During any season, but especially the beginning of fall, I love to add narrative nonfiction to my to-read list. Maybe it’s the feeling that a fresh school year is upon us and it’s time to learn something new. Whatever the reason, it’s always fun and exciting to learn about real people, places, and things—and even better if the books are so interesting, they read like novels. Lucky for us, there are plenty of masters of the form to take us there. Here’s a list of 8 great books I read over the summer that you should add to your fall stack.
On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was sailing through the Philippine Sea after having completed a top-secret mission when suddenly, it was sunk by Japanese torpedoes. After days in the water, only 300 of the 1,200 men aboard returned home. But the story didn't end there. Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic, who have been fascinated by the decades-long tale of the ship's crew and their fight to exonerate their wrongfully blamed captain, masterfully weave one of the last incredible tales of the Greatest Generation in a book that rivals any classic war film.
David Grann has a knack for finding stories that make you ask "How did I not know about this?" And KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is no different. In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma after oil was discovered under their land. Then, one by one, they began to die. To find out why, a young government official named J. Edgar Hoover enlisted members of his newly created Federal Bureau of Investigation to infiltrate the region—in the process, they would uncover one of the most unbelievable conspiracies in American history.
In Afghanistan, a country and culture ruled entirely by men, there is a special kind of child: "bacha posh," or young girls raised and presented to the world as boys to escape discrimination, but who are then forced to marry and have children as women. Jenny Nordberg, who reported on the phenomenon, follows it through the eyes and experiences of four unforgettable women in this visceral and page-turning account of what it means to face and live under societal oppression.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for nonfiction and an Edgar nominee, DEVIL IN THE GROVE is the perfect blend of history and true crime, recounting the 1949 rape accusation leveled against four young men in Florida that sparked outrage and violence from the Ku Klux Klan and brought Thurgood Marshall to town to get to the bottom of the case. Using never-before-published materials, Gilbert King brings new detail and depth to Marshall's early career, as well as the prejudice and dangers of the Jim Crow South.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Memorial Medical Center was filled with patients, doctors, and caregivers unprepared for the chaos that was about to hit them. With no power and dwindling resources, decisions had to be made about patient care—resulting months later in a number of criminal allegations. The culmination of six years of reporting, FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL unspools the mystery of what happened as the people trapped inside fought against the clock and the elements to save lives and survive.
In this landmark investigation of a landmark event, Fink’s medical and journalism backgrounds come together to show what happened at Memorial Medical Center in the five days following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Though many of us know how the story ends, the book reads like a suspense novel, introducing a number of memorable characters and the question that we frequently ask ourselves when disaster strikes: “What would I do?”
Recently, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would be reopening its investigation into the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, which shocked the nation and sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Timothy B. Tyson's book, which is part political history and part detective story, unearthed one of the critical missing pieces of the case—an admission from the woman in whose name the teenager was killed—and will be a must-read before more developments come to light.
Of all the significant events this country has faced, perhaps none has a more profound legacy on ideology, geography, policy, and personality than the Civil War. It's a conflict that continues to capture our imagination and attention. In this remarkable journey across the United States, prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitz seeks to find out why by talking to the people whose lives the war still affects. CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC is a book that you won't just enjoy, you will think about it seriously.
Veteran journalist Susan Orlean is known for successfully turning her obsessions—public libraries, Saturday nights, and even famous canines—into unforgettable stories, and THE ORCHID THIEF is no exception. Following an eccentric man named John Laroche as he seeks to clone an endangered orchid species, it's a captivating tale of passion, deception, and determination that takes us deep into the underground world of rare flowers and makes us wonder how we'd never ventured there before. (P.S. You'll also love Orlean's new true-crime read THE LIBRARY BOOK!)
Dangerous obsession and greed meet in this wickedly funny modern classic, which follows an eccentric plant dealer as he attempts to poach the endangered ghost orchid from a Florida preserve and clone it for profit. This true crime book is actually a charming, passionate underdog story.