20 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time to Add to Your Reading List


When you’ve read so many fiction horror books, you’ve started sleeping with the lights on, or if romance novels have started to feel too far-fetched for your current emotional state, these nonfiction books will give you a dose of reality to keep you firmly grounded. There’s nothing quite like cracking open a memoir and walking in someone else’s shoes for awhile or learning about a period of history from a fresher (and more exciting) perspective than your high school teachers could offer. A well-written nonfiction book can also help break down complicated subjects in a way anyone can digest, not to mention offer lots of great cocktail party conversation fodder beyond what happened on that one reality TV show everyone seems to be watching.

If you’re usually a fan fiction and have previously written off true stories as too dry – or too close to real life – for your tastes, we’ve got something to change your mind. Just like fiction, there’s a nonfiction read to suit every taste, whether yours tends toward the poetic or you’re a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of reader. We’ve gathered up a few of the best books of 2021, including both classic must-reads and stellar newcomers to the scene, to give you a solid introduction to the genre. And once you’re done here, join our feel-good Book Club, where you’ll find more heartwarming reads to love.

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Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

This unflinching memoir about what it’s like to struggle as a single mom working as a housekeeper to keep herself and her daughter married is not just one woman’s testament to the towering challenges of her own situation. It’s a searing indication of how the system fails the most vulnerable, and an absolute must-read.


Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century

Explore the beautiful diversity of the disabled community through this collection of essays that offers insight into the complex perspectives the group embodies. It celebrates the societal contributions of disabled people and looks to a future wherein we reach true equity for all, regardless of how we show up in the world.

RELATED: 15 Books About Disability to Add to Your TBR List

After growing up the child of isolated survivalists, Tara didn’t go to school for the first time until she was in her late teens. She then went on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University after discovering a hunger for knowledge. Her story of her is inspiring and may even energize your own desire to learn, too.


Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

In candid essays that take on our society’s anxieties around food, pleasure, nourishment and body size, this book explores the dualities of one of our most essential and most complex social forces: eating and how we use it against one another and ourselves.

Literally everything Mary Roach writes is worth a read, and her latest is no exception. This investigation into the clashes that occur when the human and animal worlds meet combines forensic science, conservation and a healthy dose of her signature wit her. Even if you’re not too interested in wildlife preservation when you start reading, you will be by the last page.


Citizen: An American Lyric

A retelling of racial aggressions in present-day America, this triumph from one of our best living lyrical essayists and poets takes us to the grocery store, the soccer field, the news channels and all manner of digital spaces to investigate what it means to be a citizen today in essay, poetry and thought-provoking images.

RELATED: The Best Poetry Books to Challenge and Inspire You


Thick: And Other Essays

In eight essays that bridge the personal with the political and the analytical with the revelatory, this book takes on beauty, misogyny, pop culture and the intersections of all of these. It’s a galvanizing read for women of all ages and circumstances.


The Liars’ Club: A Memoir

Whenever anyone says they don’t read memoirs, I recommend this one. A darkly funny, unblinking account of her life de ella growing up in a small Texas oil town with a family that basically defines dysfunction, this is a book you’ll want to read to tatters.

RELATED: 25 Best Memoirs of All Time to Make You Laugh, Cry and Think


How to Be an Antiracist

No matter where we are on our quest to unlearn the unconscious bias that’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our society, this powerful book will serve as an excellent resource. It’s part primer, part personal story, part call to action and all necessary.


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Humans have only been around for a few thousand years, but we’ve done a staggering amount of damage in that time. In this multi-disciplinary book, Kolbert breaks down the science of our current crisis in a conversational, accessible way that even those of us who didn’t do so well in ninth grade Earth Science can appreciate.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Anyone who was constantly told to “speak up” as a child or who still hangs out with the dog at parties instead of around the appetizer table, this one’s for you. It delves into the power of introverts and what we lose when we devalue their contribution to society. It’s a great reminder not to forget about the quiet ones.


Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

This weighty take goes deep on the history, biology and sociology of cancer but that description doesn’t do it justice. Think of it like a thrilling story of a conniving adversary told through the lens of the people who have dedicated their lives to studying it and those who have suffered from it across the centuries we’ve been dealing with “the Big C.”


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks’ cells were used to develop the Polio vaccine, study the effects of radiation and have even led to advances in cloning and reproductive technology, but her family never even knew she’d contributed until decades after her death. This is the story of the Lacks family as much as our medical system as a whole, and it’s a fascinating and eye-opening one.


Between the World and Me

If this National Book Award winner is considered required reading for Toni Morrison, it’s certainly good enough for me. It’s Coates ‘attempt to reckon with our country’s racist history and find a way to live as a Black man in America today written as a letter to his son through harrowing personal experience and painful historical accounts.


The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America

Even though enslaving Native people was illegal from the time Columbus first stumbled upon the Americas, it’s been practiced as an open secret for centuries. This revelatory account sheds light on a long-overlooked piece of American history, that it’s past time we add to our collective awareness.

RELATED: 15 Best Books by Native American Authors to Add to Your Bookshelf


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

This true crime story about a shooting at a Savannah mansion in 1981 reads like a novel, complete with a cast of characters that are almost too good to be true. It’s deliciously entertaining, chillingly spooky and the perfect introduction to nonfiction for dedicated thriller fans.

RELATED: 25 Best True Crime Books of All Time to Unleash Your Inner Sherlock


How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

The idea of ​​doing nothing feels more revolutionary now than ever, especially when we consider how deeply steeped we are in the cult of productivity. Take some time to read this book and think about where you spend your own precious attention; it might just change how you operate in the world.


The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat

Did you know that ice cream helped defeat the Nazis? Or ever wonder why we love foods that hurt us, like super-spicy peppers? Grab a snack and gobble up this food history book that’s full of too-weird-to-be-true facts about what’s in your fridge.


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

This memoir about losing both of his parents within five weeks and having to care for himself and his eight-year-old brother while still a college student is poignant, funny and brutally self-aware. It’s basically the godfather of a certain style of personal essay, which you may start to notice as you read it.

After almost a decade of immersive reporting, Taddeo tells the true stories of three women living very different lives: a mom having an affair that brings color back to her life, a high school student whose married English teacher is on trial after their alleged affair and a successful restaurateur whose husband is into voyeurism. It’s a fresh take on feminism, sex, desire and how they all intersect.

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