition and psychology and, like all fine journalism, much more.
5.) "Bury Me Standing" by Isabel Fonseca. I like books on outsider culture of all kinds and gypsy culture could be the most 'outsider' of all in that even its members don't fully conform to one set of ideas or ethnicity. Fonseca has written something that isn't so much a history as a partial glimpse. The very fact that she was given any access at all into these people is a testament to her tenacity and good faith. Gypsies have been mistreated and feared across the globe. Who they are is a genetic and cultural tangle. Fonseca's is the best of the many books on this topic I've read.