I have it bad for nonfiction books.
I used to think that nonfiction meant that it would read like a textbook and sometimes that’s still the case, but for the most part nonfiction has evolved as a genre beyond merely delivering facts. There are nonfiction authors out there who will give fiction authors a run for their money in terms of weaving a narrative.
Even better, because nonfiction means that it’s a true event that means that everything written within is something that could happen to you. It probably won’t, but it’s still a possibility. So here are the nonfiction books that I find my thoughts wandering to the most.
7) Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar
So anyone who’s interested in weird events around the world has probably heard about Dyatlov Pass and what happened to a group of students who stayed there. They were camping in Dyatlov Pass and disappeared seemingly into thin air. A search party was mounted and the remains of their tents were found and eventually… so were their bodies. But how did their bodies have injuries that were consistent with being hit by a train when they were up in the mountain? Why did they cut through their tent and run out into the snow without even stopping to pull on the clothing that might have saved their lives? What could have scared them so much? In this book, Donnie Eichar does a great job of not only fleshing out the details of Dyatlov Pass, but also helping us come to some conclusions about what happened to those students.
6) The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn
While I would hesitate to label Jim Jones as a “good person”, the focus on him has always been that he was this crazy cult leader. Before I read this book, I would wonder why people followed him at all and now I think I understand or at least have a better understanding than I did previously. Reading this incredibly thorough book you’ll be struck by how much detail that Jeff Guinn can fit onto the page without bogging you down or making you feel like you are overwhelmed. I knew from the beginning where this story was going to end, but I didn’t know how much it would affect me and just how complicated the story was. I liked it better when it was black and white in some ways, that was cleaner at least. If you have any interest in true crime or cults, you need to make this book a priority
5) In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
This entire story feels like it should be a movie (and it turns out, it is). The Whaleship Essex was meant to go out and come back after a couple years with enough whale oil to keep the island lit. Instead, they lost their ship and were stranded out on the ocean, not knowing if they would ever be found or if they would all perish of hunger before help arrived. After all, they weren’t due back for two years and no one even knew that they were missing… Join the crew of the Whaleship Essex as Nathaniel Philbrick makes you feel like you’re standing on deck with the rest of them, immersing you not only in the one ship, but what it would be like to live in a time where there were only ships and every time you set out to see, it might have been your last.
4) The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
World War II has been done to death in movies and television, but reading this book made it feel like it was fresh again. Where this book shines is when it looks at the women and gives us their very unique perspective on the war. What was it like to be left behind? What was it like to work in those factories which are so antiquated that I can’t quite wrap my head around it? Denise Kiernan takes us back to the past and we follow the lives of young women who joined up to be part of the war effort, specifically, the war effort that lead to the creation of the first atomic bomb. Atomic City was large enough that it truly could have been a city if people had stayed there past the bomb’s creation. It had its own culture, its own politics, and its own prejudices. We see the city through the lens of these women, black and white, and see how differently they are treated from the men and from each other.
3) Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
I can’t even begin to imagine being on the ice and trying to sail through it, knowing that if we got stuck that there would be no one to help us. I am obviously not made of the sturdy stuff that adventurers are, but that doesn’t stop me from obsessing over them. Shackleton wanted to leave his mark on the world, to make sure that he was remembered long after he’d passed on and he got his wish, just not in the way that he might have wanted. Stranded on the ice and with little chance of rescue if they didn’t travel across the ice, Shackleton began to lead his crew on a journey that was going to be impossible for all of them to survive. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love this book and how deeply it affected me. Shackleton is a legend and the idea of being lost on the ice would be more than I could bear. The world is detailed in this grim, but mesmerising tale of men who are willing to do anything to get back home.
2) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
This was a more recent read of mine and you can imagine how much it struck me to skip the line. I love, love, love this book. It focuses on the Percy Fawcett, an explorer who was instrumental in charting the Amazon and who walked into it to find a lost city, but disappeared. For years, people were left to wonder what could have happened to him and several people who followed him into the Amazon disappeared as well. Was he killed by hostile natives? Was Fawcett destroyed by the Amazon itself? Or maybe he found a way into a portal that took him to another plane of existence (yes, this is a theory). David Grann sheds new light on Fawcett’s life by looking at diaries that were not revealed before he began his investigation and reading this book, you’ll realize that the Amazon is many things, but first and foremost it’s dangerous. Beautiful, awe-inspiring, and dangerous as hell.
1) Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
Speaking of dangerous and inhospitable places, we go to Mount Everest. Author Jon Krakauer climbed up the mountain and was actually on the mountain when the worst disaster in years happened. The book is a page turner that will keep you up long past your bed time, with it being carefully paced. You know what’s going to happen, Krakauer makes that clear from the very beginning.The beauty of Into Thin Air is that it doesn’t need the cheap tension or tricks that some books will use to hook you in. Instead, the story and the writing are strong enough to carry it all the way through. You feel like you’re standing on that mountain, completely unaware of the storm that’s going to come through and destroy the lives of everyone who’s on Everest that night.