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Narrative Nonfiction Library Staff Picks

A list of nonfiction titles that are every bit as page-turning as novels, chosen by Madison Public Library staff.

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Cover of The Boys in the Boat: Nine
Daniel James

Improbable and intimate, this book defies category. You needn't care about rowing or WWII to be fully immersed in the achievement of these working class boys as they shock the world with their Olympic win. Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of Farm City: The Education o

In this memoir, Carpenter describes how she became an urban farmer after moving to an inner-city neighborhood in Oakland, California. Starting with a garden in an abandoned lot, she expands into animal husbandry with frustrating, comical and delicious results. Available to download: Audio

Cover of The Stranger in the Woods

A true story of a man who lived year-round in the woods of Maine in a tent for 27 years, stealing supplies and never talking to another person.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of Killers of the Flower Moon

In 1920s Oklahoma enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were some of the wealthiest people per capita in the world due the oil fields beneath their land. A ‘Reign of Terror’ by whites intent on getting some of this wealth included shooting, poisoning, bombing in order to decimate the tribe. Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judiciary were the norm until a young J. Edgar Hoover saw a chance to make his reputation with the FBI in pursuit of justice. Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of Endurance: A Year in Space

Kelly is a four time veteran of off-planet missions, including his year on the International Space Station. Of special interest is the depiction of the day-to-day work of astronauts and the portrait he paints of what happened to his body after a year in space.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of Into Thin Air: A Personal

What is it about Mt. Everest that leads people to spend thousands, risk their lives, ignore the concerns of family in order to attempt to summit? Krakauer went on assignment for Outside magazine to find out- and we climb alongside.  Available to download: ebook

Cover of Dead Wake: The Last Crossi

A British passenger ship headed from New York to Liverpool sunk in 18 minutes in May of 1915 – torpedoed by a German U-Boat in the waters off of Ireland. Larson weaves a thrilling story of passengers, ship captains, heads of state and a spymaster. Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of H is for Hawk

British naturalist Macdonald undertakes the training of a goshawk as a means of working through the grief at the sudden loss of her father, himself a falconer.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of The Wright Brothers

Two genius brothers -- both with only high school educations - combine their talents to teach the world how to make an airplane that flies. Using the Wrights' personal papers - including diaries, notebooks and photographs - we see how their singular focus and bravery led to a global transformation.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of Born a Crime

A magical blend of funny and serious, Trevor (as his mother shouts over and over in many scenes here) brings his childhood vividly to life, immersing us in the dynamics of his youthful years with family, friends, and culture. A second book will be needed, as his journey stops abruptly- long before he 'makes it' with The Daily Show.  Available to download: eBooke

Cover of Becoming

The first half of Becoming takes a warm tone as Obama details her beautiful upbringing (though not without challenges.) Halfway, as Obama is drawn deeper into politics and then the suffocating life of the White House- literally with no windows that open- her tone shifts, as the ugliness of politics becomes part of her daily life. Try listening to the audiobook, as it is wonderfully read by the author.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of The Shepherd's Life: Moder

Connecting his family’s sheep farm to the larger community of those living closely connected to the land in England’s Lake District, Rebanks explores what it means to live a life centered around land and continuity in this age of change and flux.

Cover of Life

A sprawling easy read, long on early career detail and genuine regarding collaborators, the focus is, of course, Keith (and his drug fueled life) rather than the Stones.  Available to download: Audio

Cover of Just Kids

Smith’s memoir of her romance and friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction. Not just a portrait of their relationship, Just Kids showcases NYC in the late sixties and seventies from the perspective of young artists on the way up.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of Deep Down Dark: The Untold

An electrifying and gripping narrative with fresh details, this is a wonderfully complex story with many narrative threads.  Available to download: eBook Audio

Cover of All the Single Ladies: Unm

This mix of history, personal narrative and interview excerpts reads like a long-form magazine article with statistical nuggets sprinkled in. Not a political book- rather a 'where are we' and 'how did we get here' and 'how does it feel to be here' book.  Available to download: eBook

Cover of Black Man in a White Coat:

One doctor's own experience grappling with race and bias in medicine reveals broader truths across our medical system and society. For readers, this might be the next read after Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy.  Available to download: eBook

Cover of Educated: A Memoir

It isn't just the details of Westover's life- which was quite harrowing as one of many children in an off-the-grid homeschooling family with a scrap yard, a very difficult father, an a pseudo (or real?) healing mother. It's the way the reader is a partner in the dissection of what happened and what it meant. A standout book- in high demand for years, for good reason.  Available to download: eBook Audio