Non-Fiction That Reads Like Fiction: Part 1

A while back, a customer came in and asked me, do you have any recommendations for non-fiction books that read like fiction? As someone who predominantly reads young adult, fantasy, and sci. fi. I was a bit of a deer in headlights and didn't have a quick answer. However, I wasn't going to leave this literary seeking stranger just standing there. So after running around to ask my fellow booksellers, I was able to show the customer a solid 3-4 titles (teamwork really does make the dream work people). But this customer question really stuck with me and got me thinking about non-fiction books in a new light especially after seeing what books my coworkers had recommended. 

I (someone who hadn't touched a non-fiction book since school) felt compelled to write each of those recommendations down and safely store them in my journal as they all sounded really interesting - a sentiment I had not previously felt towards non-fiction (to be honest, I bought two of those titles the very next day. It's very dangerous to work at a bookstore when you like books...).

Thus began my list of "non-fiction that reads like fiction" that I have been slowly adding to and researching for quite some time. There has been lots of combing through our shelves and bugging many of my fellow booksellers for recommendations. Each of these books craft a compelling narrative to tell a true story and prove that, more often than not, real life is stranger than fiction. Here is part 1 of that list.

And if you like these books, don't forget to check out part 2 here!

For more recommendations, make sure to follow us on social media @thirdplacebooks and @thirdplacebookskids :)

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World By Steven Johnson Cover Image

A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year from the author of Extra Life
 


The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts By Joshua Hammer Cover Image

To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven in this “fast-paced narrative that is…part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract, and part out-and-out thriller” (The Washington Post) from the author of The Falcon Thief.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collecto


The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America By Erik Larson Cover Image

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The true tale of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the cunning serial killer who used the magic and majesty of the fair to lure his victims to their death.


A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II By Sonia Purnell Cover Image

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Chosen as a BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by NPR, the New York Public Library, Amazon, the Seattle Times, the Washington Independent Review of Books, PopSugar, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, BookBrowse, the Spectator, and the Times of London

Winner of the Plutarch Award for Best Biography


The Library Book By Susan Orlean Cover Image

Susan Orlean’s bestseller and New York Times Notable Book is “a sheer delight…as rich in insight and as varied as the treasures contained on the shelves in any local library” (USA TODAY)—a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries.


A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century By Barbara W. Tuchman Cover Image

A “marvelous history”* of medieval Europe, from the bubonic plague and the Papal Schism to the Hundred Years’ War, by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Guns of August
 
*Lawrence Wright, author of The End of October, in The Wall Street Journal
 


Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster By Adam Higginbotham Cover Image

A New York Times Best Book of the Year
A Time Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Winner

From journalist Adam Higginbotham, the New York Times bestselling “account that reads almost like the script for a movie” (The Wall


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics By Daniel James Brown Cover Image

The #1 New York Times–bestselling story about the American Olympic rowing triumph  in Nazi Germany—from the author of Facing the Mountain.

Soon to be a major motion picture directed by George Clooney


Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler's Best By Neal Bascomb Cover Image

Winner of the Motor Press Guild Best Book of the Year Award & Dean Batchelor Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism 

For fans of The Boys in the Boat and In the Garden of Beasts, a pulse-pounding tale of triumph by an improbable team of upstarts over Hitler’s fearsome Silver Arrows dur


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption By Bryan Stevenson Cover Image

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING MICHAEL B. JORDAN AND JAMIE FOXX • A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.


The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X By Les Payne, Tamara Payne Cover Image

WINNER • 2021 PULITZER PRIZE IN BIOGRAPHY • WINNER — 2020 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION • TIME Magazine — 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 • A New York Times Notable Book of 2020 and Editors' Choice Selection • Best Books of 2020: NPR, Washington Post, Library Journal, Chicago Public Library • Excerpted in The New Yorker • Longlisted — Andrew Ca


Lab Girl By Hope Jahren Cover Image

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist.


Awakenings By Oliver Sacks Cover Image

Awakenings--which inspired the major motion picture--is the remarkable story of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen for decades in a trance-like state, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr.


Staff Pick Badge
A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings: A Year of Keeping Bees By Helen Jukes Cover Image

An inspiring, up-close portrait of tending to a honeybee hive—a year of living dangerously—watching and capturing the wondrous, complex universe of honeybees and learning an altogether different way of being in the world.


Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race By Lara Prior-Palmer Cover Image

"Think the next Educated or Wild. Palmer’s memoir of beating the odds to become a horse champion is an inspiring saga of perseverance—and a classic underdog tale." —Entertainment Weekly


Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster By Jon Krakauer Cover Image

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The epic account of the storm on the summit of Mt. Everest that claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer's—in guilt-ridden disarray. 

"A harrowing tale of the perils of high-altitude climbing, a story of bad luck and worse judgment and of heartbreaking heroism." —PEOPLE


The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird By Joshua Hammer Cover Image

A “well-written, engaging detective story” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) about a rogue who trades in rare birds and their eggs—and the wildlife detective determined to stop him.

On May 3, 2010, an Irish national named Jeffrey Lendrum was apprehended at Britain’s Birmingham International Airport with a suspicious parcel strapped to his stomach.


Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup By John Carreyrou Cover Image

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The gripping story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranosone of the biggest corporate frauds in history—a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley, rigorously reported by the prize-winning journalist. With a new Afterword.


Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland By Patrick Radden Keefe Cover Image

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER From the author of Empire of Pain—a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions


Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI By David Grann Cover Image

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history, from the author of The Lost City of Z.


Staff Pick Badge
In Cold Blood (Vintage International) By Truman Capote Cover Image

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The most famous true crime novel of all time "chills the blood and exercises the intelligence" (The New York Review of Books)and haunted its author long after he finished writing it.


A Year in Provence (Vintage Departures) By Peter Mayle Cover Image

NATIONAL BESTSELLER In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs.


All Creatures Great and Small: The Warm and Joyful Memoirs of the World's Most Beloved Animal Doctor By James Herriot Cover Image

A tie-in to the PBS Masterpiece series and Christmas special.

All Creatures Great and Small is first volume in the multimillion copy bestselling series. Delve into the magical, unforgettable world of James Herriot, the world's most beloved veterinarian, and his menagerie of heartwarming, funny, and tragic animal patients.


Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly By Anthony Bourdain Cover Image

An updated and revised edition of Anthony Bourdain's mega-bestselling Kitchen Confidential, with new material from the original edition


The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece By Edward Dolnick Cover Image

In the predawn hours of a gloomy February day in 1994, two thieves entered the National Gallery in Oslo and made off with one of the world's most famous paintings, Edvard Munch's Scream. It was a brazen crime committed while the whole world was watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.


Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art By Mary Gabriel Cover Image

Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times).