Dedicated fiction bibliophiles often shy away reading non-fiction. And who can blame them? The most lauded non-fiction tomes are often by their very nature laden with academic sources, thousands of footnotes or endnotes, and some of the longest sentences ever committed to paper. If you suffer from insomnia, last year's National Book Award winner is generally a guaranteed cure.
Thankfully, not all non-fiction reads like C-Span Television. Here are five non-fiction books that read better than most novels. Even if you never become a non-fiction aficionado, don't cheat yourself out of these riveting reads.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966). This is the book that created the "non-fiction novel." It is a classic. And I'm warning you right here and now: it is disturbing. This is the story of the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas which took place in 1959. Before the killers were captured, Capote and his best friend author Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) traveled to Kansas in order to interview both police and neighbors. After Perry Smith and Dick Hickock were arrested for the crime, Capote returned and interviewed both men at length. Eventually he spent six years writing this masterpiece of true crime, although critics would later charge Capote with certain fabrications. Regardless, the book is still considered a non-fiction classic and once you start reading it is easy to see why. 343 pages.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by John Krakauer (2003). Krakauer first hit the non-fiction best seller lists with Into Thin Air, his account of the disastrous 1996 Everest expeditions that ended in eight deaths. That non-fiction book could have been substituted on this list, but Under the Banner of Heaven was really the more relevant book. It contains two stories entwined together: the riveting history of the Mormon (Latter Day Saints) Church and the 1984 double murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter by her two fundamentalist Mormon brothers-in-law. Krakauer is so incredibly brilliant at weaving these two narratives together that it is difficult to set this book down even for a moment. 432 pages.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (2011). Larson is another prolific non-fiction author. Pick any one of his books and they could easily be substituted in this list (and after reading In the Garden of Beasts you're probably going to want to run out and get all of his books). But In the Garden of Beasts is especially relevant. Here Larson relates the eye-popping story of William Dodd, the American Ambassador to Germany during the years Hitler was rising to power, and his family. Using Dodd and his family's personal correspondence and papers, Larson reconstructs what would be a fascinating story in and of itself given the extreme changes going on in Germany at the time. But what really makes this one a whopper is that Dodd saw what was coming with Hitler, was warning the U.S. State Department and all other powers-that-be at home, and they were poo-poohing him! Why? Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out. It is worth all 480 pages.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (1994). If you've only seen the Kevin Spacey movie version of this, you're missing out because this is one case where the book is ever-so-much better. John Berendt's non-fiction Southern Gothic masterpiece spent an amazing 216 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, a record that has yet to be beaten. Like Truman Capote's book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is considered a non-fiction novel. It tells the story of Jim Williams, a Savannah antiques dealer who was tried four separate times for the murder of a male prostitute. All sorts of eccentric locals make an appearance in the book which went a long way towards boosting Savannah's tourism and putting that small Southern town on the map. And it's easy to see why. Read the book and you'll want to book your next vacation down in Savannah. 400 pages.
Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager (2014). Jager's work is as compelling as Erik Larson's but with a historical focus. His newest release, Blood Royal, is the story of what might be the very first recorded police investigation of a murder and a royal murder to boot. In 1407, the city of Paris was burdened with a king who randomly slipped in and out of madness (he occasionally fancied himself made out of glass, but hey, don't we all from time to time?) leaving a power vacuum that powerful nobles were all to keen to fight over. When one of those nobles, the king's own brother, is murdered in the streets of Paris the chief law enforcement officer of the city is charged with finding the murderer. What his investigation uncovers brings the entire country to the brink of civil war. It sounds like the plot of a novel and the book reads like one, too. History buffs will love Jager's work. 336 pages.
So there you have five of the best non-fiction books for fiction readers. Give them a try. You might find that you are more of a non-fiction reader than you originally thought.