Narrative Nonfiction Books: 10 Compelling Reads

Narrative nonfiction books that read like fiction and will keep you riveted from start to finish!

As I think back on my favorite nonfiction books, I realize most of them are gripping tales of historic people or events. The reading experience was similar to that of a fast-paced novel. One where I’m constantly flipping through the pages to find out what happens next. I eventually learned there’s a term for this: narrative nonfiction books.

Narrative nonfiction books turn a true story into a compelling read. There are many history books out there that simply relate the facts, but the best narrative nonfiction books draw you in and don’t let you go. Often, I don’t have a particular interest in the topic, but I know the author specializes in this type of writing. Or, I’ve heard over and over that readers couldn’t put it down.

I remember reading Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand back in high school and being shocked that it was a true story. Years later, I picked up my first Michael Lewis book, Moneyball, because I figured I’d read it before seeing the movie. Little did I know that I’d eventually start collecting his books because I wanted to read every single one.

My list of narrative nonfiction books that read like fiction feature a mix of ones I’ve read and ones on my TBR list. Thankfully, my husband also loves this genre so he has passed along a few recommendations too.

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Best Narrative Nonfiction Books That Read Like Fiction



Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Lewis explores how the second poorest team in baseball won so many games in 2002. The Oakland Athletics lost their three most expensive players at the beginning of the season, but ended up recording a highly unlikely number of wins. The General Manager looked beyond traditional baseball metrics and used numerical analysis to identify the most successful players.

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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

After reading Moneyball, I wanted to explore more of Michael Lewis’ collection. That brought me to The Big Short, an in-depth look inside the cause of the 2008 financial crisis. Plus, a look at the few individuals who realized what was happening and bet against the machine.

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Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K Massie

My introduction to narrative nonfiction started long before I even paid much attention to what I was reading. Before I tracked every book, analyzed my stats, and started my book blog, I simply read whatever caught my interest at the time. Nicholas and Alexandra tells the story of the Romanovs in fascinating detail. I was riveted by the royal family and the intriguing factors that led to their demise.

If you’re interested in history, check out my historical fiction and nonfiction book pairings! You’ll find this book on the list!

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Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

If you’re looking for narrative nonfiction that deals with a current topic, check out this recommendation from my husband. He read Dreamland earlier this year and thought it was extremely well-researched and full of intriguing facts. It covers the history of the opioid crisis, how it has affected previous generations, ruined entire towns, and is currently ravaging our country.

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Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon

by Robert Kurson

The second recommendation from my husband also appears on my books about space list from last week! NASA was facing down a deadline from JFK, so the Apollo 8 mission was a rushed, risky job that took place right around Christmas.

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Columbine by Dave Cullen

This book is reknowned as the definitive account of what happened at the Columbine shooting. Dave was a reporter on the scene and spent the next ten years digging to find the truth. So much of what was originally reported about the boys and why this happened was incorrect.

It’s an important example of the media and our society jumping to conclusions and making incorrect assumptions. When I read this, I was shocked by how different

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Laura takes an already enthralling tale and turns it into a story you cannot put down. Louis Zamperini was an American Olympic runner who also enlisted and fought in World War II. He survived being lost at sea, multiple Japanese prisoner of war camps, and PTSD after finally making it home.

Although there are parts that are extremely brutal and difficult to read, much less imagine living through, this is ultimately an incredible journey of resilience and hope.

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Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Another masterpiece by Laura Hillenbrand. To be honest, I have no idea why I first picked up this book. I don’t exactly have any great interest in racehorses. Nevertheless, Hillenbrand managed to keep me captivated from start to finish. This is classic underdog tale with a cast of unlikely characters who worked together to create an American legend.

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A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

The Titanic tragedy has captivated people around the world for over a century. It’s been the source of novels, a smash hit movie, and plays. Countless research has occurred, but no nonfiction book is as thorough and riveting as A Night to Remember.

Widely considered the classic Titanic account, Lord created a minute by minute reconstruction of what happened that night in 1912. It was first published in 1955 and has since been republished with an introduction from another incredible nonfiction writer Nathaniel Philbrick.

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In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Speaking of Philbrick, he’s a prolific writer of narrative nonfiction, ranging from the Revolutionary War to the Mayflower to the US’ attempt to map the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps his most famous book is the mysterious fate of the Whaleship Essex.

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Do you have any other narrative nonfiction books that read like fiction that you would recommend?

narrative nonfiction books that read like fiction


    1. I just learned the term this year! Now I know exactly what to look for, which helps me pick out books that work well for me.

    1. I just looked it up and sounds like a fascinating book! I vaguely remember hearing about these arsonists, so I’d love to read the whole story.

  1. A Night to Remember is probably one of the first nonfiction books that I ever read. It was so good, and I remember how i sobbed reading it. My mom gave it to me to read and we still talk about it. Great list! I am a big fan of narrative nonfiction as well. I also read Nicholas and Alexandra – same deal. So good, and also given to me by my mom!

  2. I agree with you. A nonfiction should draw you in, and relate it in a way that inspires you. They sometimes read like a fiction, but actually is a true story. They are the best. I have read a couple of other books by Massie but not this one. But, I have read a lot about the Romanovs. Fascinating family and destiny.

  3. Love the list! Check out: The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan and In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides.

  4. Oh there are just too many books missing from this list… narrative nonfiction is what I read almost exclusively and I can never get enough.

    I DEVOURED “ I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara last year. Her research and then her ability to tell the story of one of the biggest cold case mysteries in American history was truly remarkable. May she Rest In Peace .

    “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot is a classic. I also couldn’t put down “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann. There’s a theme here… books written by investigative journalists!

    1. Hi! Do you have a list of more books you’d recommend? If you have 4 more or 40 more, I’m open to them all !! Thanks 🙂

  5. I recommend the whole series of narrative histories by Allan Eckhard on the westward movement in America. Told from all sides of the story. I have saved and reread many times.

  6. I’ll second The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Rebacca Skloot really made me feel for all of Henrietta Lacks family. I’d like to add Erik Larson’s books to this list. My most recent read was Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. I learned so many behind the scenes details about World War I that I found fascinating.

  7. Thank you for your list – it’s difficult to find good narrative nonfiction! I have a list of some I’ve loved:
    – Educated, by Tara Westover
    – The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius, by Kristine Barnett
    – Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, by Martha Beck
    – Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan

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