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 :)

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


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


This New York Times bestseller intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.


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


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 “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
 


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


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 during the golden age of auto ra


#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.


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 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction •


National Bestseller

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

New York Times Notable Book


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.


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.


Taking off on a horse into the Mongolian Steppe sounds like the bracing inverse to an overpopulated, busy urban life, but having the skills and grit to pull it off is another thing entirely. . . . Lara Prior-Palmer attempted the Mongol Derby not really knowing what she was getting into; she ended it knowing much more about herself, and a race champion besides.


National Bestseller 

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


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.


The Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year
 
A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Notable Book
 


WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR NONFICTION

NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR

LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD 

WINNER OF THE ORWELL PRIZE

BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR - TIME MAGAZINE

A WASHINGTON POST TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER   -  NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST 

From the #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history


The most famous true crime novel of all time and one of the first non-fiction novels ever written; In Cold Blood is the bestseller that haunted its author long after he finished writing it.


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

The 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.


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


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.


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).