Share 9 Nonfiction Books That Read Like Novels

9 Nonfiction Books That Read Like Novels

Julianna Haubner is an associate editor at the Simon & Schuster imprint, which she joined in September 2014 after completing the Columbia Publishing Course. She graduated from Colby College with a B.A. in English and history, and happily lives her life according to the three B’s: Books, Baking, and Bravo. A lifelong reader, Julianna is a compulsive borrower, buyer, and collector of literary and historical fiction, biographies, and cultural history. She’s on Twitter @jhaubner2, and is behind your favorite bookstagrams @offtheshelfofficial.  

Sometimes, we’ll admit, nonfiction can be intimidating. There are dates and details, people and places to remember, and the endings aren’t necessarily happy. But those details don’t mean that real life doesn’t make a good story. In case you need some recommendations for your nonfiction reading resolutions, here is a list of some of our favorite true tales, with characters, settings, and fast-paced action that makes us forget they aren’t novels.


The Run of His Life
by Jeffrey Toobin

This book has been mentioned on lists before, but that’s simply because it’s one of the best examples of nonfiction that reads like a novel. Jeffrey Toobin’s page-turning, addictive account of the O. J. Simpson trial—for which he was present as a legal reporter for The New Yorker—is shocking and stirring, just like any great courtroom thriller.

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The Run of His Life
Jeffrey Toobin

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The Black Count
by Tom Reiss

Though his son would become the famous author of great adventure stories like THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and THE THREE MUSKETEERS, General Alex Dumas was a fascinating character in his own right, and this Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of him deserves a spot on the shelves right next to those classic novels. It is a swashbuckling story of a man with larger-than-life feats—and larger-than-life secrets—whose strength and courage prove that art imitates life.

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The Black Count
Tom Reiss

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MENTIONED IN:

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Dead Wake
by Erik Larson

Another case of “you know what’s going to happen” (it is history, after all), but somehow it comes as a total surprise. As the RMS Lusitania, a luxury ocean liner, crosses the Atlantic for Liverpool in May 1915 and approaches a disaster that will change the world, Erik Larson introduces an unforgettable cast of characters and brings new drama to a seminal moment in history.

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Dead Wake
Erik Larson

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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
by Robert K. Massie

For 34 years, Catherine the Great held the fate of Russia in her hands, guiding it through rebellion, wars, political change, and social upheaval. Robert K. Massie’s fascinating book brings her back to life through those twists and turns, and an expansive cast of characters including Catherine’s lovers, enemies, family, friends, and generals, restoring her to her rightful place as one of history’s greatest—and truest—leading ladies.

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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
Robert K. Massie

The extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and through sheer determination transformed herself into Empress of Russia and became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
by Bill Bryson

When he was a young boy growing up in the middle of America, in the middle of the twentieth century, and in the middle of a generation soon to be called the Baby Boomers, Bill Bryson had a secret identity: the Thunderbolt Kid. Using this persona as a jumping off point, he tells the story of his childhood—his life, his family, his city—with his trademark wit and charm, in a coming-of-age tale that rivals many fiction favorites.

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Bill Bryson

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The Right Stuff
by Tom Wolfe

THE RIGHT STUFF is a rare nonfiction find: a story about American icons, written by an American icon. Expanding upon a 1972 piece he wrote for Rolling Stone, Tom Wolfe published this riveting tale of the men of NASA’s Mercury Seven team from training to their final mission. It’s much more than just a story about space; it’s about patriotism, family, bravery, and resilience.

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The Right Stuff
Tom Wolfe

From "America’s nerviest journalist" (Newsweek)--a breath-taking epic, a magnificent adventure story, and an investigation into the true heroism and courage of the first Americans to conquer space. "Tom Wolfe at his very best" (The New York Times Book Review)

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Lucky 666
by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

One of the last, great, untold stories of World War II, LUCKY 666 follows a crew of US airmen in the Pacific, led by charming screwups Jay Zeamer and Joe Sarnoski who defy the odds to become heroes when they volunteer for a reconnaissance mission deep into the heart of the Japanese Empire. It’s the perfect book for fans of THE DIRTY DOZEN and UNBROKEN.

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Lucky 666
Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

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Never Caught
by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

The riveting story of a slave named Ona Judge, who becomes the subject of a massive, multistate manhunt when she escapes the supervision of her owner, President George Washington. Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s critically acclaimed account of this forgotten moment is equal parts adventure, suspense, and hidden history.

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Never Caught
Erica Armstrong Dunbar

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The Trip
by Deborah Davis

In 1963, then unknown artist Andy Warhol took a cross-country road trip with a group of friends. As he moved from New York through the Midwest all the way to Hollywood, he encountered rednecks, beach bums, hippies, filmmakers, poets, and socialites who would prove to be major influences on his future work. This isn’t just an origin story; it’s an entertaining romp that sometimes seems too weird, too funny, and too fantastic to be true—but it is.

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The Trip
Deborah Davis

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