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Favorite Non-Fiction?

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I've really been into non-fiction for that last few years.

Does anyone else read it?

Who's your favorite author?

What's your favorite genre?

Do you have a favorite non-fiction book?

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I recommend two books by Nora Waln.

 

The House of Exile

The Approaching Storm

 

Waln was a young woman from an old Philadelphia Society of Friends (Quaker) family, who ended up marrying a British Foreign Service diplomat type.

First she was in Imperial China, before the Chinese Cultural Revolution; her descriptions of her life in the estate of an aristocratic Chinese family is lyrical, funny, sometimes scary and heartbreaking...especially as the Communist Revolution violence begins.

 

Then her husband was posted to Germany in the 1930's...as an odd little man named Adolf Hitler was making his way up the political ladder with increasing speed and soon more terrifying developments reveal themselves. She and her husband get out before WW2 begins in earnest; we all know how that went but we have had little chance to know the personal, day-to-day evolution of evil amidst the ordinary people of Germany as hope and plans are overtaken by paranoia and betrayal.

 

She had a strange destiny, to be present for two cataclysmic overthrows that would change the world forever. All written in the most amazing honesty, and courage and delicacy.

 

I also recommend Home Before Morning, the account of a field nurse in Viet Nam, who is not lyrical but so brutal with the truth, hardest on herself of all people. Let's just say it isn't M*A*S*H*...it will make you cry, and make you out-loud furious. but when you reach the end you will treasure it. By Lynda Van De Vanter.

Edited by kikismom

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I can recommend one book above all others, in this category:

 

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. The story of how the Native American people of North America were systematically marginalised and wiped out, through decades of crooked deals and lies told to them by the US govt.

 

Another book I like is Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, by Judith Herrin. A pretty good chronicle of one of history's great forgotten empires. It existed for a thousand years, and was probably the key reason that Christianity in Europe ever survived past the 10th century, and yet so few people know the first thing about it.

 

Bill Bryson's books are all a great read as well. He has a really accessible, witty style, and manages to make any subject, whether it's a small town in Somerset or the history of the solar system, really engaging.

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I'm a non-fiction reader almost exclusively, with history being my main topic (I read a smattering of other topics, such as science, history of religion, and some social science as well). I'm currently re-reading my copy of The Fourth Part of the World, which is about the first map that calls the newly-discovered continent in the New World "America" in 1507. This sounds really boring, but it's really fascinating. The author starts with the discovery of this long-sought map on a shelf in a castle in Germany in 1903, and then goes into what maps were like in the medieval era, and how world maps developed with the writings of Marco Polo, the myths about Prester John and other mythical "rulers" of Africa and Asia, and then the first real intellectual exchange between TPTB in the west and Constantinople, when the Byzantine emperor came to ask the Pope for assistance in fighting the Muslims in the Crusades. This really kickstarted the Renaissance more than anything else. The 15th century was a whirlwind in terms of the changes in mapmaking, extrapolating from the Portuguese travels to Asia, Africa, and out to the Canary Islands and possibly further west, Copernicus, and other innovations in science and new knowledge, and maps reflected this explosion in intellectual exploration.

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I read non-fiction pretty much exclusively, so my favorites list is quite long.  Some  of my essentials:

 

Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States -- This truly ought to be required reading in every high school's American history class.

 

Dave Zirin's A People's History of Sports in the United States -- Nobody does a better job of examining the nexus between sports and politics in America.

 

Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will -- Re-reading it can be immensely depressing for the realization of how little has changed in the intervening years, but this groundbreaking historical analysis of rape culture and laws is eye opening, no matter how well informed one is coming into it.

 

Elinor Burkett's The Baby Boon -- While we certainly need to keep talking about the myriad ways Corporate America works against the parents (particularly mothers) in its employ, we also need to look at the ways "family-friendly" policies can shortchange those without children.  Burkett does that well.

 

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed -- The subtitle "On (Not) Getting By in America" has only become more relevant in the years since she went undercover in a series of minimum-wage jobs to explore the impact our draconian "reform" of the welfare system had on the working poor.

 

Susan Faludi's Backlash -- This exploration of the backlash against the women's rights movement is meticulously researched and well argued, and another one that's frustratingly more relevant today than at the time it was written; a second volume would probably be just as long.

 

Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? -- I read this when it was first published, and passages will probably ring in my head during every election cycle for the rest of my life.

 

Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home -- A Pulitzer-winning account of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, weaving together personal accounts of the civil rights struggle and excellent analysis of the connection between law enforcement and the Klan.

 

Daniel Okrent's Last Call -- A highly-readable, detailed study of the rise and fall of Prohibition

 

Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation -- This made me very glad I only eat fast food once or twice a year, but anyone who eats food, period, ought to read this book.  It's like a modern, expanded version of The Jungle.

 

Elaine Brown's A Taste of Power -- A memoir from the Black Panthers' first female leader (whose feminist conscience was one reason behind her decision to leave the party), this is a highly personal account of the "intersectionality" some members of this generation think they were the first ones to analyze and call out. 

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Backlash was pivotal in my development as a feminist and politically- and socially-aware citizen. I read it around 1992 when I was 26, and after I finished it, I realized I was just playing semantics by calling myself a "non-sexist" instead of a feminist, and that I was only doing so to avoid being labeled as the unpleasant variety of feminist that was so rampant in the news in the 1980s. The book infuriated me so much by spelling out exactly what was happening to women's rights and the movement that had developed in the 1960s and '70s that I couldn't be non-confrontational anymore.

Edited by Sharpie66
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Over a couple of years I read a few good titles:

 

Lies Across America and Lies My Teacher Told Me, both by James W. Loewen-- The first talks about what is patentently, factually wrong at our nation's Historical Sites. It's pretty eye-opening. The second title discusses how history texts have drifted from factual history. I read the "Completely revised and updated" version, but for someone who wasn't ever satisfied with her History classes, the book rang true and sad for me. Both are thoughtful and thought-provoking.

 

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009/2010, edited by Dave Eggers (for both)-- I picked these up on discount and found various and sundry lists and stories that I enjoy. One of my favorite lists is the 'Best American Band Names' list! In the 2010 edition there is 'Best American Fast-Food-Related Crimes" and 'Best American Lawsuits" alongside short stories from Sherman Alexie, Kurt Vonnegut, and people I am not familiar with. The 2009 edition has , aside from the Band Name list, "Best American Cencorship Blunder", 'Best American Bank Heists" and "Best American Karate Tribute".   They are possibly still being published by Mariner Books and I totally recommend them!

 

The Ten Cent Plague by David Hajdu and Marvel Comics- The Untold Story by Sean Howe: I am a comics fangirl and love anything on the medium's history. Mr. Hajdu's book covers what led to Dr. Frederick Wertham's crusade against comic books and the immediate aftermath.  The Howe book covers the pre-history of  Marvel (as we know it today) up through the late Aughts. (It was printed in 2012.)  Both I enjoyed because the stories were allowed to be as complex as they were/are.

 

I'd recommend almost any of the Pop Culture and Philosophy series by Open Court, as there are so many books now that there is surely something to hook you, be it music, games, tv or movies. Also there are the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series which is similar.

 

Anything Jessica Valenti writes I enjoy: The Purity Myth, He's a Stud, She's a Slut And 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know are two I own.

John Douglas' paperback versions of Mindhunter, Motive, and Obsession. I haven't finished Motive, and haven't started Obsession, but Mr. Douglas has a style that is clean and easy to understand, which makes the subject matter a bit more unnerving. Still, I'd recommend them- Mindhunter is an amazing and fast read.

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War and disasters -- fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, plagues -- are my go-to categories for non-fiction.  Occasionally I'll pick up something social or political, which sorta relates to war and disasters, because we see how people respond to cultural change as well as physical changes. 

 

I'd like to live long enough to read whatever will be written about climate change when it's all over, but I probably won't.

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Most recently, I've been returning (again and again) to Peter Ackroyd's "Newton" and Francine Prose's "Caravaggio".

Ackroyd's Newton is very vivid. The man who's brilliant and brittle, quick witted but bitchy and vindictive at the same time. I love the little anecdotes, the glimpse of a genius being self-aware and selfish, and all the fascinating aspects in a small book.

A similarly slim and small book, Prose's Caravaggio is as shadowy and tantalising as Caravaggio's many paintings. Rather racy with lots of adventure about a man's penchant for beautiful people, things, and people-baiting.

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Royal Blood by Bertram Fields still tickles me. It's not that it's a great book, although it's a good book, it's that he did something I think all fans of history have wanted to do at one point or another: refute the living hell out of the opinion of someone with a fairly clear agenda.

I like Alison Weir, she's an incredibly accessible historian, highly readable. That said "objective opinion" is not something I'd use as a tag to describe anything she's ever written. You don't have to read much Weir to know which camp she inhabits in any historical debate particularly for anything having to do with The Wars of the Roses or the Tudors.

So she wrote a book called The Princes in the Tower about the disappearance and historical mystery surrounding the nephews of Richard III. It's a long debated thing with York, Lancaster and Tudor supporters and personally I think the kids as likely simply croaked as anything. It just wouldn't really fit with the character of Richard -- who was key to installing his brother on the throne in the first place -- to kill his nephews. That said, no one knows what became of them and the fact that the Tower used to be a royal residence also gets a little lost in the historical shuffle.

But in Allison Weir's mind and the minds of a lot of others -- not just people who mistake Shakespeare for a historian -- there is no doubt: Richard had his nephews done to death with a nefarious flourish, among other things, drawing upon Thomas More's highly fictionalized accounts for proof. More was an unreliable historian if ever there was one, who even abandoned the endeavor himself. This is so well known that Weir actually went around collecting evidence that she produces throughout The Princes in the Tower, trying to pass them off as evidence. One particularly baffling instance being an invoice for lumber as her alleged smoking gun.

So it's an entirely maddening book, but it's sort of amusing too by the time the lumber invoice is being referenced with such accusatory conviction. That's about the point even a Weir fan would start wondering about her alcohol intake.

Bertram Fields -- an entertainment lawyer and likely Yorkist apparently read that book and lost.his.shit because whereas it's amusing as hell that Weir tries to bluff her way through a resolution to one of the biggest mysteries in English history, it's also not exactly okay for someone to do that purporting to be a historian. She is, she just got carried the hell away because she doesn't have anything resembling objectivity when it comes to Richard III. Or the status of Elizabeth I's virginity, which is an entirely separate, but equally "What the hell?" sort of subject.

Fields, apparently livid, wrote Royal Blood to try the case of Richard III as a lawyer, and concludes rather understandably that part of the reason that it is a mystery is that there isn't conclusive proof one way or another.

He never actually states, "Oh my God, I nearly had a stroke reading Weir" but the number of times he directly refutes her claims, by name, makes it incredibly clear.

So it's one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time, because it's hard to beat dueling historians in high dudgeon, but Fields also keeps enough of a sense of humor about it that the results are often hilarious.

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I like Alison Weir, she's an incredibly accessible historian, highly readable. That said "objective opinion" is not something I'd use as a tag to describe anything she's ever written. You don't have to read much Weir to know which camp she inhabits in any historical debate particularly for anything having to do with The Wars of the Roses or the Tudors.

 

Yeah, I'm afraid I would have to class Alison Weir's writing as closer to fiction than it is to non-fiction. Bertram Fields was right, in his digs at her, that she writes as though she had personal insight into the minds of people who lived five hundred years ago.

 

For me, she has less credibility than a Harlequin romance novelist. And that's not just because I'm an avowed Yorkist as well, but because her writing is so lacking in objectivity that she might as well have just written a single sentence that went, "Richard III was evil and killed the princes, and his wife, and definitely wanted to fuck his niece."

 

Having said that, the best part of Royal Blood, in my view, is his hypothetical alternate history, at the end. It culminates in a Europe-wide Angevin Empire that lasts right up the the present day, I seem to recall. Wacky, but fun.

 

Speaking of Richard, there was a programme on Channel 4 recently that looked into whether someone with scoliosis like he had would have been the capable warrior that even Shakespeare portrayed him as. Guess what? He could. They actually found a guy with an almost identically twisted spine, and not only did he look pretty normal, when clothed, but he turned out to be very able to fight in full armour, on horseback. Pretty interesting programme, I must say.

Edited by Danny Franks
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From what I've read and seen about the body of Richard III after it was discovered, the general consensus by medical professionals is that the scoliosis would definitely not have been visible when he was clothed, and would not have affected him too much physically. The lack of a withered arm helps in the assessment of his fighting skills, as well.

 

The Smithsonian Channel show on the discovery of the body is told from the perspective of a Richard fanatic who apparently helped to fund the dig of the carpark along with the various pro-Richard societies around the world. She was there when they found the body, and completely had a meltdown when she realized that the scoliosis was real and not a Shakespearean invention.

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From what I've read and seen about the body of Richard III after it was discovered, the general consensus by medical professionals is that the scoliosis would definitely not have been visible when he was clothed, and would not have affected him too much physically. The lack of a withered arm helps in the assessment of his fighting skills, as well.

 

The Smithsonian Channel show on the discovery of the body is told from the perspective of a Richard fanatic who apparently helped to fund the dig of the carpark along with the various pro-Richard societies around the world. She was there when they found the body, and completely had a meltdown when she realized that the scoliosis was real and not a Shakespearean invention.

 

Yeah, but they actually got a guy with scoliosis very similar to Richard's, and proved it by having him do everything from wearing late Medieval armour to riding a warhorse. He actually struggled to stay on a modern saddle, because his body shape always made him slump forward, but a proper Medieval saddle, with the back supports, was perfect for him. He also had all the flexibility needed to fight with Medieval weapons. The only thing they found was that his ribs didn't expand fully, so he didn't have great stamina and would struggle to breathe after longer periods of activity. But this was a very skinny guy who was a schoolteacher, not a trained Medieval warrior king. So... I felt a certain amount of pleasure at their findings, disproving a lot of people who originally proclaimed, 'see, he was a twisted little man!'

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I loved Bertram Fields, loved him for writing Royal Blood , it's one of the few times a nonfiction book about history drew a bunch of "oh hell yeah"s from the reading audience. It wasn't just me. Glance through the amazon reviews.

I think Allison Weir is reasonably good on anything having to do with Elizabeth I, although she still draws the same "Whoa, that was a giant leap ....and look, there's another, and another and...holy conclusions there, lady, calm down a bit" but her it was very slanted view on Richard III that made me stop reading her altogether. It was just so unabashedly biased and on exceptionally slim evidence.

I think a lot of historians are more slanted than they like to admit, but when it came to Richard and then again Anne Boleyn, Weir just let her very personal feelings rule the day. She'd have citations aplenty, but they were often almost laughable and if something outright stated anything Weir disagreed with, she'd decide it wasn't worth the paper it was found upon and then promptly cite the exact same form of source documentation (usually correspondence) to back up something she did want to believe.

It gets a little nuts.

In terms of the truth about Richard's prowess on the battlefield and the fact that he did have scoliosis, I've always assumed that the Tudor's understood that a lie based on a grain of truth is more plausible than one wholly made up.

I am not a complete Yorkist -- except when held in comparison to someone like Weir -- but I think it's entirely plausible that Richard was as accomplished in battle as even detractors often believed. Necessity prompts an entire world of life hacks and he would have learned to compensate from childhood.

Edited by stillshimpy
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I've been trying to get through Weir's The Wars of the Roses (the prequel to The Princes in the Tower), which is all about Henry VI and the lead up to Edward becoming king. It's very dense, but quite well written. However, I'm relying on the extensive family trees at the end of the book to get the relationships, and they are too tightly crammed with names to be of any real use to anyone without perfect vision who can read really tiny writing. I always have to take off my glasses and put the book two inches away from my nose before I can figure out who is who!

Edited by Sharpie66

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Yeah I'd read that, which is part of the reason The Princes in the Tower caught me a little off-guard in terms of the venom aimed at Richard. I really hadn't realized she had such a dim view of him. I've also read The Children of Henry VIII by Weir.

She'd always had a bit of a tendency to draw conclusions and present them as fact. I first noticed it in her Elizabeth I biography, which was the first time I read her. It was given full rein and was front and center for The Princes in the tower though.

I agree with you on those charts. They are for the sharp-eyed.

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I agree about both books (The War of the Roses and The Princes in the Tower) which I read last summer.  As far as the whodunnit it was interesting to speculate with Weir about others' possible motives, but in this case the simplest explanation is probably the correct one.  Another book about this period is Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood, focusing on the scheming wives and righteous mothers, from Margaret of Anjou to Elizabeth of York, who perpetuated the war(s).  Good times, good times.

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Devil In the White City is one of my favorite non-fiction book reads. If you're into serial killers I highly recommend it . It's non-fiction that reads like fiction. 

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Devil In the White City is one of my favorite non-fiction book reads. If you're into serial killers I highly recommend it . It's non-fiction that reads like fiction. 

 

I liked it too but I wish there was more on the serial killer and less on the professional men (architects, engineers, etc). But I imagine there's not a whole lot of info on the killer.

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I love books by Bill Bryson.  I just finished reading One Summer: America, 1927 and found it fascinating.  I also recently read At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which is really a history of  civilization. 

 

Right now I'm just starting on Michael Pollan's The Ominvore's Dilemma:A Natural History of Four Meals.  I've aslo read and enjoyed is The Botany of Desire and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

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I've seen The Botany of Desire adaptation on PBS and really want to read the book.

Oooh, that Bryson book on 1927 looks good! I'll have to put that on my tablet for my trip next week. I love his English language books, The Mother Tongue and Made in America. They are the most frequently read of my Emglish language books--I also have The Story of English (a companion book to a PBS miniseries from the 1980s), my textbook from my History of English class, and a few grammar books, including The Transitive Vampire.

I also love Bryson's collection of essays he wrote about his return to the US after living in England for so long. The book is called I'm a Stranger Here Myself.

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I love books by Bill Bryson.  I just finished reading One Summer: America, 1927 and found it fascinating.  I also recently read At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which is really a history of  civilization. 

 

I just bought One Summer: America, 1927 the other day. Can't wait to get started on it. Have you read Notes From A Small Island? An absolutely great look at Britain, and the British towns and culture that Bill Bryson fell in love with. I regard it as his quintessential book, and he's so sharp, at identifying cultural and social oddities. The audiobook version of it is even better, because it's read by Mr. Bryson himself. Full of so much warmth and wit.

 

I also bought The North (And Almost Everything In It) by Paul Morley. A social history of the north of England, made more interesting to me because Morley grew up in Reddish, the same place I did. He went to the same schools as me, talks about moping around dreary Stockport town centre, just like I did, and probably got up to no good down in Reddish Vale during school holidays, like I did.

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I have read Notes From a Small Island, quite a while ago.  I just put in a request for the audiobook at my local library, I think I'd enjoy listening to it.  

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Two more that I recommend:  Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer about a disasterous climb of Mt Everest some years ago.  It's a remarkable account of the fight for survival in about the harshest environment imaginable.  It's a thrilling and heart wrenching adventure, and before all goes to hell, a very interesting narrative of how much work it takes to prepare for a climb.  Unforgettable.

 

Also, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit, another good one), about the incredible story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who survived not only 30+ days on a raft in the Pacific, but also several years in Japanese POW camps.  The brutality is hard to process but Louie's indominable spirit makes it worthy read.  The story has been made into a movie that is coming out later this year.  I'm not sure I'll be able to watch it because of all the horrible things that happen, but I'm glad to have read the book.  It's one you can't put down.

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I'm currently reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.

http://www.amazon.com/Stiff-Curious-Lives-Human-Cadavers/dp/0393324826

 

It sounds a little gross, but it's really interesting!  It's about all the uses for cadavers-car crash simulations, research, surgical practice.  There's a lot of history too, about the outrage of  defiling bodies, and the booming business of body snatching.  I really enjoy the author's style; her writing is very accessible.  

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Another vote for Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Also, In the Garden of Beasts & Thunderstruck by the same author. He has a wonderful way of writing non-fiction that reads like fiction. Highly recommended!!

 

I was delighted to skim the posts about Alison Weir, The Princes in the Tower, Richard III, because that's the non-fiction I live for. That said, Alison Weir's bias is obvious. She loves anything Tudor (and Boleyn) and she must worship Elizabeth I because the woman can do no wrong in Weir's eyes. Mary Queen of Scotts was the devil, according to Weir. Let me just say that to this day I'm shocked that she points the finger at Richard III for the princes' murders. Not to say that it's not possible. But as far as Princes in the Tower goes, she writes it in stone. Well, almost. Weir's latest book about Mary Boleyn is actually about Anne but I suppose she couldn't possibly write yet another book with Anne Boleyn in the title. *rolls eyes* I will say that her fiction book about Lady Jane Grey (forgot the name) is a decent read. She should stick to non-fiction.

 

Lately I've been reading more recently published books about the Woodville family. I find the family fascinating and perhaps not as horrible as many "historians" (looking at you, Weir) claim them to be.

 

Anyway, I'll have to come back here and actually read all the posts instead of skimming them due to lack of time.

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I recently finished The Black Russian (http://www.amazon.com/The-Black-Russian-Vladimir-Alexandrov/dp/0802122299/). It is about a guy, Frederick Thomas, who was born to former slaves in Mississippi and through a combination of wanderlust, ambition, a good work ethic and some creative retellings of his past when required, rose to become a powerful restaurant and club owner in Moscow in the early 20th century. His travels would be crazy for now, let alone for the times and his color - he lived in multiple US cities, England, France, Russia, Turkey ... It is a really interesting story, and intersects with a lot of pretty momentous history.

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Damn, y'all beat me to the Bill Bryson recommendations!  Please add A Walk in the Woods and The Lost Continent if you want to giggle while you learn.

 

Or, heck, just read every single thing the man has written.

 

I've got Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman and Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl stacked by my bed.  Do I sense a theme?

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I loved Royal Blood, which I read because I was so enraged by Alison Weir's book (what kind of "historian" uses no footnotes in a book that's supposed to definitely prove her theory)?

 

Another book that I really liked was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was a poor black woman, riddled with cancer, whose cells were taken from  her in the 1950s without her knowledge and have become indispensable in science and medicine, used to create cures for diseases, bought and sold by the billions. 

Edited by Mystery

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I read a lot of non-fiction, mostly history, especially European history.  I'm on the last of Rick Atkinson's WWII trilogy.  Other books I've read recently and can recommend:

 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson.  This tells the history of African-Americans leaving the south for the north and west.  Really interesting (and infuriating in many instances), and a part of US history I knew little about.

 

I can also second Haleth's recommendation of Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood. While I've read a ton on the Tudor years, I had a lot less knowledge about the Yorks and Plantagenets.  A good, basic book on the Plantagenets that I finished recently is The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones, which covers up through the fall of Richard II.

 

I also read some popular science.  I can recommend Phil Plaith's Death from the Skies! for a fun lesson in astronomy and astrophysics.  I also liked Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale, which walks you backward through human evolution.

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My next non-fiction book on my list to be read (next week, after I finish off my final grad school assignment--yay!) is Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. It's being released tomorrow, and I just placed an order for it after reading a great article about it over at Salon (http://www.salon.com/2014/11/09/indiana_jones_would_be_considered_a_looter_why_were_obsessed_with_glamorizing_archaeologists/). I've been a fan of archaeology ever since we studied the Great Western/Mid-Eastern Civilizations (Greece, Sumeria, Egypt) in 5th grade Social Studies, including hearing for the first time about the digs at Troy, Ur, and Knossos. 

 

After I finish reading it, I'll probably give the book to my niece, who is currently studying to become a forensic anthropologist--she's doing a double-major of anthropology and archaeology for her undergrad degree, and she's gone on several summer digs already (she worked on a Polish medieval cemetary in August).

 

I'll put my review of it here after I finish!

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Late to the party, but I wanted to co-sign on Nickel and Dimed (or anything by Barbara Ehrenreich), Against Our Will (which I read when it came out, in the 70's!) A Taste of Power, Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America, and anything by Bill Bryson. I love Mary Roach and I've read several of her books. At work we wanted to do a book club that was vaguely science-y (I work at MIT) so we picked Packing for Mars, which I recommend highly.

 

I'm a big non-fiction reader, I love memoirs and social history. I love anything about contemporary China, Russia, and North Korea. The best I've read about N. Korea is Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick. I love anything about immigrant experience, serious or funny, and from anywhere. (Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen is great! How I Became Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago another favorite). Cults. (One Thousand Lives, by Julia Scheeres, My Life in Orange by Tim Guest). Crazy childhoods (Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs, Oh the Glory of it All, by Sean Wilsey) India and Indian experience (Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala is one of the best! I keep wishing I could find something else as good.) Royals--junk food reading but great fun. Medical, (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot). My Own Country by Abraham Verghese is an all time favorite. Americana (The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn, both by Timothy Egan are wonderful and eye opening.)

 

Oh, and chef and cooking memoirs. Julia Child's My Life in France. Heat by Bill Bruford. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelson. Life, on the Line, by Grant Achatz, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones.

 

I hope the thread stays active, I'm always on the lookout for recommendations!

Edited by Pepper Mostly
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Does travel writing count? I like Polly Evans, particularly It's Not About the Tapas (which I picked up because of the title) about bike riding around Spain and Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas which is about desserts in Paris and NYC (also about her, but mainly about desserts).

 

I also recommend The Brethren (behind the scenes look at the Supreme Court in the early 70s) by Woodward & Bernstein.

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Agree with Into Thin Air. Also love Under the Banner of Heaven, another Krakauer book but this one is about Mormons.

I liked Wild a lot, but it was a very emotional read for me. Some people thought it suffered Eat Pray Love syndrome, but I thought it was better written and Cheryl Strayed seemed very aware of her flaws, so it seemed more honest to me.

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For those who enjoyed Into Thin Air, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is another good one. It's about Christopher McCandless, who travels the country (America) and ends up in Alaska living in a bus, living off the land. Or trying to anyway. 

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I haven't finished it yet but The Last of the Doughboys: America's Forgotten Generation -- http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Doughboys-Forgotten-Generation/dp/0544290488 -- will be a favorite.  $2.99 for the Kindle version.

 

In 2003, author Richard Rubin started tracking down and interviewing veterans of World War One.  He only found them because of the French, who in the early 2000's set out to honor every American who set foot in France, even the ones who didn't make it to the Front.  (Our VA couldn't come up with a list.) 

 

It's more than just interviews.  Rubin uses the music of that time as well as books written by participants to flesh out the story.  You get a real sense of the time and place, the politics, what people were listening to, thinking about, how they perceived that war.  There's a bit of humor too -- Rubin's style is conversational without being disrespectful. 

 

I've been on a WWI kick this year anyway, and this book is a nice capper. 

 

 

 

 

 

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That reminds me of a great book I read when it was published 15 years ago, Centenarians: The Story of the 20th Century by the Americans Who Lived It.  It's an oral history gathered from 71 interviews with centarians of all stripes, from Strom Thurmond's babysitter to a baseball pitcher who struck out his first major league hitter, Ty Cobb. My favorite stories were from someone who told about being on a train in Wyoming in the early 1900s as a young child and talking with a white-haired man who told him great stories; the man was Buffalo Bill, and the child and his family were traveling to Cody, WY, named after Buffalo Bill. More tragically, another interview is with a woman who had barely escaped the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

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Despite being so much of a sedentary couch potato that I resemble a potato, I have an utter fascination with books about mountan climbing, particularly those about expeditions which end in disaster.  Into Thin Air has a place of pride on my bookshelf, as it is by far the best example of the genre, and an extremely well-written book to boot.  For those looking for two different perspectives on the same disaster, I can recommend both No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley and One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story Tragedy and True Heroism on K2 by Freddie Wilkinson; reading one right after the other gave me an in-depth view of how the same story can have two disparate interpretations.

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If this is a man, by Primo Levi. Great, haunting book about his experience in Auschwitz. 

 

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. I read it when I was a teenager and I found it fascinating. I've been in awe of the wonders of the universe since then.

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proserpina: Have you read The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev? It's a different perspective on Into Thin Air. I haven't read it, though I've wanted to. I, too, have a fascination with mountaineering books for some odd reason.

 

In other news, I just finished reading Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang. And wow, it's a completely different view on her and her role in China than anything that is out there at the moment. Apparently the author used a lot of sources that haven't been available in English, and the result is a book that turns her reputation on its ear. Every time I went to look something up online that was referred to in the book, it's like the online information and the book were written on Opposite Day. As with most things, I imagine the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but it was definitely an interesting story as told.

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I picked up Brian Jay Jones' biography of Jim Henson shortly after it came out, and it was fascinating from beginning to end. It's truly spine-tingling reading about his famous crew coming together one by one, and how even with everything he gave us in his too-short life, he still had tons more ideas that never got past his notes. It seriously makes you wonder just how much talent it's possible for one person to have, while also not shying away from the toll his workaholism took on his family life so it never comes off as any kind of hagiography.

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I bought that bio after seeing Jones on the Daily Show. It is really good, just as you say.

When I listen to the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album now, hearing Henson and Denver sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" always makes me tear up a bit; we lost them both too soon.

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