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6 Nonfiction Reads You Won't Be Able to Put Down

Updated: Oct 9

by Sara Voigt (@meaningfulmadness)

Image of a stack of books with text "6 Nonfiction Reads You Won't Be Able to Put Down"

If you have trouble getting into nonfiction reads, then I have 5 books for you! These books are page-turners that read a lot like fiction. They have a narrative flow that keep you coming back for more.


1. American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road by Nick Bilton


(Read my review of the book here.)


From the publisher:

"In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons—free of the government’s watchful eye.


"It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the new Web site where anyone—not just teenagers and weed dealers but terrorists and black hat hackers—could buy and sell contraband detection-free. Spurred by a public outcry, the federal government launched an epic two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor, with no leads, no witnesses, and no clear jurisdiction. All the investigators knew was that whoever was running the site called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts.


"The Silk Road quickly ballooned into $1.2 billion enterprise, and Ross embraced his new role as kingpin. He enlisted a loyal crew of allies in high and low places, all as addicted to the danger and thrill of running an illegal marketplace as their customers were to the heroin they sold. Through his network he got wind of the target on his back and took drastic steps to protect himself—including ordering a hit on a former employee. As Ross made plans to disappear forever, the Feds raced against the clock to catch a man they weren’t sure even existed, searching for a needle in the haystack of the global Internet.


"Drawing on exclusive access to key players and two billion digital words and images Ross left behind, Vanity Fair correspondent and New York Times bestselling author Nick Bilton offers a tale filled with twists and turns, lucky breaks and unbelievable close calls. It’s a story of the boy next door’s ambition gone criminal, spurred on by the clash between the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized Web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Filled with unforgettable characters and capped by an astonishing climax, American Kingpin might be dismissed as too outrageous for fiction. But it’s all too real."


Why it made the list: Talk about an incredible story! I was totally captivated from page one of this true story that reads like a thriller. I love that Bilton gives you a complete picture of what is happening with all the players in this story. Check out the audio...it is fantastic.


2. The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil


From the publisher:

"Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were thunder. In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.


"When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted refugee status in the United States; there, in Chicago, their lives diverged. Though their bond remained unbreakable, Claire, who had for so long protected and provided for Clemantine, was a single mother struggling to make ends meet, while Clemantine was taken in by a family who raised her as their own. She seemed to live the American dream: attending private school, taking up cheerleading, and, ultimately, graduating from Yale. Yet the years of being treated as less than human, of going hungry and seeing death, could not be erased. She felt at the same time six years old and one hundred years old.


"In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms."


Why it made the list: I read this powerful memoir about Wamariya's refugee journey for an IRL Book Club. (Remember those?) Wamariya's story is one that impacted me greatly and helped me recognize some of my own blind spots to the refugee experience.


3. The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner


From the publisher:

"The thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children, Ruth Wariner grew up in polygamist family on a farm in rural Mexico. In The Sound of Gravel, she offers an unforgettable portrait of the violence that threatened her community, her family’s fierce sense of loyalty, and her own unshakeable belief in the possibility of a better life. An intimate, gripping tale of triumph and courage, The Sound of Gravel is a heart-stopping true story."


Why it made the list: Another IRL Book Club pick and another powerful memoir. Wariner's account of growing up in a polygamist family is one that you will not soon forget. I could not put this book down.


4. My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams


From the publisher:

"Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams’s new friend Anna Delvey, a self-proclaimed German heiress, was worldly and ambitious. She was also generous—picking up the tab for lavish dinners at Le Coucou, infrared sauna sessions at HigherDOSE, drinks at the 11 Howard Library bar, and regular workout sessions with a celebrity personal trainer.


"When Anna proposed an all-expenses-paid trip to Marrakech at the five-star La Mamounia hotel, Rachel jumped at the chance. But when Anna’s credit cards mysteriously stopped working, the dream vacation quickly took a dark turn. Anna asked Rachel to begin fronting costs—first for flights, then meals and shopping, and, finally, for their $7,500-per-night private villa. Before Rachel knew it, more than $62,000 had been charged to her credit cards. Anna swore she would reimburse Rachel the moment they returned to New York.


"Back in Manhattan, the repayment never materialized, and a shocking pattern of deception emerged. Rachel learned that Anna had left a trail of deceit—and unpaid bills—wherever she’d been. Mortified, Rachel contacted the district attorney, and in a stunning turn of events, found herself helping to bring down one of the city’s most notorious con artists.


"With breathless pacing and in-depth reporting from the person who experienced it firsthand, My Friend Anna is an unforgettable true story of money, power, greed, and female friendship."


Why it made the list: This was one of Jen's picks for me in Episode 139, and wow, did she get it right! This is an incredible story of friendship, ambition, and deceit. Do yourself a favor and don't Google anything until you read this story in its entirety.


5. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou


From the publisher:

"In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.


"A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley."


Why it made the list: Bad Blood and its subject Theranos, a Silicon Valley Startup, and Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO, have been heavily reported on in the media in the last few years. If you want the full story, this book by investigative journalist John Carreyrou is the book for you. This read like a high-stakes thriller. Another one that I couldn't put down. I listened to the audio and I highly recommend it.


6. Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob


From the publisher:

'“'How brown is too brown?'

"'Can Indians be racist?'

“'What does real love between really different people look like?'


"Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love.


"Written with humor and vulnerability, this deeply relatable graphic memoir is a love letter to the art of conversation—and to the hope that hovers in our most difficult questions."


Why it made the list: This is our Unabridged Book Club book for March, and I could not have loved this book more. Jacob is masterful in conveying so much about her experience as an Indian-American living in the United States. This graphic memoir is one I will revisit in the months to come.


#bookishfaves #nonfiction #memoir

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