Nonfiction November Week 4: Stranger Than Fiction

We have hit the final full week of November, which somehow doesn’t seem possible. Yet that’s okay, because it means it’s my turn to host Nonfiction November. Here’s the prompt for this week:

Week 4 (November 22-26) Stranger Than Fiction: This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.

When I was asked to join the other amazing hosts this year, I knew exactly what topic I wanted to feature. Though I love all sorts of nonfiction, I routinely find myself gravitating toward books that seem to ride the line between fact and fiction. Oh, it’s not that they’re not true. It’s just that their realities are so wild it seems as though the authors are making things up as they go along.

Here are nine of my favorites that feel almost too strange to be true.


Bring Back the King: The New Science of De-Extinction by Helen Pilcher

Though Jurassic Park has seemingly cornered the market on the public’s perception of de-extinction, Pilcher explores the very real science of de-extinction. Not only does she show how individuals are attempting to bring back some species thought long gone, she considers what species they’re focused on plus the larger question of why.


The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette

The Beanie Baby fad of the 1990s has become something of a punchline, but the true story of the TY company and all that followed is even wilder than the band of (usually) adults who would raid retailers for the rarest dolls in hopes of securing a massive payout … one day. One of my favorite books period, this is what I was thinking about when I settled on this week’s prompt.


The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

In 1938, a London housewife began experience of series of strange phenomena left her with one conclusion: she was being haunted. However, when Nandor Fodor began investigating, he was struck by just how human a concept that might be.


A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

In 2004, a group of libertarians got together in New Hampshire with a simple idea: take over a small town and implement a libertarian-focused government. It went about as well as you’d think.


A Plague of Frogs: The Horrifying True Story by William Souder

In the mid-1990s, a group of Minnesota students discovered a pond containing numerous frogs with physical mutations. And it only went downhill from there. While some of the science might be a bit out of date, Souder’s behind-the-scenes look at egos in the scientific community is fascinating all by itself.


Possessing Genius: The True Account of the Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain by Carolyn Abraham

After performing a dissection on one of the most famous men of the 20th century, pathologist Thomas Stolz Harvey found himself in possession of Albert Einstein’s brain. Well, as they say: I suppose you can’t take it with you.


Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks

Well. This is one where the title really says it all.


Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought Over T-Rex Ever Found by Steve Fiffer

In 1990, one of the most complete dinosaur fossils, a Tyrannosaurus rex nicknamed Sue, was unearthed. Though the broad community was ecstatic over this new discovery, things quickly devolved into a massive battle over one simple question: who would actually own this series of remnants?


The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr.

This is one of those books that really needs to be read to be believed. Tania Head became one of the most visible survivors of the World Trade Center disaster in the aftermath of 9/11, inspiring people with her story of escaping from the 78th floor of the south tower and ultimately working with the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network. The only trouble? She was never there.


For all of you looking to participate this week, feel free to include your posts at the link-up below—and be sure to check out all the other amazing posts too.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
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You can also participate on Instagram with events being hosted by Jaymi @theocbookgirl. Just use #nonfictionbookparty

58 Comments

  1. Liz Dexter says:

    Oh these are great ones! I seem to read quite boring books that aren’t massively exciting or stranger than fiction (even though I read a LOT of nonfiction) but I’ve managed to read two in the last few days, and I’ll publish my post about them and link it tomorrow or later today (I might get overexcited and post two posts in a day!). Hope your hosting week goes superbly and I’m looking forward to reading what everyone comes up with.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for the hosting well wishes! And so glad that you had a couple of recent ones to feature—always funny when things work out like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol says:

    You’ve pulled together a selection of books! This prompt stumped me and I sat for a long time staring at a blank draft! 😂 I just couldn’t come up with anything from my reading…but maybe I was overthinking it? 😂 so…I tweaked it just a bit to Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction (I.e. narrative nonfiction). Hope that’s ok! At least I’ve got something to post! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You did perfect for this prompt! I think it was so subjective that almost anything would have worked, but you really pulled in some fascinating books. Thank you so much for participating! And sorry for trying to stump you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carol says:

        Thanks! 🙌

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Such great selections, this is the type of quirky nonfiction I particularly enjoy. I’ve added A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear to my must read list, and now I have a better idea of what books I’ll choose to share for the prompt. Thanks for hosting this week

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    1. Oh, I hope you end up enjoying it! It’s a really wild story that I hadn’t heard anything about before reading it. Funny, frustrating … Glad to see another person out there who enjoys quirky nonfiction.

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  4. Lory says:

    Hm, did my comment get eaten (by a bear?) I was just saying I keep meaning to read A Libertarian Walks into a Bear, since I lived in New Hampshire for six years and still am curious to know what drives that craggy sensibility. I linked up my “Throwback” review of Dark Money, which certainly made my jaw drop in dismay when I read it some years ago. Libertarians come into that one too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I immediately added A Libertarian Walks into a Bear to my wish list. Who could resist reading this? And the book about de-extinction? It also sounds fascinating.

    A lovely fresh idea for a Nonfiction November prompt!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you end up enjoying it! It’s a roller coaster of a story. I know a lot of people shy away from political books, but no matter the political affiliation, it’s a great read.

      Thank you so much for participating this month!

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  6. Marianne Maurer says:

    Some totally interesting books of which I’be only read one (Round Ireland with a fridge) but which all sounds so fascinating that I will have to increase my TBR pile. Again!

    These are my Stranger than fiction books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s been the number one issue with Nonfiction November: my TBR pile has grown at an alarming rate. Then again, not the worst problem to have…

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      1. Marianne Maurer says:

        Yes, First World Problems. We should be glad we have those. And I am, really, even if I sometimes moan about them.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. lghiggins says:

    About half of those are going to make it to a list. Those are amazing topics and I’m guessing that the authors are good storytellers. I think the typical textbook (of my generation anyway) is what gives nonfiction a bad name. Have you read all of those, Christopher?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have read all of these (somehow!), and you’ve honed in on exactly why they’re all so enjoyable: yes, the subjects are a bit wild and unique, but they’re all also being told by great storytellers. Often in nonfiction that makes all the difference!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great list! I’ve heard of some of these but that Beanie Baby one really caught my eye 😂 I used to be obsessed with Beanie Babies when I was in… Middle school? I can’t even remember anymore when it was but what a craze! I had no idea what happened with them (nor what happened to my collection) but this book makes it sound very sinister so I defo have to check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For the sake of nostalgia, you have to read that book. I had a few growing up, but I just remember the absolutely frenzy behind them (mostly by adults) that really turned me away from them. I remember being in a mall and just watching this Beanie Baby shop being bombarded. And while the author does talk a lot about how intense people got (there’s an awful photo of two people going through a divorce and dividing their Beanie Baby collection on a courtroom floor), he talks more about the creator whose life and actions are … somehow even weirder.

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  9. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear was on my list for this prompt too! And it was a recommendation courtesy of you from last Nonfiction November 🙂 It was so fascinating and absurdly entertaining!

    Alma Fielding was a fantastic choice for this topic, and so was The Woman Who Wasn’t There! I STILL can’t believe that one happened.

    I’m so intrigued by all of your dinosaur and science-related topics, too! And The Great Beanie Baby Bubble…that’s one I’m not sure I’d gravitate towards, but hearing your take on it is making me reconsider, especially if it’s what made you think of doing this topic in the first place. Amazing list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t leave it off! It popped into my mind while I was coming up with the topic. So glad that you ended up enjoying it.

      I swear, I talk about The Woman Who Wasn’t There at least once a month, but I cannot get over the story. How does someone do that?

      But! I definitely recommend The Great Beanie Bubble to you. That book … I read it about six years ago and there are passages I can almost recite from memory. Maybe it’s because I remember the frenzy behind Beanie Babies (thankfully not as a participant), but it hit hard. The author spends a lot of time talking about individuals who got a little extreme in their collecting (there’s a photo included of two individuals going through a divorce who have to divide their Beanie Baby collection on the courtroom floor), but he spends more time on the life and actions of the creator, whose life and actions are somehow … even weirder. Anyway, yeah, I could go on about this book, but I genuinely think you’d like it. I breezed through it in a few hours.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The thing that always got me the most about The Woman Who Wasn’t There was how she bullied and shamed people in the survivors’ group who weren’t behaving as she thought they should or doing something she wanted (I can’t remember the exact details). That was the element that floored me the most. They were mentally suffering so much, some admitted to being suicidal, and she had nothing to do with it but the gall!!! Whatever psychological malfunction in her brain that led her to do that just baffles yet fascinates me.

        That’s exactly what I’d love to know in the Beanie Baby book, more about the odd creator who managed to create this hype and also the mindset behind collecting. I had some of the dolls and remember being really excited about them but not super into it like others were. I’ve never had anything I collected really, and I’m intrigued by the intensity behind it for people who are so dedicated to it, so this sounds really appealing. Thanks for the insight into it, you really sold that one!!

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      2. Exactly! There’s a documentary of the same name about her and it’s just … the book is so powerful in those moments where survivors are talking about her impact. But there’s one woman in particular—listening to her talk about how this woman became her best friend (even while being emotionally abusive) and then just having it all ripped away, was ridiculously powerful. I saw it years ago and have never forgotten how she was still processing what this woman did. And then at the end as a sort of epilogue, the filmmakers actually found the woman strolling down the streets of NYC. It was all just so … yikes.

        So happy that I could sell it! And I hope that you end up loving it. I’ve collected a few things in the past, but this book makes me side eye some collecting communities.

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  10. Wow these all sound amazing!

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    1. They’re all so weird and wild and I loved every page of them!

      Like

  11. The Haunting of Alma Fielding sounds so good!! And the Great Beanie Baby Bubble…I was working retail while going to college at that time and we sold Beanie Babies. It was nuts!!! Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I cannot even imagine working retail during that period! I can remember being at a mall around the height of their popularity and just seeing a Beanie Baby-focused shop being bombarded. As a kid, it was almost terrifying to watch. Bizarrely, according to the book, there were even weirder things going on behind the scenes! If you check it out, I hope you enjoy it … and that it doesn’t bring back too many retail memories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol!! It was crazy!!! People would be gathered around our delivery trucks, hanging out waiting to see what we would get in, crowded into the store. It was so nuts. And I now own a bunch of Beanie Babies… I should find them. Maybe my kiddo would like them. Lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If you can ever look past all the nastiness that happened during the height of their popularity, many of them are actually pretty cute.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Ha! Since this topic was your idea, I expected you’d have some good books to talk about and your list did not disappoint. A Plague of Frogs and The Woman Who Wasn’t There both sound fascinating, but my favorite of your picks is the one on the beanie baby craze. I was a kid collecting beanie babies at the time and I still can’t believe people thought those were going to retain their value

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    1. I might have come into it with some ideas, I admit! The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is WILD. I read it several years ago now, and it has stuck with me because … how could things get so wild?! I was a kid at the height of their popularity and I had a few, but adults who thought they were striking gold absolutely ruined it for everyone. But bizarrely, the book shows that what was going on behind the scenes was even weirder.

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  13. Wow, what a great list! I only picked two from this year’s reading and clearly I should have widened my scope.

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    1. Your two were perfect for this! I just read a lot of bizarre nonfiction (and fiction for that matter).

      Like

  14. Dee says:

    Round Ireland with a Fridge was funny – he also has one called Playing Tennis with the Moldovans where he tries to play one tennis game with each member of the Moldovian national soccer team

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    1. I had no idea he had written anything like that, and now I’m off to snag a copy. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

      Like

  15. Jinjer says:

    This is a GREAT addition to Nonfiction November and I want to add all these to my TBR.

    Like

    1. So glad that you enjoyed! I hope you find some new favorites on here.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Holy moly this is a great list! I just went and visited Sue last week and so this book is going straight to the top of my TBR pile.

    Like

    1. Oh, that’s awesome! I’ve been wanting to visit her ever since reading this. I hope you end up enjoying it.

      Like

  17. Nish says:

    I’m really intrigued by The woman who wasn’t there. I have never heard of this woman and it’s quite disturbing to think about her deceiving survivors and people who lost loved ones in 9/11.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a wild, heartbreaking, infuriating story. It’s just … there’s no way I can talk about it and do it justice. It’s a complete roller coaster of a book.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Sorry I’m just now seeing this! This comment was stuck in my spam folder for some reason. The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is one of those books I tell everyone about. If you have any memory of Beanie Babies at the height of their popularity, then you’ll probably like that book. It’s WILD.

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