I’ve always loved stories, so when it comes to books, most of what I read is fiction. However, I’ve read quite a bit of nonfiction too—mostly philosophy and theology for school, but I try to continue learning through nonfiction even though I no longer have required reading. Here are five of my favorite nonfiction books, and what I learned from them.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
This book is a unique conglomerate of autobiography, memoir, romance, and theology. It tells the story of Sheldon and his wife Davy, their obsessive love, conversion to Christianity, friendship with C.S. Lewis, and Davy’s battle with cancer. Not only is the story powerful, but Vanauken is thoughtful in his telling and explores not just the details of his life with Davy, but how their actions affected their spiritual lives. This is one book where the title truly encompasses the overarching message, and is especially poignant after finishing the book.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard wrote this thoughtful narrative nonfiction (a Pulitzer Prize winner) when she lived in a rural cabin for a year. The book is an exploration of thought life through nature, and encompasses themes such as perception, spirituality, and science. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is the 20th-century version of Thoreau’s Walden Pond, but is in my opinion, is much better. A large chunk of the book is a simple retelling of the nature Annie saw around her cabin—the process of a butterfly’s metamorphosis, the gruesome scene of a preying mantis eating its parent, the sight of sunlight filtering through a tree. Yet she uses the wild scenes to talk about the deep questions of the soul, and I came out of the book a richer person because of it.
Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
This is my favorite theological work, and is one of my top 5 favorite books ever. Chesterton is as witty as he is wise, and the combination makes for an entertaining and enlightening work. Orthodoxy is, as Chesterton states in his introduction, an “attempt at an explanation, not of whether the Christian faith can be believed, but of how I personally have come to believe it.” He goes on to discuss a wide range of topics, including the current (1890s-1900s) political and cultural view of Christianity, which is still relevant in the 21st century. He also talks about fairy tales, one of my favorite theological topics, and how they nudged him toward faith.
Nancy Wake: SOE’s Greatest Heroine by Sebastian Faulks
I acquired this book while at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC a few years ago. SOE stands for “Special Operations Executive,” and was Britain’s attempt to aid the resistance movements in Europe during WWII. Australian Nancy Wake went from being the socialite wife of a wealthy French businessman to a resistance general leading over 7,000 French Resistance fighters. She was the Gestapo’s most wanted person in France, and came out of the war as one of the most decorated Allied women. Her story is quite amazing, the book reads like a good story.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Another WWII hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the writing on the wall in the early 1930s when the Nazi party took over the German government. He led a different kind of resistance as he tried to keep the German church grounded in the Word, and even went so far as to help plot Hitler’s assassination, for which he was ultimately executed by the Nazis. The Cost of Discipleship was published in 1937, before the brunt of the war, but its poignancy and conviction show Bonhoeffer’s wisdom, foresight, and is still very relevant today.
One more to go! Stay tuned next week for 5 must-read contemporary fiction books.