The Best Nonfiction Books That Read Like A Novel

The Books I Picked & Why

Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington

By Ted Widmer

Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington

Why this book?

This book rocked my world. Imagine this: Congress is meeting to ratify the election of a new president. But half the country doesn't want the new guy; in fact, there are armed thugs wandering around the streets of Washington, making noise about insurrection. The rumors of violence are so disturbing that the police force is put on high alert, and the Vice President, carrying the election paperwork, is assigned extra security. Sound familiar? This was the situation in 1861, as Abraham Lincoln was readying himself for his trip to the Capitol to take office. The book follows his train ride there, and the writing rollicks along just like a train speeding down a track. I adored this book, and for me, it was made even more compelling because I read it about a week after the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021. As a really well-written book, filled with history and personal portraits of the people who lived that history, it is excellent. As a look at history repeating itself, it is unparalleled.


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The Sinking of the Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy

By Jay Bonansinga

The Sinking of the Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy

Why this book?

Jay Bonansinga is best known as a horror writer – he took over the Walking Dead novels when Robert Kirkman “handed him the keys to the Jaguar”, as Jay charmingly puts it. He brings that visceral immediacy and intensity to his nonfiction as well. This is his book on the sinking of the Eastland as it was being loaded with passengers for a picnic excursion. On July 24, 1915, this tragedy claimed more lives than the Chicago Fire. Nearly 10,000 people could only stand by and watch helplessly as the overloaded Eastland rolled, righted itself, then counterbalanced and rolled to the other side, sinking in the Chicago River. Jay tells the story of the people (many of them immigrants) who lived this history, and brings their stories to life once more.


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The World of Lore: Wicked Mortals

By Aaron Mahnke

The World of Lore: Wicked Mortals

Why this book?

The Lore series, based on the World of Lore podcast, is a wonderful collection of the strange, bizarre, and creepy. This particular book focuses on people who gained fame through their disturbing hobbies and unpleasant predilections: serial killers, criminals, psychopaths, and other associated weirdos. I've always been drawn to collections like these, and this is one of the best. Check out the others in the series too.


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Spirits of the Cage: True Accounts of Living in a Haunted Medieval Prison

By Richard Estep, Vanessa Mitchell

Spirits of the Cage: True Accounts of Living in a Haunted Medieval Prison

Why this book?

Richard Estep is a well-regarded paranormal investigator, who generously writes about some of his fascinating cases so the rest of us can enjoy them too. Reading this book – preferably with all the lights on – is a great way to vicariously experience the investigation of a British historical site ... a site that happens to be viciously haunted.


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Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

By Kate Clifford Larson

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

Why this book?

Because of my work with the splendidly haunted Peoria State Hospital, I have a massive soft spot for tales of struggles with mental illness. This is a topic that is very close to my heart for many reasons, and it's fascinating to read about historical figures that suffered with mental illness or mental disabilities. Rosemary Kennedy was a beautiful, lively, spirited girl who grew up in one of the most famous families in America. But due to injuries suffered during her birth, she was mentally challenged – and this did not sit well with the Kennedys. Rosemary's disability was at odds with their own image of themselves as a powerful political juggernaut ... so she was shunted aside. As a young woman, she was lobotomized, which destroyed her bubbly, outgoing personality. After this, she was institutionalized and largely forgotten. This is a painful story to read, but Rosemary, and others who struggle with mental illness and disabilities, must not be ignored. Their stories deserve to be remembered.


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