What Are the Different Types of Nonfiction Books?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann
Nonfiction books are books whose content is based in fact.
Nonfiction books are books whose content is based in fact.

Nonfiction books are based in fact and can take many forms. Some types of nonfiction books are personal accounts, such as journals, autobiographies and memoirs, while others are more instructional, such as how-to books, manuals and reference guides. Scientific, religious and philosophical books are typically classified as nonfiction. Medical books, travelogues and essays are also nonfiction offerings.

Reference books, like the dictionary, are non-fiction.
Reference books, like the dictionary, are non-fiction.

Journals and diaries are nonfiction books that can offer a first-hand look at a subject or an event as the author experienced it. A journal can be used to detail a wide variety of activities, from expeditions and archaeological digs to scientific research. It can be as wide-ranging or narrowly-focused as a writer desires, such as an overview of an ancient civilization or focusing only on the tools used by that civilization.

Journals and diaries can be turned into non-fiction books that offer a first-hand look at a person or event.
Journals and diaries can be turned into non-fiction books that offer a first-hand look at a person or event.

Essays are often written by experts in a particular field to provide an in-depth overview on a subject or experience. Biographies focus on the lives of individuals and their journeys as they go through life. If the subject is deceased, the biography can even include information on their death, including the cause, the funeral and reaction from family or the public. Autobiographies are told in the subject's own words and present the facts as they see them at the time.

Scientific papers published as nonfiction books are often geared toward the author's fellow experts in a particular field.
Scientific papers published as nonfiction books are often geared toward the author's fellow experts in a particular field.

Scholarly, research and scientific papers published as nonfiction books are often geared toward the author's fellow experts in a particular field. They are typically painstakingly detailed to provide a basis for further research and exploration. By being thorough, the essay is less likely to be discredited and more likely to serve as a basis for further study. These nonfiction books can provide a knowledge base for researchers, educators and scientists for years to come.

Some historical nonfiction books focus on an event, person or period from a certain era. Travel books and travelogues open a door to experiencing other cultures and countries through words and photographs. Some nonfiction books are primarily photos, such as photo essays. The essays can detail a range of subject matters, including a trip, surgery or collection of items.

Nonfiction books also include guides, manuals and diagrams. Some guides focus on values of items, such as collectible coins, baseball cards or autographs. Nonfiction books also include reference guides for antiques, such as jewelry, art glass and china. Reference books, such as encyclopedias and dictionaries, are also categorized as nonfiction books. Books on religion, philosophy and how-to publications are also nonfiction.

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Discussion Comments

jessiwan

My thoughts:

Personally I almost always choose non-fiction books over their fictional counterparts. I guess you can say I have an "anti-fictional" bias. I mean, how can I not? I want to gain an understanding of the world around me, and only nonfiction can help me do that. Fictional stuff like novels sprang from the imagination of humans. And that just doesn't sound like a very reliable place to find truth in important matters or to learn knowledge from. That being said, I do still read novels, and it's strictly for the English. I read fiction as a way to expand my vocabulary, to learn the English language in context. To this end, the few novels I do own have served me quite well.

There is one subset of books in the nonfiction category that I really like: books on astrology. I know, I know, you are probably rolling your eyes now. However, I find that a lot of authors in this field are very creative writers. In other words, they are really really funny, and not only that, some of them are truly really good writers. I guess you can say that I don't read these books for the subject matter. Rather, I read them for the English.

Some people have mentioned that we should do more "serious" reading and others point out that we need to make serious writings more palatable for the masses. I think they are both correct and that there is a solution: authors of stuff that is "worth reading" should try to write their books in a way that appeals to the average people. I believe the book "I am Joe's body" from Readers' digest did a very good job of this. It talks about our body and explains to us what various organs and systems do, but in a language that is very engaging, and some would even say, entertaining. I think it's a very good example that serious subject matter does not have to be boring.

Someone mentioned memoirs supposedly written by well-known figures, such as ex-presidents. Personally, I think these are a racket, because they are not written by the actual ex-president (or the actual celebrity, as the case might be). They in all likelihood just hired a ghost-writer, whom they probably got together with over coffee and to whom they gave verbal instruction on what they wanted written in their "autobiography". My recommendation is don't spend good money to buy any of these publications. It's a waste of your money. Just wait a few years till the craze subsides, and then you can check them out of your local library for free. Trust me, you won't be missing anything.

MrMoody

@Charred - The reason the public doesn’t gobble down theses books is that they (myself included) have limited attention spans. I am not saying we’re dumb, just that we prefer bite sized nuggets of information.

That’s what makes coffee table or gift type books such good nonfiction books for the lay reader. Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

We just have to adapt to the times and distill information in a way that can be easily digested.

Charred

@allenJo - While I generally agree, I think it’s a sad commentary on our culture. Why do pop culture how-to books have a wider audience than scholarly books on the environment or the future of our planet? Sure people need to lose weight but don’t you think the fate of planet Earth is more important?

I’m not trying to sound alarmist. All I am saying is that I wish the scholarly treatises had a wider audience. Sometimes they do, when a scientist is able break down a complicated subject so that the lay person can understand it.

Still, while there are a few successes in this regard I believe that the public should try to digest these books more than the others mentioned in the article. An educated public is the only hope to discovering solutions to mankind’s most pressing problems in my opinion.

allenJo

@everetra - Yeah, I agree. I wouldn’t recommend memoirs for beginning writers, unless you mean to do it as a way to pass down your legacy to your family for generations to come.

If you want to know what the best nonfiction books are, hands down it’s how-to books in my opinion. People are always looking for ways to fix the problems that they have in their lives. That’s what how-to books do.

As a matter of fact, if you do the research, you’ll find that bestselling how-to books usually fall into three categories: money, relationships and health. If you target one of these three areas you will have an immediate audience – and a large audience at that.

That doesn’t mean that your book will be an instant bestseller; you need to have something worthwhile to say. But it does mean that the largest swath of the reading public will be interested in your subject matter, to say the very least.

everetra

I notice that some of the top nonfiction books in the memoir category are those that are written by celebrities. For example, after a president is out of office, he typically writes his memoir.

This is pretty much a slam dunk proposition for both the president and the publisher. Memoirs of this kind have been known to sell hundreds of thousands of advance copies and bring in millions of dollars in sales.

I think with memoirs the only way to really win is to have the name recognition, which celebrities most assuredly do. If you and I were to write a memoir we might sell maybe a handful of copies at best, speaking for myself at least.

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    • Nonfiction books are books whose content is based in fact.
      By: Andrzej Tokarski
      Nonfiction books are books whose content is based in fact.
    • Reference books, like the dictionary, are non-fiction.
      By: Sebastian Crocker
      Reference books, like the dictionary, are non-fiction.
    • Journals and diaries can be turned into non-fiction books that offer a first-hand look at a person or event.
      By: Jane Doe
      Journals and diaries can be turned into non-fiction books that offer a first-hand look at a person or event.
    • Scientific papers published as nonfiction books are often geared toward the author's fellow experts in a particular field.
      By: michaeljung
      Scientific papers published as nonfiction books are often geared toward the author's fellow experts in a particular field.