Non-Fiction for Fiction Readers

I’m not a huge non-fiction fan, but occasionally, when I’ve tired of my escapist fun, I veer into unknown waters. Below is my list of non-fiction books that were entertaining, edifying, and read like fiction:

Longitude, by Dava Sobel

I never thought about how sailors found their way before longitude and latitude: really, they couldn’t tell east from west. This is the story of John Harrison, a clockmaker who figured it all out.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

If you’ve seen the OED, you know what an amazing accomplishment it is, and what an incredible amount of work went into it. Simon Winchester draws you into the story and keeps you there.

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

Sara Vowell, who also contributes to the This American Life radio show, is a historian who makes history fun. I love all of her books, but this one, about vacationing at all the places where presidents were killed, is my favorite.

Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library, by Don Borchert

The life and times of just your average local public library.

Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel

A sweet and quirky tale of a girl named Zippy growing up in a small American town.

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations, by Georgina Howell

Gertrude Bell, diplomat, mapmaker, adventurer, spy (and more), was an amazing woman you don’t hear enough about.

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, by Julie Powell

(soon to be a movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams)

This was funny, and a bit disgusting, and I can’t resist anyone who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer
as much as I do.

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger

It’s true that I’m partial, as I went to Gloucester High School and know one of the fishermen who died, but this is a gripping tale and he even makes the science part interesting.

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants, by Robert Sullivan

Seriously, you don’t mess with rats.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach

The author also wrote a book, even more well-received, called Boink, about just what you think it’s about.

Whatever You Do Don’t Run: True Tales of Botswana Safari Guide, by Peter Allison

Hilarious, with good pictures, and if I didn’t already want to go to Botswana after reading The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, I do now!



One response to “Non-Fiction for Fiction Readers

  1. As someone who has nursed an several-year-long obsession with rats, I have to say that while Robert Sullivan’s book is interesting, in some ways it’s really more about New York through the lens of its rats than it is about rats. For someone who wants something more about rats, I’d recommend _The Story of Rats: Their Impact On Us, and Our Impact On Them_ by S. Anthony Barnett. It gets a bit more science-y than Sullivan’s book, but it’s still pretty readable. Plus, it’s short. 🙂

    The only other book on this list that I’ve read is Free For All (a similar book is _Quiet Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian_ by Scott Douglas). As someone who generally reads fiction and wishes she read more non-fiction, I might see about working my way through the rest of this list. Thanks for posting it! I think I might start with _The Professor and the Madman_…

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