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Summer Nonfiction: True Tales Enlighten, Delight

A few summers ago, I strolled past an intrepid reader on the beach. Propped beneath an umbrella, he sat with The Power Broker, Robert Caro's 1,300 page masterpiece about the great New York City urban planner Robert Moses, as his "beach read."

Ever since then, I have felt entitled to pack plenty of history, biography and other nonfiction in my vacation reading bag. These true tales can be every bit as exhilarating and illuminating as novels. You simply have to pick the right books.

Here, then, are five that will shock, appall and delight you, wherever you chose to "relax."

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John Freeman is the editor of Grantamagazine. A former president of the National Book Critics Circle, his criticism has appeared in publications around the world, including The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Book Review. His latest book is The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox.