Some touching, some inspirational, and some just plain incredible, Neha Shariffi shares her pick of the best books based on true events
10 factual books that are stranger than fiction.
Catch Me if
You Can, Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding “The true story of a real fake” says the cover of this gripping 1980 story of Frank Abagnale, the most notorious con artist of the 20th century. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 Spielberg film version, it’s hard to believe anyone could have the nerve to impersonate an airline pilot or pretend to be a doctor, but the real Abagnale, assisted by writer Stan Redding, describes how he was able to do this and more, all while extracting millions from people and being on the run from the authorities. The film’s love-hate relationship between Frank and the FBI agent chasing him also has a basis in truth. After his capture the real Frank spent less than five years in prison before starting to work for the government. He now serves as a consultant and lecturer for the FBI. Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer This best-selling book – later adapted into a movie by Sean Penn – documents the travels of a young graduate, Christopher McCandless, who suddenly stops communication with his family, donates his $25,000 (Dh91,750) college grant to charity and leaves all his possessions behind to go off alone into the wilderness. Thought to have been inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Jack London, the real Christopher survived in extreme conditions in Alaska for four months, before dying of starvation. While his decision to embark on this dangerously ascetic journey is still unfathomable to many, Krakauer, a mountaineer himself, writes about the youngster’s passion with poignant understanding. An inspiring read. The Bling Ring, Nancy Jo Sales Stories about young people getting one up on the establishment always spark a cult following and The Bling Ring is no different. Except that it’s not just a story – far-fetched as it sounds, it’s all based on fact. Hollywood stars Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Paris Hilton were among the victims of the Bling Ring, a group of seven teens and young adults who carried out several burglaries, stealing around $3 million (about Dh11 million) worth of goods. But it wasn’t because they wanted the money (far from it, they were all from wealthy backgrounds). Rather, in an unnerving illustration of what celebrity culture has become, they simply craved the fame the crimes would bring them. Nancy Jo Sales
details why they did it and how. Now made into a movie by Sofia Coppola,
The Bling Ring stars EmmaWatson. Shantaram, Gregory David
Roberts “The truth is a bully that we all pretend to like.” Wise words from Roberts. However, this book, based on true events, isn’t something we just pretend to like. Shantaram is the account of a convict named Lindsay (the false alias Roberts adopted), who escaped from a 19-year prison sentence for robbery in Australia and fled to India, eventually settling in Mumbai. Roberts spent 10 years on the run in the city, before being recaptured and extradited back to Australia. Conveying a passionate love for Mumbai, Roberts makes an enthralling sketch of this colourful and bustling metropolis and the people he encounters, creating a 900-plus-page book that – despite its length – remains unputdownable to the end. Amish Grace, Donald Kraybill and Steven Nolt It’s difficult to believe that an account of a school shooting could have a positive side, but this book – which is concerned with the aftermath of the 2006 shooting in an American Amish community, where a gunman killed five girls and injured several others – is nothing short of inspiring. In an almost inconceivable act of compassion, the Amish relatives of the dead girls reacted by forgiving the man who killed their daughters, a fact that was prolifically covered by the media following the tragedy. Shedding light on a fascinating and complex community that is so rarely visited, this book challenges readers to reassess their outlook on life. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert Wouldn’t we all want to embark on a journey of self-discovery? In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her soul-searching quest, which begins in Italy – where she indulges in endless helpings of Italian food; leads on to an ashram in India where she learns discipline and meditation; and ends in beautiful Bali, Indonesia, where she falls in love. Part chick-lit, part self-help book and part confessional literature, this emotionally engaging and uplifting memoir, which is based on Gilbert’s travels following the breakdown of her marriage, has famously been made into a movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts, and has become the self-improvement bible of many an inspired Gilbert fan. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote For fans of a writer whose most famous work gave birth to the legendary, and decidedly frivolous,
cultural icon Holly Golightly, from the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this serious, fact-based book may come as something of a shock. Gripped by the news of the brutal quadruple murders of Herbert Clutter and his family in 1959, Capote travelled to Kansas for research, accompanied by his longtime friend, Nelle Harper Lee of To Kill aMockingbird fame. Six years later, the masterpiece In Cold Blood was released. Capote’s reconstruction of the crime won him the Edgar Award for the Best Fact Crime Book (1966) and many critics consider it the first non-fiction novel. However, the story behind Capote’s period of research is as compelling as the tragedy itself, and was brought to the silver screen in the Oscarwinning 2005 movie Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Other Boleyn Girl,
Philippa Gregory Including historical fiction in this list might seem like cheating, but Gregory’s habit of taking relatively unknown historical characters and putting them at the heart of her novels makes for some fascinating narratives, which inject a whole new lease of life into events that otherwise most of us might only vaguely recollect from distant history lessons. The Other Boleyn Girl stands out as a novel that has strongly influenced the populist view of the Tudor period, taking the limelight off the usual star of that era, Anne Boleyn, and turning it on her sister Mary, the ‘other Boleyn girl’ and mother of Henry VIII’s dearly wanted, but illegitimate, son. An engrossing historical romp. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Piers Paul Read With the popularity of TV shows like Lost and films like Castaway, many of us will have imagined the possibility of ending up stranded in a deserted area following a disaster. But what’s the reality like? Piers Paul Read tells the true story of the 16 survivors of the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash into the Andes. The 10 weeks during which they endured severely hostile conditions in the snowy mountains makes for a harrowing yet arresting read. By the time they were rescued many of them had changed for ever. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt This touching memoir will make you laugh and cry at the same time, as McCourt writes about the struggles of his poverty-stricken childhood. While the scenes and situations he describes may be sad or pitiful, McCourt’s quirky, humorous tone makes for an uplifting read nonetheless. A beautifully written book, Angela’s Ashes won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and a well deserved one at that.
Neha Shariffi is an intern at Friday
played Frank Abagnale, one of the most notorious con
artists of the 20th century in Catch Me If
The Boleyn sisters played by Natalie Portman
and Scarlett Johansson fight for one man’s