Top Ten Narrative Nonfiction Recommendations

For this week’s TTT hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, we’ve got a list of ten great books to try if you like narrative nonfiction – or nonfiction that reads like a really great story. Even if you don’t think you like to read nonfiction, give one of these books a try!


Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – probably the book I recommend most often, and it’s about a serial killer. What does that say about me?

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, SpyAmanda reviewed this one first, but I got to meet Karen Abbott and get a signed copy last fall (Amanda: This clearly makes my sister cooler!).

Coyotes by Ted Conover – a recent review of Amanda’s (here) reminded me of this great book I read in college about the journey across the Mexican-American border.  

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan – the story of the biggest project in American history that you don’t even know you didn’t know about.

Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes by Daniel Everett – this is one I used in a class I used to teach, and it interweaves anthropology and faith in surprising ways. I am pretty sure not all my students actually read the book, but the ones that did found it way more fun to read than the textbook!


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt – If you were led astray and saw this movie, banish all thoughts from your mind and read the book now. It is amazing and I reread it often.  Savannah is at the top of my list of places to visit because of this book.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer – Murder, polygamy and special religious underwear?  Yes.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of  Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – Oh my lord Louie Zamperini was a bad ass.  This book broke my heart.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot –This was just fascinating.  The science and the personal stories are both so well told.

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff – This book had me on the edge of my seat – both waiting to hear who would survive the original accident and for the fate of search for the plane.

What’s on your list?


  1. Yes!!! Love this list. Love narrative nonfiction. I need to read Frozen in Time and I’ve only read Devil from Holly’s list. Love Kraukauer. Another good one is The Professor and the Madman–about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

  2. Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes sounds interesting — I’m curious about what you mean by “interweaves anthropology and faith in surprising ways.” Guess I’ll have to read to find out 🙂
    Unbroken and Frozen in Time I”ll have to look at too… WWII is one of my area’s of interest!

  3. If liking books about serial killers is wrong, I don’t want to be right! Have you read Death in the City of Light? It’s about this heinous serial killer in Paris at the beginning of the war. I also really want to read A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin but haven’t got around to it yet.

    Amanda – your description of Under the Banner of Heaven should go on the actual book. I’m sold.

  4. I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks! I have Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil on my shelf after finding it at a library sale… haven’t been in the mood for non-fiction in a while, so haven’t read it yet. Glad to know it’s a favorite!

  5. This list has hugely expanded my to-read list, but I love it! I have only read Unbroken – it’s hard to believe the guy lived to be ninety-something after everything he went through, isn’t it?
    I’m also sold on the Krakauer book after reading your description.:)

  6. I started Frozen in Time as audiobook, but had to stop. It’s so fascinating that I have to read it to absorb it better. I enjoyed the four books from your list that I’ve read, so I’ll have to add the others now, I guess. (Krakauer’s Into Thin Air gave me nightmares about being buried in snow for several nights in a row…)

  7. Wonderful list! I’ve been trying to read more narrative nonfiction for years, so many of these books have been hanging out on my to-read list for awhile. Devil in the White City is definitely at the top, though I just found out Larson has a new book coming out: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Maybe I’ll give that one a try first!

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