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History & Biography

Narrative Nonfiction: Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction

Narrative nonfiction can most easily be described as nonfiction that reads like fiction. In other words, even though it covers true events, narrative nonfiction includes the character development, pacing and writing style that are similar to those used in works of fiction. While story is less prominent than informational content in many works of nonfiction, this is not true for narrative nonfiction. In fact, many readers who enjoy narrative nonfiction are sometimes less concerned with the subject matter of the book than the style of writing.

Narrative nonfiction includes books on a wide variety of topics, including biographies and memoirs, adventure and survival stories, humor, true crime, and history. For readers who normally read fiction, narrative nonfiction can be a great way to learn about history and still thoroughly enjoy the process.

These recently published narrative nonfiction books cover a variety of historical topics:

 Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Though her life spanned fewer than 40 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world.


 Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King. “Death in the City of Light” is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, head of the Brigade Criminelle, was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, resistance fighters, pimps, prostitutes, spies and other shadowy figures of the Parisian underworld.

 Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.
James A. Garfield overcame a childhood of extreme poverty to become a great scholar and a Civil War hero before becoming the nation’s 20th president. Millard tells the story of both Garfield and the assassin who took his life just four months into his presidency.


 The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers capsule biographies of everyone to produce a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris.


 In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. The bestselling author of "Devil in the White City" turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler's rise to power. The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

 The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. Grann interweaves the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who vanished during a 1925 expedition into the Amazon, with the author's own quest to uncover the mysteries surrounding Fawcett's final journey and the secrets of what lies deep in the Amazon jungle.


 Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff. Award-winning former Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff unleashes the exhilarating, untold story of an extraordinary World War II rescue mission, where a plane crash in the South Pacific plunged a trio of U.S. military personnel into the jungle-clad land of New Guinea.

 Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean. “He believed the dog was immortal.” So begins Susan Orlean's sweeping, powerfully moving account of Rin Tin Tin's journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon. Orlean, a staff writer at The New Yorker, spent nearly ten years researching and reporting the story of a dog who was born in 1918 and never died.

 The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. Greenblatt transports listeners to the dawn of the Renaissance and chronicles the life of an intrepid book lover who rescued the Roman philosophical text “On the Nature of Things” from certain oblivion.


 Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared -- Lt. Louis Zamperini. Captured by the Japanese and driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor.

 A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz. A blend of history, myth and misadventure, this book captures the wonder and drama of first contact. Vikings, conquistadors, French voyageurs, these and many others roamed an unknown continent in quest of grapes, gold, converts, even a cure for syphilis. Though most failed, their remarkable exploits left an enduring mark on the land and people encountered by late-arriving English settlers.

 A World on Fire: Britian's Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman. Foreman presents a history of the role of British citizens in the American Civil War that offers insight into the interdependencies of both nations and how the Union worked to block diplomatic relations between England and the Confederacy.

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