I’m a non-fiction lover . . . but I only like GOOD non-fiction.
Boring non-fiction? Pass.
I want non-fiction that’s as engaging and fun as any novel (this is often called narrative nonfiction) and these are some of my very favorite books that fall into that category!
Cue up your audiobook or grab a copy from your library and get sucked into a good non-fiction book!
25+ creative nonfiction books that read like fiction
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
I read this the way you’d read a novel. I was GRIPPED. Lori Gottlieb is a therapist and gives a peek into what it’s like to meet with a therapist as you get to know several of her clients, all grappling with different issues. And then Lori herself begins going to therapy after an unexpected breakup, so you get a view at what it’s like to be on the other side of the couch. This book is funny and fascinating and so illuminating.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flint
I read her bestselling book about attending culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry, years ago, but I loved this book more. After spotting people buying all packaged foods at the grocery store, Kathleen decides she’s going to teach a group of women how to cook from the very most basic skills. Over the months the students become not only competent in the kitchen, but also dear friends. And, of course, the book gives you the tools to also become a fearless home cook. (I listened to this one on audio and it was wonderful).
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
My mom and I both read this incredible book about a team of young college boys who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and pulled off an astounding win against all odds. A year or two later, when we went on a trip to Seattle together, we visited the University of Washington where the team was from and saw their boat hanging on display in the ASUW Shell House.
Unbroken by Laura Hildenbrand
This book is non-fiction but it’s so amazing, it’s hard to believe someone didn’t make it up. Olympic runner Louis Zamperini’s plane is shot down in the Pacific during WWII and after surviving on a tiny inflatable raft for 47 days, he’s taken prisoner by the Japanese. And compared to being a POW, the raft time looks like vacation. Probably the best WWII book I’ve read. (Full review here)
As You Wish by Cary Elwes
If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride movie (and who isn’t?), this book is a must-read. Written by the actor who played Wesley, there are so many great stories about the making of the movie and the actors and crew, and it made me love this movie even more than I did before. Request a copy of the movie at the same time as the book, because you’ll definitely want to watch it when it’s over.(Full review here)
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
This book changed my mind about graphic novels (I’d always been a fan for my kids, but never thought of myself as a graphic novel reader). I don’t even care about basketball and I was incredibly invested in this true story of a high school team that’s trying to win the state championship title that has eluded them for decades. Packed with history, incredible stories, and a season-long chase for glory, I couldn’t put this down or stop talking about it. (Full review here)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This is a memoir about growing up in a completely dysfunctional family, where the family keeps moving in the middle of the night and the children eventually realize that the parents are never going to pull themselves together. This definitely will make your own childhood look really really easy. I loved this one so much. (Full review here)
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
I knew exactly zero about Phil Knight and the origins of NIKE, and now I’m a fan for life after Bart read this book and passed it along to me with rave reviews. This memoir was completely fascinating even for someone like me and I stayed up way too late finishing it. (Full review here)
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
This book about the development of the atomic bomb during WWII was so good that I read it by flashlight when the power went out. I read it again when we did it for Everyday Reading Book Club and it was just as good the second time. When I asked for nonfiction books for kids suggestions, this was the MOST recommended title but it’s equally amazing for adults. (Full review here)
I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda
This is a fantastic non-fiction story of two international pen pals that start as a school project and become lifelong friends. I included this one on the 2018 Summer Reading Guide. (Full review here)
Rocket Boys (October Sky) by Homer Hickam
This is Homer H. Hickman’s memoir telling the story of his childhood in a coal mining town in West Virginia and his distinguished career at NASA. It also inspired the movie October Sky.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This book was so interesting! Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American woman who lost a battle with cancer. During her treatments, doctors took samples of her tumors and discovered her cells were “immortal”. Scientist call these cells HeLa cells and they changed the future of medicine and science. Covering three intertwined stories: the science behind HeLa, the legal issues around consent and ownership of cells, and the story of the Lacks family, this book truly is fascinating.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy is a non-fiction account by lawyer Bryan Stevenson of one of his early cases trying to exonerate a man on Death Row, plus a look at the current state of the U.S. justice and prison systems. It’s no exaggeration to say that this book changed my life. I think it should be required reading for every person.
All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat
I mean, you already know I’m obsessed with this book. If you haven’t read this incredible story of the young boys who got trapped with their soccer coach in a cave during a flood, you should change that immediately. I’m pretty sure there is NO book I’ve ever talked about in the 15 years I’ve been blogging that I’ve gotten more positive feedback about. (Full review here)
Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz
This delightful book about what family life at the White House is like, is told by J.B. West who works as the Chief Usher from FDR’s presidency through the first few weeks of Nixon’s. He is responsible for basically everything that goes on with the families, working closely with the First Ladies and arranging their schedules, hosting events, decorating the White House, and helping manage the transitions between presidents. I LOVED this one. (Full review here)
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
One of the greatest manhunts in American history lasted a wild 12 days as Union cavalry pursued John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. What really impressed me about Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is the fact that Swanson kept the story so streamlined. This book is extraordinarily tightly edited at just 200 pages – there is not a wasted word. This is the YA version of Swanson’s Manhunt, which I have also heard great things about. (Full review here)
From Scratch by Tembi Locke
Tembi Locke is an actress who meets Saro, a professional chef in Florence and they quickly fall in love and marry. Saro’s family is not thrilled about their marriage, but the two carry on with their happy lives in Los Angeles until Saro is diagnosed with aggressive cancer.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
This terrific book chronicles the exodus of nearly six million Black individuals and families from the Southern states to the West Coast and Northern cities between 1915 to 1970 and focuses on three specific people that each go to a different city in a different decade. One of my favorite book club books we’ve ever read.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
This is one of those books I will recommend to ANYONE. It’s so funny and so fascinating and the recipes are incredible too. I had never thought for one moment about life as a food critic, and this was the best look at it. Seriously, get this one and read it. My parents still talk about listening to this one together as a couple.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
After being sent to report on the tourist industry of Everest, Jon Krakauer recollects one of the deadliest seasons recorded on Mt. Everest. He recounts his own personal trauma and the recollections of the other surviving members of the expeditions. This is a truly harrowing and gripping book.
At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
I read this book in 2018 and I thought about it almost daily. I have no desire to be a full-time wanderer, but it was fascinating to read about a family traveling the world especially with young children. It was such an amazing peek into a totally different life experience and into so many other cultures. (Full review here)
The Family Romonov by Candace Fleming
You’ve probably heard plenty about Russia, but how much do you know about the history of Russia? Candace Fleming is a master at bringing history to life in an interesting and accessible way and this book is no exception. It focuses on the Romanov family (most famous because of their daughter Anastasia) but also gives an excellent look at Imperial Russia and how it fell, opening the way for the Russia we see today. I read this one several years ago and now I feel like I need to revisit it!
Wait Til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I read this for a sports history class I took, but I loved it as if I’d picked it out on my own. Just a marvelous memoir. Fun, funny, and touching, even if you don’t care about sports. I picked this one for my Texas book club years ago and it was just as good the second time!
Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas
I downloaded this one to my Kindle on a whim and then read the whole thing in two days, laughing my face off all the way. Her experiences and stories are the perfect mix of the universal experiences of childhood and growing up and those that are more specific to an immigrant family. I feel like there’s no way to do this book justice except to say, “go read it and love every page.” And then read the sequel immediately afterward. (Full review here)
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
This one got a TON of publicity during Trump’s presidential run as it gave insight into the lives of working class Americans. It’s interesting and eye-opening and almost unbelievable in some parts (has YOUR grandmother ever set her husband on fire with kerosene while he napped on the couch?) and it reads like a novel. Fair warning that there is quite a bit of swearing in this one. (Full review here).
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is a memoir published after the author’s early death from lung cancer will basically rip your heart out, but also make you so glad to be alive. In the past, we’ve done family reunion book clubs and if we did another one, this would be in my top three book club suggestions for sure. (Full review here)
And if you’d like a printable copy of this list narrative nonfiction that you can take to your library or screenshot on your phone for easy access, just pop in your email address below and it’ll come right to your inbox!