Historical nonfiction tells about real people, real places, and real events in the past. Here is a list of Historical Nonfiction top picks by our BCPL staff.
Julie Bockstiegel, Collection Services, recommends one of her favorite historical nonfiction books, Double Cross: The True story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre. Macintyre tells the story of British Intelligence officials during WWII, who conceived a scheme to confuse German military commanders about where the Allies might land for an attack on the Axis armies in Europe. He profiles the intelligence planners, spies and double agents involved in the deception. It is really a motley crew; their personalities and actions are humorous, unbelievable and daring – and thankfully, successful. It is “nonfiction that reads like fiction” at its best. Macintyre specializes in researching old documents, many declassified after several years, and has a great knack of bringing history to life. Julie has enjoyed many of his books.
Kathleen Piercefield, Circulation Assistant, recommends The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. It tells the story of Polish zookeepers, Jan and Antonina Zabinsky, whose zoo in Warsaw became a refuge for Polish Resistance activists and Jews during World War II. Along with relating the human story, the author (who is also a poet) includes reflections on animal life, human nature, and the intangible sources of hope that sustain the heart through difficult times.
Kathleen also recommends Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Vine Deloria which recounts the history of Native American interaction with westward-advancing settlers and the United States government. All of the accounts that standard history books omit are included here — misguided efforts at blending the First Nations into “civilization”, outrageous cruelty, broken treaties and betrayals. Kathleen finds it to be a sad but eye-opening book.
Cindy Yeager, Youth Collection Development Librarian, recommends The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Cindy has always been interested in medical history and this book, written as a narrative, was right up her alley. Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge as she was being treated, unsuccessfully, for cervical cancer almost 70 years ago. These cells, improbably, impossibly, never died in culture and were used to cure many diseases and used in many therapies over the years, with no compensation to Ms. Lacks, or to her family who did not even know about the HeLa cells for decades. This truly fascinating book is a collision of medical ethics, race and an author who would not let go until she exposed the truth.
Ginger Stapp, Early Literacy Specialist, was also moved by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Ginger is thankful for the scientific discoveries that were made as a result of her cells, but was saddened by the toll this has taken on her family. Ginger found it interesting and remarks that it makes you consider medical ethics in a more concrete way.
Kelley Brandeberry, Public Service Associate, recommends When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. According to Kelley, the book offers a fascinating look at the importance and power of books during World War II. The work that librarians, authors, and publishers did to provide books to servicemen was interesting to read about. The stories about what our soldiers endured and how books helped them were very moving and gave her a richer understanding of the war. Kelley especially enjoyed reading the soldiers letters.
Kelley also recommends Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. Right from the beginning of the book, Kelley was fascinated by the story of the Osage tribe. She had never heard anything about this bit of American history from the 1920s, and Grann wove a fascinating tale. Kelley says, “Even though this book is nonfiction, it is well-written and not dry at all. The pacing was fantastic, and it held my interest.”