Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's Your Favorite Book Based On a True Story?

I had nearly finished reading Jon Krakauer's INTO THIN AIR on the way to work this morning and I had to resist walking down the street with my nose in the book. This proved to be a wise choice when I was nearly plowed over in a crosswalk by an SUV inattentively making a right hand turn, and was saved by a quick leap backwards and a loud shout. Drivers of San Francisco -- please be careful when there are literary agents in the crosswalk! California's car cell phone ban cannot come soon enough.

But in any event, INTO THIN AIR is an amazing book!! I'm sure many of you have read it, but Krakauer's step by step chronicle of his team's ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition is one of the most perfect combinations of subject matter and incredible writing I have ever come across. Not only that, I have it on good authority that Krakauer is an extremely nice person and a pleasure to work with.

Krakauer really proves that it is not enough to have witnessed incredible events, you have to be a tremendous writer. Check and check.

So now I'm wondering: what is your favorite work of nonfiction based on actual events? This rules out general nonfiction, so I guess we're looking at history, memoir, biography, journalism.... you get the idea.






110 comments:

Elissa M said...

Anne Frank's "The Diary of a Young Girl"

sex scenes at starbucks said...

THE TENDER BAR by JR Moehringer. This Pulitzer winner is a very nice person and by all accounts a joy to work with.

Other Lisa said...

California's car cell phone ban cannot come soon enough.

YES!!!!

I can never remember my favorite anythings, so I don't have a book to suggest, but I had to second that cell phone sentiment.

Kiersten said...

It's not necessarily my favorite, but I wonder if Capote's "In Cold Blood" would fall into this category? I suppose that is the debate about the book: is it fiction or nonfiction?

Another book that doesn't quite fit the category but is amazing is "All Quiet On the Western Front." Although it's clearly not a memoir (or Remarque wouldn't have been alive to write it), I don't think there is a better (meaning heartbreaking and poignant) war book out there.

freddie said...

Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel. It's a collection of the profiles he wrote when he worked for The New Yorker and a few of his short stories. (The profiles are stronger than the short stories.) I've probably read it twenty times.

Gail O'Connor said...

"Surgeon on Iwo" by James Vedder. A first-hand account of Iwo Jima from a doctor with the 27th Marines. Grisly, but fascinating.

freddie said...

. . . your favorite work of nonfiction based on actual events?

Wait a minute. Isn't all nonfiction based on actual events? Do you mean harrowing events? I think I see what you mean, and if I do, my book doesn't fit.

I shall switch my vote to Angela's Ashes. But I'm leaving the Joseph Mitchell one up 'cause it's a book worth reading!

Adaora A. said...
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Adaora A. said...

YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN and AKE by Wole Soyinka. I love him, and I love both stories. AKE is a childhood memoir and DAWN is regarding the whirlwind life he led writing and being in activist while studying in London, his being imprisoned, exile, Nigerian government (which...ahem has had its moments). Can't help but grin to know that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature the same year I was born ('86). He's a professor in Las Vegas and Los Angeles at the minute. OK, enough gushing.

You were walking? I thought people never walked in California Nathan. Just like how people in Toronto or Manhattan barely drive unless they must (too packed in).

Stephanie Zvan said...

The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager

It reads well and provides lots of tangential history without slowing down the plot. More history should be written like this--stories of small events that capture the mundane details and larger political landscapes of their times.

Christy Raedeke said...

“The Siege of Shangri-La: The Quest for Tibet's Sacred Hidden Paradise” by Maichael McRae (an early writer for Outside magazine, as Krakauer was) is excellent and there’s a snarky cameo from David Breashears in it. For travel memoir, “Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia” was also very good. And, for anyone mildly obsessed with hermits as I am, “Cave in the Snow” is spectacular.

Kirsten said...

WILL THERE REALLY BE A MORNING by Frances Farmer

nancorbett said...

I love memoirs. There's a lot of press right now about memoirs and where the line should be between fiction and non-fiction. I hated James Frey's "memoir", mainly because his writing sucked and he was so obviously full of himself. Augusten Burroughs also brought me to a state of boredom and disbelief. But I just started Pentimento, by Lillian Hellman, and, although I'd venture to say that this memoir is about as true as Frey's, I have already forgiven her because of the great writing.

Some of the ones I liked were: Color of Water,
Ice Castles,
Out of Africa,
The Woman Warrior,
Lucky,
The Unreliable Truth,
Jill Ker Conway's memoirs

My favorites, though, are:

Autobiography of a Face and Truth and Beauty, which must be read together in that order.
Out of Africa, because I adore Isak Dinesen.
Living to Tell the Tale by Garcia Marquez. Either his memoir is a total fabrication or all of his fantastic fiction is based on his real life. I can read any paragraph in that book and see a wholly developed story within it. He's the man!
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir for people who love books. I read it and Lolita and The Ambassador and The Great Gatsby as part of the journey, and it was a wonderful experience.

These memoirists are all people to whom I feel gratitude for the way they've shared themselves with me, whether the events of the story are fact or not.

Tanja said...

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place.
Truley amazing and inspiring!

Michelle Moran said...

Ship of Gold In the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder.

I don't think I slept for three days.

A Paperback Writer said...

Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, And the Modern World.

Yeah, I know; it's a mighty long title.
But Johnson makes the dry facts of stopping an epidemic read like a mystery novel. It was fascinating.

kimmiepoppins said...

I love "Colors of the Mountain" by Da Chen. This is from his web page...

"Colors of the Mountain is a classic story of triumph over adversity, a memoir of a boyhood full of spunk, mischief, and love, and a welcome introduction to an amazing young writer.

Da Chen was born in 1962, in the Year of Great Starvation. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution engulfed millions of Chinese citizens, and the Red Guard enforced Mao’s brutal communist regime. Chen’s family belonged to the despised landlord class, and his father and grandfather were routinely beaten and sent to labor camps, the family of eight left without a breadwinner. Despite this background of poverty and danger, and Da Chen grows up to be resilient, tough, and funny, learning how to defend himself and how to work toward his future. By the final pages, when his says his last goodbyes to his father and boards the bus to Beijing to attend college, Da Chen has become a hopeful man astonishing in his resilience and cheerful strength."

Mr. Chen is a local author located in NY's Hudson Valley. This has given me more than one opportunity to hear him speak. Like his book he is intelligent, humorous and very moving.

leesmiley said...

My favorite is probably Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. I'm a Russian history buff and Massie's blend of fact and narrative are outstanding.

Also, everything I've ever read by David McCullough is excellent. I'm not a big American history guy, but McCullough is amazing, particularly in audiobook format. When you hear that voice from Ken Burn's Civil War series, you feel compelled to listen.

Lisa said...

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS and DRY both really got to me. I don't write memoir or non-fiction, but reading these two back to back made me commit to writing.

Jen Seegmiller said...

Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Renin and Greg Mortensen

Michael said...

The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg.

Cam said...

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls
and
THE TENDER BAR by JR Moehringer

Couldn't put either down.

Good one, Nathan. I'm getting all kinds of reading ideas.

Cam

Janet said...

I second The Hiding Place. It has been an inspiration to me through tough times.

John said...

Six Frigates, Ian Toll. Imagine if Patrick O'Brian had taught your U.S. history class in high school.

Ulysses said...

I'm not one much for history or memoir. This may be a failing.

However, I recently read Pierre Burton's excellent "The Arctic Grail," a history of the search for the North-West Passage and the North Pole.

He has a way of making characters come to as much life as the best fiction author.

Shelley said...

Erik Larson's, "The Devil in the White City," a hybrid of the actual and the actual imagined. A story about when the World's Fair shared a city with a serial killer. For those, like me, who thought the serial killer part would be the most interesting, be prepared to be surprised. The architecture of great minds behind this World's Fair is fascinating, the birth of the ferris wheel and the zipper more awesome in the end than any force of evil.

La Gringa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
La Gringa said...

I really enjoyed THE RAPE OF NANKING by the late Iris Chang. I met her after she'd written the book, when she came to the bookstore I'd worked at in San Francisco. She was this tiny but terrifically strong woman who broke the silence about one of the ugliest chapters of WWII, and the book itself is incredibly powerful. I highly recommend it.

(The typo in the previous post was unintentionally hilarious: The Rap of Nanking. Once I finished laughing, I corrected it.)

Nikki Riles said...

Cherry by Mary Karr - freaking amazing.

Gabrielle said...

I had to think about this one! I read more fiction than not, but there's so many good books... MOVING THE MOUNTAIN about the Chinese students was great. IT'S A JUNGLE OUT THERE by Ron Snell is a hilarious book about his childhood in South America.

Ultimately, I'd go with the classic Betty Friedman THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. I guess it's based more on composite stories than one true story; it's still incredible.

Lauren said...

No one's mentioned Joan Didion yet! Well, I will, because I love her. While I've had no personal experience analogous to what she wrote about in THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, I stayed up until 2 in the morning reading that book... and then, uh, I woke up 2 hours later and read until I finished it. SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM is a gorgeous essay collection. The first page of "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" is basically perfect, and I like "Goodbye To All That" so much I've retyped it for myself. On several occasions.

Right now I'm reading WHERE I WAS FROM, which is darn good so far.

putzjab said...

I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was in eighth grade. I read a book on The Beatles by Hunter Davies the summer of that year. Both had a profound impact on my younger days.

I found out that I wasn't the only one in the world with a very pretty sister and a crush on a boy that was a little too old for me. I also found out that four talented men that I admired were children once, too.

However insignificant this all may seem, it helped me to see two very important things: I was really quite normal for a teenager, relatively speaking, and I was not alone with my feelings about not fitting in.

I'm now reading John Steinbeck's The Travels with Charley. I don't know if you could call it a memoir. It's more or less a diary of Mr. Steinbeck's trip across the US. I must say, though, Mr. Steinbeck's Bob-Newhart-dry-wit is holding my attention.

Josephine Damian said...

IN COLD BLOOD, for sure. Yes, it's non-fiction. Or at least supposed to be.

DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY was excellent, but it's a non-fiction book written by Agent Jonathan's client that's about to get a rave review from me.

Linda said...

INTO THIN AIR is amazing, just amazing. If you haven't read INTO THE WILD by Krakauer, you must. IIt stayed with me for days (and no, I haven't seen the flick).

I blogged about the book late last year:

http://leftbrainwrite.blogspot.com/2007/12/into-our-wilds.html

I read a lot in this venue, but don't write memoir or memfic. Some of my other recent favorites include GIRL, INTERRUPTED, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES (whatever you say about the ethics, the writing is phenomenal; I inhaled this book), THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, and AN UNQUIET MIND (yeah, I like crazy books about crazy people - it's what I write about, too).

I just picked up a hardcover of INTO THIN AIR at a yard sale - my paperback was falling apart... peace, Linda

Linda said...

Yes, I have to agree DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY also is a great read. haven't read his latest yet, though. Peace, Linda

Anonymous said...

Long time blog reader - first time poster. Just wanted to say if you enjoyed Into Thin Air you should check out High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed by Michael Kodas - it as equally engrossing as Krakauer's Everest account.

Also, I must sadly report that New York state years ago passed a cell phone while in cars ban (unless using a hands free device) and it seems to only make the idiots talking on the phone while driving problem even worse because now those same idiots are doubly distracted because while they are illegally chatting they must also scan for potential ticket-writing cops cruising by.

dramabird said...

"The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy" by Stewart O'Nan. I couldn't stop talking about it afterward.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Predator by Jack Olsen, couldn't put it down

mlh said...

"Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors" by Piers Paul Read.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I love Capote, but he should have stuck to his autobiographical fiction. In Cold Blood has too much play with the truth. He is NOT a True Crime writer, just a great novelist.

Erika Robuck said...

PADRE PIO by Bernard Ruffin.
Spiritually earthshaking.

ANGELA'S ASHES. (Of Course)

SLAVES IN THE FAMILY by Edward Ball. I don't know if this is the kind of book you're talking about, but it's a fabulous and thought-provoking look at the legacy of slave ownership through the eyes of a slave owner's descendant.

Furious D said...

I read tons of non-fiction a year. (My habit is to have two books going at the same time, one fiction, one non-fiction) so here are the ones I can re-read and learn more every time.

In no particular order:

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hoschild
A harrowing true story of one incredibly greedy man and how he scarred the Congo till this day.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World
&
To Rule the Waves both by Arthur Herman
Great, well written histories that should be read by anyone.

Sailors, Slackers, & Blind Pigs: Halifax At War by Stephen Kimber
The true story of the mostly forgotten but probably most important city in World War 2.

A Brief History of the Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston.
The story of a real war of religious fanaticism at the dawn of the 20th century.

As you can see, I'm a bit of a history buff. And I could probably dig up some more.

Southern Writer said...

WILL THERE REALLY BE A MORNING by Frances Farmer

I had no idea this book existed. It's going on my list, pronto.

At the moment, I'm loving Clapton, Eric Clapton's autobiography.

I've always liked Watch for Me on the Mountain by Forrest Carter, but every time I've said that on the web, I've been inundated by angry letters from Native Americans.

ver: mzust. So I guess I must.

Jan said...

I think I'll have to agree with Elissa M. and say

The Diary of Anne Frank!

And I'm feeling my age today ... so I was saddened to see that Adora shared that the pulitzer prize was won the same year she was born ... YIKES I have a daughter almost your age :)

So I'm just a little slower at beginning my writing career :o)

I'll have to check out IN THIN AIR Nathan, I love watching the shows on television when they go up Everest.

Me, I'll just stick to hot air balloons for reaching heights ... if I could only convince my hubby that he can do it one more time.

susandc said...

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. The writing is amazing, the dives he describes are mostly terrifying, sometimes deadly and the discoveries made - exhilarating... This is on my all time favorite book list.

Kirsten said...

Southern Writer,

Re. WILL THERE REALLY BE A MORNING. I didn't know it existed either, until I found it in a used bookstore. I hope it's not too hard to track down. I've read and reread it. Needless to say, she's a contentious figure, and it's refreshing to read her story, in her words. It's a really harrowing read, but told in a frank, 'don't pity me' manner. It's darkly hilarious in parts. She was just a brash dame ahead of her time. I love this book. :)

Katie said...

I love Ekaterina Gordeeva's My Sergei.

Robin Mizell said...

West with the Night by Beryl Markham and Night by Elie Wiesel are two of my favorites. One must have suggested the other subliminally when I answered your question.

Susan said...

I also love BEYOND THE SKY AND EARTH by Jamie Zeppa. You will feel as if you really are visiting Bhutan with her.

violet said...

I'm not very widely read in nonfiction, but my favorite memoir is definitely Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan.

d obrien said...

The ones I liked more than "Devil in White City" and "Into Thin Air":

"Babylon by Bus" by Ray LeMoine ... two regular slackers in the green zone during the early part of the war in Iraq.

"Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides ... WWII prisoners in The Philippines.

Then there's Tom Wolfe's classic: "The Right Stuff." Required reading for this category, yes?

Favorite memoir is "Goat Brothers" by Larry Colton (early '60s at Cal). And just a few months ago, I really liked the Sheffs' "Beautiful Boy" and "Tweak" (duo memoirs) ...

Heidi the Hick said...

SHE GOT UP OFF THE COUCH by Haven Kimmel

cslarsen said...

I'm thinking Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" was pretty good. A little too creative, in my opinion, but based on actual events nonetheless.

Or was it The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

cate said...

ON A WAVE, by Thad Ziolkowski (memoir). After finishing it, I opened up to page one and read it all over again.

Caroline said...

Stephen Ambrose's CITIZEN SOLDIERS and James Bradley's FLYBOYS. I love WWII history and those are both excellent.

hannah said...

Have to second INTO THE WILD. Fantastic.

TWEAK by Nic Sheff was also quite good, and I'm just about to start BEAUTIFUL BOY, written by his father.

I'm in the middle of Brent Runyon's THE BURN JOURNALS, which is fantastic so far.

benwah said...

Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" is a hands down winner with me. Have read it countless times even though the dream of becoming an astronaut faded ages ago.

Frank Vertosick's "When the air hits your brain" (half for the title alone).

Krakouer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" is fantastic.

"The Cheese and the Worms" is a great little book. I was convinced I was the only person who ever liked it.

Mark Bowden ("Killing Pablo") and Robert Kaplan ("Ends of the earth") are two great nonfiction authors, but I would say based more on their collected work than any particular book.

James McManus' "Positively 5th Street" is good, although some of the poker stuff seems lifted from Alvarez's "Biggest game in town."

And, perhaps strangely, I really enjoyed "The gulag archipelago."

Guess I read a lot of nonfiction.

Dave F. said...

A few:

A Death In Belmont, Sebastian Junger

Fermat's Enigma by Simon Singh

The professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Anonymous said...

THE PERFECT STORM, by Sebastian Junger ranks up there with me. I also loved 2 others already mentioned here: Shadow Divers and The Right Stuff. And I will add BLACK HAWK DOWN. Oh, and THE KON-TIKI EXPEDITION. I want to read Into Thin Air, but haven't gotten to it yet.

Diana said...

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin.

The description on the cover says it all:

"In three minutes, the front subtracted eighteen degrees from the air's temperature. Then evening gathered in, and the temperatures kept dropping in the northwest gale. By morning on Friday, January 13, 1888, more than a hundred children lay dead on the Dakota-Nebraska prairie."

A freak storm hit during an unseasonably warm day just as children were walking home from school. You follow these children and their families so closely that you will be driven to finish the book out of concern for their welfare - and you don't find out who survived and who didn't until the very end. Laskin also takes a hard look at how an inept fledgling National Weather Service and a general lack of understanding of Plains weather patterns combined to turn a bad storm into a tragedy.

Kiersten said...
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ipgirl said...

Roald Dahl's 2 autobiographical books By and Going Solo, because he really did have an adventurous life as pilot in WW2 and a field agent in Africa. And he's fantastically funny.

For pure soap opera gushiness I like the Mitfords.They also had funny adventurous lives!

Bobbie said...

THE SPECKLED MONSTER by Jennifer Lee Carrell was outstanding. My mother shoved it at me for a couple of years before I gave in and read it. I didn't think a book about the history of the smallpox vaccine would be interesting, but I was so wrong and have recommended it to many people since then.

JES said...

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. Not for the faint of heart, though!

The Endurance (Caroline Alexander, 1998), about the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica/The South Pole.

Mostly a photo book with words, but Wisconsin Death Trip (about settlers in the upper Midwest in the 19th century) is hypnotic-scary.

Anything WW II-related by William Shirer.

Oh, and jeez, All the President's Men.

gerriwritinglog said...

I second Black Hawk Down. The book is intense, detailed, and shocking not only in information, but in attitude. At several points, I could only read 2-3 pages of the book before putting it down and walking away to shake. The movie based on it is equally intense, and is probably one of the best war movies I've ever seen.

wortschmiedin said...

Little House on the Prairie. Corny. I KNow but there you go.

Nick Travers said...

Ffiona Campbell's Walking Across Africa. Facinating access to her warped mind.

Nick
NickTravers.com

Mary said...

Perhaps because I read it recently; perhaps because the subject is important to me and there are so few books of this type; my favourite work of non-fiction is “The Book of Boswell: The Autobiography of a Gypsy” by Silvester Gordon Boswell.

Icarus said...

Paper Lion, by George Plimpton

Amazon Link: http://tinyurl.com/56wt3t

Plimpton's a fantastically talented writer, and I loved getting to know all those storied players from back in the day when football players weren't rich and larger than life.

A Reader from India said...

There are many of those, two that come immediately to mind:

"The City of Djinns" by William Dalrymple - An amazing travelogue about the city of Delhi and "Curriculum Vitae" - Muriel Spark's wonderful autobiography.

Anonymous said...

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl leapt to mind immediately.

freddie said...

9 Highland Road by Michael Winerip is another one. It's not about an event, per se, but about a small group of mentally ill people living in a group home in New York state. The book chronicles the lives of several of the home's inhabitants, and makes a convincing argument that group homes (as opposed to asylums), where people actually receive some treatment for their mental illnesses, gain some independence through learning life skills, and have access to family, are the humane way to treat our country's mentally ill. This was something that never even crossed my mind before picking up this book. Very eye-opening.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely without a doubt Primo Levi's brilliant "Se Questo e un'Uomo" ("If This is a Man"), published in English under the much-less-poetic title of "Survival in Auschwitz."

Anonymous said...

Philip Gourevitch's WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES, about the genocide in Rwanda (long before the movies were made).

And yes, definitely, Primo Levi: what about THE PERIODIC TABLE?

Anonymous said...

Anything about Arctic/Antarctic expeditions - Endurance, Shackleton's Forgotton Men - both compelling true-life stories about Shackleton's failed expedition across Antarctica.

I love this stuff. I have a whole shelf of books at home that cover true life adventure stories: Sole Survivor, about the only survivor of a ship that was blown to bits during World War II and how he lived for days out on the ocean. And Sebastian Junger is excellent with The Perfect Storm.

I received Into Thin Air as a Christmas present about 10 years ago - read it in one night. Beck Weathers did a lot of talks in the area around that time - always meant to go see him because his story is so incredible.

Southern Writer said...

Kirsten, I saw the movie. I think it was called Frances, and Jessica Lange played the title role. I was shocked by what could happen to a person who didn't fit the mold back then.

Jared X said...

A common refrain about a good singer is that s/he can sing the dictionary and it would be beautiful. Simon Winchester wrote about the creation of a dictionary (the OED) in PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN and I couldn't put it down.

pth said...

Sins of the 7th Sister
They Cage the Animals at Night
Dibs in Search of Self
The Devil in the White City
Blackbird
The Glass Castle

Taylor K. said...

NIGHT by Elie Wiesel (read it long before Oprah ever talked about it). A truly tragic story about his time in a concentration camp that really gets to you as time goes on.

Colorado Writer said...

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Marley & Me by John Grogan

Just_Me said...

The only memoir that I've voluntarily picked up since I graduated is actually a collection of poems that make a story about love lost and found if you read it in sequence. Amores by Ovid, in either the original Latin or a translation. I love the sentiment, the wanting and waiting for someone and the fore-knowledge of betrayal and forgiveness.

I've read other memoirs in high school and college and I might fo pick up some that are recommended in the comments but I do tend to shy away from that style of writing.

Lisa McMann said...

I am glad you did not get creamed in the crosswalk.

I'm a sucker for anything David Sedaris. But I also remember reading A WALK ACROSS AMERICA and I loved that book (I was in high school when I read it--not sure if my feelings would remain the same now or not).

Jay Montville said...

I'm going to second (or third) THE PERFECT STORM by Sebastian Junger, which is awesome.

However, for sheer readability and entertainment, my absolute most favorite is HOMICIDE: A YEAR ON THE KILLING STREETS by none other than David Simon. It was reading this book that made me give the Homicide tv show a chance, which in turn led me to The Wire. It's, like, the backstory to The Wire. Just a phenom peice of work.

mkcbunny said...

This thread makes me realize how little non-fiction I read. The only ones I've read in the last year are already listed, but I add my vote: The Year of Magical Thinking and "anything Sedaris."

And I second that vote for Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was a lifetime ago that I read that series, but it's both a compelling portrait of a single family and a chronicle of the country's evolution and expansion.

Melanie Avila said...

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert really hit home for me. I didn't want to read it but it was a gift. Now it may be my favorite book.

I vote for The Glass Castle, too.

GL said...

Lost Tribe by Edward Marriott

Adaora A. said...

I've just thought of another one. I had to read it in first year of uni for a class called LIFE, LOVE, AND LABOUR. It's ORDINARY MEN by Robert Browning. Based on men of the batallion who were 'ordinary men' who carried out raids and killings of Jewish people during Nazi occupation. It made me cry reading it.

Heidi said...

My favorite is INTO THIN AIR! I read it first as an article in Life magazine just months after the incident (I still have that magazine!) and ran out to buy the book as soon as it came out. I've read just about every book on Everest, including the three or four others about this particular climb, but Krakauer's is my favorite.

I also love ALIVE, by Piers Paul Read about the rugby team plane that went down in the Andes, and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA by Nathaniel Philbreck about the real whaling ship that inspired the book Moby Dick.

Serenissima said...

DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY for sure!

Sophie W. said...

Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller will always have that special place in my heart.

Also anything by Erma Bombeck, but she didn't actually write novels.

Sminthia said...

Although there has been some mention of RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, I'd like to recommend a book by Augusten Burroughs' older brother, John Elder Robison. It's called LOOK ME IN THE EYE: MY LIFE WITH ASPERGER'S. It's the best memoir I've seen about Asperger's syndrome. I read some reviews claiming that the events in the book could not have happened, but members of my Aspergian household were laughing out loud in recognition. Definitely nonfiction.

Brian Jay Jones said...

Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate. Sure, you know how it's going to end -- they're gonna get the votes needed to pass the Voting Rights Act -- but Caro practically makes it a thriller. And who thought Senate procedure could be so exciting?

Geek check, right? I know, I know: busted.

Anonymous said...

Are you tellin' me WHERE'S WALDO ain't true?

(Melba... Melba, honey, call Dr. Pepper. I'm feelin' horrible seldom!)

Haste yee back ;-)

spinney said...

A FISH CAUGHT IN TIME. Who knew that a book about a possibly extinct species could be gripping?

Anne-Marie said...

Daniel Mendehlson- THE SEARCH FOR SIX OF SIX MILLION, which is a beautiful told memoir of wanting to find out what exactly happened to relatives lost in the holocaust.

and

William Sampson- CONFESSIONS OF AN INNOCENT MAN, which is Sampson's memoir of being arrested and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.

liquidambar said...

I read INTO THIN AIR after I'd been reading mountaineering literature for years. They're all gripping: Chris Bonington, John Roskelley, Greg Child, etc., etc.

But INTO THIN AIR gave me an eerie feeling because it's about a lot of climbers coming to a tragic end on Everest in 1996. And I had previously found one of the most gripping mountaineering books ever to be Jim Curran's K2: TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, about a lot of climbers coming to a tragic end on K2 in 1986.

As for other nonfiction books, GORILLAS IN THE MIST by Dian Fossey. WOMAN IN THE MISTS, by Farley Mowat, is a good companion piece/different perspective on Fossey's life.

Also have to name Richard Feynman/Ralph Leighton's SURELY YOU'RE JOKING, MR. FEYNMAN! And Watson's THE DOUBLE HELIX.

gawain said...

I had a rant here about a page long, but I deleted it. Can I just ask:
Do you really feel the tens of thousands of laws we have on the books in California already are still inadequate? I feel much, much safer knowing that we have all those laws, don't you?

And the rest of the world is certainly not laughing at all as pass another 5-10,000 laws EVERY YEAR.

Nathan Bransford said...

Um. Gawain? Did you get lost and wind up at the wrong blog? I'm so confused.

gawain said...

"California's car cell phone ban cannot come soon enough."

Yeah I know it's off-topic, but the whimpering, whining, 'please pass another law to make us all safe' attitude is wearing thin. I like you and your blog and the people who post here (obviously, or I wouldn't be here) but I have to say something when I hear a comment like that. Another (anon) poster noted that a similar ban has actually increased the problem in his state. Studies on the subject have proven that cell phones, while distracting and dangerous in vehicles, are no more so than cd's, mp3 players, food and beverages. And yet we march bravely forward into NerfWorld, without a backwards glance at the freedoms that thousands of men have spilled their blood to give us.

Instead of putting our money and effort into effective uses like a good, quality rail system that will save lives and the environment at the same time, we lobby around silly ideas that make us feel good and don't effectively do anything but erode our freedoms and make our money vanish into the pockets of politicians and lobbyists.

I know it was probably just an offhand remark, and one that you certainly didn't feel would be offensive or incendiary, so I didn't want to make a deal of it, but I had to say something didn't I? Obviously, it's not really you that I'm frustrated with, its myself and all the people who vote along with me.

Nathan Bransford said...

gawain-

I'm in favor of personal-freedom as the next person, but in my personal opinion the car cell phone ban is a good law. People talking on cell phones are four times as likely to be involved in a serious car crash. Walking around a big city like San Francisco is really dangerous -- I've nearly been run over several different times, and every single time someone was talking on their cell phone.

Now, I'm also the biggest high speed rail proponent you're going to find, but banning cell phones doesn't really have anything to do with that. If someone wants to talk on their cell while driving down an empty highway, whatever. But driving around a city with tons of obstacles? Hell to the no.

gawain said...

I hear ya. We've all had run-ins with every type of chatting, smoking,drunken, medicated, and hands-on parenting driver (and all the other distractions as well). I understand your feelings, and I hope that you are safer once the law is passed. I've come close to death many times on my motorcycle because of these people. I don't ride much these days, but I still try to keep my wits about me at all times.

I think the most important thing, which you've already demonstrated, is your intelligence and awareness of your surroundings. In my estimation, your odds of getting back to the office safely are much better than the morons who almost ran you over. They quite likely had accidents a few blocks away, and if not, they eventually will. And if it's not the cell phone, it will be the stereo, the latte, or the lipstick.

Anonymous said...

MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS by Gerald Durrell. I've read it at least 20 times.

Zen of Writing said...

Chronicles is awesome for its insights into creativity. I also like The Color of Water, and Krakauer's books, and Pack of Two, by Caroline Knapp. Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon. On the Road, too, I guess is based on a true story.

Primo Levi's memoirs of Auschwitz are amazing.

I don't know which is my favorite...

Suzanne Nam said...

i'm so late on these...

common ground, anthony lukas
who killed daniel pearl, bernard henri levy

i guess you can tell i'm a journalist...

southernbelfry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
southernbelfry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
by Mark Obmascik

Eiko said...

I loved In Cold Blood *because* it felt like a novel. Eat Pray Love is also one of my favorites, and William Dalrymple's In Xanadu is excellent. I love travel literature that weaves a good story.

Favorite book I keep having to remind myself is NOT based on a true story? Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin. Shudder.

Anonymous said...

And, of course, Memories Dreams and Reflections by Carl Jung

Moanerplicity said...

Although it has a very disturbing theme, I'd have to say Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." It's an often riveting read because it takes the rider on an unforgettable journey.

It has these passages of darkness, crudeness and inhumanity, and then it explodes with light. At times it's like a long dark poem. Plus, Capote did something innovative with his narrative, and doing so, he created a whole other genre of storytelling.

One.

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