Ten Recommendations of Nonfiction that Reads Like Fiction

I have been wanting to make more recommendation posts lately, after making a recommendation post in February and remembering how much I like making them. So, I thought I would recommend some nonfiction reads. I wanted to recommend books that are the opposite of what is expected from nonfiction books. So, these books are captivating, and they read like fiction in that they are written in a similar style to fiction. These books cover a wide range of topics and range from memoir to history to essays.

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Goodreads Synopsis:

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

This book covers the history of the Los Angles Public Library, the fire the occurred there and the background of its suspected arsonist, the modern evolution of American libraries. It’s quite a lot, but it manages to do so without feeling overwhelming, and all of its aspects tie together for the central story. This novel gives an excellent insight into libraries, which allows the reader to truly appreciate them. The history of the Los Angles Public Library is explored, and the author discusses many interesting and entertaining anecdotes, as well as discussing the larger history.

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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Goodreads Synopsis:

Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

These are a collection of essays about feminism written by Roxane Gay, and she discusses modern feminism in an insightful and thought-provoking way. She partially discusses her own journey with feminism as well. She has a very conversational and entertaining writing style, and she talks about various topics with sensitivity and a fresh approach. She talks about many current issues, popular culture, and other such things, and it’s interesting to read about modern and relevant issues.

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A Bookshop in Berlin by Françoise Frenkel

Goodreads Synopsis:

The memoir of a Jewish bookseller on a harrowing fight for survival across Nazi-occupied Europe.

In 1921, Françoise Frenkel–a Jewish woman from Poland–fulfills a dream. She opens La Maison du Livre, Berlin’s first French bookshop, attracting artists and diplomats, celebrities and poets. The shop becomes a haven for intellectual exchange as Nazi ideology begins to poison the culturally rich city. In 1935, the scene continues to darken. First come the new bureaucratic hurdles, followed by frequent police visits and book confiscations.

Françoise’s dream finally shatters on Kristallnacht in November 1938, as hundreds of Jewish shops and businesses are destroyed. La Maison du Livre is miraculously spared, but fear of persecution eventually forces Françoise on a desperate, lonely flight to Paris. When the city is bombed, she seeks refuge across southern France, witnessing countless horrors: children torn from their parents, mothers throwing themselves under buses. Secreted away from one safe house to the next, Françoise survives at the heroic hands of strangers risking their lives to protect her. Published quietly in 1945, then rediscovered nearly sixty years later in an attic.

This is a memoir about one woman’s experiences during WWII. It is well-written and engaging, and while it does tell a dark story, there is a hopeful side to it. Françoise Frenkel’s experiences are horrifying, yet there are many kind people who help her with finding safety and other things. Frenkel was determined and hopeful, and she narrates her story well, and she gives detail into her bookshop and parts of her early life, with a particular focus on her love of books.

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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

Goodreads Synopsis:

In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders.

Patrick Radden Keefe writes an intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions.

This is an in-depth yet engaging look at a murder that occurred during The Troubles in Ireland, and a larger look at the IRA and certain members. This novel is written in a captivating way, and the story that it tells is impossible to put down. The murder itself is not the central part of the story, rather it is used to connect the many things the story discusses into a larger concept. It is very well-researched, and the author is impartial by providing different viewpoints to many events, which gives the reader a balanced overview of the story.

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Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

Goodreads Synopsis:

Stephen Hawking was recognized as one of the greatest minds of our time and a figure of inspiration after defying his ALS diagnosis at age twenty-one. He is known for both his breakthroughs in theoretical physics as well as his ability to make complex concepts accessible for all, and was beloved for his mischievous sense of humor. At the time of his death, Hawking was working on a final project: a book compiling his answers to the “big” questions that he was so often posed–questions that ranged beyond his academic field.

Within these pages, he provides his personal views on our biggest challenges as a human race, and where we, as a planet, are heading next. Each section will be introduced by a leading thinker offering his or her own insight into Professor Hawking’s contribution to our understanding.

In this novel, Stephen Hawking gives answers to the “big” questions and he does so by providing detail while making it easy to understand for the reader. If you’re interested in science, but do not want to read a book with overly technical terms, then I would recommend this novel. It explores many different scientific topics that are interesting and that will keep the reader interested throughout the novel.

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Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins 

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the acclaimed cultural critic and New York Times bestselling author of This Will Be My Undoing comes this powerful story of her journey to understand her northern and southern roots, the Great Migration, and the displacement of black people across America.

Between 1916 and 1970, six million black Americans left their rural homes in the South for jobs in cities in the North, West, and Midwest in a movement known as The Great Migration. But while this event transformed the complexion of America and provided black people with new economic opportunities, it also disconnected them from their roots, their land, and their sense of identity, argues Morgan Jerkins. In this fascinating and deeply personal exploration, she recreates her ancestors’ journeys across America, following the migratory routes they took from Georgia and South Carolina to Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California.

Following in their footsteps, Jerkins seeks to understand not only her own past, but the lineage of an entire group of people who have been displaced, disenfranchised, and disrespected throughout our history. Through interviews, photos, and hundreds of pages of transcription, Jerkins braids the loose threads of her family’s oral histories, which she was able to trace back 300 years, with the insights and recollections of black people she met along the way—the tissue of black myths, customs, and blood that connect the bones of American history.

Incisive and illuminating, Wandering in Strange Lands is a timely and enthralling look at America’s past and present, one family’s legacy, and a young black woman’s life, filtered through her sharp and curious eyes.

If you enjoy stories about discovering where your family comes from, then you may enjoy this novel. It is about Morgan Jerkin’s discovery of her family’s history before The Great Migration, and how it has impacted her. The book does not solely focus on her story, it also addresses the overall history of The Great Migration and how it impacted black people. There are many additional stories in the novel told of people Jerkin meets along her journey of discovering her family history, and they are interesting and add to Jerkin’s story.

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One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten

Goodreads Synopsis:

On New Year’s Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally, pluck a day, month, and year from a hat. That day–chosen completely at random–turned out to be Sunday, December 28, 1986, by any conventional measure a most ordinary day. Weingarten spent the next six years proving that there is no such thing.

That Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s turned out to be filled with comedy, tragedy, implausible irony, cosmic comeuppances, kindness, cruelty, heroism, cowardice, genius, idiocy, prejudice, selflessness, coincidence, and startling moments of human connection, along with evocative foreshadowing of momentous events yet to come. Lives were lost. Lives were saved. Lives were altered in overwhelming ways. Many of these events never made it into the news; they were private dramas in the lives of private people. They were utterly compelling.

One Day asks and answers the question of whether there is even such a thing as “ordinary” when we are talking about how we all lurch and stumble our way through the daily, daunting challenge of being human.

This book tells the story of a single, seemingly ordinary day, and shows all of the events that happened. It showed how these events changed the lives of ordinary people, and how they were impacted by them. It’s an interesting study into an ordinary day, and how even on such days there are many events that happen that impact people’s lives. The people in the novel cover a wide range of personalities, and they are interesting to read about.

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Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World by Lesley M.M. Blume

Goodreads Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Lesley M.M. Blume reveals how one courageous American reporter uncovered one of the deadliest cover-ups of the 20th century—the true effects of the atom bomb—potentially saving millions of lives.

Just days after the United States decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. But even before the surrender, the US government and military had begun a secret propaganda and information suppression campaign to hide the devastating nature of these experimental weapons. The cover-up intensified as Occupation forces closed the atomic cities to Allied reporters, preventing leaks about the horrific long-term effects of radiation which would kill thousands during the months after the blast. For nearly a year the cover-up worked—until New Yorker journalist John Hersey got into Hiroshima and managed to report the truth to the world.

As Hersey and his editors prepared his article for publication, they kept the story secret—even from most of their New Yorker colleagues. When the magazine published “Hiroshima” in August 1946, it became an instant global sensation, and inspired pervasive horror about the hellish new threat that America had unleashed. Since 1945, no nuclear weapons have ever been deployed in war partly because Hersey alerted the world to their true, devastating impact. This knowledge has remained among the greatest deterrents to using them since the end of World War II.

Released on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, Fallout is an engrossing detective story, as well as an important piece of hidden history that shows how one heroic scoop saved—and can still save—the world.

If you enjoy lesser-known history stories, then this will most likely interest you! This shows how important one article was, and how it revealed the truth about the atomic bomb. This book covers the discoveries, John Hersey, made as he searched for the truths behind the atomic bomb. It is written in a fast-paced way that holds the reader’s interest in how Hersey managed to discover the truth and how he was able to report it. The novel discusses some of the science behind the atomic bomb as well, without going into too much detail.

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Goodreads Synopsis:

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999–and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it–fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

If you like to write, then I would recommend this novel. King discusses his tips for writing, and he also discusses his journey to becoming an author, and subsequently, how his writing has evolved from his childhood to his career. The writing advice is very practical, relevant, and easy to apply to one’s own writing. King’s story of his journey to becoming a writer is written in an entertaining and relatable way, and anyone who has tried to write will most likely find his experiences relatable.

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The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Goodreads Synopsis:

Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, they think their position is clear. The child of two lawyers, they are staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as they review old tapes—the moment they hear him speak of his crimes — they are overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by their reaction, they dig deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alex pores over the facts of the murder, they find themself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, they are forced to face their own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors their view of Ricky’s crime.

But another surprise awaits: They weren’t the only one who saw their life in Ricky’s.

An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, THE FACT OF A BODY is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed — but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe — and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.

This is partially a memoir and a true crime story, both of which are given their due in balanced parts of the book. They tie together as well, and neither overpowers the other. The true-crime story is very horrifying, yet the reader finds themself wanting to know more about the murder, and the author addresses the murderer’s, Ricky Langley’s, childhood, and his life until the murder. The novel overall is very captivating and keeps the reader interested until the end.

Are any of these books on your TBR? Do any of them interest you? Let me know in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Ten Recommendations of Nonfiction that Reads Like Fiction

  1. What a great list!! I love reading fiction stories, and I enjoy non-fiction books mostly when they are written in a similar style like fiction. I haven’t read any of these books, so I see many opportunities for the months to come 😀
    I would add some titles to the list, from my (limited) experience of reading non-fiction: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (memoir), When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (memoir), Educated by Tara Westover (memoir), and Deep by James Nestor (about oceans). These are so well written, perfect for lovers of fiction books … it’s difficult to believe they’re telling non-fiction stories!

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    1. I haven’t read Deep, but it sounds interesting! I have read the other books you’ve mentioned, and I agree that they would be an excellent fit for this list. I hope that you’ll enjoy these books if you read any of them!

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