I used to think that nonfiction was slow and boring. I was wrong. These books are a great place to start if you’re new to nonfiction, but want the intrigue, storytelling, and thrills of fiction. The best part is that not only are these books a great story—they’re also true!
Read more about my reading reflections on 2019 and goals for 2020 here!
1. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
I love learning about corners of history that weren’t taught in school. Although the main action happens during World War II, I felt such a connection with Virginia’s struggles as an ambitious woman in the workplace. Not only was she fighting an uphill battle as a single woman, she faced doubts over her physical capabilities for work after she lost her leg in a hunting accident.
When she finally gets the chance to prove herself in the war—and consistently outperforms her male colleagues as one of the most successful spies in the field—her success is still doubted and questioned. Most infuriating is that despite her clear leadership skills, poorer candidates were chosen to lead spy rings simply because they were male.
In the end, her tenacity, courage, and deep sense of purpose led her to be esteemed as one of the greatest spies of WWII. Her story has been lost for many years in archives requiring special security clearance, and some of the details of her exploits have been lost and are still locked away. But after reading her story, I don’t think she would have wanted it any other way. She was much more concerned with being useful than achieving fame.
This book is a must-read if you love stories about tenacious women overcoming the odds, spies, or World War II.
2. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
I’m always thrilled to find a book that hooks me on a topic I never thought would interest me, but is so engaging I can’t put it down. This memoir is hardly Ruth Reichl’s first (backlist memoirs include Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires, both on my TBR list), but this memoir is about her time as editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine.
I’ll admit—I know next to nothing about Gourmet magazine, and I only picked this book up because it was on Anne Bogel’s (of Modern Mrs Darcy) Summer Reading Guide. While most of Anne’s recommendations are hit or miss for me, this one was definitely a hit!
Save Me the Plums is first and foremost a love letter to food and the people who love food. But she also describes the challenges of being a working mom, and finding herself at the helm of a team where she clearly is an outsider.
This was a fascinating and fun read, and I highly recommend the audiobook. Reichl is an excellent narrator, and I found myself craving some of the incredible dishes she described throughout the book!
3. The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
If you’re going to read about a terrifying virus that causes horrifying deaths and has no known cure, it might as well be a true story, right?
This book is seriously freaky. It was so gripping in certain parts that I had to stop reading it before I went to bed. I would lay awake, ming racing and heart pumping…clearly I’m a wimp when it comes to these things!
Even though it has an older publication date (and Preston has a new book about Ebola that released last July), this book is worth the read. Part science reporting, part true-life thriller, part journalism piece, The Hot Zone ticks a lot of boxes. Perhaps the most spooky part of the book was the debate over how to handle (and who should handle) a potential outbreak of Ebola in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s. I can only hope that that experience better prepared the government to handle potential cases in the future.
If you are intrigued by viruses and the spread of disease, this book is a fascinating read. I dare you not to imagine you’re coming down with something while reading it! I’d love to read more nonfiction about pandemics (is that morbid?)—leave me your suggestions below!