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Top 10 Nonfiction Books That Moved Me

Impossible to pick just ten? Yes, it kind of is! But thinking about what qualities make a great book for me, helped narrow my choices down to ten:

  • I am taken to a place I’ve never been.
  • I learn about a subject I previously had very little knowledge of.
  • I am immersed in the story.
  • I seek to learn more about the subject after reading it.
  • I remember it years later.

It really was quite fun for me to go back and relive what I loved about all these books. While these may not be the best books ever written, they all moved me in one way or another. Let me know in the comments below what I missed and what books have had a lasting impression on you.

In order of publication date:

A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive
By Dave Pelzer
Published in 1995
184 pages

I hesitate to include this book because of the subject matter. It chronicles one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. When I read it, I didn’t recommend it to anyone because it’s horrific, but as far as unforgettable books go, this one has stayed with me. I admire the author for openly sharing his gut wrenching personal story. He’s gone on to become a successful author, writing several self-help books. He also has received numerous awards including the National Jefferson Award, which is considered to be the Pulitzer Prize for public service. As far as rising above adversity and not becoming a product of your environment, it is the ultimate story of survival and redemption.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
By James McBride
Published in 1997
291 pages

The title comes from when the author asks his mother “What color is God?” and she responds that “God is the color of water”, meaning he has no color. When he grapples with whether he is black or white, his mother snaps “You’re a human being”. As a mother myself of two bi-racial children, this was required reading for me!

Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography – The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa
By Mark Mathabane
Published in 1998
354 pages

This is about Mark Mathabane growing up in poverty in Apartheid South Africa and living to tell about it. He had a strong mother who did everything she could to get her children the education she knew they would need. This is ultimately what lifted him out of the poverty and injustice from which he was born. This met my criteria for a great book – it took me to a place I have never been, and taught me a lot about apartheid. I love learning about history by way of hearing one person’s personal journey.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
By Ishmael Beah
Published in 2007
229 pages

This is one boy’s heartbreaking story of growing up as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. It sheds light on children being the soldier of choice in war. How do they turn a child into a soldier? They pump them up with drugs. I was shocked at the time to learn the reality of this. It really makes me thankful for having grown up as a kid in America.

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir
By Marina Nemat
Published in 2007
306 pages

This book tells the story of Marina Nemat, who at just sixteen years old, was arrested for the political crime of speaking her mind in Iran during the early days of Ayatollah Khomeini’s brutal Islamic Revolution. This is the story of her time spent in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. I had never heard of Evin prison at the time, so I immediately had to google it. That’s another good sign of a great book for me – when I seek to learn more after reading it.

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine
By Somaly Mam
Published in 2008
192 pages

Born in a tiny village in Cambodia, Somaly Mam was sold into sex slavery by her grandfather at the age of twelve. She spent the next ten years living in the brothels of Southeast Asia as part of the sex trade. She eventually managed to escape with the help of a French aid worker. Since then, she’s organized raids on brothels, built shelters, started schools, raised money, and has rescued thousands from the sex trade industry.

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
By Donalyn Miller
Published in 2009
227 pages

Donalyn Miller is a sixth grade teacher who says she has yet to meet a child she couldn’t turn into a reader. Her unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets and everything that makes reading a chore for kids. Instead she lets children read what interests them, and gives them plenty of time to read. Her book was a great inspiration to me when I was studying to become a teacher. Her philosophy was in line with my philosophy- that every child can develop a love for reading- you just have to help them find the right book.

Columbine
By Dave Cullen
Published in 2009
417 pages

This is a chilling account of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. It explores how two high school boys can walk into a school and kill twelve classmates and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves. The narrative takes us along, inside the school on that fateful day that changed the American psyche forever.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
By Laura Hillenbrand
Published in 2010
473 pages

Normally a war story is not my thing, but the masterful Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit as well, has a way of crafting a nonfiction story to read like a novel, and a captivating one at that. It held my interest from page one. It’s the true story of Olympian Louis Zamperini, whose Army Air Force bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving him to be captured and held prisoner by the Japanese throughout the war.

The End of Your Life Book Club
By Will Schwalbe
Published in 2012
336 pages

While the author’s mother was going through her cancer treatments, they would spend many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. This book is a bibliophile’s dream, but more than that, it is a memoir of caregiving, mourning, and love. I lost my mother to cancer in 2007, and I too, attribute my life long love of reading to my mother. I loved this booked. It made me cry, but in a good ‘I needed that’ kind of cry.

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