5 Best Non-Fiction Books 2021

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best non-fiction books

Main topics in this article concern non-fiction and best non-fiction books of all time.

What is Non-Fiction

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What is non-fiction? It is the content created by the author who genuinely believes in the accuracy and the truth of the events, characters and information presented in the story. This is what constitutes the main difference between fiction and non-fiction. In fictional literature, the writer leaves it open for the readers to interpret how the events relate to reality. The reality in non-fiction books can be subjective or objective, non-fiction narrative may not be accurate and can give either a true or a false account of the events of the story. This contrasts with fiction where events and characters are partly or largely imaginary. Non-fiction can refer not only to books but also to pictures as well as films that present a factual account of a subject in question. If we take literary non-fiction, then there is such a style known as literary criticism meaning non-fiction written on fiction books.

We should mention here that the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are being continuously blurred and argued about. This is particularly relevant when we are speaking about such a genre as biography:

“If we think of truth as something of granite-like solidity and of personality as something of rainbow-like intangibility and reflect that the aim of biography is to weld these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the problem is a stiff one and that we need not wonder if biographers, for the most part, failed to solve it”.
―  Virginia Woolf

Other types of literary nonfiction include memoirs, journalist pieces, essays, argumentative and opinion pieces, academic papers, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, manuals as well as historical, technical and economic writings.

Best Non-Fiction Books

In this article, we are going to cover non-fiction books that everyone should read. These books have been continuously featured in such lists like “100 books everyone should read”, “books to read before you die” as well as “best books of all time”. Sometimes the books have been matched as “literary non-fiction” by the publishing and bookselling companies to distinguish literary works with a more intellectual twist as opposed to a great collection of fictional stories and subjects. Our BooksRun list of top non-fiction books to read will have an impact on your thinking and approach to life.

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

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This autobiography book is a sad and uplifting story at the same time about the life of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer just in his mid-thirties. The author tells his story sharing the ideas on how to deal with approaching death gracefully and what he really learnt about being fully alive.

“This is not the end. Or even the beginning of the end. This is just the end of the beginning…” 

In his last year of residency as a neurosurgeon at Stanford, Kalanithi experienced rapid negative changes in his health including rapid weight loss, severe back and chest pains. After learning that these symptoms are due to cancer, the author starts to analyse his life full of work overload which let him become a respected member of the medical community just at 36 years old. Rated as NY Times best seller, the book shows the gradual journey that Paul Kalanithi will have to go through: his struggle to accept the diagnosis at the beginning, his emotional condition about being examined in the same room where he used to tell the news to his own patients, his refusal to communicate with his wife to his subsequent determination to finish the last months of his residency and his acceptance of life the way it is. It is definitely one of the best books to read this year.

Below you can watch a very moving episode where Paul Kalanithi shares his life story:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

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This book is a true non-fiction best seller ranked among best non-fiction books 2018. First published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011, this literary work studies the history of humankind from the actual evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to our days. Public reaction to the book has been great whereas scholars’ reception has been somewhat critical and sceptical. This book has been ranked among the best non-fiction audiobooks 2018 as well.

The author’s main focus is on transformations of Homo Sapiens that he explains within the framework of evolutionary biology. For Harari, human activity develops within the limits set by biology whereas culture shapes what happens within these boundaries. According to him, there are four major Homo Sapiens history intervals:

  • The Cognitive revolution (when Sapiens started to use imagination)
  • The Agricultural revolution (when Sapiens started to develop agriculture)
  • The unification of Humankind ( consolidation of human political organisations)
  • The Scientific Revolution ( when Sapiens started to develop objective science)

The author’s main argument about Sapiens dominating the world is that it is the only animal that can cooperate flexibly and in large numbers. Therefore, it is teamwork again, our dear readers! The author explains that due to Sapiens being capable to collaborate successfully, other human species such as Neanderthals were destined for extinction because they had not developed this skill. Another interesting idea of Harari is that this ability to cooperate comes from the ability of Sapiens to believe in things that exist only in the imagination, like Gods, money and later human rights.

Therefore, it is one of the best sellers you better not miss in 2019! It is very interesting to listen to the author Yuval Noah Harari and we suggest you watch his TED talk where he is speaking about the humans ruling the world:

Manual for Living, by Epictetus

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This book deserves the fame as all good non-fiction books do. Unfortunately, this gem does not feature that often in non-fiction book suggestions so we decided to improve this drawback. In front of you is the Art of Living manual developed by Epictetus who was born into slavery at the times of the Roman Empire. He is the father of an influential school of Stoic philosophy with its ninety-three wise instructions. Listed among best seller books 2018, this book teaches its readers to differentiate between the things that are in their power and those that are not. So many people waste their lives chasing the things that are not actually as important as they might seem. Human beings cannot control life but they can control their opinions and responses to it! Once you put into practice the ideas from this book, you will learn how to meet the challenges of everyday life gracefully!

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking

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This book can be a good suggestion of non-good fiction books for teens. It is a popular-science view on cosmology written by the most famous media personality of the science of our times  – Stephen Hawking. The book’s first edition dates back to 1988 but since then it has survived numerous editions. It offers explanations on the structure, origin, development and eventual fate of the universe with non-technical terms and is adapted for non-specialist readers. The book does not require prior knowledge of scientific theories. He writes about Big Bang and black holes, talks about such important concepts as space and time, explains the reasoning behind the idea of quarks that make up our Universe. Such complex subjects as quantum mechanics and unifying theory which is usually present in overly scientific books, here are presented in a coherent and user-friendly manner.

As no exception to good non-fiction books, this book became a best seller and sold more than10 million copies in 20 years. Moreover, it was consistently on the London Sunday Times bestseller list for five years and was translated into 35 languages by 2001!

Stephen Hawking is a unique man whose scientific brilliance, imagination and enthusiasm won over his terrible sclerosis disease. We suggest you listen to his TED talk where he talks about his ideas from the book “A Brief History of Time”.

This is Water, by David Foster Wallace

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Another good book on how to live a compassionate life. It teaches you “how to think”: by exercising control over what and how you think. It gives you two options: either you accept your natural default ways of thinking or you have another option to learn to look differently at life and to withdraw meaningful experiences from it. The book originated from the commencement speech that the author David Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. Later he published an essay on a similar topic and only in 2009 the format was stretched to the 138 pages book. The book touches on such important and omnipresent subjects as the difficulty of empathy, the importance of being well adjusted, the loneliness of adult life. The author writes about his view on higher education, on how to perceive other people consciously and how to find meaning in everyday life. According to the author true freedom is acquired through education and is expressed in the ability to lead a conscious, sympathetic and adjusted life.

This book outlines the author’s spiritual philosophy that let him acquire inner peace and battle anxiety and depression. It can be particularly useful for young people struggling to find their place in the world: it shows the way how to approach complex things and to find your own self.

David Wallace’s speech at Kenyon College was very well received by the students and since then has been rated as one of the best commencement speeches ever. We found a Youtube version of it for you where you can listen to the author’s own challenges in life and how he stood up to them.


Non-fiction books occupy an important place in our culture and offer accurate content to its readers. One of the best movies of all time as well as other forms of artistic expression that continue to delight us today are based on the factual account of stories and issues found in non-fiction literature.

Iliana K