Non-fiction is any narrative primarily based on fact, that is, not a work of the imagination. The word technically applies to any medium, but is most often applied to printed books, audiobooks, and ebooks. Libraries and bookstores use non-fiction genres to divide their non-fiction collections into sections. Popular genres include creative non-fiction, biography, and science, each of which can be broken into many sub-genres. Other major genres include therapy and medicine, textbooks and other manuals, and general reference.
The term “non-fiction” technically includes any narrative based on factual material, a definition that includes news coverage, documentary films, and scientific journals. In popular use, however, it refers specifically to books and literature presumed to be largely or entirely factual. Every year, many popular works of non-fiction are published; in fact, most best seller lists include sections for non-fiction. Works of history, biography, and politics regularly populate these lists, as well as therapeutic self-help books. The vast majority of works in many non-fiction genres, however, is enjoyed only by people with specialized interests.
Some of the most popular non-fiction genres are biography, autobiography, and memoir, the stories of famous or otherwise noteworthy people. Biographies can be written by anyone; autobiographies and memoirs are written by the subjects themselves. In the mid-20th century, biographies such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer’s Marilyn launched a new genre, non-fiction novels or creative non-fiction. The genre has been popular ever since; while these books are written like fiction, their facts are maintained to be verifiably true. In the early 2000s, several high-profile authors of creative non-fiction were found to have embellished or invented facts, causing well-publicized controversies.
History, sociology, and culture are non-fiction genres concerned with the ongoing story of how human beings interact. They are often broken into sub-genres around more specific subjects, such as African-American history or gay and lesbian culture. Works about geography, nature, and travel also make up popular non-fiction genres and sub-genres, often divided by region. Many of these are travel guides; memoirs of travel are also very popular. Photographs of animals and nature, as well as books in general about art and photography, are also considered non-fiction.
Works of general science tend to focus on current discoveries and breakthroughs, medical matters, or ongoing subjects of debate and controversy. Each specialized branch of science has its own vast library of literature. These include textbooks and technical manuals that explain many processes in minute detail. Similar references are available in every field of human understanding, from Russian literature to hairdressing. There are reference guides available both on and off the Internet to help users navigate through the vast quantity of non-fiction genres to find works in a specific subject.