TTT: Top Ten Books I’d Recommend to Someone Who Doesn’t Read Non-Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish.

Even though I mostly seem to read/review YA these days, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for non-fiction. You could almost say that it’s my true love. Actually, I will say it…non-fiction will always be my true love. I’ll be honest – I’m an enormous nerdlinger. I have a degree in history, for the love of all things good and holy. History! The subject that more than a few people seem to hate almost as much as they hate math. Oh, it’s booooring, they say. Who cares about what happened in the powdered wig days? To which I respond…piss up a rope.

Ahem. Sorry. I just love thinking about people who lived before and shaped the world that we live in now. I find it really fascinating and it’s hard for me to understand how people can look at the amazing things that have happened in the course of history and think it’s boring. And so when I come across good non-fiction I’m all over it like white on rice. Or a cheap suit. Or something that is all over something else in an awkward and possibly inappropriate manner.

Keep in mind that these aren’t necessarily the BEST NF books ever written, but ones that I love and I think will appeal to readers of NF.

1 Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption – The next time you want to whine about your life, read this book. Louis Zamperini was an Olympic track star who became a soldier in WWII. His plane was shot down, he spent 40+ days on a raft adrift in the Pacific, and then years in a Japanese POW camp where he suffered abuse and torture. All before he turned 30. Unbroken is the best book I read last year and quite possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read. An amazing book about an amazing man.

2 Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America – Alternates between the stories of the building of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and the depraved serial killer who was murdering young women at the same time. If you’re hesitant about reading non-fiction this is probably the best book to get your feet wet with – it truly reads like fiction. You almost forget that it really happened.

3 Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer – Not going to lie – I’m an Abe Lincoln fangirl, and this is one of the better books I’ve read about his assassination and the immediate aftermath (I don’t want to reveal how many books I’ve read on the subject, suffice it to say it’s a number that would cause most people to give me the side eye). It’s also got a lot of interesting info on the lesser-known accomplices as opposed to focusing solely on the spotlight-hogging douchenozzle that is John Wilkes Booth. Like Mary Surrat, the first woman executed by the US government. Or Lewis Powell, the guy who you notice is actually kind of attractive and then feel bad for noticing.

4 The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness, and the Murder of a President – James Garfield! Alexander Graham Bell! A little weasely dude with a gun! Doesn’t that sound fascinating? No? Well, it actually is. Poor James Garfield. The assassin’s bullet didn’t kill him right away and he actually ended up in the care of some seriously inept doctors who finished what his assassin started. Just a complete and total clusterhump from start to finish. Poor, poor James Garfield. You really don’t hear much about him but he was a good man and by all accounts a good president.

President Garfield convalesces, surrounded by his crack medical staff.

5 Stiff. Or Spook. Or really anything by Mary Roach. – Mary Roach is the queen of making science interesting. No, really. She pulls it off.

6 Assassination Vacation – If you’re a wannabe hipster like me you’ve probably heard Sarah Vowell on NPR waxing historical about any number of topics (and if you’ve heard her you’ll know it, that voice is quite distinctive). Or maybe you’ve seen her on the Daily Show. Or heard her voicing Violet in The Incredibles. Either way, to know Sarah Vowell is to love her and I do indeed love her in a platonic and non-creepy way. I love anyone who would be macabre enough to take vacations to visit spots that are significant to the assassinations of American Presidents and then write a book about it. Frankly, I’m upset that I didn’t think of it first.

7 A Walk in the Woods – I LOVE BILL BRYSON. Bill Bryson could write the phone book and make it interesting. Literally, the man takes the most mundane topics and writes books that make them incredibly charming and utterly fascinating. And I have no idea how he does it. Bill Bryson is the dude who you want on your team during a competitive round of Trivial Pursuit, because you just get the feeling that he knows everything about everything. You really can’t go wrong with any of his books, but this one about his walk on the Appalachian Trail is a really great place to start.

8 Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – I often wonder who these people are who take off for the middle of nowhere and run these ultra-marathons that would make the rest of us have a coronary incident even thinking about them. This book answers that question. And made me feel very lazy and very out of shape, but also very awed.

9 In Cold Blood – Cliche to make a list of non-fiction books and add this one, true. But it also deserves a spot on any must-read non-fiction list. It’s just an incredibly chilling story.

10 Columbine – This book was actually not easy for me to read. I remember the events at Columbine like they were yesterday, and they’re still just as horrifying all these years later. But the fact that it’s not an easy book to read doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be read. It clears up a lot about what actually happened that day in 1999, what went wrong beforehand, and how a town pulled itself together and dealt with the aftermath. I thought it was surprising and heartbreaking.

**Also great reads…**

Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi Occupied Paris – A serial killer. Paris. Nazis. Seriously, what more do you need?

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown – Looking for a book that alternately makes your jaw drop and makes you want to shower for the rest of your life? Look no further. Disturbing.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York – Fascinating look at how old school CSI-ers worked at nabbing murderers. Theme song by The Who not included.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School – Interesting theories posed in this one as to why some kids who are outsiders in high school go on to be better and more successful than the popular kids afterward.

1776 or John Adams– I have a history degree and I was going to make a list of non-fiction that didn’t include David McCullough? Hardly.

Leave a comment


  1. Great topic! I used to read more non-fiction but rarely pick it up these days, so I appreciate the recommendations. I have read Columbine and In Cold Blood and totally agree that they are chilling and horrifying, but very good reads. You make Unbroken sound incredible, so I’ll have to pick that one up soon. Good to know that the Mary Roach books are worthwhile – I’ve looked at them before.

  2. Great post! I love nonfiction so this is right up my alley. Unbroken was fabulous. Also love Bill Bryson.
    BTW…you mentioned Blitzen Trapper on the FF post. I am a big Blitzen Trapper fan. Furr is one of my fav songs. I haven’t listened to their recent albums as much but I loved Furr and Wild Mountain Nation. Plus, I also listen to The Mountain Goats. I love the lead singer’s voice. We have similar tastes 🙂

  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

     /  January 18, 2012

    What a relief to see a post recommending something other than YA – thank you!

  4. You sold me on Manhunt – I’m intrigued. Especially since you have apparently nerded your way through many other books on the subject to find the best one 😉


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