9 Unputdownable Nonfiction Reads

*TV Ad Voice*

Looking to dip your toe into nonfiction, but not sure where to start?

Do you feel that nonfiction books are boring, too long, or just too ugh?

Look no further than these nine short nonfiction books!

All are under 400 pages (most are under 300, and the ones that are over are not dense), and I highly recommend each of these for their audiobooks and general readability, along with the topics they cover.

Admittedly, a lot of these topics are um, kinda heavy (and most are fairly bleak). However, they are all very short reads, and great starting points into a lot of topics and issues facing Americans today. I’ve also included some (also short) books that pair well with them. Small caveat: these are all wave-top suggestions and short reads. I have not read most of the suggested reads, and any faults are my own.

I also dearly love microhistories, which are a genre of history that focus in on a very small thing, person, community or event and delves deep into it, particularly focusing on the social and cultural history. If this interests you, check out this list of 50 Must-Read Microhistories.

Ranked in order of page number, from low to high. All blurbs are from Goodreads, bold comments are me.

Riveting Nonfiction

Black Lives Matter

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (106 pages)

At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. It’s heavy, but also a very quick read. Baldwin’s writing is powerful, incisive and enthralling. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator is fantastic. Pairs with:

  • White Rage by Carol Anderson (256 pages)
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (152 pages)
  • When they Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele (257 pages)
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (248 pages)
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (368 pages)


On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder (126 pages)

On November 9th, millions of Americans woke up to the impossible: the election of Donald Trump as president. Against all predictions, one of the most-disliked presidential candidates in history had swept the electoral college, elevating a man with open contempt for democratic norms and institutions to the height of power. If there’s anything the past five years have shown us, it’s that democracy isn’t a guarantee in America, and it’s not equal for everyone (the latter is a fact that all marginalized communities are highly aware of). While this was written to address the rise of Donald Trump and that might seem dated since he is no longer president, I feel that events of the past four months have clearly demonstrated the insidious nature of whyte supremacy. Pairs with:

  • The Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum
  • Uncounted by Gilda Daniels (272 pages)
  • How to Be an American by Silvia Hidalgo (128 pages)
  • How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky (320 pages)

Space and Space Exploration

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown (267 pages)

The solar system most of us grew up with included nine planets, with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto at the outer edge. Then, in 2005, astronomer Mike Brown made the discovery of a lifetime: a tenth planet, Eris, slightly bigger than Pluto. But instead of its resulting in one more planet being added to our solar system, Brown’s find ignited a firestorm of controversy that riled the usually sedate world of astronomy and launched him into the public eye. Spoiler alert: Pluto is a dwarf planet. The fascinating part of this is that Gen Z will have grown up with eight planets instead of nine. Science is so cool! Pairs with:

  • The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack (240 pages)
  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (334 pages)
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (349 pages)
  • Out There by Michael Wall (256 pages)


Queer, There and Everywhere by Sarah Prager (277 pages)

Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era. This is more a rough overview of lives (and, admittedly, it is very US-centric), but it’s a great starting point in learning about queer history. The writing is geared more for young adults, but is accessible and engaging to adult readers too. Pairs with:

  • Real Queer America by Samantha Allen (321 pages)
  • Love Wins by Debbie Cenziper & Jim Obergefell (304 pages)
  • Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (263 pages)
  • Tomorrow Will be Different by Sarah McBride (272 pages)


Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall (288)

Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few.  A fantastic read on feminism, and what feminism means to women of color versus the glass-ceiling/privilege-building feminism of whyte women. Feminism must be intersectional, and it cannot be a monolith because the experience of being a woman is not a monolith. Pairs with:

  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (288 pages)
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay (320 pages)
  • Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong (209 pages)
  • Because of Sex by Gillian Thomas (204 pages)

Indigenous History

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (296 pages)

Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire. Another rec that’s geared more towards young adult readers, but that should be required reading for everyone in the United States. It decisively unravels the great myth of America—that settlers came upon a vast, unpopulated open land. That’s not true at all, and it’s an important takeaway in beginning to dismantle the historical untruths (America is Great propaganda) taught in school. I recommend the other books in this series, too. Pairs with:

  • Custer Died for Your Sins by Vine Deloria Jr (278 pages)
  • The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (266 pages)
  • Bury My Heart at Chuck E Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge (216 pages)
  • All Our Relations by Tanya Talaga (320 pages)

Climate Change

The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell (352 pages)

With each crack in the great ice sheets of the Arctic and Antarctica, and each tick upwards of Earth’s thermometer, we are moving closer to the brink of broad disaster. By century’s end, hundreds of millions of people will be retreating from the world’s shores as our coasts become inundated and our landscapes transformed. From island nations to the world’s major cities, coastal regions will disappear. Well, this is a little on the depressing end of things, as it directly addresses the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans—from pollution to acidity to rising sea levels to what all that means. Not only are the oceans incredibly rich in biodiversity and resources, but something like 44% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of the ocean. Pairs with:

  • As Long as Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker (224 pages)
  • Full Body Burden by Kristen Iverson (416 pages)
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (336 pages)
  • No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg (112 pages)

True Crime

I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (352 pages)

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade. For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area. I’m not a huge true crime fan, but I know a lot of people who adore this section of the bookstore/library. No judgment! But if you’re like me and want to see what the excitement is, this book is really well done and empathetic (towards the victims, not the killer). Pairs with:

  • Parkland by Dave Cullen (385 pages)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (359 pages)
  • Forensics by Val McDermid (310 pages)
  • Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid (332 pages)

Women in the Military

Shoot Like a Girl by Mary Jennings Hager (368 pages)

After being commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, Hegar was selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard, finished at the top of her class, then served three tours in Afghanistan flying combat search and rescue missions, culminating in a harrowing rescue attempt that would earn her the Purple Heart as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor. But it was on American soil that Hegar would embark on her greatest challenge— to eliminate the military’s Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, which kept female armed service members from officially serving in combat roles despite their long-standing record of doing so with honor. This was a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it. Pairs with:

  • Unbecoming by Anuradha Bhagwati (336 pages)
  • Formation by Ryan Leigh Dostie (368)
  • Camouflagued Sisters by Lila Holley (220 pages)
  • Ashley’s War by Gail Tzemach Lemmon (295 pages)

Have you read any of these?

3 thoughts on “9 Unputdownable Nonfiction Reads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s