top of page
  • Writer's pictureNovel Nest

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

Thrill and action from real-life

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Fiction books are always easier to read.

Maybe it’s about the storytelling or perhaps the emotions that they awaken in us.

Today, we are bringing you ten non-fiction books that read like fiction. Each of them is vivid and engaging in its own way.

Take your pick because we assure you once you pick one of these up, you won’t be able to put it back down without getting to the end.

Let’s go through a brief overview of each!

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

A maritime tale from the 18th century.

David Grann tells the story of a British warship called the HMS Wager.

“By portraying the natives as both magnificent and less than human, Europeans tried to pretend that their brutal mission of conquest was somehow righteous and heroic.”

This ship was caught in a storm and wrecked in 1741. Some crewmembers drowned.

This brought to the surface the alliances and disagreements that existed beforehand in the crew. A power struggle ensued.

The members were also struggling for food and shelter. As one can imagine, this gave rise to clashes in the already fragile hierarchy. A group rebelled against the captain.

“We all impose some coherence — some meaning — on the chaotic events of our existence.”

The crew split into groups, each trying to make their way back differently.

This book paints a vivid picture of what happened abroad the Wager and what followed.

It acquaints us with raw human emotions and the desperate actions of people when they face death.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

What happens to our body after death?

This book is not for the faint of heart. It has its fair share of explicit descriptions. The subject matter demands it.

The author does a great job of including humor which makes the read easier and light-hearted.

“We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.”

We get to know the life of a human body after death. I am sure most of us have thought about that at some point in our lives.

We visit the body farm and see bodies in various stages of decay. We also see human bodies aiding in medical endeavors and in cosmetic surgery practice.

What ultimately happens to a cadaver isn’t appealing in any case.

Roach reminds us that if one donates his/her body to science, dissection and dismemberment await. But decaying in the ground isn’t pleasant either.

“The point is that no matter what you choose to do with your body when you die, it won’t, ultimately, be very appealing.”

The book also explores moral and ethical issues related to the use of cadavers in various fields.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

Religion is supposed to make us good humans. But what happens when it doesn’t?

I grew up as a devout religious person. I wanted to do the right thing. And the right thing was following God and the prophet.

As a mature adult, I can look back at my experiences objectively. I understand when the author of this book writes:

“There is a dark side to religious devotion that is too often ignored or denied.”

I agree.

While religion is still a source of comfort for me, Krakauer is right. There is a dark side to religious devotion, especially when you put aside reason.

“Common sense is no match for the voice of God.”

The author discusses in detail the use of religion for cruel and inhumane acts. And such happens in all religions be it Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other.

There are people who are extreme in their devotion. Some of them devote themselves to climbing Mount Everest and the like. Others pursue spiritual endeavors.

“Muhammad is not the only prophet whose words have been used to sanction barbarism; history has not lacked for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and even Buddhists who have been motivated by scripture to butcher innocents.”

The author explores the extreme offshoots of Mormonism and a senseless murder committed by the brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty in 1984.

This book is a look at what happens when reason is ignored and blind obedience is pursued.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

The science of war…

The whole idea was that the atomic bomb shouldn’t fall into Hitler’s hands.

But what did the US do with it? It’s not like the US achieved something noble by pummeling Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the ground.

“Before it is science and career, before it is livelihood, before even it is family or love, freedom is sound sleep and safety to notice the play of morning sun.”

This book lays down the history of the atomic bomb.

First, it was the discovery that nuclear fission in fact holds unimaginable power that can be used for destructive purposes.

Then began the efforts at the government level to make that a reality. The US, Germany, and Japan, all were trying to be the first ones to attain it.

“The practice of science was not itself a science; it was an art, to be passed from master to apprentice as the art of painting is passed or as the skills and traditions of the law or of medicine are passed.”

The author also goes into detail about the life of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, the codename for America’s nuclear program.

He also discusses the moral dilemmas faced by scientists in the wake of atomic bomb use in war.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

Tales from a humorous doctor.

This will be the funniest book you’ll ever read.

When it comes to hospitals and doctors, one doesn’t think of humor and laughter. But Adam Kay proves us wrong.

“I tell a woman in antenatal clinic that she has to give up smoking. She shoots me a look that makes me wonder if I’ve accidentally just said, ‘I want to fuck your cat..’”

He tells us about his life as a healthcare professional in vivid detail. The stress, the lack of breaks, and the expectations of patients… He manages to wrap all that in candid humor and deep reflections.

He reflects on how doctors should be psychologically fit to handle stress and death.

“…a great doctor must have a huge heart and a distended aorta through which pumps a vast lake of compassion and human kindness.”

We also get to know of the screw-ups of healthcare assistants and junior doctors. Each of the incidents is recounted in the author’s signature lighthearted style.

This book is emotional, reflective, funny, and deep, all at the same time. And this speaks to Adam Kay’s skill as a writer and narrator.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

Politics, vendettas, money, and more…

Bill Browder was an investor.

He founded Hermitage Capital Management. Russia was one of its markets.

While in Russia, Browder runs into trouble with ‘the oligarchs’. Soon after, the government of Russia also began to have a less than favorable view of him.

“…if you didn’t get involved in anything controversial — politics, human rights, or anything to do with Chechnya — then you could get on with life and enjoy the fruits of the authoritarian regime.”

Browder is eventually deported and denied entry into Russia. His offices are raided.

And the murder that is the center point of the book takes place. The victim is Browder’s Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky. He was investigating tax fraud by Russian government officials.

Magitsky is taken into custody, tortured, and refused medical help. As a result, he died.

“The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep at night.”

Bill Browder took up the fight for Magnitsky. He worked hard. Due to his efforts, ‘The Magnitsky Act’ was passed in the United States. It allows the US government to sanction human rights violators from foreign governments.

This book is fascinating, thrilling, and sad.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

He survived the plane crash and more…

This is another book that reads like a novel.

It tells the life story of Louis Zamperini, an American World War 2 veteran.

Zamperini was an Olympic runner who enlisted in the US Army Air Corp after World War 2 started. He became a bombardier.

“Life was cheap in war.”

In May of 1943, his plane crashed. Luckily he and two other men survived, one of whom died at sea later.

After 46 days at sea, they are captured by the Japanese and taken as prisoners of war. (POWs)

The author talks about dignity and its need for humans. She explains how dignity carries the human soul when the body can’t go on any longer.

“Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.”

This is precisely what was done to POWs in Japanese camps. Zamperini endured extreme physical punishments at the hands of one of the camp leaders nicknamed ‘the Bird’.

The story isn’t over for Zamperini. The author tells of his return to the US and his struggles afterward.

Overcome with vengeance, Zamperini falls into alcohol addiction. But thanks to his wife and a religious leader, he finds forgiveness for those who wronged him.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

Hell hath no fury than a tiger wronged.

As a child, I enjoyed reading stories of hunters hunting down man-eating lions and tigers. The stories gave me nightmares but I read them anyway.

This book tells the real story of a man-eating tiger in the Primorye region of Russia in the late 90s.

The author tells us about the region’s history and superstitious beliefs while recounting the story of the tiger and his victims.

“Witnesses, native and Russian alike, agree that there is something almost metaphysical about the tiger’s ability to will itself into nonbeing — to, in effect, cloak itself.”

The tiger’s first victim is Vladimir Markov, a huntsman. Next is his friend, Andrei Pochepnya.

The terrifying thing is, that it seems the tiger has purposefully tracked and hunted down Markov, something which the tigers aren’t meant to do with humans.

Yuri Trush is given the task to find and kill the tiger which he does.

“The impact of an attacking tiger can be compared to that of a piano falling on you from a second story window. But unlike the piano, the tiger is designed to do this, and the impact is only the beginning.”

This book is like a real-life horror movie.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

When power and greed collide…

Power is intoxicating. It makes people feel that they are above the rules.

“Power is tempting, and in a sense no power is greater than the ability to take someone’s life.”

Something like this happened with King Leopold II of Belgium. The Congo Free State was claimed by him from 1885 to 1908.

The area’s natural resources i.e. rubber and ivory were looted. And the natives experienced extreme exploitation.

This included slavery, torture, mutilation, imprisonment, and murder.

The people of Congo Free State were made to collect natural rubber. Those who didn’t fulfill the daily quota experienced harsh repercussions.

“Just as terrorizing people is part of conquest, so is forcing someone else to administer the terror.”

This book is an important historical contribution bringing to light the atrocities faced by the people under King Leopold’s rule.

10 Non-Fiction Books So Good — They Read Like Fiction

We need plants and they need us.

Humans and flowers have evolved alongside each other.

The relationship is a codependent one. Michael Pollan (Should I say ‘Pollen’? Just kidding.) discusses four plants and their relationship to humans.

“It is possible to be indifferent to flowers — possible but not very likely.”

For each of those, the author explores a corresponding human desire.

  1. Sweetness — apple

  2. Beauty — tulip

  3. Intoxication — marijuana

  4. Control — potato

The author says that the presence of flowers is an indicator of food. And recognizing this served humans as food foragers.

“Natural selection has designed flowers to communicate with other species, deploying an astonishing array of devices — visual, olfactory, and tactile — to get the attention of specific insects and birds and even certain mammals.”

The Irish potato famine teaches us that nature can’t be controlled. But we can coexist with it.

This book is a brilliant discussion of the intertwined relationship between humans and plants.


If you found this article useful and want to support NovelNest, join my email list below to get notified whenever I publish something new.

If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post features Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links.


bottom of page