10 Nonfiction Books You’ll Actually Enjoy Reading

This is another list of some of my favorite books, but NON-fiction this time! Both the SAT and ACT have substantially more non-fiction than fiction, so if you aren’t reading much non-fiction, start now! This list is of course very incomplete and it reflects my personal tastes and interests. If you’d like to leave your reactions to any of these books or want to add your own suggestions, please leave us a comment!

  1. I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
    A Pakistani activist for female education, Malala survived being shot in the head at age 15 by the Taliban for publicly advocating for girls to be allowed to go to school. At age 11 Malala began writing a clandestine blog about her everyday life and life as a girl living under the Taliban. After her blogging identity was revealed, she began appearing on television to speak out for girls’ rights to be educated, resulting in the Taliban attack. Malala is obviously an incredibly brave and inspiring person, but she is also a normal teenage girl, and she writes in a very straightforward and honest way.
  2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
    An extraordinary series of essays by neurologist Oliver Sacks, this book details the case histories of 24 patients lost in the strange world of neurological disorder. Not only is it extremely interesting to read about people who perceive the world in different ways and experience various types of intellectual differences, but more importantly, Sacks treats his patients with respect and humanity and invites us to see the world through a different brain.
  3. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
    An accessible science book written by a non-scientist about his curiosity and journey to learn about the history of a handful of fields of scientific inquiry, including geology, biology, chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics. Bryson writes in a personal and engaging way, making the book not only informative but also highly entertaining. Required reading for anyone who thinks that science classes are boring.
  4. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
    Hawking writes in non-technical terms about the history and current understandings of math, physics, and astronomy. He discusses the relationship between space and time, the basic elements and forces in the universe, and in addition to explaining what scientists think and know about the universe, the book focuses as well on what we don’t know and the questions scientists are asking to try and find out. Required reading for physics nerds.
  5. Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom
    A beautifully written and deeply moving memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie recounts a handful of conversations between the author and his former teacher Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from ALS. The book is a paean to Mitch’s mentor Morrie, who frankly drops wisdom about life, love, death, aging, and regrets.
  6. Brain on Fire – Susannah Cahalan
    This autobiography details the author’s struggle with and recovery from a rare autoimmune disease that gave her violent psychotic and delusions for a month. Left with no memories of the month she spent in the hospital, the author was forced to research her experience by relying on information from others, medical documents, and videotapes of herself having psychotic episodes.
  7. The Inner Game of Tennis – Timothy Gallwey
    Full disclosure: I’ve never played a game of tennis in my life. Although I am not a tennis player, I found this book incredibly useful as a guide to improvement in any field. I’m sure it is very useful to tennis specifically, but the general instructions Gallwey gives are applicable to any practice that requires focus, concentration, and overcoming anxiety (hint: such as the SAT and ACT!) Required reading for athletes.
  8. The Rest Is Noise – Alex Ross
    An ambitious survey of 20th century “classical” music, The Rest Is Noise is actually a history of the 20th century itself as told through composers, performers, and audiences. It’s vast in scope, intended to cover every important movement and composer of the century, and eminently readable. Required reading for musicians or for anyone who has ever struggled to appreciate modern movements in music or art.
  9. Freakonomics – Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
    A seamless meld of pop culture and economics, this book applies economic theory to a range of sociological subjects, particularly focusing on the rational utility-maximization of crime. The subtitle of the book could be “Crime doesn’t pay – literally.” It’s full of interesting facts and written in a very fun and approachable way. Required reading for aspiring business majors.
  10. Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
    This collection of essays describes Sedaris’ childhood and early life with his somewhat dysfunctional family and his life after moving to Paris without learning French. The book is funny, quirky, irreverent, and deeply self-deprecating, and Sedaris writes in a humorously melodramatic and self-aware way. Part of the pleasure in reading this book comes from cringing at the relatable antics of Sedaris himself and his neurotic family, and part comes from the schadenfreude of not being him.

This blog post was written by A-List Educational Consultant, Dory Schultz.