Top Ten Tuesday – Nonfiction for People Who (Think They) Don’t Enjoy Nonfiction

Top Ten Tuesday is an original meme from the awesome team at The Broke and The Bookish. 

toptentuesday

love nonfiction. As a former history student I know that truth is all too often stranger than fiction. Unfortunately the genre is sometimes seen as boring and dry. This is a real shame, because in the hands of a skilled writer, nonfiction can be as thrilling, exciting and rewarding as any novel.

Here are my picks for 10 nonfiction titles that are perfect entries into this fascinating genre. I’ve tried to include a variety of different styles and subject matters – there truly is a nonfiction title out there for everyone.

1. In the Heart of the Sea / Nathaniel Philbrick : Rampaging whales hellbent on revenge, shipwrecks, cannibalism, madness, survival, and adventure – this gripping account of the event that inspired Moby Dick is history at its most intense. It’s about to be released as a movie, too, so make sure to read the book before heading to the theaters.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks / Rebecca Skloot : A skillful, sensitive study of the complicated intersections between science, ethics, race, economics, family relationships, and politics in recent American history, focusing on the story of Henrietta Lacks and her unique cells.

3. 52 Loaves / William Alexander : The humorous, eye-opening and at times quite touching account of one man’s obsessive quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread.

4. Into Thin Air / Jon Krakauer: This personal account of an ill-fated Everest expedition is nonfiction at its most gripping. Hold on, because things are about to get intense.

5. Thunderstruck / Erik Larson: Larson is one of the true masters of narrative nonfiction, creating thrilling, awe-inspiring works that skillfully weave multiple story lines together that build to a satisfying conclusion. Any of his recent works would be fine choices, but Thunderstruck is particularly engaging – a cops-and-robbers story of detectives, scientists and murderers caught up in a desperate race to the finish.

6. One Summer / Bill Bryson: Bryson is another established nonfiction master who likely needs little introduction, and whose signature style blends quality research, witty writing and wry humour. Selecting just one of Bryson’s many excellent titles is a challenge, but I have to recommend this brilliant account of a pivotal year in American history. This is history as it should be written – engaging, inspiring, thought-provoking, and absolutely fascinating.

7. The Disappearing Spoon / Sam Kean : Passion, obsession, betrayal, adventure, murder and madness abound in this study of the history behind the development of the periodic table. Think science is boring? Think again.

8. Still Life / Melissa Milgrom : Ready for something a bit off the beaten track? Take a peak inside the weird, wacky and wonderful world of taxidermy.

9. Packing for Mars / Mary Roach : So….how does one use the toilet in space? The wonderfully irreverent Mary Roach tackles this and other fascinating, if not entirely polite, questions about space travel in this hilarious yet informative account. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

10.What If? / Randall Munroe : Brought to you by the mind behind the nerd-favourite web comic XKCD, this collection of short essays uses hard science and a bit of imagination to tackle outlandish theoretical questions, like : what would happen if every human on Earth jumped at the same time? Real science, real humour, real entertainment.

And there you have it – ten nonfiction titles that prove that this genre is anything but boring. Let me know what you think! Did I miss any of your favourites?

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Since I’ve been sick for the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to sit on the couch and read. Here are a couple of the books I’ve burned through during my convalescence.

One Summer :  America 1927 / Bill Bryson

One Summer

Babe Ruth, Mount Rushmore, Prohibition, Jazz, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, the beginnings of the Great Depression, and more – Bill Bryson brings all these colourful characters and facts and more together in a book that’s as entertaining as it is educational. I love, love, love narrative nonfiction – nonfiction books that read like novels. Bill Bryson is a master of the genre, and I absolutely could not put this book down.

Divergent / Veronica Roth

Divergent

Well, the books was better than the movie, I’ll give it that. I have to say, I hated the movie. Hated, hated, hated it. In contrast, I only hated, hated the book. The lead character Tris was far less annoying in the book than she was in the film – I actually cared somewhat what happened to her in the novel, which is something. But it certainly didn’t inspire me to want to pick up another YA novel any time soon….

Eden’s Outcast / John Matteson

Eden

A fascinating account of the relationship between “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott and her father, complicated educator, writer and thinker Branson Alcott. This one was recommended to me by my mother, who has long been a voracious reader of biographies. Fascinating historical figures with intense personalities and a complex, tempestuous but ultimately loving father-daughter bond.

Racing With Death / Beau Riffenburgh

racing

I’ve always been fascinated by Antarctic exploration, and I’ve read different accounts of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen over the years. Racing with Death is the story of Douglas Mawson, an Australian explorer who’s largely forgotten today. Pretty exciting stuff, but not for the faint of heart (frostbite is not pretty…)