10 Books You Didn’t Know Were Based on True Stories

It is said that behind the allure of any fiction book, there lies at least a little truth. With stories like these, readers are offered a more profound connection to the narrative and the grittiness of real human experiences. We’ve put together this list of great books that you may or may not know were based on real life events: some more than others! 

Discover the untold truths, the real-life individuals who inspired these narratives, and the captivating blend of fact and fiction that makes these books not only compelling reads but also windows into the complex tapestry of human experiences. From the gripping tales of a true crime novel to Anne Frank’s Diaries, you’re sure to find a great read on this list that suits you down to a T.

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote

Truman Capote - In Cold Blood book cover

Truman Capote skillfully recounts the chilling murder and the ensuing investigation of the brutal murder of the Clutter family, which ultimately culminated in the apprehension, trial, and execution of the perpetrators. Through his narrative, Capote masterfully weaves a tale of gripping suspense and deep empathy, creating a timeless work in “In Cold Blood.” The book transcends its historical moment, offering poignant reflections on the nature of violence in American society. This book reads like a murder mystery: only with true events, and real people.

If you like this, you might also like our recommendations for true crime novels!

Amazon Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads Rating: 4.08/5

“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young Girl book cover

Of course, you’ll know that this one is based on real events, but this incredible book could not be left from our list of classic books based on true stories.

Amidst the Nazi occupation of Holland during World War II, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their Amsterdam home, seeking refuge from the oppressive regime. Concealed in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building with another family, the Franks endured two years of seclusion until they were betrayed to the Gestapo. Isolated from the external world, they grappled with hunger, monotony, the harsh realities of confined living, and the ever-looming threat of discovery and death.

Within her diary, Anne Frank vividly captures her personal account of real-life events. Her entries, marked by introspection, poignant emotion, and unexpected humour, provide a captivating commentary on human strength and vulnerability. The diary unveils a compelling self-portrait of a perceptive and spirited young woman, tragically robbed of a future full of promise.

Amazon Rating: 4.8/5

Goodreads Rating: 4.19/5

“Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie - Murder on the Orient Express book cover

In the mountainous Balkans, the famed Orient Express grinds to a midnight halt due to a snowdrift. Despite an unusually crowded train, the morning reveals a lifeless American tycoon, stabbed a dozen times in a locked compartment. Detective Hercule Poirot, on vacation among the passengers, finds himself isolated with a potential killer on board, prompting him to swiftly uncover the murderer before another strike occurs.

What you might not know is that this story was partly inspired by the Lindbergh case, where the international hero’s 20-month-old son was kidnapped for a $50,000 ransom, the narrative weaves a gripping tale of intrigue and suspense aboard the luxurious train, elevating the stakes for Poirot’s investigation.

If you like this, you might also like our recommendations for adventure novels!

Amazon Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads Rating: 4.2/5

Beautiful Exiles by Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton - Beautiful Exiles book cover

In 1936 Key West, journalist Martha Gellhorn encounters literary giant Ernest Hemingway in a dive bar. Their friendship deepens during the Spanish Civil War, evolving into a powerful romance despite Hemingway’s marriage. Set against the backdrop of global travels, Martha becomes a renowned war correspondent, while Hemingway embarks on the novel that earns him a Nobel Prize.

“Beautiful Exiles” is a great book that explores the magnetic pull of love, ambition, and fame, with Martha forging her identity amid the wreckage of their relationship. While the novel is a fictionalised account of Martha and Hemingway’s lives, it draws inspiration from real events, and nobody really knows how much real life is behind the fictional love story…

Amazon Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Rating: 3.36

“Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer - Into the Wild book cover

Christopher McCandless was a young man who, after graduating from college, decided to leave behind his comfortable life and set out on a journey of self-discovery. He donated his savings to charity, cut ties with his family, and embarked on a cross-country adventure that eventually led him to Alaska. McCandless aimed to live a simple, better life in the wilderness, detached from the materialism and complexities of modern society.

“Into the Wild” is a nonfiction book written by Jon Krakauer, published in 1996. The book explores the life and death of Alexander Supertramp (real name Christopher McCandless) during his travels. Krakauer’s own investigative journalism, as well as interviews with people who crossed paths with McCandless during his journey, allowed him to piece together the true events that occur in this astounding novel.

Amazon Rating: 4.4/5

Goodreads Rating: 4/5

“Educated” by Tara Westover

Tara Westover - Educated a Memoir book cover

“Educated” by Tara Westover recounts her own remarkable journey from a childhood in an isolated, survivalist family in Idaho to self-education and academic success. Raised without formal schooling or access to medical care, Westover taught herself enough to gain admission to Brigham Young University. Her pursuit of knowledge led her to Harvard and Cambridge, transforming her perspective on life. The book explores themes of family loyalty, personal growth, and the transformative power of education.

Westover’s inspiring story is a universal coming-of-age tale that delves into the essence of education – offering new perspectives and the will to change one’s life. This is a personal account of her own experiences, which make it all the more captivating a read.

If you like this, you might also like our recommendations for true survival stories!

Amazon Rating: 4.6/5

Goodreads Rating: 4.5/5

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls book cover

“The Glass Castle” is a compelling memoir depicting the resilience and redemption of Jeannette Walls’ dysfunctional yet vibrant family. Jeannette’s father, brilliant when sober, instilled a love for learning, but when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Jeannette’s free-spirited mother rejected domesticity. The Walls children, forced to fend for themselves, eventually made their way to New York, thriving despite their parents’ choice to remain homeless. The memoir is a testament to the intense love within this peculiar yet loyal family, showcasing their remarkable journey from hardship to eventual prosperity.

Amazon Rating: 4.6/5

Goodreads Rating: 4.31/5

“The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson book cover

This book intertwines two seemingly unrelated true stories: the first follows architect Daniel H. Burnham as he overcomes obstacles to create the iconic “White City” for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, while the second delves into the sinister activities of Dr. H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, who used the fair as a backdrop for his crimes.

In this unconventional narrative, alternating chapters explore Burnham’s monumental architectural challenges and the chilling endeavours of Dr. Holmes. Larson skillfully reveals the enchanting allure and dark underbelly of 19th-century Chicago, making for a riveting exploration of these contrasting tales.

Amazon Rating: 4.3/5

Goodreads Rating: 4/5

“Empress Orchid” by Anchee Min

Anchee Min - Empress Orchid book cover

This novel tells the incredibly real story of Orchid Yehonala, a young Manchu girl in China in the 1800s whose journey commences with the demise of her father, a former governor of Wuhu. Left in destitution alongside her two siblings and mother, the family undertakes a journey to Peking, the father’s birthplace, to inter his coffin. Taking up residence with a distant uncle and his mentally challenged, opium-addicted son Ping, also known as ‘Bottle,’ Orchid’s circumstances take a turn.

Opportunity knocks when Emperor Hsien Feng issues a proclamation seeking “future mates.” Orchid, eligible due to her Manchu heritage and her father’s “Blue Bannerman” status, is selected as the Imperial consort of the fourth rank, bestowed with the official title Lady of the Greatest Virtue. Amidst the vast Forbidden City housing over 3000 concubines, Orchid stands as one of seven Imperial consorts. Nuharoo, declared Empress, attains the foremost rank among the seven consorts.

According to Wikipedia, names within the story are different in spelling but retain the same pronunciation – allowing the reader to identify each relevant character to his or her real life counterpart. 

Amazon Rating: 4.3/5

Goodreads Rating: 3.89/5

“Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward - Men We Reaped book cover

In five tumultuous years, Jesmyn Ward faced the loss of five men in her life – victims of drugs, accidents, suicide, and the harsh realities that befall those in poverty, particularly black men. Confronting these consecutive tragedies compelled Jesmyn to question why, leading her to a profound realisation about the impact of racism as a black woman and economic hardship on her community. 

Born into poverty in rural Mississippi, Jesmyn shares the poignant narrative of societal pressures on men and the crucial role women play in the absence of male figures. Her personal story, shaped by the agonising losses of her brother and friends, intertwines with a broader exploration of a parallel American universe. As the lone family member to break free and pursue higher education, Jesmyn recounts this journey with the dual perspective of objective observation and the intimacy of a lived experience.

Amazon Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads Rating: 4.3/5

1 thought on “10 Books You Didn’t Know Were Based on True Stories”

  1. I love a good book especially if it’s real people and real emotions. Can’t wait to get stuck into these. Thanks Isabella!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top