You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, but have you heard that reality is more kickass than fantasy, and nonfiction can righteously destroy science fiction’s behind? Because let me tell you, after you’ve read about these 7 books, you’ll be all too ready to trade in your copy of The Hunger Games:
7. Murderer with a Badge: The Secret Life of a Rogue Cop, by Edward Humes. To his coworkers, Bill Leasure was a particularly unambitious traffic cop in the LAPD, had no desire, it seemed, to move up the ranks. He wrote parking tickets, and his nickname was “Mild Bill,” which is boring even for a nickname.
Of course, all of this was perfect cover for his other job: freaking insanely rich criminal mastermind! That’s right, Leasure ran a criminal empire from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, involving insurance fraud, theft of million-dollar luxury yachts and Corvettes…and murder. His cover was so good that when the LAPD found him on a stolen boat, they still thought he was innocent. His wife was a city prosecutor, and even she didn’t know. All under the cover of being the most boring man alive.
6. The Avengers: A Jewish War Story, by Rich Cohen. Near the end of World War II, a small band of vengeful Jewish guerrillas not only escaped the Nazis, but later smuggled enough poison into Nuremberg to kill ten thousand of Hitler’s followers. If that doesn’t gain them more respect than better-known Avengers Iron Man and Captain America, we give up on this generation.
5. Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, by Edward A. Miller. The crew of the Confederate ship Planter sometimes told their deck slave Robert that he looked “just like the captain.” The mixed-race slave already knew this. He also knew 1) where all the mines in the harbor were (since he had placed them), 2) the hand-signals captains had to give the bayside Fort Sumter so they wouldn’t get blown out of the water, and 3) that he really hated working on a Confederate ship. Also, the ship’s crew had ignored protocol after a long stay at sea, and didn’t leave Smalls guarded.
Robert Smalls took this seemingly God-given opportunity and high-tailed it North with the help of other slaves, including his family. But he didn’t stop there–he became a Union pilot, then captain, and after the war he served as a state senator and finally a United States Congressman. And, because even after the war he wasn’t done stickin’ it to the man, he bought the home of his former master and lived in it with his family.
4. Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, by Waris Dirie. Dirie didn’t let living in the African desert, owning nothing but a shawl, or not being able to read stop her from traveling to Mogadishu, then London, then throughout the world as a renowned fashion model. Deciding she hadn’t been awesome enough yet, she became a human rights ambassador for the U.N. and an activist against female genital mutilation, a practice of which she is a victim. You may also have heard of the 2011 movie adaptation starring Liya Kebede.
3. Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves, by Dennis Brindell Fradin. If you thought the Robert Smalls story was crazy, you have to check out this collection of true stories from other escaped slaves, including Henry “Box” Brown, who got his nickname after mailing himself to freedom in a crate. Or Eliza Harris, who jumped from iceberg to iceberg across the Ohio River like a freaking action hero with her baby in her arms. Or Ellen and William Craft, who traveled first class to the North disguised as a white woman and her slave.
2. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, by Jillian Lauren. It might seem stupid to listen to somebody who promises you $20,000 for “spicing up” parties in Singapore, but New Yorker Jillian Lauren was desperate. She realized her mistake only when she arrived in Borneo and found herself press-ganged into the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, a brother of the Sultan of Brunei. She wrote this book about the nearly three years she spent amidst the decadence of the prince’s harem.
1. The Legend of Grizzly Adams: California’s Greatest Mountain Man, by Richard Dillon. If you think Davey Crockett was tough just because Disney made movies about him, check out John Adams, known as Grizzly because…well, he was a BAMF. After deciding that mining gold was too mainstream, he caught a bear and tamed her, teaching her to follow him, carry his things, and even carry him. That’s right, he rode bears for fun. And after taming more bears, he took his show on the road and wrestled bears. The only thing more awesome than that is Tron Paul Revere.
What’s the wildest nonfiction story you’ve ever read?