We’ve all been there: You finish a book that stole a piece of your soul. Even after consuming sequels, prequels, television and film adaptations, books on similar topics, and erotic or otherwise questionable fan fiction, you still haven’t sated your thirst to know and read more. Have you considered turning to something a little more true-to-life? For the staunch fiction lover, we’ve got 8 awesome nonfiction recommendations based on fictional favorites.
If You Loved: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Then Read: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson
The indescribable beauty of Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning effort is its humanity. All the Light We Cannot See paints a portrait of World War II through the stories of two young victims caught up in the maelstrom: a German orphan, who by accident becomes a cog in the Nazi machine, and a blind French girl fleeing a plot that ensnares her father. While Larson’s subjects, the first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany and his family, are somewhat less sympathetic, they do lend human faces to a mind-bending global conflict. I can’t say you’ll like the doddering William E. Dodd, or his firecracker, flamboyant teenage daughter, but their experiences get at the nuance and complexity of a struggle we now see as good vs. evil.
If You Loved: The Martian, by Andy Weir
Then Read: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield
The Martian is a story first of exploration, then survival, as astronaut Mark Watney has to figure out how to stay alive after he’s left behind on the Red Planet. If Weir’s novel and its forthcoming movie adaptation have whetted your appetite for space, do yourself a favor and pick up the story of real-live astronaut Hadfield, who has fashioned himself a social media star with things like his orbital version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” If you want an adrenaline rush, Hadfield obliges, recounting myriad outer-space crises and that one time he wrassled a snake in the cockpit of an airplane. Moreover, he’ll give you a new perspective on your earthbound life.
If You Loved: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Then Read: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation, by Blake J. Harris
Ready Player One is the ultimate homage to video games, peppered with in-jokes, loving nods, and references galore as Wade Watts navigates his quest within OASIS, a virtual gamer’s utopia. It also serves as a bit of a history lesson (at least of the ’80s), tracing an arc from Pac-Man and Joust to the fully immersive game environment of Wade’s own time. In Console Wars, Harris gives us a different but complementary history lesson, about that time in the ‘90s when Sega and Nintendo engaged in a David-and-Goliath struggle for the lion’s share of the video-game industry that pitted a blue hedgehog against an Italian plumber.
If You Loved: Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain
Then Read: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman
If you want a true-life companion to McLain’s fictionalized love triangle between aviator Beryl Markham, a roguish safari hunter, and author Karen Blixen, then pick up Out of Africa, written by Blixen under the pen name Isak Dineson. But if you want another tale about unconventional ladies breaking records, then Eighty Days is for you. On November 14, 1889, two young journalists set out to beat Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in fewer than 80 days. Bly took off by steamship, Bisland by train. Their frenzied race against a fictional character, each other, and the world is enthralling, particularly since the pair couldn’t be more different, however trailblazing.
If You Loved: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Then Read: Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Found, by Frances Larson
If you’re a Mantel groupie, there’s a fair chance you’ve read one of the eleven billion nonfiction accounts of Tudor England (including Alison Weir’s exhaustive The Six Wives of Henry VIII) and of Thomas Cromwell, the true central character of Wolf Hall (most recently, Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, by Tracy Borman). Now I recommend checking out Larson’s tracking of the other most famous aspect of Henry’s reign: all those darned headless people. Maybe you never knew you were interested in the history of decapitation, but Severed is so thorough and fascinatingly macabre in its explorations of shrunken heads, guillotines, and grave robbing that you won’t be able to put it down.
If You Loved: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien or The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Then Read: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski
Can I get a “duh”? Tolkien and Lewis have long been linked in the minds of fantasy diehards, but the Zaleskis finally give life to the social circle that produced some of the most definitive works of fiction of any century. The Inklings, as the members of this literary club dubbed themselves, formed a veritable salon, hashing out broad cultural ideas and sharing their works with one another. The excellence of the results is undeniable, but the story behind them is equally captivating.
If You Loved: Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Then Read: My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road With Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs, by Brian Switek
If Jurassic Park (and the more recent indie flick Jurassic World) reignited your childhood adoration of dinosaurs, you might relate to Switek’s giddy probing of our fascination with the extinct titans, with a special loving focus on the poor Brontosaurus, whose second extinction came when it was discovered the creature had never existed. Switek litters his expedition with stories of his own life-long dino obsession. It’ll leave as excited as if you found out your self-driving car had an interactive CD-ROM.
If You Loved: Ms. Marvel, by G. Willow Wilson
Then Read: The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore
In her new, revitalized turn as Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan has catapulted herself into the role of a heroine for our time. She’s tough, smart, imperfect, a bit of a nerd, and just happens to have these nifty superpowers. Kamala has worked her way into the feminist pop culture canon, and once you’ve experienced her adventures, you should read up on the most popular female superhero of all time: Wonder Woman. Lepore digs into a treasure trove of documents from and about Wonder Woman’s noncomformist creator, William Moulton Marston, whose suffragist leanings were matched only by his personal intrigue. (Bonus: if you still have a hankering for comics, check out Jon Morris’s The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes From Comic Book History, for inside looks at bizarro “heroes” like Dr. Hormone and Brain Boy.)