Everyone knows a history buff. And we here at the Center for Fiction understand that non-fiction works can have some of the most compelling narratives around. In this list, history can be local (Brooklyn), literary (Parisian Lives), biographical (Edison), journalistic (The Great Pretender), or personal (The Yellow House). In other words, history is all around us, all the time.
Brooklyn: The Once and Future City
By Thomas Campanella
What Gotham did for Manhattan, this tome does for the bigger borough next door. Historian and Brooklyn-native Campanella is meticulous and entertaining, combining little known and long forgotten histories with untold stories and good writing. This biography of Brooklyn was ten-years in the making and worth the wait. “Gentrification kills the real McCoy,” Campanella writes, “to venerate its taxidermal remains.”
By Edmund Morris
Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Edmund Morris died earlier this year, but not before finishing Edison, maybe his finest work, and the essential single-volume biography of this important historical figure. Morris writes playfully but seriously about his subjects, and here he presents Edison’s life by starting at the end and working back from there. A glorious work for anyone who loves immersing themselves in history.2 .
The Fall of Richard Nixon
By Tom Brokaw
What is it about these old-time reporters like Brokaw, like Rather? How do they stay relevant? Perhaps because they still seem dedicated to notions of truth. In this new book, Tom Brokaw writes about Richard Nixon’s downfall in 1974, a story of intrigue, deception, impeachment…sound familiar? Brokaw understands how history ripples out, how the past hides in the present. But Brokaw’s writing is fresh and lucid, and this new book will entertain any student (or spectator?) of current politics.
Great Cities Through Travelers' Eyes
By Peter Furtado
World travelers rejoice! Furtado edits this endlessly fascinating and fascinated collection of essays. The writers span continents and centuries, but each is fixated on the project of describing the cities (ancient cities! medieval cities!) they’ve seen. The result? The best kind of travel writing, merging inquiry with wonder.4 .
The Great Pretender
By Susannah Cahalan
Any reader of the bestseller Brain on Fire knows that Cahalan can turn a terror-filled personal experience into un-put-downable narrative nonfiction. She scores again with this astonishing story of a 1970s experiment to discover the gaping flaws in mental health diagnoses by sending a group of sane people undercover into asylums. You’ll be shocked by the revelations, and turning pages frantically like in the very best true crime books.
Hymns of the Republic
By S.C. Gwynne
S.C. Gwynne is one of our great historians, but his true passion is the Civil War. In Hymns of the Republic, he traces the final year of the Civil War, a tumultuous time for Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and all the other historical figures whose names we know but whose legacies we may not yet fully understand. Gwynne will be beloved by any fans of richly detailed history.6 .
Life in a Cold Climate
By Laura Thompson
A celebrated “bright young thing,” Nancy Mitford sparkled with the wit and intelligence of the London upper classes between the wars and after. Here are juicy details of her eccentric life in literary and social circles, her friendship with Evelyn Waugh, her renowned sisters, and her splendid autobiographical novels like The Pursuit of Love. For fans of BBC series, glittering tales of English aristocracy, and readers who relish a vivid portrait of a world gone by.
No Stopping Us Now
By Gail Collins
We’re all aging, aren’t we? Some of us are just further along in the process. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from doing what they want! No Stopping Us Now is an entertaining catalog, a rousing history, of women throughout time whose age never stopped them from glorious feats. Martha Washington, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: author Gail Collins writes about these women and others with the wit and style of her beloved New York Times column. A book for people who need a reminder that aging can be sort of awesome.8 .
By Gene Weingarten
Pulitzer Prize-winner Weingarten takes on a unique historical challenge: how to present a day on which seemingly nothing important happened? He picked a random day out of a hat—December 28, 1986—and set out to record it, revealing unexpected drama. This book is a sly monument to the power of facts and records. Turns out we know a lot more than we think we do.
By Deidre Bair
Deirdre Bair, the National Book Award-winning biographer, spent years researching her illuminating, highly intelligent books about Beckett and De Beauvoir. Here she reveals her experiences with them both (who loathed each other), and in doing so provides an eye-opening look at her subjects’ flaws and appeals, as well as an enlightening view of what it’s like to be a biographer. A perfect combination of subject, Parisian locations, and the inner workings of a writer’s life.10 .
Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright
By Paul Hendrickson
In Plagued by Fire, author Paul Hendrickson takes a probing eye to the notably arrogant architect. Delving into the trauma caused to Wright by the 1914 murder of his lover and six others at his home at Taliesin, Hendrickson unpacks what may have lain behind Wright’s rude behavior. Hendrickson supposes possible homosexual relationships with other architects, martial troubles, and an Oedipal complex lurking behind Wright’s vision. Give this to a lover of buildings and they won’t be able to put it down.
The Second Founding
By Eric Foner
Eric Foner can write history big or can write it small. In The Second Founding, he tells a story of America, post-Civil War, by looking at key amendments to the Constitution. Some history books sprawl, but Foner’s new one is compact and intimate, showing that the best history is always personal. A book for both history buffs and readers new to this period of time.12 .
World War II Infographics
By Jean Lopez, Nicolas Aubin, Vincent Bernard
A look at the history of World War II through graphic design. Using aesthetic design, this collection of charts and graphs shows the global impact of the war and provides a new way of looking at the massive amounts of data collected at the time. This book would make a present for the history buff in your life or someone hoping to nail their AP European History exam.
The Yellow House
By Sarah M. Broom
What an achievement of memoir, history, and sociology! Broom’s book is a staggering portrait of a family—her own—living in New Orleans in the second half of the 20th century in an overlooked part of the city. Through this all stands the house, the yellow house, and it becomes the lens through which Broom tells a much larger story of place, class, and race. An absolute masterpiece that merges the personal with the historical.
**WINNER OF THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NON-FICTION**14 .