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August 3, 2023

The Best Nonfiction for People Who Don’t Read Nonfiction

We all know at least one reader who refuses to consider anything outside the fiction genres; that person who seeks out books as an escape from reality. To that reader, we present this list of the best nonfiction for those who don’t typically read nonfiction. These books, which range in type from memoirs to true crime, are so engrossing and propulsive that even the most reluctant reader will be sucked in. Naysayers, prepare to have your minds blown!

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

‘If it seems as if I’m reviewing a novel, it is because Say Nothing has lots of the qualities of good fiction.’—Roddy Doyle, The New York Times Book Review

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.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

‘Chilling….Reads like a thriller.’ —The New York Times Book Review

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the next Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with its breakthrough device, which performed the whole range of laboratory tests from a single drop of blood. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. Rigorously reported and fearlessly written, Bad Blood is a gripping story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron–a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

‘Grann has proved himself a master of spinning delicious, many-layered mysteries that also happen to be true….It will sear your soul.’—Dave Eggers, The New York Times Book Review

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

‘Inheritance is both thrilling and fascinating—a nonfiction book that reads like a novel.’–POPSUGAR

From the acclaimed, best-selling memoirist, novelist and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets, comes a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test: an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

‘Elegant and wicked….Might be the first true-crime book that makes the reader want to book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime.’–The New York Times Book Review

Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the misty early morning hours of May 2, 1981.  Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt’s sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

‘Achingly beautiful….Difficult, moving, and extraordinarily poignant.’–Los Angeles Times

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

‘Engrossing….exceedingly well documented…utterly fascinating.’–Chicago Tribune

This New York Times bestseller intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their deaths. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

Classic Krakauer by Jon Krakauer

‘Krakauer is a masterly writer and reporter.’–The New York Times Book Review

Spanning an extraordinary range of subjects and locations, these ten gripping essays show why Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air, is considered a standard-bearer of modern journalism. His pieces take us from a horrifying avalanche on Mount Everest to a volcano poised to obliterate a big chunk of Seattle; from a wilderness teen-therapy program run by apparent sadists to an otherworldly cave in New Mexico, studied by NASA to better understand Mars. Bringing together work originally published in such magazines as The New YorkerOutside, and Smithsonian, Classic Krakauer powerfully demonstrates the author’s ambivalent love affair with unruly landscapes and his relentless search for truth.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

‘A terribly misguided, and terribly funny tale of adventure….The yarn is choke-on-your-coffee funny.’–The Washington Post

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America—majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way-and a couple of bears. A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

‘Charming….Glamorous….Rakoff does a marvelous job of capturing a cultural moment.’–The Boston Globe

After leaving graduate school to pursue her dream of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. Precariously balanced between poverty and glamour, she spends her days in a plush, wood-paneled office–where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and agents doze after three-martini lunches–and then goes home to her threadbare Brooklyn apartment and her socialist boyfriend. Rakoff is tasked with processing Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, but as she reads the heart-wrenching letters from around the world, she becomes reluctant to send the agency’s form response and impulsively begins writing back. The results are both humorous and moving, as Rakoff, while acting as the great writer’s voice, begins to discover her own.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

“A meditation on solitude, wildness and survival.”–The Wall Street Journal

Many people dream of escaping modern life. Most will never act on it-but in 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight did just that when he left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. He would not have a conversation with another person for the next twenty-seven years. Drawing on extensive interviews with Knight himself, journalist Michael Finkel gives us a deeply moving portrait of a man determined to live his own way.