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9 Nonfiction Books You Can Read in a Day

Looking to while away the afternoon with a thought-provoking piece of nonfiction? Since the average American adult can read around 250 to 300 words a minute, you'll easily zip through these stellar works before sundown.

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‘A Room of One’s Own’

This extended essay by modernist English writer Virginia Woolf is based on several lectures she gave to two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in 1928. In it, Woolf describes that it’s circumstance, not talent alone, that allows men to be more successful at writing. Women, in other words, spend so much time cooking, cleaning, and tending to their children that they have no time left for art. To write well, therefore, a woman must have—you guessed it—a “room of her own.” While on its surface, this essay appears to be solely about writing, it actually makes quite a statement about wealth and class, freedom and confinement, and the power struggle between genders. Here are some more good books every woman should read in her lifetime.

Pages: 128

Reading time: 2 hours, 38 minutes

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‘The Art of War’

Written by Chinese warrior Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC, The Art of War is widely considered to be one of the best books—if not the best book—about military combat strategy in human history. Comprised of 13 chapters, each detailing a separate facet of warfare, the book has been translated into every major language and has thousands of editions in circulation. For centuries, it has been cited and praised by world leaders both for its detailed study of military strategy and its philosophical examination of strong, effective leadership.

Pages: 68

Reading time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

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‘Common Sense’

Published anonymously by English-American political activist Thomas Paine in 1776, this pamphlet was a “call to action” to persuade America to free itself from British rule. Using plain language, Paine persuasively and passionately challenges the British government and encourages colonists to fight for independence. While some contention exists as to how far-reaching its distribution was at the time—the numbers range from 100,000 to half a million—there is no doubt that Common Sense remains one of the most influential pieces of literature in American history.

Pages: 64

Reading time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

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‘Letter to My Daughter’

This 2009 book of essays and poems by esteemed poet Maya Angelou is dedicated to the daughter she never had—the millions of women, both young and old, that she considers to be her “family.” From the perspective of a caring, older relative, this book contains lessons culled from her own life experiences, including the birth of her only child, a son, as well as the formation and loss of friendships along the way. Here are some more of the best short books you’ll ever read.

Pages: 192

Reading time: 3 hours, 58 minutes

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‘Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination’

Looking for inspiration? Pick up this short book from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, which is actually the text of her poignant 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University. In this moving and passionate work, she tells graduates that they should embrace failure, not fear it, and that they should never forget the power of imagination: “You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships,” she writes, “until both have been tested by adversity.”

Pages: 80

Reading time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

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‘Lifeboat No. 8: An Untold Tale of Love, Loss, and Surviving the Titanic’

It’s been more than a century since The Titanic sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, but the tale of the ill-fated voyage is as gripping as ever. In this short 2012 book, New York Times contributor Elizabeth Kaye focuses on the rescue of one of the first lifeboats to leave the ship, and follows, through a haunting narrative, diary entries and historical letters, the lives of those who survived. Interested in reading about haunting real events? You’ll want to pick up these riveting true crime books.

Pages: 67

Reading time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

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‘The Doors of Perception’

More than a decade before gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thomas published his drug-fueled tale Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Aldous Huxley crafted this nonfiction account of his experiences after ingesting the psychedelic drug mescaline (also known as peyote) in a controlled experiment. Huxley, who also wrote the dystopian masterpiece Brave New World, became fascinated with the drug’s effects after reading a research paper by British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, and wanted to learn whether the drug could “cleanse” his “perception” of reality.

Pages: 187

Reading time: 4 hours, 17 minutes

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‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life’

At first glance, this book may appear to be a guide for learning how to write. As the title suggests, however, this charming and hilarious 1994 work by American author Anne Lamott tackles more than simple writing technique. This is not just a book for writers or aspiring writers; in fact, even if you despise writing, you’ll enjoy Lamott’s humorous approach to overcoming self-doubt, as well as her amusing approach to deeper themes like religion, mortality, and identity. Here are some more unorthodox self-help books for people who hate self-help books.

Pages: 272

Reading time: 5 hours, 37 minutes

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‘A Brief History of Time’

If you’re short on time, then why not read about, well, the creation of time? This 1998 title from brilliant scientist and mathematician Stephen Hawking explores mind-bending questions about the creation of the universe, including if and when it will end, and if so, how? Despite its heavy subject matter, Hawking addresses these questions in a way that’s easy to understand, even for those of use who haven’t earned a PhD in quantum physics. Next, check out these other classic books you can read in one day.

Pages: 212

Reading time: 4 hours, 22 minutes

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Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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