It’s National Non-Fiction Day today! To celebrate, I thought I’d share with you all some of my favorite Non-Fiction stories, on a variety of subjects.
I love Fiction, but there has always been a special place in my heart for learning too. A good Non-Fiction book doesn’t just educate though, it also entertains and gives us a new insight into the world around us. The books below are some of my favorites because they all accomplish that in one way or another, though I tried to grab from a variety of topics. I hope you find something new to learn!
The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
This is one of those books that I wish everyone in the world would read. The Noonday Demon is, almost literally, the “Bible” of anything and everything to do with Depression. And it’s constantly being updated. The book is long (almost a third of it is the index too, whew!) but the chapters are broken up into relevant topics so that the reader can skip around to find what they need. The chapters cover causes, treatment, social stigma, diversity, even the politics that effect the treatment, diagnosis, and social policies regarding Depression in our world. I’ve struggled with mental health my whole life, so I thought I knew everything before I picked up this book: I was so wrong. I learned an innumerable number of things about Depression, as well other disorders that can go along with it, that I never would have learned had I not picked up this book. If you’ve struggled with similar issues as well, you’ll likely find yourself reading through this book and thinking “woah, me too!” to yourself over and over. If you love someone with Depression, there is no better book out there to educate you on what they might be going through and what you might be able to do to help. I wish every person, and especially every single doctor, would read this book. I think we would start to see a dramatic change in our world.
(Topics: Mental Health, Medicine, Politics, Social Justice)
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
Starting with one of the most fun Non-Fiction books on this list, The Disappearing Spoon is a fascinating read. This book tells stories of history, science, heartbreak, failure, bizarre discoveries, all told through the lens of an element on the periodic table. It sounds boring, but I promise it isn’t. Each of these stories is immensely readable, written with heart, and I always learn something ridiculous or wild. This book really makes science and the history of scientific discoveries fun and funny and interesting and I love this book for the unique perspective it brings to all that. Definitely recommend. This is one of my favorites.
(Topics: Science, Scientific Discovery, Scientific Failures, History)
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Full disclosure, Jenny Lawson is one of my favorite authors. Even choosing between her two books was difficult for me, her first book Let’s Pretend this Never Happened was also great. But there’s something about Furiously Happy that just makes me…furiously happy. This book is about mental health, Lawson’s life, raccoon taxidermy, and giant chickens. It is dark and sad and profound sometimes, never afraid to reach into the deepest parts of our souls. Other times it tells some of the funniest stories I’ve ever read in a memoir. Furiously Happy was there for me during a very hard time in my life and I will always treasure and recommend it so highly. If you are struggling and want to feel that someone else knows what you’re going through, this is that book. And if you’re struggling and you want someone to tell you a weird story so you can laugh and not think about it? Also here. I hope you guys enjoy this one as much as I do.
(Topics: Mental Health, Humor, Life Stories)
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
If you’re squeamish at all, look away from this book now. The Hot Zone follows Richard Preston, a former employee with the CDC and US Military, as he tries to fight the Ebola virus. This book takes us from outbreak, to how they research the disease, to close calls we’ve had in the US, as well as his own personal trials happening behind all of the insane situations he found himself in. The Hot Zone is a tense book and full of graphic, clear descriptions of a lot of awful things. But it is also immensely educational, full of heart from a perspective that carries so much knowledge and empathy, and a seriously intense thrill if you’re as weirdly fascinated by these deadly viruses as I am. (If you’re a fan of scientific NF, Preston’s second book, The Demon in the Freezer, talks about his work with smallpox and its eradication. I also enjoyed it.)
(Topics: Virology, Medicine, Science, History)
Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Vargas
Dear America is one of the most well-written, powerful NF books I’ve read in a long time. I read (listened to) it in one sitting, driving home from visiting family, and hearing Vargas’ life experience from his own words was awakening and a call to action. If you want to learn more about the immigration process in the US and how it works, this is the book for you. If you want to understand what life is like for thousands of ‘undocumented citizens,’ as Vargas declares himself, this is the book. The policies and actual processes in our country could not be farther apart from each other and this book is a wake up call to change, but also an eye-opening and relatable story of someone’s life told by an author who feels like a friend. Vargas shines in this memoir.
(Topics: The US, Immigration, Social Justice, Life Stories)
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kold, MD
Another book I wish more people would read, I stumbled upon The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kold, MD a couple of years ago and I am so glad that I did. This book talks about a lot, but mainly it talks about how trauma, of any kind, really does affect our bodies and minds much more than we think it does. And also in ways that we could never imagine. From aches and pains to chemical imbalances to the way we eat, this book talks about how our bodies hold onto trauma and how we can guide ourselves into healing. Not just in the physical sense, but with a holistic mindset that makes this book unique. The Body Keeps the Score has been well received by scientists and doctors all over the world and I hope to see its principles show up in our world even more as the years go on.
(Topics: Trauma, Mental Health, Physical Health, Medicine)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Of all the books on race in America right now, this is the one I chose. There are many, many more that deserve to be on this list, but Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliant, succinct little gem in Between the World and Me has become one of the most talked about, purchased, and (hopefully) read. I love the way Coates talks and speaks his truth in his writing. Race is a heavy subject to talk about, especially from a first-person, experience-based POV, which this novel takes, but he handles each turn and piece of truth with grace. Reading this book is an opportunity for us to also take in this information with grace and ideally lead ourselves to deeper introspection about how the world functions around us when it comes to marginalized groups. Between the World and Me is personal, deep, inspiring, and well-deserving of its spot on this list. Check it out, if you haven’t already.
(Topics: Race, Social Justice, Life Stories, The US)
Rising Strong by Brené Brown
I love Brené Brown. Everything she’s written has inspired me and changed the way I think about my own emotions and boundaries, but this book is my favorite from her catalog. Rising Strong is about a moment we all face in our lives: getting back up when you’ve been knocked down. The book focuses on how we can choose to be vulnerable and learn from these moments, lean into these moments even, instead of pushing them away and losing valuable information about ourselves along the way. Paired with personal stories from her own life, Rising Strong is an incredibly readable, very well-researched piece of Non-Fiction and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to do some self-reflection.
(Topics: Vulnerability, Shame, Self-growth, Mental Health)
Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higgenbotham
If you were as captivated by the HBO mini-series Chernobyl as I was, then here you go! This is the book that series was based off of and it has a reputation for being descriptive, readable, and incredibly well-researched. While some of the passages can be number heavy, the majority of this book reads like an immersive, highly detailed story from minute to minute. It’s crazy to me that we are only just now getting “clarity” on a lot of what happened that day in Privyet, Russia. Higginbotham does a great job of not only giving an immersive experience, but also educating the reader on Chernobyl’s lasting effects and legacy. A fascinating read.
(Topics: Science, Man-made Disaster, History, International Relations)
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
One of the creepiest, most moving, best-written pieces of True Crime that I’ve read in a while, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark follows the late journalist Michelle McNamara’s driven journey to find the Golden State Killer. I could barely put this book down. Told in alternating timelines, since the book was published posthumously, about McNamara’s search for the killer and parallels in her own life, all building up to one of the most insane endings to a criminal case that I’ve read in a long time. I wish McNamara had been around to see it, she deserves every accolade for this book, for her work, and for her tireless dedication. If you’re a True Crime fan (or even if you’re not), don’t miss this one!
(Topics: True Crime, History, Life Stories)
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A personal favorite of mine, We Should All Be Feminists is another one of those books that I would force everyone to read if I ruled the world. *cough* I MEAN, that I wish everyone would choose to read of their own volition, of course. But I digress. This book is just so close to my heart. Inside these pages is Adichie’s signature style of writing that makes her principles all the more powerful, simple and so clear all at the same time. She excels at taking complex and emotionally-charged topics and bringing them back down to earth, grounding them in practical reality and in the women you know and love. We should all be feminists, and this little gem is one of our most powerful calls to action. If you haven’t read this one, don’t miss out.
(Topics: Feminism, Women’s Issues, Social Justice)
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay has a handful of books that all could’ve ended up on this list, but Hunger is the book that has stuck with me the most since I read it. Hunger is about just that- our bodies, our relationship to our bodies, and our relationship with the food we put into our bodies. As someone who has struggled with many aspects of this multi-faceted problem in our culture, Hunger is a much needed, eye-opening, experience-validating story in our modern world. It’s an intense read, especially if you struggle with these issues, but reading through it and sitting with the thoughts it brings up can be transformative if you let it. Gay writes with such heart, personal vulnerability, and love and I would recommend this book, and almost any of her other work, to anyone.
(Topics: Body Image, Mental Health, Self-growth, Life Stories)
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski
This is one of my favorite little Non-Fiction books that I don’t see talked about enough. But then again, its topic: women’s sexual health, isn’t talked about enough either. Come As You Are is essentially a love letter to your lady parts, as weird as that sounds. It is a book about how diverse our bodies can be, how our bodies work, and what we can do to better understand our bodies, desires, and inner workings, and what that understanding can do to enhance our sex lives and…well, just our lives in general. There is so much information in this book and so much validation if you are a woman who has ever wondered, “Am I normal?” The only drawback in this book for me is that it is primarily aimed at and researched for cis-gender women. The author does address this and the reasons why, but I do look forward to it being updated with new information as it becomes available for trans women and non-binary folks. Sexuality is complex and though this book only touches on so many of the important issues of our time, this book also taught me how much we still have left to learn.
(Topics: Sex, Sexuality, Social Taboos, Science, Women’s Issues)
Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller
So many of us need to read this book and don’t even know it. In the age of online dating and hook-up culture and generational shift between styles of dating and marriage, Attached takes a psychological approach to some of the reasons our relationships may not be as fulfilling as we want them to be. When I studied psychology in school, we learned about Attachment Styles, which are essentially the style in which we are taught to look at and behave toward relationships with each other. Trust or distrust? Secure or insecure? Attached takes us through each style, what can cause a person to fall into one set of habits or style, what can help us break out of them, and what patterns lead to the deep, healthy, connection we’re all searching for. I know, I know, it sounds like a self-help book about “why you’re still single,” but its not. It’s a scientifically-studied, psychology-based explanation of how our style of connecting to people forms over the course of our lives, and how it can impact those relationships. I learned a lot. I reflected a lot. This book was a fascinating read and also a very practical tool for anyone wondering about these issues for themselves.
(Topics: Relationships, Psychology, Self-growth, Practical)
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
This was just…a fun read. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World covers just about what it sounds like it covers– Genghis Khan’s life and the impact it had on the forming world around him. However, it’s very likely that you don’t realize just how much of an impact there truly was from his actions, family, and choices. I learned a crazy amount about the forming cultures surrounding Khan, and even how some of his actions affect the way we do things today in the Western world. This book was fascinating, I knew almost none of this before I jumped into it and Weatherford does an incredible job of writing something that is both educational and readable. This is History intensive, but it’s great reading too.
(Topics: History, Science, Comprehensive)
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
This. Book. Is. Huge. And dense. But it is 100% worth your time and effort. If you’re a big history buff and you read a lot of that kind of thing, this will probably be a breeze for you. For me and everyone else though, it does take some dedication. It’s long and it is so chock full of fascinating facts and information. This book is the history class that all of us should have gotten growing up in the United States but didn’t. When this book was written, its purpose was to be an account of the history of the United States in as un-biased and universally-focused a way as they could manage. I think they accomplish it pretty well. Anyone who wants to be informed about the beginnings of and contributions to our country’s history should pick this book up. And anyone who’s got a friend or a relative that could use a little history lesson about how the world is a big, wonderful, diverse place, that was built by all of us together, well…Christmas is coming soon, and this might make a great gift! 🙂
(Topics: History, Politics, Race, Economics, Religion, Social Justice, and pretty much a little bit of everything else too, tbh)
Haha and on that note, I’m going to leave you. I have learned so much through books, both Fiction and Non-Fiction. I hope you find something you love in this list! x
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3 thoughts on “15 Non-Fiction Books That Won’t Put You to Sleep (+ 1 That Might But is Still Worth Your Time)”
I LOVE Brené Brown! And oh my gosh, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is such an intense read…
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BBrown is incredible! And omg right?? She did such an amazing job telling that story. Insane.
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