Although I seem to be lost in a sea of speculative fiction and mysteries/thrillers during these trying times, I haven’t forgotten that I normally love nonfiction. In fact, I’ve already finished one of the books on this list and have another one in my queue.
If you can’t quite face true stories right now, jot down the titles that call to you and save them for brighter days.
Most of the following books are coming out this month, but please double-check because publishing dates are unreliable this year. Summaries are cobbled from the publishers; audiobook information is included.
- Olive the Lionheart by Brad Ricca (St. Martin’s Press): In 1910, Olive MacLeod, a thirty-year-old, redheaded Scottish aristocrat, received word that her fiancée, the famous naturalist Boyd Alexander, was missing in Africa. So she went to find him. This is the thrilling true story of her astonishing journey. Based on firsthand sources (letters and diaries). Audiobook: Read by Billie Fulford-Brown; 11 hr 31 min; Macmillan Audio
- Being Lolita by Alisson Wood (Flatiron): The true story of how the author came under the thrall of her high school English teacher, and it all began when Mr. North gave Allison a copy of Lolita. This is a stunning coming-of-age memoir that shines a bright light on our shifting perceptions of consent, vulnerability, and power. Audiobook: Read by Alisson Wood; 6 hr, 46 min; Macmillan Audio.
- The Book of Atlantis Black by Betsy Bonner (Tin House): A young woman is found dead on the floor of a Tijuana hotel room. An ID in a nearby purse reads “Atlantis Black.” The police report states that the body does not seem to match the identification, yet the body is quickly cremated and the case is considered closed. So begins Betsy Bonner’s search for her sister, Atlantis, and the unraveling of the mysterious final months before Atlantis’s disappearance, alleged overdose, and death. Using her sister’s online history, the author sets out to find out what happened. This is a haunting memoir and piercing true crime account. Audiobook: Read by Laura Jennings; 5 hr, 15 min; Blackstone.
- The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg (Abrams): This is the story of how a straight wife and mother discovered that her self-identified sexuality and images of family changed irrevocably after a chance meeting with a woman lawyer. This memoir explores timely and timeless questions about desire, identity, and the limits and possibilities of family. It’s a frank and moving story about letting go of rigid definitions and ideals that no longer fit and of learning instead who we really are. Audiobook: Read by Erin Mallon; 6 hr, 21 min; Dreamscape.
- The End of Everything by Katie Mack (Scribner): An accessible and eye-opening look at five ways the universe could end, and the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important concepts in cosmology. Told with lively wit and humor, this is a wildly fun, surprisingly upbeat ride to the farthest reaches of all that we know. Audiobook: Read by Gabra Zackman; 6 hr, 21 min; Simon & Schuster Audio.
- Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (Grove): A transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world “Animals don’t exist in order to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.” This is a captivating and foundational book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make sense of the world around us. Audiobook: Read by Helen Macdonald; 10 hr, 22 min; Recorded Books.
- Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King (Doubleday): A dazzling history of the birth of cultural anthropology and the adventurous scientists who pioneered it—a sweeping chronicle of discovery and the fascinating origin story of our multicultural world. A century ago, everyone knew that people were fated by their race, sex, and nationality to be more or less intelligent, nurturing, or warlike. But Columbia University professor Franz Boas looked at the data and decided everyone was wrong. Racial categories, he insisted, were biological fictions. His students were some of the century’s most colorful figures and unsung visionaries whose revolutionary findings would go on to inspire the fluid conceptions of identity we know today. Audiobook: Read by January LaVoy; 13 hr, 32 min; Random House Audio.
- Leave It as It Is by David Gessner (Simon & Schuster): From Theodore Roosevelt’s rallying cry of “Leave it as it is” (referring to the Grand Canyon) to today’s continued environmental fight to save our wild areas, conservation has never gone out of style. This is an account of a nature writer’s retracing of Roosevelt’s steps through the grandeur of our public lands, telling the story of the president’s life as a pioneering conservationist and offering an arresting history, a powerful call to arms, and a profound meditation on our environmental future. Audiobook: Read by Fred Sanders; 12 hr, 24 min; Simon & Schuster Audio.
- Berlin 1936 by Oliver Hilmes (Other Press; paperback): A lively account of the 1936 Olympics told through the voices and stories of those who witnessed it, from an award-winning historian and biographer. The book takes the reader through the sixteen days of the Olympiad, from the activities in the stadium to the lives of ordinary Berliners, offering a last glimpse of Germany’s vibrant and diverse life, before the Nazis tried to destroy it. Audiobook: no information
- The Craft: John Dickie (Hachette): The history of the Freemasons and how it influenced history, society, and government around the globe. Yet the Masons were as feared as they were influential. This is an enthralling exploration of a the world's most famous and misunderstood secret brotherhood, a movement that not only helped forge modern society but has substantial contemporary influence, with around six million members across the world. Audiobook: Read by Simon Slater; 16 hr, 35 min; Hachette Audio.
- Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price (Basic Books): Written by an archaeologist, this is billed as the definite history of the Vikings told on their own terms: their politics, their cosmology and religion, their material world. Known today for a stereotype of maritime violence, the Vikings exported new ideas, technologies, beliefs, and practices to the lands they discovered and the peoples they encountered and, in the process, were themselves changed. Audiobook: Read by Samuel Roukin; 17 hr, 25 min; Recorded Books.
- Iron Empires by Michael Hiltzik (HMH): After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, America’s railways soon exploded into a titanic industry helmed by a pageant of speculators, crooks, and visionaries. This is an account of the vicious competition between empire builders and how the iconic figures of the Gilded Age, the robber barons, drove the country into the twentieth century—and almost sent it off the rails. Audiobook: Narrator and publisher not yet available; 15 hr, 57 min