So You Want to Read Nonfiction

Posted 10 November, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook / 33 Comments


Nonfiction Guide

So you want to read nonfiction but you don’t know where to start. Well, there’s a nonfiction book for you! Or maybe you think you don’t want to read nonfiction–hopefully I can offer up a suggestion here that will whet your nonfiction appetite and have you seeking more. Reading nonfiction can feel stuffy or boring or stiff, but not all nonfiction books are stuffy and boring.

Below is an almost ultimate guide to reading nonfiction. Hope you find something tasty…

Stiff science

If you love science: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (my thoughts)

Notable recommendations: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (part biography, part history, part genetics) (my thoughts); The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (chemistry, also qualifies for longest title ever (according to me))


sex lives of cannibals nonfic

If you love travel: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost (bonus points for listening to the audio narrated by the fabulous Simon Vance)

Notable recommendations: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck (my thoughts), A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (my thoughts), In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (my thoughts)


philosophy Pooh

If you love philosophy: The Tao of Pooh by BenjaminHoff

Notable Recommendations: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E Frankl (my thoughts), This is a Man by Primo Levi, Walking Through Walls by Phillip Smith (my thoughts)


adventure lost city of z

If you love adventure: The Lost City of Z by David Grann  (my thoughts) – A real life search for El Dorado in the Amazon

Notable recommendations: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Everest), Wild by Cheryl Strayed (The Pacific Crest Trail),  A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (The Appalachian Trail)


true crime hot house

If you love true crime: The Hot House: Life inside Leavenworth Prison by Pete Earley  (my thoughts)

Notable recommendations: Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale


nonfiction madman
If you love history: The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (bonus points for you literary folks as this is about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary)

Notable Recommendations: A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo (Vietnam, also memoir), Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (electricity), Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (WWII)


father's paradise
If you love learning about people from around the world: My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar (Iraq)  (my thoughts)

Notable Recommendations: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Iran), The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah (Afgahnistan), A Long Way Gone b y Ishmael Beah (Sierra Leone)


glass castle nonfic
If you rather read fiction: First–let me say that I am not trying to devalue these narratives by comparing them to fiction. I simply mean that they feel more similar to reading a novel than reading a history text. There is a lot of great nonfiction out there, but if people are reluctant, I always recommend memoirs as a kind of nonfiction gateway.

If you love fiction: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls  (my thoughts)

Notable recommendations: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Wild by Cheryl Strayed (also for adventure and travel)

I realize that I have a lot of holes in my recommendations, but this post was starting to get way out of control. There are books for foodies (I loved Kitchen Counter Cooking School), and women’s studies (Bad Feminist), books for comic lovers (Persepolis and Maus are must reads), and more. I also recognize that I am lacking in female authors. This is something that I’m working on remedying, especially outside of the memoir subgenre.

nonfiction november

This post is part of a series for Nonfiction November hosted by Kim, Becca, Lu, and Katie. While they asked us to Be the Expert for today, I just couldn’t narrow this post down to one little area. Instead of being an expert, I’ve always gone for breadth rather than depth. I hope you’ll visit Lu’s Be the Expert link-up today and find even more nonfiction recommendations to add to your list.

I would love to hear what you would recommend for any of these nonfiction categories–or others!



33 Responses to “So You Want to Read Nonfiction”

  1. That’s a terrific set of recommendations! One I’d really like to read is The Lost City of Z.

    I read Troost’s book–that is funny stuff! And The Glass Castle–I agree, it is like reading a beautifully written novel.

  2. There are a ton of great recommendations here! A couple recent favorites of mine: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (haven’t seen the show yet but the book was great), and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. Bonus – these three are all female authors. :)

  3. Awesome post!!! I’ve read many of these and wholeheartedly agree with your recommendations. I’m adding the others to my list.

  4. Nonfiction if you want to laugh (and occasionally cry) – Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Apparently my nonfiction reading is limited to bloggers I already read.

  5. Some great sounding reads here. I tend to stick to historical non-fiction but feel now I should think beyond that. Emma

  6. Well, I never thought I’d want to read Non Fiction, but you’ve made your case, and surprisingly, I’ve read a few and have a few more on my TBR pile and I don’t consider myself a non fiction reader. Thanks.

  7. I love how you organized this! And, you’ve got some great books on here…Unbroken, Glass Castle, Henrietta Lacks, Bill Bryson. For true crime, I would also recommend Popular Crime by Bill James (covers crime and the media…particularly recent cases that dominated the news) and The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (her experience working alongside Ted Bundy before she knew he was “Ted Bundy”..and the history of his crimes).
    I posted Books about The Kennedys…I love reading about them because you get history mixed with some great gossip/scandals.

  8. What a great idea for this week’s post!
    I absolutely LOVED Professor and the Madman on so many levels–the general historical aspect, plus I learned so much about dictionaries! I had always kind of wondered how you would even begin to create a dictionary and this book satisfied my curiosity.

  9. TJ

    My TPR pile just exploded… You might have the book with the longest title listed here, but you probably also have the most titles without a colon. (Have you noticed how popular the colon usually is in nonfiction titles?)

  10. Wow this is a great list!
    I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, so I don’t have many books to recommend, but I really enjoyed reading Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett.

  11. Such a fabulous list of books! I am going to bookmark this post for whenever I am next looking for an audiobook. I have read a few of these, and many others are already on my wishlist, but there are some I haven’t heard of. The Sex Lives of Cannibals is especially sounding very intriguing!

  12. Jay

    I’m happy today that I’ve actually read a lot of these you recommend, The Disappearing Spoon was a favorite and a book I also recommend often. I want to pick up Kean’s “The Violinist’s Thumb…” To but just haven’t gotten to it yet. :-)

    One of your list that didn’t quite do it for me was Reading Lolita in Tehran. Very hard to follow since it wasn’t very (chronologically) linear and, as a westerner, I struggled with the names and even knowing or remembering which were male or female without context. Plus, the author kind of assumes the reader has read all the literary works she discusses – and “spoils” the endings of them if you haven’t! :-)

    • You make a great point about Reading Lolita in Tehran, Jay. It took me about 3 times before I could finish it–mostly so that I can visit some of the main texts that she refers to. I finally decided I was never going to read more Henry James, so I took in what I could and just skimmed the rest. Mostly I appreciated her perspective on living in Iran at the time.

  13. A copy of Stiff is waiting for me at the library as we speak. We have a snow day today (November!) which means that the library is also closed, which means that I can’t go get my book, which means that I AM SAD. ;)

    I loved The Professor & the Mad Man. Super book :D

    Love this post!

  14. Those of your recommendations that I’ve read, I would definitely second. Many of the others are already on my wish list and now it looks like that list is going to get longer!

  15. Lu

    This is an absolutely amazing post! So in the spirit of Nonfiction November. Thank you for sharing!! I read The Lost City of Z and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It put me to sleep, I have to admit! The other books on this list that I’ve read, though, are great.

  16. Wow what a list! Very impressive. I’ve read several but now added several to my wish list.

    PS. did you create the title boxes in your post? if so, how (if you don’t mind sharing directions)? Help