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I’m not a huge nonfiction reader, unless it’s travel and adventure books. I will read occasional memoirs that aren’t travel-related and I do enjoy nonviolent true crime but it’s primarily travel.
But this post includes all nonfiction genres, not just travel, which will have its own post. There is some crossover in the lists but I tried to keep it minimal.
I have to be in a very specific mood to read nonfiction (though I do have a ton of it on my shelf to read) but as I find more favorites, I’ll update this list. So, here they are, my favorite nonfiction books across all genres!
- If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free. Get that Audible deal here.
- If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd! You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot. Sign up for Scribd here!
- Shop my collection of bookish goodies on Etsy! These aren’t my shop items, but other shops I’ve curated into a book-themed collection. Shop my Etsy bookish goodies here!
- If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
- Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Shop BookOutlet here!
- Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
- Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.
The Feather Thief
One June evening in 2009, Edwin Rist, a twenty-two-year-old American flutist, boarded a train after performing at London’s Royal Academy of Music.
He was headed to the Tring museum, a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History, which happens to be home to thousands of rare bird specimens with plumes worth staggering amounts of money to people like Edwin: Victorian salmon fly-tyers.
That night he walked out with hundreds of bird skins, some collected 150 years before by Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin’s who risked everything to get them.
Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon
This is part adventure, part education as Paul Rosolie, a naturalist, conservationist, and explorer, takes us into the most remote sections of the Madre de Dios.
His love for the Amazon started in 2006 on his first trip there and over the coming years would return as often as possible.
He ventured into some of the most inaccessible areas of jungle alone, seeing floating forests, jaguars, poachers, and more. He raises an orphaned anteater and helps fight to protect the Madre de Dios from developers, oil giants, and gold miners.
No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits
Jordan Romero is actually the youngest person to summit Mount Everest at just 13 years, 10 months, and 10 days old. And that was just the beginning. By 15, he was the youngest person to reach the highest summits of all seven continents.
This memoir is the story of his journey, the idea of which was sparked at just nine years old, where we see all the hard work and training result in a dream come true.
Amazon Woman: Facing Fears, Chasing Dreams, and a Quest to Kayak the World’s Largest River from Source to Sea
On her 35th birthday, Darcy set off on a 148-day journey kayaking the entire length of the Amazon River with her boyfriend of twelve years and a mutual kayaking friend/colleague. The emotional waters encountered on the trip were often more difficult to navigate than the class five rapids on the river itself.
Along the way they encounter 25 days of whitewater rapids, illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, Shining Path rebels, ruthless poachers, and surprisingly friendly locals before reaching the triumphant end becoming the first to achieve this accomplishment.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
Jennette had her first audition at six years old. It was her mother’s dream for her only daughter to be a star. She recounts everything she would do to make her mom happy from restricting food and even being showered by her until she was sixteen and more in this heartbreaking memoir.
Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One lifetime of Travel
Her first life-changing trip was solo to Australia as a young graduate. Over the next 30 years, Rosita became enchanted by travel and visited some of the most remote parts of the world where she carried little more than a beat-up backpack and a diary.
Here are nine journeys from nine different moments in her life spent exploring the world, sharing how these experiences and the people met along the way can shape the course of a life dramatically.
Tara was raised in Idaho by survivalists. Her childhood was tumultuous at best, full of injuries, abuse, and almost no education.
Her brother was the first in the family to leave for college and she followed in his footsteps, but it wasn’t a smooth ride. This is the story of her life growing up in a survivalist household and the challenges she faced as she moved out into the world.
Craig Childs takes us (mostly) to Southern Utah to learn about the looting of Anasazi relics, the debate on proper practice, and sales (legal and illegal) of artifacts around the world. This is especially interesting if you’re familiar with southeast Utah and the Blanding area.
Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival in the Amazon
Yossi Ghinsberg is traveling through Bolivia when he meets two other travelers and a guide. What starts as the adventure of a lifetime as a trek to visit a tribe in the jungle quickly turns into a nightmare.
The group separates on the trek out of the jungle: two hike out, two take a raft downriver to speed up the trip. All too soon the river gets too rough for the raft and it is destroyed.
Yossi and his travel partner are separated and he is forced to survive alone without a map, knife, or survival training. His feet begin to rot during constant raging storms, his sense of direction is lost, and he wonders, most of all if he’ll make it out alive.
The Girl with Seven Names
Growing up on the Chinese border, Hyeonseo Lee had an idea of what life was like outside of North Korea so at 17 she decided to escape and was reunited with her family 12 years later.
With word of her escape spreading, she couldn’t return to North Korea, but after twelve years and two lives adapting and surviving in China, she returns to the border to spirit her mother and brother away to South Korea on one of the most arduous, costly, and dangerous journeys around.
The Bears Ears: A Human History of America’s Most Endangered Wilderness
This is a tour through time and place as David Roberts takes us through the Bears Ears and Four Corners region of the US.
438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea
Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. That turned into the longest time spent adrift at sea by anyone in history – 438 days.
A terrible storm killed his boat engine and dragged his boat out to sea where he drifted all the way to the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away.
For fourteen months, he was surrounded by sharks, learned to catch fish with what he had on board: empty plastic bottles he collected from the ocean, making fishhooks from his dismantled outboard motor, and using fish vertebrae as a needle to stitch his clothes back together.
He contemplated suicide multiple times but kept an alternate reality in his mind that carried him on until he was dumped onto the remote island thousands of miles away.
Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Madre de Dios
Holly FitzGerald and her husband Fitz set out on a year-long honeymoon backpacking around the world. Five months into their trip, they are in Peru on their way into the Amazon Rainforest when the little plane they are on crashes in a penal colony surrounded by jungle.
They can either wait for a way out or take a raft down the Madre de Dios to get there a lot sooner. They choose the raft and things go downhill quickly.
They assume they can get food from locals along the river, so they bring few supplies, but after a few days a storm throws them off course, stranding them for 27 days with no food in a flooded dead end of the river with no land to stand on until they realize the only way out is to swim.
Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America
This is actually why I went to Central America. For real. And yes, this is the amazing thriller author Catherine Ryan Howard.
She invited herself on her friend’s backpacking trip through Central America, not sure what she’s getting herself into. She’s happier reading by a pool but ends up climbing volcanos, attempting to learn Spanish, drinking coffee, living with mutant cockroaches, and throwing up in the street.
This is one of my favorite books ever and I re-read it probably every year.
Best. State. Ever: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland
No one knows what will happen next in Florida, just that something will. We get to follow Dave Barry as he travels to all the magnificently weird things Florida has to offer.
Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island
This is one of the first books I got for my Kindle and I read it like, three times. I loved it.
Just a month after his 21st birthday, Peter moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands, 70 miles from the nearest phone, car, tourist, or store, to teach English.
This is the touching yet funny account of living with the island’s 450 inhabitants, yet confronted with the harsh reality of life on Ujae.
We hear about his personal experiences as well as political, linguistic, and ecological digressions of the Marshall Islands and the ways they’re being effected by global warming. It’s both entertaining and educational.
The Butchering Art
This is a dramatic (but true!) telling of Joseph Lister’s work in pioneering in the medical world, including claiming germs were the source of all infections and could be countered by antiseptics. We get to meet some of his contemporaries, some outlandish, others outright criminal as we go through dingy hospitals and grimy medical schools.
The Pandemic Century by Mark Honigsbaum
The Pandemic Century talks about all the pandemics the world has experienced from the Spanish Flu to Zika. We get to learn about the viruses, how they spread, where they come from, and how they were handled. It covers the Spanish Flu, Pneumonic Plague, Parrot Flu, Legionnaires Disease, AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and Zika.
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?
Caitlin Doughty gets dozens of questions about death every day and this is where she answers them with her blend of knowledge of the human body, the history behind common misconceptions, and humor as she answers thirty-five of these questions from her youngest fans. Will my cat eat my eyeballs? What would happen to an astronaut’s body if you pushed it out of a space shuttle? Can grandma have a Viking funeral?
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
With a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre, Caitlin took a job at a crematorium and made it her life’s work and became an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead.
Have you read any of these? Which ones? What are your favorite nonfiction books?
Thanks so much for responding Megan. In fact, my book is historical fiction, set in Yosemite NP. It is fiction built around the last Chief (Tenaya) of the Ahwahneeches, who were the indigenous group who lived in Yosemite (called Ahwahnee at the time). The story mainly takes place in the mid-19th century during the time of the Gold Rush.
Anyway, thanks for your consideration, and have a wonderful festive season.