The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time

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In our today’s article, we are thrilled to share our latest article featuring the top ten nonfiction books of all time! While we know there are countless amazing reads out there, we’ve carefully curated this list based on several other resources with longer lists and our preferences. 

Among numerous other stories about science, politics, and history, works devoted to the study of society, and personal narratives, we’ve picked those that we liked most. So, get ready to find out more about nonfiction books that provide information based on facts, research, and expert knowledge, offering valuable insights and perspectives on real-life experiences.

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How Life Works

By Philip Ball

How Life Works is the first book we decided to start our list with. This groundbreaking work from award-winning author and former editor of Nature explores the new biology and offers readers a fresh and insightful perspective on the intricate workings of genetics, development, and the fundamental processes that shape living beings. We recommend this book as an example of a complex but engaging nonfiction book with great storytelling and insightful analysis. If you want to rethink your understanding of the biological world and take a look at the future of biology, How Life Works is a great way to do it.

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The Warmth of Other Suns

By Isabel Wilkerson

Between 1915 and 1970, over 5.5 million Black Americans left the South and moved to urban areas in the North and West of the United States. This mass migration is chronicled in The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. It tells the stories of three individuals who left the South to escape racism and limited opportunities. Their experiences shed light on the challenges faced by migrants seeking a better future in the North and West and how they changed the places they came to stay.

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A Room of One’s Own

By Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own, published in 1929, is a significant piece in the development of feminist ideas. It explores the topic of women’s freedom and creativity, highlighting the need for equal opportunities for women to pursue their intellectual and artistic endeavors. The essay advocates for women to have more autonomy, access to education, and financial independence. Women have always faced challenges in society, which have hindered their intellectual and creative progress. If you’ve been looking for a feminist work that speaks of equality, empowerment, and achieving intellectual freedom, A Room of One’s Own is a must-read. 

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Against Interpretation

By Susan Sontag

One of the best nonfiction books of all time, Susan Sontag’s first collection of essays and a modern classic, Against Interpretation, is a collection of essays that challenges conventional ways of understanding art and literature. It was first published in 1966 and has become a well-known work that continues to influence readers all over the world. In this collection, Susan Sontag argues against a particular type of interpretation that she believes diminishes the experience of art. Through her essays, she explores various topics, such as film, literature, philosophy, and contemporary culture. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of art and its interpretation, this work is an excellent choice.

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A Brief History of Black Holes

by Dr. Becky Smethurst

Black holes have puzzled scientists for many years, and A Brief History of Black Holes explains how we have come to understand them. From the history of black holes to explanations of how scientists have uncovered their secrets, you’ll learn plenty of things you might have never known before. The book uses simple language and humor to make complex concepts accessible to everyone. One of the most popular nonfiction books about science according to many lists, A Brief History of Black Holes will guide you through the scientific breakthroughs that have shaped our current understanding of the universe.

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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

By Jane Jacobs

Another book we decided to add to our today’s list is The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Published in 1961, it’s considered one of the best and most influential works on urbanistics that takes a critical look at the urban planning policies of the 1950s in the US. While it was written a long time ago, it has had a huge impact on the way we now think about city planning. Jane Jacobs argued for creating more dynamic and inclusive city spaces that prioritize human interaction and community life. Her analysis is super insightful, and her critique is pretty bold, which has contributed to the book’s long-lasting influence. After reading it, you won’t be able to take a walk around an American city (New York especially) without seeing it through Jane Jacobs’ eyes. 

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This Is Going to Hurt

By Adam Kay

If there is a nonfiction book that can make you both laugh and cry, it’s definitely This is Going To Hurt. Adam Kay, a former junior doctor in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), now a bestselling author and comedian, will take you on a very special journey. His book provides insight into all sorts of challenges faced by medical professionals: “So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.” The book sheds light on the realities of the healthcare industry but also tells personal stories of the highs and lows of working in it with humor and sincerity. If you like medical stories, give this unconventional nonfiction read a try and get a behind-the-scenes look at the medical ward yourself.

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God: An Anatomy

By Francesca Stavrakopoulou

God: An Anatomy… Aren’t you intrigued by the title already? You should be! The book challenges traditional theological views on God by depicting Him as a physical being with humanlike characteristics. The author has studied ancient texts and offers a new perspective on the divine figure: it’s a “vividly corporeal, human-shaped deity who walks and talks and weeps and laughs, who eats, sleeps, feels, and breathes, and who is undeniably male.” The book invites you to reconsider your understanding of God and explore the relationship between spirituality and the physical body.

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A Brief Atlas of the Lighthouses at the End of the World

by González Macías

We decided to end our list of best nonfiction books with a beautiful set of stories about lighthouses and their guardians—A Brief Atlas of the Lighthouses at the End of the World by González Macías. If you have ever been fascinated by these oceanic beacons and wondered how it is to live there and tend to them, this book is for you. Its stories are not just tales about structures that help ships get safely through treacherous waters but about people who dedicated their lives to this service. There are over thirty such stories in the book, all accompanied by stunning illustrations, nautical charts, maps, and architectural plans. We do recommend A Brief Atlas of the Lighthouses at the End of the World, even if you’ve never read about lighthouses before.

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The Rise and Reign of the Mammals

by Steve Brusatte

Most of us still believe that dinosaurs ruled the Earth until a meteor strike wiped them out 65 million years ago, after which mammals took over. However, in The Rise and Reign of the Mammals, Steve Brusatte explains that mammals existed alongside dinosaurs since the beginning. They even share a common ancestor that appeared around 325 million years ago. The author, a professor of paleontology and a best-selling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs tries to answer the question, “How did we get here?” We are absolutely sure you’ll be fascinated with the book since—as it appears—warm blood, hair, and the ability to produce milk are pretty recent mammal traits, and there’s so much more that sets mammals apart from others. And the author is really good at explaining how paleontologists figured all this out. One of the top nonfiction books featured in numerous lists, it’s a definite must-read and our recommendation.

Dina McCartney