The Devil in the White City
Intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
In the Garden of Beasts
Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.
It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.
In Cold Blood
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.
As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman’s Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the “soul of pampered self-absorption”; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.
Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless’s short life. Admitting an interest that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless. Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.
The Hot Zone
Ebola continues to make headlines around the world as a highly-infectious and deadly virus. This book from the nineties reads like a ferocious wake-up call that’s impossible to ignore and couldn’t be more relevant today. The fascinating tale of a seemingly unstoppable virus and what its existence could mean for the future of our world will have you flipping pages as fast as you possibly can. Thanks to RIFer Beth V. for the suggestion!
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
This heartbreaking tale is woven from the poverty-stricken streets of Mumbai. The writing is beautifully crafted and deeply connects you with the characters struggling to find hope for a better life in a world filled with never-ending corruption and violence. You’ll wish at times this book was fiction, but in the end the reality of the story touches your mind and heart in a way that doesn’t leave you. Thanks to RIFer Sarah for adding it to our list.
The Boys in the Boat
Daniel James Brown
This is the book for lovers of UNBROKEN. In 1939, nine working-class boys from the United States traveled to Berlin to compete in the Olympics just as the Nazi Party consolidated their power in Germany. These young men made up the United States rowing team that shocked the world when they defeated the highly-favored German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The story comes to life in vivid color, as the author used the boys’ journals as source material. Thanks to RIFer Kelly P. for suggesting this book!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition)
In 1951, one woman’s cells were taken from her without her knowledge and used as one of the most important tools for modern medicine. Henrietta Lacks’ cells aided in the development of everything from cloning to the polio vaccination. Now, her descendants can’t even afford healthcare. The riveting tale dives into the fascinating world of scientific ethics. You’ll want to discuss it with everyone you know. Thanks to RIFer Susan H. for the suggestion!
This larger-than-life story about a maniacal cult-leader living in the Alaskan wilderness is totally spell-binding from the very first page. Veteran journalist Tom Kizzia weaves the dramatic narrative of Papa Pilgrim, a mysterious religious patriarch and his battle with the National Park Service. Were his children willing followers or helpless victims in desperate need of rescue? Thanks to RIFer Amy H. for suggesting this book!
The Black Count
Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, THE BLACK COUNT reveals the incredible secret hiding within the famous tales of the Count of Monte Cristo: He was the son of a slave. A fascinating new perspective on the thrilling adventure story we all thought we knew. Thanks to RIFer Ariane T. for the suggestion!
Unbroken (Movie Tie-in Edition)
UNBROKEN by Lauren Hillenbrand is one of the biggest non-fiction books of the year, and we can see why. Louis Zamperini was a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who became an Olympic athlete in Berlin in 1939. His story is a survival epic of astounding proportions that reaches its climax in the turmoil of WWII. An astounding tribute to the strength of the human spirit that has inspired thousands of readers this year. Thanks for the suggestion, Melissa M.!
A Girl Named Zippy
A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY is a light-hearted, deftly told memoir of growing up in a small town in Indiana. Filled with wit and humor, the story clearly captures a moment in small-town America with smart observations and a real sense of place. A good book to read on the beach or on vacation that will bring you back to your own childhood. Thanks to RIFer Susan H. for the recommendation!
The River of Doubt
A thrilling adventure story that sheds new light on one of the most famous Presidents in American history: Theodore Roosevelt. A perennial explorer, Roosevelt journeyed to one of the most dangerous places in the world: The Amazon. A plethora of dangers awaited the President and his fellow travelers–from poisonous snakes to violent native tribes. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever. Thanks to RIFer joyous for adding this book to our list.
The Circus Fire
In 1944, a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus tent caught fire with 8,000 people trapped inside. The fire would claim over 150 lives and haunt the survivors for the rest of their lives. Author Stewart O’Nain interviewed many of these survivors and used their first-hand accounts to shape stories of heroes, tragic deaths, and the mad scramble for the exits. Brilliantly constructed, this book brings the fire to life in a way that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished. Thanks to Beth D. for the suggestion.
Sometimes non-fiction is perceived as difficult to read, and not too entertaining. But what’s better than reading a work of non-fiction that reads like a novel? You learn about people and places as you would when reading history, and find yourself swept along, compelled by the characters and the story as you would when reading a novel. It’s the best of both worlds, and only a few authors out there have mastered it. We’ve collected some of our favorites.
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