Books are magical. They transport us to fabulous places and expose us to times–either past or future–that are unfamiliar and where possibilities are endless.
For an imaginative mind, reading fiction may appear to be the most suitable selection, but non-fiction holds its own in this department and when given the chance, it is just as captivating and consuming as it’s whimsical fictional counterpart. In the UK, a whopping 90 percent of books making the 100 All-Time Best Sellers list are fiction. This gross under-representation of nonfiction literature from the list demonstrates just how underrated and under-appreciated nonfiction truly is. But don’t let the numbers fool you. Non-fiction texts can be just as engaging and riveting as fiction.
Non-fiction is one category of literature but it encompasses so many genres. Everything from prose, to historical stories, biographies, poetry, self-help materials, current affairs and information on every single subject under the sun is encapsulated in nonfiction text. And the best thing about reading nonfiction is that you are almost always guaranteed to learn something new.
10 non-fiction must reads
Are you ready to dive into some good nonfiction reading but are unsure where to start? Don’t fret, we’re here to help. The folks at Time Magazine have done some due diligence and have painstakingly compiled a list of the 100 best and most influential works written in English since 1923. These picks are guaranteed to be engaging, informative, entertaining and transformative–all at once. Below is a list of their top ten:
10. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
This is the best illustration of the real life, evolutionary impacts of the “Butterfly Effect”–the notion that small causes have large effects– on societies throughout the history of time. In its sweep, Guns, Germs and Steel walks the reader through the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, through a unified theoretical history of human existence. This book painstakingly traces the path that societies took–both intentionally and not–to arrive where they are today.
9. Hiroshima by John Hersey
A moment in time can change your life forever. In this book, Hersey captures that moment on August 6, 1945, when the lives of thousands were forever changed. The story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is powerfully and compassionately re-told through the memories of survivors. It is a poignant reminder of the fragility of the human spirit and a story “that stirs the conscience of humanity” ~New York Times.
8. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson, through this world changing book is credited with launching the environmental movement. The New York Times released excerpts from this work in 1962 changing the world forever. Carson’s passionate concern for the future of our planet resonated and reverberated so powerfully throughout the world that people were moved to take up the fight. Its publication resulted in the banning of DDTand spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. This epic call to action is considered one of the most pivotal landmark books of the twentieth century.
7. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Entertainment Weekly aptly describes this work as:
“Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.”
This book is intelligently structured, has a conversational tone while being an inspiration to writing aficionados. It will empower and entertain all readers be they Stephen King fans, writers, or anyone who simply loves to read a well told story.
6. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale : My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman is a New-York-based comic book artist and editor who is best known for this memoir of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, who is a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe. This tale is masterfully written as a story within a story. The main story details the atrocities endured by his father during the holocaust. The internal and quieter story is of how a son struggles to understand and come to terms with his father, his father’s story, and this historical era.
5. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
Don’t let the title of this book fool you! This is not your average, run-of- the-mill health book that delves into the science of why and how American fast food will kill you (although it does do some of that). This is a myth busting, hilariously serious look into how fast food has widened the chasm between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity, and propelled American cultural imperialism worldwide. It addresses the food itself, but also looks at the cultural and societal impact the fast food industry has on America. You will be simultaneously entertained, informed and horrified. This is a must read!
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is the autobiography of the iconic Maya Angelou. It has been described as being “poetic and powerful.” This tale tackles the issues of race and the American class system while transcending them. The words on the page are penned with such a grace and power that anyone who dares read this masterpiece will find themselves inspired to become freed from their own personally imposed prisons.
3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In this book, Truman Capote reconstructs the savage murder of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas. There was no apparent motive for the brutal execution of the family and very few clues. The story takes you through the investigation, capture, trial, and eventual execution of the killers. Capote uses the facts of this case to weave a gripping and suspenseful tale that will keep you spellbound from beginning to end.
2. Black Boy by Richard Wright
This memoir chronicles the life and harsh realities Richard Wright faced growing up as a black child in Mississippi in the 1920’s. This coming of age story follows his journey through the toils of growing up fatherless and explores deep topics such as religion (in his case, atheism), racism and struggling to find your place in a world you don’t neatly fit into. It is a powerful and touching tale guaranteed to touch your soul and will make you question the things you have blindly accepted as truth.
1. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
This memoir is a smooth flowing easy-to-read narrative. In this book, the author, Gertrude Stein, puts a neat twist on the biography. She has cunningly found a way to relay the details of her life as a writer, salon host and arts patron under the guise of penning her lover’s story. It’s a masterful experimentation with form and uniquely challenges the traditional biographical format. It is a well-spun tale and a lesson to writers on how to stretch conventional boundaries in a creative way.
As you can see by this incredible list of must reads, reading nonfiction texts is the best way to simultaneously be entertained while learning new things and experiencing intense personal growth.