Until 2015, I didn’t read very much nonfiction unless it was assigned to me in school. In a surprising turn of events over the past five years, I’ve become a person who LOVES nonfiction! Well, the right kind of nonfiction. I love a compelling story where I can tell that the writer has done tons of research. I want to learn something and be challenged, and I want to finish the book, put it down, and immediately tell everyone I know that they have to read this book.
So, let’s start with my gateway book: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
If you have not read this book, please run now and buy it. Bryan Stevenson is an attorney works with men that are on death row. I learned more from this book about social justice issues than any other resource. His work is so revealing and important. I grew up in a really small town in Kentucky and was very sheltered from injustice that permeates the criminal justice system. I came away from this book heart broken but hopeful. Stevenson’s writing evokes a desire to act, to promote positive change, and to extend compassion and mercy in all circumstances.
I wrote an entire review about this book after I read it last summer because it affected me so much. I was ten years old when the twin towers came down, and although I remember the day, I have no recollection of learning about the facts of what happened on 9/11. This book is a crash course in the events of that day. Please don’t read this without a box of tissues on hand. It’s essential reading for every American.
Social justice books are some of my favorites, even when they’re hard to read. I believe that it’s so important to not shy away from the ugly parts of American history. We have to learn about our past wrongdoings so that we can correct them, stop perpetuating them, and not repeat them. Devil in the Grove is a thoroughly researched account of Thurgood Marshall, his role in the NAACP and the civil rights movement. It won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
I read this short book in 2017, two months before I moved back to the US from the Czech Republic where I’d spent a year as a missionary teaching English. I remember wanting to highlight every single sentence. Frankl was a psychiatrist and scholar who became a prisoner of Nazis during World War II. He writes about the concentration camps with such hope and thoughtfulness. His work wrestles with the existence of struggle and pain in life and how our hardship brings meaning to our human existence. Its short and packs a punch. (In a good way.)
This book is such a page turner! I’m pretty sure I ignored all of my friends and family for two days while I tore through this one. I loved the author’s voice. She became so interested in the crimes and the elusive ‘Golden State Killer’ that she did her own research and thousands of interviews that turned into this book. I found the details about how the criminal justice system works (or doesn’t) really interesting. It’s true crime at its very best. It’s the only traditional true crime I’ve included on this list because it’s the best one I’ve read in years.
I listened to this on audiobook and it was an excellent listening experience. If you’d told me I’d love a book about a rowing team, I would have raised my eyebrow at you. But I loved it! The writing reminds me of Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken. The men and the story and the time in history all combine for an extraordinary tale of resilience, teamwork, and competition.
One of my goals for 2020 is to read more nonfiction on the topic of Native Americans. The story of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma is so enthralling and devastating. It left me wondering how much Native American history has been wiped out completely by white people. We can honor indigenous people by reading their stories and memorializing their history and not turning a blind eye to the tragedies that happened in this country.
I was born and raised in a small town in southern Kentucky so this book hit close to home. Beth Macy does a fantastic job of illustrating all facets of the opioid crisis. We meet addicts and their families, doctors, pharmacists, teachers, and police officers who all have been impacted by drugs in rural America. I read it to get a better understanding of what has been happening in my own state. As I said before, I believe it is so important to lean into tough issues and not turn away from reading about them.
Chris Voss, the author, is a former hostage negotiator who writes about his experience in the FBI. I went into this book thinking that it wouldn’t be for me, but after three pages, I was hooked. Not only is the writing smart and compelling, but the true stories that Voss tells about negotiating with terrorists, kidnappers, and drug cartels are so crazy! It’s like reading an international spy novel with advice on how to be a spy. (Or, how to ask for a raise, negotiate a promotion, and just understand human psychology a little better.)
Brene Brown has changed the lives of millions of people. She studies communication and vulnerability and courage. Her work, research, and writing helps us understand ourselves and others better. I love how she weaves stories together with hard facts and data. I’d file this one under psychology and personal growth. It will make a difference in your relationships so many other aspects of your life!
If you want some drama in your nonfiction, Bad Blood is the next best thing to Jessica Simpson’s new memoir. This story is crazy! I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just tell you that it involves a sociopath, a compulsive liar, and a millions of dollars conned from a lot of really smart people.
A story about a family of twelve children is remarkable enough. In the Galvin family, six of the twelve children end up diagnosed with schizophrenia. This book tells their story along with the history of the study of the disease. I found it extremely interesting and compelling. The author writes with so much empathy for each of the family members. It was published this year and it’s going to end up being one of my favorites that I’ve read all year!
Your turn! Okay, tell me: what are your favorite nonfiction books?