10 nonfiction books that read like novels to enjoy on the beach (or in your backyard) this summer

Readers, the 2020 Summer Reading Guide was accidentally 100% nonfiction-free. I truly didn’t intend to avoid nonfiction—in fact, I actively sought it out—but several memoirs I loved were pushed for Fall publication, and the remaining summer nonfiction releases just didn’t have the right combination of story and staying power I was looking for.

But I know that we have avid nonfiction readers around here, and their autobiographies, self-help books, and true crime novels belong on the beach just as much as our fiction-heavy Summer Reading Guide picks.

When I’m choosing a nonfiction beach read, I’m on the lookout for compelling stories, vivid details, and strong narrative voice. Ideally, when I open a nonfiction book in the summertime I won’t want to put it down, and I’ll keep thinking about it long after the final page.

Today’s list is for you, nonfiction readers. It features page-turning books with themes that stick. I still think of these books often, and I can’t stop recommending them to my fellow nonfiction readers. Some of these titles are on the lighter side, full of humor or juicy behind-the-scenes details. Others are heavy but hopeful, full of painful truths and deeper themes. All of the books on this list contain absorbing stories that I couldn’t put down—or have added to my TBR because readers with great taste have told me they couldn’t.

For more summer nonfiction recommendations, listen to Patreon bonus episode 42, “Absorbing nonfiction to keep you busy all summer long.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Goodwin brings history to life in the 916 pages (or 42 audiobook hours) of this historical narrative. Those who hang with it will be rewarded. I had no idea how much I didn't know about Lincoln and the Civil War, and I'm grateful for my new deeper, richer appreciation of the near-miraculous Lincoln administration and the unspeakable tragedy of his assassination. I cried like a baby at the end: for the man, for his family, for the South, for our country—because Goodwin posits that Johnson's disastrous presidency, including his commitment to withholding civil and political rights from Blacks, set the nation down a road we are still struggling to find our way back from. Her stirring conclusion left me wondering what might have been, had Lincoln lived a little longer. Goodwin excels at revealing history with story-driven writing and vivid detail. More info →
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

I was hesitant to pick this one up in the summertime because I feared it would be heavy and heartbreaking. It is those things, but it's also incredibly hopeful. Stevenson's story-driven account describes his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal organization he founded, and closely follows the story of Walter, a man sentenced to Alabama's death row for a crime he didn't commit. Moving and beautifully written, this is a must-read. And then watch the movie, which is currently free on several streaming platforms. More info →
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

In this collection of coming-of-age essays about his South African childhood, The Daily Show star does a masterful job of alternating the deathly serious with the laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes even combining the two. His mischievous childhood and unconventional youth provide wonderful fodder for not-quite-polite but always entertaining stories. Trevor Noah narrates the audiobook, which I highly recommend listening to while gardening, driving, or strolling the park this summer. More info →
The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick

As an avid fan of monster movies, Mallory O'Meara was thrilled to discover that a woman designed the monster from one of her favorite films, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. But as O'Meara soon discovered, Millicent Patrick's design accomplishments were hidden from history, due to jealous male colleagues and pervasive sexism in the film industry. Following along with O'Meara's research process is just as delightful as learning all about Millicent. I got to chat with Mallory on Episode 176 of What Should I Read Next, and despite my total avoidance of the horror genre, we found some readerly common ground! I am pleased to report that Mallory's book is not-too-scary, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. More info →
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Psychotherapist Gottlieb gets to the heart of what matters in life: how do we grow, how do we change, how do we connect with each other—and how can we do it all more effectively? I love the structure of this book. First, Gottlieb introduces us to four of her patients, taking us inside the room to show us what happens in their sessions. But Gottlieb is also in therapy herself, thanks to a sudden breakup, and through her eyes, we get the patient's perspective as well. I so enjoyed getting to know the people in these pages, session by session, and rooted hard for them as they worked through the process. Part memoir, part educational glimpse into the profession: if you like to learn something from the books you read, and you enjoy a good story, well-told, add this to your list. More info →
The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

This is a fascinating deep-dive into the unbelievable history of Wonder Woman, an iconic superhero whose real life origins are completely bonkers. A complicated family story lies beneath the history of the famous comic book character, and it all starts with the invention of the lie-detector machine. I don't want to give away any more than that—just know that the surprising backstory is full of twists, turns, and shocking connections across history and culture. Lepore's reporting is engaging and detailed. More info →
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

A completely engrossing read. Carreyrou covers the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes’ multi-billion dollar startup, Theranos, with thriller-like investigative journalism. Backed by impressive investors and promising faster and easier blood tests, Holmes and her associates seemed poised to take over the healthcare world. As Holmes becomes Silicon Valley’s rising star, her employees grow more and more concerned with their tense workplace environment and faulty technology. When Carreyrou steps in to investigate, the cover-ups, threats, and lies continue. Despite knowing how the story ended, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see how it all happened and who would be affected. More info →
Here for It: Or How to Save Your Soul in America

Here for It: Or How to Save Your Soul in America

If you love heartfelt, thoughtful memoirs that also make you laugh, then you must pick up this collection of essays by pop-culture critic R. Eric Thomas. Eric shares stories from childhood to adulthood, detailing his coming-of-age with hilarious honesty. He writes about discovering his identity, feeling like an outsider, and finding his voice, all the while injecting hilarious pop culture references, bits of wisdom, and his signature wit. I highly recommend the audiobook version, narrated by the author, for full humorous effect. These hopeful stories will stick with you. More info →
Open Book

Open Book

Despite enjoying the occasional celebrity memoir, I’m still slightly skeptical about this one, but several trusted friends and booksellers have told me it’s really good. With just the right mix of juicy celebrity gossip and honest personal stories, Simpson writes about coming-of-age as a pop star in Hollywood. She offers behind the scenes details about relationships, movie sets, and concerts. But where this book shines is her candidness about alcohol addiction, motherhood, and body shaming. If you’re a fan of celebrity memoirs, add this to your library holds list and tell me what you think—perhaps I'll be convinced to pick it up. More info →
Know My Name

Know My Name

A powerful read. In 2016, Buzzfeed published the victim impact statement of Emily Doe, shortly after a Stanford swimmer was sentenced to just six months of jail for sexually assaulting her on campus. Emily Doe was Chanel Miller, and in her stunning memoir, Miller reclaims her identity, tells her story, and challenges a system that oppresses victims. I loved this book and think about it often, not only because of Miller’s courage, but also because of her incredible, compelling voice. She is able to weave hope and trauma and healing and humor together in such beautiful ways. Her transformative storytelling made this an unforgettable reading experience. More info →

What nonfiction reads would you add to this list?

P.S. For more nonfiction recommendations, listen to What Should I Read Next Episode 204 or check out 15 absorbing nonfiction books to inspire your inner scientist.

10 nonfiction books that read like novels to enjoy on the beach (or in your backyard) this summer


Leave A Comment
  1. Adrienne says:

    I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, and it is fantastic. Here For It also looks compelling. Erik Larson is one of my favorite non-fiction writers; I enjoyed his books Dead Wake, Isaac’s Storm, and The Devil in the White City, but was very disappointed by In the Garden of the Beasts. Other non-fiction books I’d recommend are Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli, which is exactly as the title describes – seven short lessons on modern physics which make the concepts easy to understand – and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

    • Jennifer says:

      I feel the same way about Erik Larson. I love his writing. But I didn’t care for In the Garden of Beasts and couldn’t finish his new one, The Splendid and the Vile. 😩

    • Kim says:

      I love “Isaac’s Storm.” It is one of the summer reading choices I give my upcoming 11th grade students. Larson’s storytelling style captivates me.

    • Kim says:

      I love Larson’s storytelling style; my favorite is “Isaac’s Storm.” It is one of two summer reading choices I give my upcoming 11th grade students.

    • Nicola Jesse says:

      I agree. I read all Erik Larson except Garden of the Beasts! Just
      finished Splendid and the Vile about Churchill and Roosevelt. He always gets the history right and involves personal stories which keep the readers interested! Bill Bryson is another exceptional non-fiction. It is ashame the movie made from his book A Walk in the Woods, excellent, was so Aweful!!

  2. Amanda McCormick says:

    I love anything by Bill Bryson. I am currently reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and I am enthralled by his scientific storytelling.

    • Leslie says:

      I love him too. I have every book he’s written and they’re excelllent. I also have some in audio book-he reads them with deadpan humor.

    • Libby says:

      My favorite is In a Sunburnt Country! I truly laugh at loud every time reading his description of falling asleep in a colleague’s car, why the Gold Coast is Australia’s Florida, and escaping a jellyfish.

    • Carol says:

      I have listened to several of his audiobooks, but haven’t listened to this one yet. Definitely need to get it soon.

  3. Brittany says:

    The Radium Girls is my favorite non-fiction book of recent years and really reads like a “novel”. The story is so incredibly interesting. I recommend it to everyone!

    • Susie says:

      “Red Notice” is another favorite non fiction that is hard to put down- there is murder and Interpol most wanted lists and a tie to the Trump administration.

      I also really enjoyed “Into Thin Air.”

  4. Julie R says:

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Book by Rebecca Skloot is fantastic! And what amounts to exploitation of Ms. Lacks contribution to modern science is relevant to current discussions about racism.

    The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan is another great one.

    • Kim K. says:

      I agree with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot! I keep thinking of that story. One of my all-time favorite non-fiction is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I read this nearly 20 years ago and still think of it often. I could. not. put. it. down.

  5. Kate says:

    I’m just about finished with The Language of Butterflies by Wendy Williams. Such an interesting history behind the study of butterflies and not something I considered at all before this book.

  6. Myrthe says:

    One of my all-time favorite books is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. It drew me in immediately and didn’t let me go until I finished it. It is very well researched but at the same time almost reads like a novel.

    • Liz says:

      This is one of my all time favorite reads, also. And really so much history and information that I was able to actually maintain due to the storytelling abilities of this writer!

    • Debbie says:

      I love historical narrative and memoirs! The Boys in the Boat was GREAT. I could not believe how engrossed I was, considering I had never even watched a rowing event in the Olympics. It’s a great story. Also loved Unbroken, The Warmth of Other Suns, and perhaps lesser known, The Great Swim, about the summer of 1926, when four women swimmers were each trying to be the first woman to swim the English Channel.

    • Lee Ann says:

      I’m reading this right now; it is heartbreaking and fascinating. Wilkerson has a new book, Caste, coming out soon.

  7. Cathy Brown says:

    I would add 5 Days at Memorial Hospital. It is a heartbreaking, yet amazing ( in both good and bad ways ) book about the hospital in New Orleans amid Hurricane Katrina.

  8. Shannon says:

    I loved The Boys in the Boat, Unbroken, Four Seasons in Rome, and Radium Girls. Also, Amy Poehlers’s “Yes, Please” audiobook is very fun.

      • Janet Roberts says:

        PBS did a documentary called “The Boys of 36” that’s really good. Also, you can search on YouTube and find several videos from the actual races mentioned in the book as well as the Olympic documentary that the German woman (I forget her name) was making, which is pretty cool.

    • Beth says:

      I agree, I read Eviction in December and was it immediately shifted my mindset to the division in our country between the have and the have nots especially if you are a POC. I think the current Defund the Police movement is a broad tapestry of policing, social services, education and programs that fail our communities and as a result continue to push POC and lower income persons down.

    • Caroline Lee says:

      I loved this book! I read it quite a while ago but still think about it.
      What many people don’t know is that the author, J. R. Moehringer, also had a big part in helping Andre Agassi write his memoir “Open” which is also a great read. And you don’t have to know anything about tennis to enjoy this book. Both books very well written.

  9. Ann says:

    My three favorite non-fiction that read like a novel:

    Highly recommend Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, memoir about growing up in Rhodesia.

    Also loved My Beloved World by Justice Sotomayor (timely read right now).

    And for a recent release I loved Uncanny Valley – well written, witty, read about being a young woman in Silicon Valley.

  10. Jill says:

    Agree about Radium Girls – one of my highly recommends. Also The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone. I understand there are many books out there about women’s contribution to helping the Allies win WWII. This one is totally engrossing for Elizebeth Friedman’s remarkable story and educational as well.

  11. Meredith Wagoner says:

    Thank you for this list! My top three nonfiction recommendations are Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, and Rants From the Hill by Michael Branch.

  12. Hannah says:

    The Warmth of Other Suns tells the story of black migration from south to north by following the stories of 3 people. One of my favorite books. And anything by David McCullough – The Johnstown Flood was very surprisingly a page-turner.

  13. René says:

    I really enjoyed An American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. I loved it and recommend it to everyone!!!

    • Beth says:

      I really love nonfiction!

      Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard was really good. You may not think a book about James Garfield sounds boring but I promise it’s NOT!

      Queens of Animation was a fun read; it tells the history of Disney from the women animator’s point of view.

      Coming Clean was a quick read. Memoir about growing up with hoarder parents and learning to accept and forgive them.

      Forty Autumns is part history, part memoir about East Germany during the Cold War.

      Endurance by Alfred Lansing started out slow, but by the end I was reading passages aloud to whoever was in the room with me. So good!

    • Kate says:

      I would recommend “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. So good!! It’s about FDR and Eleanor during the war years.

  14. Rada says:

    I just finished American Kingpin: the Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road. It was amazing! I loved watching how a person’s beliefs could lead them down a certain path over time. Compulsively readable. It took me out of my life for a while and gave me the opportunity to both fight and commit crime with the people portrayed in this book. I’ve read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, also true crime, but American Kingpin has a faster pace.
    I read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone last year and enjoyed it too. Looking at Anne’s list I realized that this is one of the genres I enjoy. So glad to have figured it out 😊

  15. The Fox Hunt – my favorite completely engrossing nonfiction read.

    I also loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I Am Malala, I Will Always Write Back (this wins for when you need a really strong feel-good story), Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea, And Inheritance.

  16. JoAnne Williams says:

    I would add Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
    by Robert Kolker to the list. Excellent!

  17. As a college librarian, for several years I’ve tracked the assigned summer reading for freshmen at colleges across America. Just Mercy is one of the most popular. Although I wasn’t able to do the project last year the previous years are on my blog and the Class of 2024 list is in progress. You asked about other nonfiction favorites. Here are some of mine: https://hopewellslibraryoflife.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/nonfiction-november-week-4-nonfiction-favorites-why-is-it-a-favorite/

  18. Dana says:

    I read “The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History” by Nathalia Holt this spring and really enjoyed it. It was one of those books I kept thinking about when I wasn’t reading it. There was a great mix of Hollywood and Disney history

  19. Delanie Sullivan says:

    My favorite non fiction book is The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. It reads like a crime novel! I also loved Brain on Fire, Destiny of the Republic, and Blue Latitudes.

  20. Barb says:

    Like others above, I love Bill Bryson and just finished “The Body: A Guide for Occupants”, which is just what you’d expect from him. Interesting, well-researched, and funny.
    Also recommend “Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Love and Life as a Prison Librarian.” Library science graduate is having a hard time finding work and takes a job as a prison librarian.
    I also loved “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean. The LA library fire of 1986 is the framework for the book, but she looks at libraries, how they work, the many services they provide, the people who use them, and the people who work there.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Along the lines of Just Mercy, is The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton. He was also a client of Bryan Stevenson, and his story is amazing. Everything is told from his point of view, and I found I could not put it down.

  22. Mic says:

    I know it’s an oldie, but I couldn’t put down The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold. Even knowing the outcome, learning about the lives of these nine men, their coaches and what they all overcame was fascinating. Throw in just enough history – both US and European and you’ve got a great read. I now want to read more about of the horrific 1930s weather in the US. Anyone have a good recommendation about the Dust Storms? The book can get bogged down in details, but you can easily skim those sections and not lose any of the story.

  23. Katie says:

    The Library Book by Susan Orleans (about the Los Angeles library system but also libraries in general in the US) is one of my favorite non-fiction books. Also love Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (about life in the slums in India) and have heard great things about Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

    • Lauren D. says:

      I second “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”! I have been reading through all the comments to see if someone added that, because it’s the FIRST thing that came to mind when I saw this post’s title. I kept having to look at the jacket thinking, “Is this REALLY nonfiction?!” SUCH a good book.

  24. Kristina Mullen says:

    I am currently finishing the last chapter of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It is so good! The second half of the book can be really sad, so be prepared with a box of tissues.

      • Libby says:

        I read this poolside, and when my boyfriend came out to check on whether I needed another drink or more sunscreen, I was sobbing so hard I literally couldn’t get words out, just pointed at my Kindle and cried harder. He just stared at me, bemused, for a minute and goes “ok then, I’ll assume you’re fine and leave you to it.”

  25. Pam Bilger says:

    I love many of the books suggested here; I am currently reading “Countdown to 1945” by Chris Wallace, and it is riveting.

  26. Kathleen says:

    Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe was terrific and an incredible story.

  27. Stacy says:

    This will sound silly but one of my favorite nonfiction books is “Street Gang,” a history of Sesame Street. It was so fascinating to read about how that show came together and how much it was on the forefront of educational television and diverse programming.

  28. Jennifer Kepesh says:

    Non-fiction is not my go-to reading choice, but I can easily pull out another half-dozen non-fiction beach or porch reads that didn’t make Anne’s list:
    >The Professor and the MadmanThe Oxford English DictionaryRocket BoysThe Right StuffLab GirlEducatedA Pattern Language<, by Christopher Alexandar, Sarah Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein, is an amazing, thought-provoking book that will change the way you look at the spaces you dwell in–homes, neighborhoods, offices, cities. Although it's a book about architecture, it actually has revolutionized software engineering and other engineering. It is highly readable–I bought it for my daughter recently, and she tells me she reads passages out loud to her boyfriend and they discuss them.
    Four others–
    Into Thin Air (J. Krakauer)–Everest disaster
    Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer)–Chris McCandless, young college graduate, decides to leave society behind.
    The Hot Zone (Richard Preston–Ebola, and how it almost got out of a lab and into public here in the U.S.
    Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates): A long essay, written in letter form by a black American man to his teen son, tells the agony of being a Black man in America.

    • Jennifer Kepesh says:

      Wow–I am not sure why this got so messed up! It’s missing half of the words… Here’s my list, and if you want what I wrote about them, let me know and I’ll send it to you.
      The Professor and the Madman; A Pattern Language; Lab Girl; Educated; Rocket Boys; The Right Stuff; and four bonus books: Into Thin Air, Into the Wild; The Hot Zone; Between the World and Me.

    • Libby says:

      Seconding The Hot Zone! I just made my boyfriend listen to this on audiobook, and it was so good to reread parts of it with him! Also, made me feel way better about our current global pandemic? Sure, it’s bad, but it could’ve been a filovirus not a coronavirus.

  29. Elizabeth Barnhill says:

    I adore nonfiction especially when I need a palate cleanse after too much fiction! Some of my favorites include Radium Girls, Erik Larson (specifically Isaac’s storm, Thunderstruck, and Devil), The Worst Hard Time, Why We Can’t Sleep, I Miss You When I Blink, Destiny of the Republic, and American Wolf.

    • Elizabeth Barnhill says:

      Also! One Summer (all the incredible things that happened in the summer of 1927), Running with Sherman (one of my favorite reads last year), Empty Manions, and Furious Hours. I will second the already mentioned Columbine, Say Nothing, and Boys In the Boat.

  30. Aimee says:

    I LOVED listening to Educated. And I just finished listening to The New One which was also fantastic. Both worth the credit on audible.

  31. Becky Grove says:

    Hi Anne.

    Have you read Hope Heals and/or Suffer Strong by Jay & Katherine Wolf? I think these would be great additions to your non-fiction list.

  32. christina mermis says:

    I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell is a new favorite of mine. The writing is exquisite and I could not put it down. Also highly recommend Letters To A Young Catholic by George Weigel. It is a series of letters from different locations around the world – it is an epistolary tour across time and space that kind of explains…. well, everything 🙂

  33. Abigail M. says:

    As a follow up to Team of Rivals, Destiny of the Republic was outstanding and will make you sad for what might have happened if James Garfield had not been assasinated.

    Killers of the Flower Moon is very very good.

    Liar’s Poker and The Big Short by Michael Lewis are both very funny and very informative.’

  34. Nancy Andrews says:

    So many good titles to add to my TBR list. Thank you! My top three are The Library Book, Four Seasons in Rome, and Educated. Loved them all. Educated has some hard to read passages. I squinted my eyes and hurried through the toughest ones.

  35. Lauren says:

    I nominate “Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream I’d Becoming a World-Class Metropolis” by Sam Anderson. It was absolutely un-putdownable. He is a fantastic author of fast-paced nonfiction.

  36. Alexx says:

    The Only Plane in the Sky—an Oral History of 9/11
    Education of an Idealist
    Between the World and Me
    How to be an Anti-Racist
    Stamped from the Beginning or Stamped (YA version)
    I’m Still Here
    The New Him Crow
    Me and White Supremacy
    All That You Leave Behind—Erin Lee Carr
    I Miss You When I Blink
    Save Me the Plums—Ruth Reichl
    From the Corner of the Oval Office —Stein (Bridget Jones x The West Wing)

  37. Anne Spillers says:

    “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” by Patrick Keefe is amazing. I can’t stop reading it and am learning so much. Growing up in the ’70’s and ’80’s when the IRA was in the news a lot, it was fascinating to understand the motives behind it.

  38. Kathy Rose says:

    “The Sun is a Compass,” by Caroline Van Hemert, is the story of a 4,000-mile completely human-powered expedition that she and her husband accomplished, starting from the Pacific rainforest and ending on the Arctic coast. It was an incredible trip, and her descriptions of their travels over mountain ranges and across icy-cold rivers will be sure to cool you down just a bit during the hot days of summer.

  39. Amy G says:

    These are great; I love so many of the above suggestions. One I always recommend to people is Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It’s about a shipload of gold that sank after going through the Panama Canal, and the modern era efforts and advances in deep-sea technology involved in searching for the wreck. Totally riveting.

  40. Erin says:

    Here are the ones I’d add with enthusiastic recommendation:

    – Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
    – The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
    – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
    – Anything by Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short)

  41. Susanna says:

    I just finished A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. I would say you need to have read Jane Austen to appreciate this book. I felt like the author did a good job of weaving together Austen’s books, Austen’s life, and his own life. I read it in two days which is saying a lot as normally non-fiction books take me a while. Two other recommendations are The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs and Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son by Richard Lischer, a beautifully written account of Lischer’s son becoming gravely ill shortly after learning he was to be a father.

  42. Natalie says:

    I loved Just Mercy. Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo was great, as well as Untamed by Glennon Doyle; and I recently listened to Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell – excellent.

  43. Cady says:

    I Built No Schools in Kenya, by Kirsten Drysdale – the story of a year‘s holiday job working in Kenya which turned out not quite as expected;
    The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb – a great (Australian data-focussed, but issues are universal) companion piece to Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte; and
    An Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales – when the worst day of a life occurs, how some people have reacted – why we fear the things we do and what has helped.

  44. Barbara Kochick says:

    Citizens of London by Lynne Olson. Covers the same time period as Larsen’s book but concentrates on Americans. RAF pilots, journalists, ambassadors, politicians all make an excellent read!

  45. Mariah Hanley says:

    Agree with many of these. Read Bad Blood last summer on vacation.

    Content warning I wish I’d known: I liked Maybe You Should Talk to Someone right up until the significant cancer narrative towards the end. It’s well written and beautiful but I lost a close friend to cancer and reading about this patient’s fears and hopes and life changes really, really upset me because it seemed so close to my own experiences and what I expect my friend thought towards the end of her life. I wouldn’t have read it if I’d known because I know I can’t handle stories like that and they really activate grief that’s otherwise manageable.

  46. Maria Ontiveros says:

    Into Thin Air by Jonathan Krakauer is one of my all time favorite books (in fact, it might be my re-read for the 2020 book challenge). I also loved two memoirs: Heart in the Right Place (DC lawyer returns to rural home to help her country doctor father) and Love in A Dry Season (an adoption story that is also about the AIDS crisis in Africa).

  47. Jones says:

    So many good recommendations here — thank you. I’d add my favorites: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond; all of the biographies by Walter Issacson; The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk; every thing by David McCullough; The Great Influenza by John Barry (about the 1918 pandemic and so relatable to today plus his writing is elegant); and Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.

  48. Deborah says:

    I finished Maybe You Should Talk to Someone a couple of weeks ago. I read a library copy but liked it so much I bought a Kindle version so I could go back to all the places I highlighted. It’s a 5-star read. I can never seem to keep up with all the great books you recommend so I’ll have to keep trying 😉

  49. Heidi says:

    I love the comments! So many good books, half I’ve read, half to go on my TBR. The only one that I haven’t seen mentioned that I was fascinated by is The Feather Thief, about the weird world of Victorian fishing fly tying, the British Museum of Natural History, and a flautist so obsessed with the former that he steals bird skins from the latter. It’s so bizarre, and so readable.

  50. Paula Markus says:

    This year I read Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, a memoir by Jacob Tobia, the writer, commentator and LGBT rights activist. So well-written, funny, heart-wrenching and illuminating. A good pairing with the novel, This Is How It Always Is, which my book club read last year.

  51. Didi says:

    I would add Red Notice by Bill Browder. One of the most exciting fascinating nonfiction reads you will ever pick up.

    • Laura says:

      It helped me understand why Putin is so powerful- he gets a cut of every business deal that occurs in Russia. Very interesting (and scary- the fabrication of evidence in court). Yikes.

  52. Janet Roberts says:

    I recommend The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. Honestly, I was skeptical at first (I don’t totally trust the taste of the friend who recommended it to me), but it was fascinating! I had no idea there were so many redwood groves hidden to the public.

  53. Joy McGinnis says:

    I highly recommend The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson. Written by a travel writer and horseman who is also the father of an autistic young boy , the book chronicles the family’s trip to Mongolia for horses and treatment for their son by shamans. Well written and very interesting.

  54. Donna J. Mannon says:

    I am reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. When I get exasperated (daily, sometime many times a day) with the current political scene, I read a few more pages of this and realize politics has always been “messy.”

  55. Jo Hart says:

    I recommend The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict. Hedy LaMarr was a glamorous superstar and was also a scientist. Her inventions became the basis for modern communications. She never received credit for her work until recently, years after her death. This non fiction book reads like a novel and has some tense moments when Hedy is escaping from Nazi Germany and a controlling husband.

  56. LoisAnn says:

    I’m five hours away from finishing “Grant” by Ron Chernow. An excellent and enlightening book. You can get an idea of what Lincoln would have faced by learning about Grant’s presidency. Extremely eye opening. If the long length discourages readers just skip to the section on Grant’s time in office. A truly great man.

  57. Jo-Anne says:

    You must have been reading my mind, I was JUST thinking of adding some non-fiction books to my to-read list. Thanks for the suggestions, will definitely check them out, especially the one about Silicon Valley. I watched the hbo documentary and was so interesting.

  58. Katie says:

    I would add The Spy and the Traitor by Ben MacIntyre. It reads like fiction and kept my heart pounding in this true spy story. I’m surprised it has not been made into a movie, and I learned so much about the Cold War and the KGB.

  59. Crystal Daurio says:

    I enjoyed Open Book! I’m not usually a big celebrity book reader but I wanted something that seemed a little lighter than the last two books I had just read. It was well written and very honest. It didn’t feel “Hollywood” or “celebrity” to me.

  60. Dianne Seaman says:

    Lots of good ones. I would add “Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr…” by Hampton Sides.

  61. Heather says:

    I have a real fondness for celebrity memoir and since my #1 is already on the list (Born a Crime) I will add Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. Seriously made more elaborate dinners and washed dishes slowly so I could keep listening because I HAD TO KNOW what happened next. Plus, he reads the audio version himself and that accent is the best.
    I also was surprised at how much I enjoyed Never Broken by Jewel. I was a little apprehensive that though she was an interesting character, the writing might not be great until I remembered shortly into the first few chapters that she writes her own songs and is also a poet. She is terribly introspective and reflective and seemed willing to be vulnerable which made for great reading in my opinion.
    And finally, Spectacles, by Sue Perkins, one of the original presenters on The Great British Baking Show. Just all around good fun with, again, a surprising amount of personal honesty.

  62. Harriet says:

    I second the recommendation of Wild Swans by Jung Chang. One of my all time favorite books! 3 generations of Chinese women and their life experiences. Another book I loved was Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, about growing up on a farm during the Great Depression. Two of my book clubs read these books and had great discussions. Also would like to add A Higher Call by Adam Makos—about pilots in WWII. Then you should look for a short video online featuring an amazing reunion. Like others I loved Boys in the Boat and I Am Malala. Thank you for this list!

  63. Erin B. says:

    I recommend The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I loved learning about the beginnings of detective work and the pearl industry. Also, Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano. Interesting history of Italian-Americans as well as Brooklyn Bridge and a real mafia kidnapping.

  64. Mary Kay says:

    I know these two are old, but I loved them: Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach about her travels across Europe and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Basically her biography, well done and a good read.

  65. Sara Bell says:

    I really enjoy meeting people who are smart and passionate about what they do. It’s even better when they can tell a good story into the bargain.

    Last summer I read “Cork Dork” by Bianca Bosker and I still think about what I learned in her book a year later. That’s exactly how I measure the impact of a non-fiction book.

    In the same vein, I’ve added “Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier” by Victoria James to my TBR list. She’s in a position to tell a unique story about being a young woman in an old and male-dominated profession.

  66. Shelley Taylor says:

    I read Just Mercy a couple years ago and agree it is both jarring and hopeful. I also found Hillbilly Elegy incredibly informative. Most recently, and on a lighter note, I highly recommend memoirs by Glennon Doyle (Untamed) and Ruth Reichl (Save me the Plums)

  67. Tara Sypien says:

    I love a big sciencey books in the summer. Some of my favorites are Figuring by Maria Papova, Lab Girl, and a really good traveling/philosphy book called Horizons by Barry Lopez. I could not turn the pages fast enough with these books. I would absolutely love to read Figuring on the beach!

  68. Marria says:

    When they call you a terrorist By Khan-Cullors, asha bandele This book is about the beginning of the black lives matter movement.
    You Don’t have to say you love me by Sherman Alexie- memoir sooo good
    Red Azalea- Anchee Min – learned so much about China

  69. Kelly says:

    Hey one of my favourites is “Other Minds” by Peter Godfrey-Smith. It’s about Octopus. And it’s a truly accessible, and fascinating read about these remarkable creatures. Highly highly recommend it. Read it over 15mths ago and still think about it.

    • Libby says:

      Have you ever read Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery? I read it a year ago and still think about it weekly! It got me totally fascinated by octopuses. She writes with a really conversational style, and focuses on a couple octopuses she interacted with regularly at an aquarium, so it has a very story-telling feel to it.

  70. Donna Marvel says:

    One of my all-time favorites is A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France by Miranda Richmond Mouillot. The author tries to figure out why her grandparents separated and never spoke for 50 years. They were together in Europe during WWII, Jewish professionals trying to survive. Her grandmother lived in the US, where Miranda was raised, while her grandfather remained in Europe. We learn some of her grandparents’ histories while she tries to solve the mystery. Parts of it are so moving to me, especially as she establishes a relationship with her grandfather. The other book is Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience by Eileen Cronin. This book is Eileen’s memoir of growing up without legs in the 1960’s – 1980’s. She eventually suspected that her mother had taken thalidomide during pregnancy, but couldn’t get confirmation from her mother. She harbored a lot of anger about her circumstances and it affected her relationship with her mother for years. I was unable to put this one down!

  71. Nancy Brown says:

    Amen to Eric Larsen and Candice Millard for their take on historical events. I would add “the Indifferent Stars Above” by Daniel Brown ( of Boy’s in the Boat fame). This is gripping story of the Donner Party, interwoven with current takes on the psychology of survivial. etc. Two real surprises for me were “Prosperity Paradox” by Clayton Christensen, describing how economic change truly occurs effectively. Amazing case studies. Another economic/social view is in “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, telling about our human bias and the distortions it leads us to see as we view the world. An encouraging view that seems timely!’And one more, because I’ve worked with kids with Autism for 20 years) is “Neuro Tribes” by Steve Silberman. Traces the complex history of the disorder, along with looks into the lives of families living with Autism. Rich and fascinating.

    • Donna says:

      Both my sister and niece recommended The Indifferent Stars Above, but I wasn’t sure….the subject matter worried me..

  72. Libby says:

    Seconding (thirding? quintupling?) all of the Bill Bryson and Ruth Reichl recommendations! Personal favorites by both of those are In a Sunburnt Country and Garlic and Sapphires.
    I also loved Imperial Requiem by Justin Vovk. It’s about the last four empresses of Europe, their royal backgrounds, how they married into their positions, and the stresses of living through multiple world wars. I knew the endings for two out of four, so it was fascinating to read and keep hoping the other two made it. He draws a lot on letters between the empresses and their family members, so it provides a really personal window into the lives of these women.

    • Donna says:

      I agree on both Ruth Reichl and Eric Larson. My favorites from these two are Tender at the Bone (Reichl) and The Devil in the White City (Larson). I really enjoyed The Splendid and the Vile as well.

  73. Nanette Stearns says:

    So many good ones mentioned. I loved Radium Girls (there’s a play based on it called These Shining Lives which is also amazing). My favorite Eric Larson is still Devil in the White City (the first one i read). I have The Splendid and the Vile audiobook waiting for me. My favorite non fiction subgenre is memoir – When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi, Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated by Tara Westover, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. These were all audio reads and read by the author (except When Breath Becomes Air of course).

  74. Lynne Smith says:

    I just read Jen Hatmaker’s new book Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire. Loved it and would highly recommend it. I also just finished Ruth Riechl’s Save Me the Plums. I love her nonfiction. I started with Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples awhile back and have enjoyed all of them.

  75. Olivia says:

    I am, I am, I am
    Happiness: a memoir
    The sociopath next door
    … are a few nonfiction books I’ve loved lately, in addition to several listed above. Very good list!

  76. Karen Haggard says:

    I just finished Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo, a very moving account of her experience teaching in a poor black school and one student who had an unforgettable impact on her. Also listened to Talking with Strangers, read by the author, Malcolm Gladwell.

  77. Sue says:

    Love many of the ones mentioned, but I’ll add David McCullough’s The Greater Journey, and Bill Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Winterdance by Gary Paulsen, Seabiscuit, When We Were The Kennedys by Monica Wood, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin, and The Women of Windsor by Catherine Whitney.

  78. Caroline Lee says:

    Two of my favorite memoirs are by Caroline Knapp:
    “Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs” and
    “Drinking: A Love Story”

    Both books are absorbing and very hard to put down. She was a talented writer who sadly died too young.

  79. Caroline says:

    A book I read a year ago and is so so relevant today:
    “China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine” by Janardan Prada’s Singh and Rosemary Gibson. This was a shocking eye opener. I remember thinking we must do something about this!
    It took a pandemic for people to realize how much we depend on China for our medicines and medical equipment. A must read for everyone!

  80. Katie says:

    Lots of books to check out here! I’ve had The Only Plane in the Sky on my stack for a few months and on my TBR for even longer. I think I’m just going to have to dive in because I don’t think there will ever be a time that “feels right” for the 9/11 story. That was the first historical event of my life that I was old enough to truly feel and be affected by.

  81. Karen says:

    I am currently reading “Emerson: The Mind on Fire” by Robert Richardson, mostly an intellectual biography looking at the development and evolution of his thinking, and it is fascinating. I’m going to have to check out Richardson’s “Thoreau: A Life of the Mind” next. Also, for a gripping story I’d recommend “Bunker Hill: A City, a Seige, a Revolution” by Nathaniel Philbrick. It pulled me right in and I zipped through it as though it were a novel.

    • Laura says:

      If you have any interest in the transcendalists, I’d recommend Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson. It’s a bio of Louisa May Alcott and her educator father, but also a partial biography of all their neighbors (Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, even John Brown). Fascinating- especially their role as thinkers and abolitionists.

  82. Taylor says:

    Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull is great on audiobook. The first portion of the book is a little slow but then once it picked up I could not stop listening to it. It’s about how Pixar came together but it reads a lot like a story rather than “here’s a list of facts”.

  83. Deepa says:

    I have read several of the books on this list, great choices.
    The Lori Gottlieb book reminded me of another entertaining book “If you’re in my office, it’s already too late” by divorce lawyer James Sexton. It has a lot of really good advice about how to stay married and not get divorced. He has some insane (and I mean insane) anecdotes and some brilliant analogies (What if you were only allowed one car your whole life? Why wouldn’t you treat your spouse that way?). I have been happily married for two decades and I enjoyed this book very much. In fact, I would give it as a wedding present.

  84. Cheryl says:

    The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is a NF historical mystery! Fascinating and well-written, it was a book I could not put down.

  85. Lindsey in SC says:

    Jessica Simpson’s Open Book was SO good! I had zero intentions of reading it, but after several “no-nonsense” book reviewers and bookstagrammers I follow raved about it, I was so curious. You MUST listen to the audiobook! Jessica does an amazing job. She is so raw and genuine. I was crying within in the first 15 minutes; she had me laughing out loud several times too. I am so impressed with her and was absolutely delighted by this unexpectedly great read. I did not want it to end! This is not celebrity gossip- her story and her themes are deep and meaningful- it just so happens that she is a celebrity and others in her life are, too. The title is spot on- she certainly is an open book here, and in it she proves she is not just some ditsy blonde with a pretty face and a beautiful voice. I was moved by her story and by her honesty, bravery, compassion, and pure intentions. Also, the book is well-written, and I really like the structure. It totally works. I am just so impressed by her and this book, please give it a chance! I think you will be glad you did!

  86. Christina says:

    The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba is incredible. I had to read it for school, but really actually was amazed by his story.

    I also recently read two Cal Newport books, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, as well as Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and loved reading those three together. Those aren’t story-telling but are still compelling because of how applicable they are to everyday life.

  87. Jeanie says:

    I agree that these were all excellent books:
    Wild Swans
    The Boys in the Boat
    Team of Rivals
    Destiny of the Republic
    Behind the Beautiful Forevers
    Along with one not mentioned, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s own memoir, Wait Till Next Year.

  88. Mary Baker says:

    Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
    This is non-fiction that reads almost like a murder mystery – but along the way you learn so much about the conflict in Northern Ireland up to this current day. This is history that matters.
    I have not stopped thinking about this book since I read it over a year ago!

  89. Sara S says:

    Ruth Reichl is my all time favorite when it comes to Memoir, but you should listen to your friends…Jessica Simpson’s book was fabulous. It helps probably that we are almost the same age, so I remember a lot of the events in real time. I especially recommend the audio version as she reads it herself, and she really does a great job!
    Anyway great list! A couple of these are new to me so I am excited to check them out!

  90. Safari says:

    Some of my favorite non-fiction books are:

    West with the Night–Beryl Markham
    Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and WWII–Matzen
    Born to Run: a Hidden Tribe, Superathletes…McDougall
    Deep Down Dark: the Untold Stories of 33 Men…Tobar
    My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me–Teege
    When a Crocodile Eats the Sun–Godwin
    Perfect Predator: a Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband–Strathdee

  91. Miss Liz says:

    Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are, by Marlene Zuk, Harvest Books, 2008, is an engaging book. Dr. Zuk’s sense of humor adds to the beach worthiness of this book.

  92. This is probably my favorite genre. I just finished “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” and LOVED it. And “Call Me By My Name” is one of my all-time favorites. Some other favorite non-fiction books are “The Orchid Thief” (Orleans), “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (Berendt), “A Walk in the Woods” (Bryson), “Confederates in the Attic” (Horwitz), and “Floreana” (Wittmer).

  93. Just hit send, and several other books popped into my head demanding to be included (or seconded): “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” (Bailey); “Educated” (Westover); “The Glass Castle” (Walls); “The Honey Bus” (May); “Unfollow” (Phelps-Roper); “Funny in Farsi” (Dumas); “The Stranger in the Woods” (Finkel); “Save Me the Plums” (Reichl); “Delancey” (Wizenberg); “The Polygamist’s Daughter” (LeBaron)… I would keep going but I’ll be late for my chiropractor appointment. Truly truly my favorite genre.

  94. Kirsten R says:

    I love non-fiction, to the detriment of my fiction reading. I normally go for science-based books (Europe: a natural history and Where Song Began by Tim Low were both great) but two memoir books that were especially riveting and unusual for me were Craft for a Dry Lake, and Position Doubtful both by Kim Mahood. The first explores her past as the daughter of a cattle station manager in the deep outback of Australia; trying to understand her connections to the land and its indigenous people and the events of her past in the face of current traumatic events. The second book is set more firmly in her present experiences. A reflection on the land that she keeps being drawn back to, almost against her will, and her grappling with its difficult colonial history, her complex relationships with the people there, and the wider politics around indigenous communities. These books have stuck with me so significantly.

  95. Shangread-La says:

    Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Into Thin Air and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. All are fascinating and read like novels.

  96. Michelle says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with Team of Rivals. It was a tough read for me. It took over a year and I am an avid nonfiction reader!

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