The best true stories that are as fun to read as fiction

Who am I?

By training, I’m a lawyer; by trade, I’m a storyteller. For the first decade of my literary career, I wrote novels. I wove together narrative tapestries that, while fictional, were adapted from the real world. Now, in my first work of nonfiction, Wastelands, I’ve flipped the script, taking a true story and telling it with all the page-turning plotting and rich characterization of the best fiction. I’ve seen the literary world from both sides of the divide, both as a writer and as a reader, and I’m happiest in the borderlands. So, it seems, are authors like Jonathan Harr, Michael Lewis, and Erik Larson.

I wrote...

Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial

By Corban Addison,

Book cover of Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial

What is my book about?

The once idyllic coastal plain of North Carolina is home to a close-knit, rural community that for more than a generation has battled the polluting practices of large-scale farming taking place in its own backyard. After years of frustration and futility, an impassioned cadre of local residents, led by a team of intrepid and dedicated lawyers, filed a lawsuit against one of the world’s most powerful companies—and, miraculously, they won.

As vivid and fast-paced as a thriller, Wastelands takes us into the heart of a legal battle over the future of America’s farmland and into the lives of the people who found the courage to fight.

The books I picked & why

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A Civil Action

By Jonathan Harr,

Book cover of A Civil Action

Why this book?

From To Kill a Mockingbird to A Time to Kill to A Few Good Men, the courtroom drama is modern America’s version of Greek theater. Who doesn’t relish rooting for the underdog, witnessing a masterful cross-examination, or watching a team of legal gunslingers take down a maleficent corporation? Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action offers all of that high-octane drama in a unique package: every word of the story is true. I read the book in college, and it inspired me to go to law school. A Civil Action has the brisk pacing and rich characterization of a novel, yet its real-world grounding makes it as enlightening as it is entertaining. When I set out to write my own book, I borrowed Harr’s template and wrote it like a legal thriller that just so happens to be true. 

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

By Patrick Radden Keefe,

Book cover of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Why this book?

If every American loves a good courtroom drama, every American also loves to hate the Sackler family, the billionaire founders of Purdue Pharma. It is hard to understate the devastation that this single family has caused in countless communities across the United States. In Empire of Pain, Patrick Radden Keefe, a journalist with The New Yorker, brings the Sacklers to life in three-dimensional technicolor and with prose that is at once elegant and delightful to read. The story he tells is shocking, disturbing, and admirably humane, a complex portrait of a family who built a dynasty, yet who knew early on that its crown jewel, OxyContin, was dangerously addictive and who peddled it like candy anyway. A lyrically written page-turner, Empire of Pain is hard to put down.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

By Michael Lewis,

Book cover of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Why this book?

Michael Lewis is a literary magician. He can take the most obscure and unpalatable topic, find a story buried somewhere inside it, and turn that story into a book so good that you want to tell your friends about it. The Big Short is Lewis at his best. It tells the story of a motley crew of unconventional stock traders who saw the diabolical lie at the center of the subprime mortgage boom and bet against the market when the market was sizzling. They were Cassandras, destined never to be believed—until the market crashed in 2008, their detractors lost their shirts, and they made off like bandits. Also, with The Big Short, you get two for the price of one: Adam McKay, one of my favorite Hollywood directors, turned the book into a film that is as entertaining as its literary inspiration.

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral--Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!--In America's Gilded Capital

By Mark Leibovich,

Book cover of This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral--Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!--In America's Gilded Capital

Why this book?

I’ve always had a fascination with America’s political capital, Washington, D.C.—the way it brings together some of the most brilliant and bombastic people in the universe, the way it serves as a petri dish of high-minded principles and low-brow appetites, the juxtaposition of glittering surface and seamy underside that made the early seasons of House of Cards so binge-able. In This Town, Mark Leibovich brings D.C. to life in a story that is at once stomach-churning, rage-inducing, and laugh-out-loud funny. If you’ve ever wondered what Washington is really like behind all the flag-waving and politicking, the talking points, and stage lights, this is the book for you.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

By Erik Larson,

Book cover of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Why this book?

When I was a kid, I loved history but hated history books. My favorite way to learn about the past was to read well-written historical novels. That was before Erik Larson landed on the literary scene. His books are as compelling as fiction, but they are entirely true. In The Devil in the White City, Larson tells the rollicking, tumultuous, and sordid story of the Chicago World Fair in 1893 through the eyes of the architects and savants whose genius brought the fair to life in the face of impossible odds and through the eyes of the Jekyll-and-Hyde businessman-cum-serial killer who stalked the fair for beautiful and unattached young women and left a trail of bodies as long as Jeffrey Dahmer before an intrepid investigator finally discovered his scheme—and basement crematorium.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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