The Ultimate List of the Best Non-Fiction Books: 40+ Picks
When it comes to finding non-fiction books to read, it’s all about leaning into your personal topics of interest.
For Kirsten, it’s books about royalty, celebrity memoirs, and historical time periods. For Jackie, it’s scientific discovery, feel-good reads, and bad-ass females.
But that’s not to say we don’t dabble in other topics. You’ll find holocaust memoirs, stories about mental illness and addiction, and sports tales below.
We’ve highlighted a few favorites by topic on this list of the best non-fiction books. We’ve also linked to more in-depth articles for each topic, so you can further explore your area of interest.
*Best Non-Fiction Books Post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you.
Non-Fiction Books About Royals
The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly
I had royal fever this month while working on our Royal Reads post, so it’s no surprise that when my library hold for this autobiographical audiobook came through, I dove right into it and absolutely loved this non-fiction pick from books about QEII.
Angela Kelly is the Queen’s head dresser and long-time companion. She details her process for dressing the queen, talks about some iconic looks, and even reveals a few personal stories about her time with her majesty. Add this fashion story to your list of books to read if you like The Crown.
Spare by Prince Harry
I’m still reeling from the revelations and truths woven throughout Prince Harry’s narrative. His candor in taking us from the death of his mother to the death of Queen was refreshingly real and often poetic, no doubt thanks to the incredible skills of his ghostwriter.
I was struck by how much I had believed the press’s story of his life; accurate or not. To think that an entire family’s stories could be so fabricated or twisted into untruth was astonishing.
In revealing his own truths, however, he illuminated the dreadful antics of his family. Wills, Charles, Camilla, and the courtiers do not come out of this book without tarnish – and with good reason. There is so much to talk about, this is our book club book for next month.
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to judge everyone for lack of compassion but it’s a generational cycle that needs to be broken. I felt proud to see Harry putting in the work to make sure his own children don’t go through what he did.
This is a must for fans of books about the royal family and stories about royalty. This book is a best book for book clubs and a perfect pick from beach reads. Even if you don’t usually read memoirs, this is one of the best non-fiction books of 2023.
HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes
I’m an avid follower of Elizabeth Holmes’ account (you should be too) where she explains the significance of the Royal Family’s wardrobe. The nuance and attention to detail the Royals use when
Elizabeth breaks it down in an accessible and understandable way. I’m thrilled that her book delivers everything I’ve come to expect from her and more. This in-depth look at The Queen, Diana, Catherine, and Meghan is informative and beautiful. This is the perfect coffee table book for any fashion lover and is a must for books about Queen Elizabeth II!
For more books about Royals, check out our Ultimate List of Royal Reads.
Amazing Celebrity Memoirs
Finding Me by Viola Davis
April 2022 Oprah’s Book Club Pick
Viola Davis’s life story had me entranced as I learned what she needed to overcome during her childhood, college, and her early career to become the powerhouse she is today.
Her thoughts on life in Hollywood were enlightening. Her deep love for her family and her roots shone through. And her story made it very clear that she takes nothing for granted.
Viola worked damn hard to be successful and she deserves every accolade she’s received and more. Her narration even earned her an Audie Awards 2023 nomination.
Wow. I did not know that Molly Shannon had such trauma in her early childhood. She grew up without her mother and with an alcoholic father.
The fact that she is able to maintain such a positive outlook and continue to make others laugh seems amazing to me. Molly’s story is a very powerful one. And even though this non-fiction book was heavier than I thought it would be, it was definitely worth the read.
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
I have not read a memoir so fascinating and compelling since Educated by Tara Westover. As non-fiction books go, this is one of the best.
Jollett’s story about leaving a cult he was born into and the emotional scars his early childhood trauma left on him was so compelling. I was so impressed by his insight into himself and those around him, and his willingness to be so frank about his journey to adulthood. I can’t recommend this book about cults enough.
For more of the Best Celebrity Memoirs, check out this amazing list.
Non-Fiction Books About Anxiety
Find Your Calm: A Workbook to Manage Anxiety (Volume 1) by Jaime Zuckerman Psy. D.
This workbook can be used to help with several types of anxiety including social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic, and even just everyday stress and worry.
Find Your Calm takes behavioral strategies and presents them in a journaling-type fashion. This allows the reader to remain fully engaged in the workbook and easily apply each strategy to their daily life.
For more books about anxiety and chosen by an expert, check out this helpful list.
Goodbye Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry by Terri Bacow, PhD.
As a teen or young adult, things like schoolwork, social media, and navigating friendships can bring tons of stress, and you may often feel anxious and overwhelmed.
That’s why I developed this book with fun and accessible writing exercises designed to diminish worries, insecurities, fears, conflicts, and stressors just for your unique issues.
Even better, you will learn practical coping skills that you can use whenever you feel anxious.
For more books for teens with anxiety as chosen by an expert, check out this helpful list.
Non-Fiction Books About the Holocaust
Night by Elie Weisel
I have a personal story about this book. My husband’s grandmother grew up in the same town as Elie Weisel. She knew both him and his wife. This was the first thing that she told me when I met her (My husband’s name is also Elie but this is purely coincidental).
This is a must-read non-fiction book about the Holocaust written by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a short but very powerful book that will emotionally wreck you. For more amazing Oprah’s Book Club Picks, you can see the full list.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
There is no surprise that this non-fiction story was made into a movie. The story is just so compelling. When the Nazis invade Poland, the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo have their animal collection ransacked. They decide to hide fleeing Jewish people in the now empty animal homes.
I loved this book and I am so glad that I listened to this one. Suzanne Toren reads it beautifully. Her wonderful accents and pronunciation of the words I surely would have butchered with my attempts added to the book.
If you are interested in reading more books about the Holocaust, check out this list.
Non-Fiction Books About Science
Pandora’s Lab by Paul A. Offit
I usually do not read non-fiction books but this was so intriguing to me. Each chapter of the book features one of the greatest scientific errors ever made. It was absolutely fascinating. I really loved this book.
It made me look at everything in an entirely new way. I don’t want to give anything away by telling you what the chapters are about
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I read this book a few years ago and I was absolutely stunned. With each page, I kept thinking to myself “this can’t be true” and yet, somehow, it was.
In the 1950s an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks unknowingly had her cells taken. These cells, known as HeLa, were the first human cells to survive outside the human body and could reproduce indefinitely. HeLa cells became the basis for medical breakthroughs from the creation of the Polio vaccine to cancer and Aids research.
However, Henrietta Lacks’s family was never compensated for her contribution to science and could not afford to pay medical bills despite the cells making billions for companies. if you have not read this non-fiction book about poverty and science, it should be at the top of your list.
The Genome Odyssey: Medical Mysteries and the Incredible Quest to Solve Them by Euan Angus Ashley
Wow! I found this book completely fascinating and enlightening. It has the best of mystery fiction while
being completely true. The development of medical technology to map the human genome has so many amazing implications.
From diseases of the retina and hemophilia to numerous cardiovascular diseases, discovering genetic mutations is the first step in finding more tailored and specific treatments. This non-fiction book left me feeling so hopeful for medical advancements in the future.
Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
This is an amazing recount of Jeanette Walls’s upbringing and childhood. She is a successful journalist and writer living in New York City.
Her parents also live in New York; however, they choose to be homeless. Jeanette Wells’s upbringing was unconventional and her parents did not offer her a structured childhood. This is a fantastic pick from books about mothers and as non-fiction books go, this one reads like fiction. It is so readable.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
June 2020 Oprah’s Book Club Pick
Stop everything and add Hidden Valley Road to your TBR now!! All I can say is wow! This favorite is one of the best books on Mental Illness and an absolutely fascinating non-fiction book.
This is the amazing story of Don and Mimi Galvin whose family paved the way for schizophrenia research over the past 50 years. Of their 12 children- 10 sons and 2 daughters, 6 of the boys have schizophrenia.
The struggles of this family to survive through the age of lobotomies and institutionalization provides a look into the history of this disorder. It’s unbelievable to think how far we’ve come and yet, we are not even close to understanding this disease.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
I read this non-fiction book in a few short days after finding out I would be interviewing Lori Gottlieb for a local charity event. I was so intrigued by the concept of a therapist talking about her own experience in therapy and how it relates to her clients.
It was fascinating and filled with insight that is relevant to how we all live our lives and how we relate to the community around us. Lori was a pleasure to interview and I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
For more books like these, check out our list of books about mental illness.
Non-Fiction Feel-Good Books
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
My mom recommended this book to me for a feel-good book and it was exactly what I needed. Sy Montgomery is a naturalist who explores consciousness through amazing stories of animals- particularly Octopuses.
The lives of these shy, amazing animals are unlike any other animal on the planet. These intelligent animals with such distinct personalities are the backdrop for this wonderful feel-good, non-fiction book.
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
This is such an amazing story of an amazing man unlike any other. He was a man central to the development of educational children’s television.
Fred was kind, caring, compassionate, and a champion for equality. He was devoted to children and addressing their educational, social, and emotional needs. I could personally relate to parts of his life during the time when he lived in Toronto.
This book is so well written and so easy to listen to despite the fact that it is not my usual genre (non-fiction). Levar Burton narrates and I love hearing him read- it brings me back to my childhood (Reading Rainbow)
For more books like these, check out our list of Feel-Good Reads.
Non-Fiction Anti-Racist Books
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
I admit that I do not listen to podcasts but I heard so much about this book that I could not wait to listen to it. It did not take me long to listen to this book but it is full from beginning to end.
I love Acho’s straightforward voice. There are no accusations. Rather, here are answered questions from someone who has the answers. I learned a lot from this book like the origins of the term “grandfathered in”. Acho has a unique and powerful voice. This non-fiction book is a must-listen!
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
All I can say is wow. This book is absolutely illuminating. I cannot believe the laws in this country that were created to systematically segregate America. More than just redlining, banks, and the government created a system in which there were completely different sets of rules depending on the color of your skin.
I did not know anything about these laws prior to reading the book and it left me flabbergasted. This is a must-read, non-fiction book about poverty and the history of our country. I think it should actually be required reading.
For more books like these, check out our list of Black History Books to Read.
Non-Fiction Books About Debutantes
Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans
Maiden Voyages looks at the ladies who worked Ocean Liners like the Titanic and the unbelievable challenges they faced. I was in awe as I listened to this story of ships being sunk by icebergs and wartime submarines.
The stories of unruly passengers, hurricanes, and the sacrifices of leaving their families to help others were unbelievable. I was so engrossed that I kept forgetting the book was non-fiction.
If you love women’s history, the history of travel, or stories about the Titanic, this is the book for you!
The Season: A Social History of the Debutante by Kristen Richardson
I was looking for a non-fiction read when I stumbled across the gorgeous cover of this book. I’m a huge fan of the period romance and have read my fair share of coming-out parties, debutante balls, and other aristocratic functions.
I thought this book would help me understand more about the customs of the monied elite. Books like Bridgerton and others on this are filled with references to the rules of society that his book explains.
I learned all I would ever need to know on the topic. I found it to be interesting but at times a bit dry, still it gave me a better understanding of the crazy rules.
Non-Fiction Books About Family Estates
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman
Empty Mansions reads like a novel for sure. Huguette Clark’s life was one of opulence and riches, but she died a recluse with a $300 million dollar estate and a vast number of decrepit homes in her portfolio.
The book outlines her life, her struggles, and the people who took advantage of her good nature. I couldn’t put it down! The splendor of her life reads like a soap opera and the photos of her homes included in the book are jawdropping.
When it comes to books like Downton Abbey, this one is a hit if it’s the house itself you are most interested in.
The Beneficiary by Janny Scott
This non-fiction book is written by a woman who grew up on the famed Ardrossan estate as a member of the family that inspired The Philadelphia Story, a classic movie about the upper class.
The movie was a favorite of mine (does it get any better than Cary Grant & Kate Hepburn?) and Ardrossan is actually only 15 minutes from my house. I got to see the writer speak at the 55,000 sq ft home. It was so cool to get a peek behind the pages.
For more books like these, check out books like Downtown Abbey, Bridgerton, and Gilded Age books.
Non-Fiction Books About Sports
What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
What an emotional non-fiction book about Madison’s life, her pressures, and her mental state leading up to her suicide. I remember when Madison’s suicide happened here in Philadelphia.
I was 8 months pregnant at the time. It was a tragedy that was all over the news as parents everywhere felt the pain of Madison’s parents.
I read this book as part of an upcoming book discussion at a local community center that works on suicide prevention. I learned so much about suicide from this book, which handled the subject with grace and thoughtfulness it deserves.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
I was enthralled by the heroics of the team. The sheer force of will and strength it takes to get in that boat and win. I thought I would be bored by the minutia of rowing, but I wasn’t.
The mechanical part of it, the precision, just made me appreciate the skill of rowing even more. The Olympic games gave me such a heightened sense of American pride. I was rooting for the team and cheering them on the whole time.
For more books like these, check out our list of sports books.
Non-Fiction Books About 9-11
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
Wow. It is hard to put the power of this book into words. Graff crafted the day of 9/11 from hour to hour and I had a hard time listening to it. The 45-person full cast audiobook recreates the day with heart-stopping detail.
Like everyone, I remember exactly where I was on that day. Hearing the oral history told by first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and families is unlike anything I have ever seen and should be required for every student in the country. This book is the perfect example of how full cast audiobooks can transform a book into something greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read and while it is a sad book, it is one that is a must-read.
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede
I sobbed through this entire story. This non-fiction book was poignant and hopeful at the same time. I loved learning about the town of Gander, Newfoundland and how they took in 6,500 people on planes that had to have emergency landings after 9/11.
The townspeople were so welcoming and kind. It’s like Mr. Rodgers says – always look for the helpers.
Non-Fiction Books About Finding Yourself
Where to Begin by Cleo Wade
I finished this searing and insightful book in about an hour. It features Cleo’s Ted Talk, a few poems, and some short stories designed to empower the reader to start changing the world NOW. I loved the focus on changing how we as individuals approach the problem because change really does start one person at a time.
Whether you need her wisdom to overcome a personal struggle or something as momentous as climate change, the words have equal merit. I found myself pausing numerous times to reflect on little nuggets of truth I found in her writing. This is a book that will live on my bookshelf for years to come.
I think I’d like to read it every New Year to remind me of my inner strength and help me set intentions for my life. If you are looking for a powerful pep talk to get you tackling life’s biggest challenges, this is the book for you. I’m truly honored to have received it.
Wild: From Lost to Found in the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed
I really liked this book but, I think I actually liked the movie better. I found myself questioning so many of the choices that Ms. Strayed made throughout the book and felt like it was a miracle that she lived to tell the story.
It was one of the stories that I just had to keep reading to see how she survived!
All Boys aren’t Blue by George M Johnson
I love George M, Johnson’s voice as they talk about very difficult topics in such a way that the book is completely relatable to everyone. Everyone knows that memoirs usually aren’t my preferred genre but there was something about George’s story that had me hooked from the first sentence.
This book is eye-opening and profound. It made me think about things from a different perspective and I was captivated by the story throughout the entire book. This non-fiction book is so captivating, it reads like fiction.
Non-fiction Books about Women in the Workplace
The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt
This nonfiction old hollywood book sheds light on the talent of Disney’s pioneering female animators and the struggles they faced in a male-dominated field. I loved learning about these incredible women – like Mary Blair who created the art for the “It’s a Small World” ride.
I was appalled by the disparate treatment female in the animation field received, but I was also impressed by their gumption. The author does a tremendous job of showing their struggles but also how these women shaped animation as we know it.
I was heartened to see just how far they have come. The book ends with Frozen and you could clearly see the studio’s growth. This is an amazing, non-fiction book about art.
Come Fly The World by Julia Cooke
In this delightful book, we learn about uniforms, training, frolicking adventures, and the glamorous life in the air that had me picturing Gwyneth Paltrow in View From the Top.
It also discussed far more serious topics like hijackers, Vietnam war flights and rescues, and issues of discrimination toward women.
We talked with Julia about the research of this book, what surprised her most, and other fun things over on IG. Be sure to check it out.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Woman Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
This true and amazing story of the black mathematicians and their role in the space race reads like a fiction novel.
So many people know this story because of the movie but, the book gives so many more details- as is usually the case with adaptations.
For more books like these, check out our list of books featuring women in the workplace.
Non-fiction Books About Women in Politics
First Women by Kate Andersen Brower
This non-fiction book about women in politics is all about the first ladies. I had no idea what a job being the First Lady really is…an unpaid one at that! This intimate look at the many hats the modern First Lady plays showcases all the women from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama that have been FLOTUS.
I was fascinated to see the differences between Hillary Clinton to Lady Bird Johnson. I know FLOTUS is one job I never want to have, but I have such respect for all the women that have held that office.
From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
This non-fiction memoir about Beck’s life as the stenographer in the Obama White House read like a fiction book. It was like Sex and the City meets Scandal.
I had no idea how juicy things got in Washington! I also appreciated how much Beck respected the Obamas and the work they did for our country.
For more books like these, check out our list of books about women in politics.
The Best Non-Fiction Books Spies
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
I’m not generally a huge non-fiction reader unless the topic is of particular interest to me. Having seen the Imitation Game and read quite a few non-fiction books about coding in war times, I thought this one would be interesting.
It was a truly fascinating read of all the books about WWII! I loved finding out about the trials and tribulations of the real-life heroes of the war.
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
This harrowing non-fiction book tells the stories of the Jewish female resistance members during WW2. These women have not been given nearly enough attention for their bravery, fearlessness, and sacrifice.
As Battalion explores the different experiences each female operative goes through during the war, I had tears streaming down my face. The sheer gall of these women was inspiring to me, especially in light of the danger they were in if caught out.
I picked this up during International Holocaust day and I couldn’t put it down. A must-read for those looking for WWII books and courage in the face of hatred.
For more books like these, check out our list of spy books.
The Best Non-Fiction Books About Poverty
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
This book had me thinking about it for DAYS. I mean truly, DAYS. This book about poverty shows the impact how a lack of education can impact generations.
Tara’s journey was inspiring, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking all in one. This nonfiction book about cults had great insight into more extremist religions and survivalists.
I don’t usually read memoirs and I heard great things about this book. I loved it so much- it made my list of favorites for the year last year. It is such an amazing story that reads like a novel rather than non-fiction.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
While I usually am not an avid reader of non-fiction, this memoir is completely captivating from the very first page. I had no idea about the Hillbilly culture so, everything in this book was completely foreign to me.
The book reads like a novel which adds to the appeal for me. A big reason we chose this book as the best of 2016 is how much we both loved this book despite the fact that it is outside of our preferred genre. It says so much about a book that has universal appeal.
Non-Fiction Celebrity Book Club Picks
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
A moving memoir of life as a Chinese immigrant in America. Qian and her family moved to America for the opportunity, but hurdle after hurdle is thrown in their way.
As her parents try to put food on the table, we learn about the immigrant experience through the eyes of a Qian as a child. From her near-constant hunger to trying to acclimate to her new school system, Wang writes to make the reader feel what she felt.
Truly a moving account of her early life. I challenge anyone to read this and not wonder how broken our immigration system is.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
November 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Pick
I am so happy that I finally read this book. Michelle Obama is a brilliant woman who has such an incredible story to tell. I was intrigued listening to her life and her upbringing.
I listened to this book and was so happy to hear the story read by Obama herself. Obama is a brilliant woman and it was a pleasure to hear her story told in her voice. There is something about her voice that is so calming and soothing. This is one of our favorite non-fiction books about women in politics.
Non-Fiction Books About Food
My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings by Zosia Mamet
This Anthology of stories is all centered around memories associated with food. Some of these stories are funny and some are quite poignant as they highlight how central food is to our culture, lives, and memories.
This book is different from any of the full cast audiobooks that I have listened to because each story is written and read by a different narrator. It is a quick read (or listen) from our list of ultimate beach reads 2023.
From Scratch by Tembi Locke
May 2019 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
I knew what this book was about before reading it and I was still not prepared for the heartbreak and beauty within the pages. This memoir is truly a love letter to Tembi’s husband who died from cancer. This is an incredibly sad book that had me in tears.
The descriptions of the food, the people, and the love she had for her husband are unlike anything that I have read before. This is a five-star book about grief if you can read through heartache. It’s one of the Netflix book adaptations I’m planning on watching.
Did we include your favorite non-fiction books on this list?
Ultimate List of Historical Fiction
Love Historical Fiction? We do too! That’s why we created the Ultimate List of Historical Fiction carefully divided by time period.
Ultimate List of Contemporary Fiction
Love Contemporary Fiction? We do too! That’s why we created the Ultimate List of Contemporary Fiction carefully divided by genres.