My Favorite Narrative Nonfiction

Fiction will always be my first love, but for the last several years I’ve been reading more and more creative nonfiction: stories so gripping you can’t put them down, that are completely true and impeccably researched. I admire the tremendous talent of the storymakers behind these books, who must be at once sensitive interviewers, painstaking researchers, and masterful writers who can bring the past to life and tell it with speed and suspense without losing any subtlety. Here are some of my favorites (and I hope you’ll tell me yours).

enduranceEndurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

This is the book that started my love affair with historical adventure books. The story of how Ernest Shackleton and his entire crew of twenty-seven men survived eighteen months marooned in Antarctica is so unbelievable, it should be fiction. I promise Endurance will blow your mind with its account of the resourcefulness and determination of the human spirit.

wediealoneWe Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance
by David Howarth

When a team of commandos landed in occupied Norway to organize the Norwegian resistance, they were betrayed and ambushed by the Nazis. Only one man survived, badly wounded. This is the story of Jan Baalsrud, who trekked through the arctic to safety, and of the villagers who risked their lives to save him.

thesmallwomanThe Small Woman by Alan Burgess

This is the sweeping epic of the bold, unstoppable Gladys Aylward, who ventured to China as a Christian missionary and who changed the lives of everyone she met, including the hundred homeless children she shepherded on a twelve-day journey over the mountains to safety when the Japanese invaded in 1938.

theboysintheboatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

I’m cajoling everyone I know to read this book. Joe Rantz is the truest kind of hero; a virtual orphan, growing up on the edge of starvation, he became part of the extraordinary crew rowing team who went to Berlin in 1936 to show the world what the American West was made of.

Honorable Mentions: Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

What narrative nonfiction books are on your to-read list, or which ones have you read and loved? Let me know so I can add them to my list!

 

 

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The Good Earth

“There came a day when summer was ended and the sky in the early morning was clear and cold and blue as sea water and a clean autumn wind blew hard over the land, and Wang Lung woke as from a sleep. He went to the door of his house and he looked over his field. And he saw that the waters had receded and the land lay shining under the dry cold wind and under the ardent sun.

“Then a voice cried out in him, a voice deeper than love cried out in him for his land. And he heard it above every other voice in his life and he tore off the long robe he wore and stripped off his velvet shoes and his white stockings and he rolled his trousers to his knees and he stood forth robust and eager and he shouted,

“‘Where is he hoe and where the plow? And where is the seed for the wheat planting? Come, Ching, my friend–come–call the men–I go out to the land!'”


I can’t believe I lived twenty-five years on this planet without reading this gorgeous (and heartbreaking) book. Pearl Buck’s prose reads like poetry, and the story of one humble Chinese farmer and his self-sacrificing wife is as compulsively readable as it is unforgettable. Like Cry, the Beloved Country and The Grapes of Wrath, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth is at once the saga of an individual family and an astute portrait of an entire people.

If you haven’t read it, be sure to put it on your summer reading list! And be sure to tell me your recommendations for mine.