Books and book reviewsNon-fiction

What is Your Favorite Non-Fiction Book?

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponPin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit

Sure, we all love our fiction. At any given time, my ‘to-read’ queue at Goodreads (or in my head) is about 2/3 fiction. But we also read non-fiction for enjoyment, for educational purposes, for work, and for other reasons.

We buy it, we check it out at the library, we read it on our e-books, we pass it around, and in the end, we refer to much of our non-fiction again and again in our lives, as reference.

Some of the non-fiction books I’ve read lately and enjoyed included:
Elizabeth, the Queen, by Sally Bedell Smith, which is a sympathetic and fascinating portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from childhood until 2011.
The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews, which not only has a lot of ‘must try’ recipes, but also has a great deal of Irish culture detailed in its pages.
Mindfulness for Two by Kelly G Wilson PhD and Troy DuFrene, which is a book for mental health clinicians that invites us to ‘get off our high horses’ and participate in therapy mindfully.
Knitting Scarves from Around the World by Kari Cornell, Sue Flanders, and Janine Kosel, which has lots of great scarf ideas from simple to complicated
23 Things They Don’t Teach You About Capitalism by Ha-Joong Chang, which really outlines the concepts of macro and micro economics in a way that makes clear that economies are for people and not the other way around.
The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan which outlines our food chain dilemma in an interesting way through telling the story of four ways of eating and how they affect and are affected by the food chain.

As you can see, it’s a varied list. On my to read list I have another few gems:
Free Market Fairness by John Tomasi: I will be reviewing this when I’m done with it, and I have a rather special interest in this book, which I will detail in the review.
The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore: Gore is a thoughtful writer and has been working on this subject ever since he left the vice presidency. It’s something I’m very interested in as well.
Essentially Feminine Knits by Lene Samsoe because, well, in the end I knit for myself.
Making Artisan Pasta by Aliza Green, Steve Legato, and Cesare Casella, because guess what Husband got for his birthday?
Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness because the system always needs improvement and input from those affected by it.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn because it’s a seminal work and I’ve never gotten around to reading it.

This is no time to judge. I read pretty much anything that will hold still long enough, unless it’s truly awful (I recently picked up Fake It: More than 100 Shortcuts Every Woman Needs to Know by Jennifer Byrne, and its tone was so unbelievably condescending and cutesy I only got a few pages in before I gave up. I guess I’m not the target audience). You read what you read for your reasons, I read what I read for mine. In that vein, today’s dance explores what we read and why we read it. Book recommendations are, of course, welcome.

  • What is the last non-fiction book you read (more or less) cover to cover? What’s next on your to-read list?
  • What non-fiction genre do you read for pleasure? For business? To learn something just for you? To solve a problem?
  • What book did you really look forward to reading, only to be disappointed?
  • What non-fiction book was an unexpected delight?
  • If you were to have a reference library of only five non-fiction books, what would they be? Why?
  • Slightly different: If you were to have a reference library of only five non-fiction books in one subject you read frequently, what would they be?
  • What book do you return to over and over again? Is that purely for reference reasons, or for enjoyment as well?
  • Do you read deeply (several books on one topic at a time), broadly (a variety of books on a variety of topics) or both? Why?
  • When someone criticizes a book you loved, do you take it personally? Why or why not?
  • What author moves you or impresses you so much that you will read every book they wrote? What author will you never (or never again) read? Why?

As always, please comment and pass this post around to spread around the discussion. Keep an eye out this weekend. If I get brave enough, I’ll be posting my very first videocast. See you later!

Previous post

The Future of Libraries (infographic)

Next post

What Effect will Sequestration Have on You?

    • ColoradoTBird

      Hmm… no particular order …
      Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” is pretty awesome, having lived through most of his story from the outside.
      Also “Kafir Boy” by Mark Mathabane. Also about South Africa, but where Mandela was a lawyer fighting for equal rights, Mathabane comes from the filth and squalor of the poor side of town, and aspires to be like Arthur Ashe; a great Black sportsman. And yes – I’m sort of a South Africa history fanatic.
      Currently reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel, about how he survived the Holocaust as the rest of his family did not.
      I’ve been reading “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon for decades … it’s not a fast moving story about his travels back and forth across the USA in his van after his wife leaves him. Tales of small towns and the people who lived in them in the 70’s. A sort of slow moving travelogue of places I’ll likely never go – though I have landed in a few of them by accident.
      Someone loaned me Rita Mae Brown’s autobiography – that was a quick read. There was a lot of the women’s movement and scandals that I had known about. For example, I remember the huge kerfluffle about lesbians in tennis, but I totally did not remember that it was Martina Navratalova at the center of it, both in a relationship with Rita Mae, and denying it vehemently. Kate Millet’s autobiography left Rita Mae out – OR – I read that so long ago I hadn’t yet discovered RMB?
      I seem to like the autobiographical accounts of historical events.
      Katherine Hepburn’s “Me” was a surprise. More substance than fluff.

      Five non-fiction books reference library:
      Strunk and White
      A good thesaurus
      My OED
      The Jewish Holidays by Strassfeld
      The complete compilation of my undergrad Psychology notes.

      Reference Library on Second Wave Feminism:
      The Sisterhood by Marcia Cohen
      Shakespeare’s Sisters by Gilbert and Gubar
      The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
      Rita Will by Rita Mae Brown
      The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

      My favorite books on earth are written by Tom Robbins, but they are fiction. Jitterbug Perfume is my favorite of favorites, I reread it often.
      Also in fiction, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s books.
      35 years later I still reread Harriet the Spy and A Wrinkle in Time.

      I have a shelf of Jewish reference, a shelf or two of feminist reference, a shelf or two of theatre reference, a collection of writing reference, and several shelves of psychology reference. And lots of fiction all over the place.

      • Ooh. Have to check out the Mandela book. I have read ‘Night’ many times. It is powerful and difficult reading for so short a book. It changed both my boys’ lives to read it. I read Me many moons ago and remembered enjoying it very much. My mother had a copy of the Feminine Mystique on her bookcase headboard. It was my introduction to feminism. I read it because I thought it was dirty (I was twelve).

  • Bill Gawne

    To answer the question in the Subject line, The Information, by James Gleick

    Q: What is the last non-fiction book you read (more or less) cover to cover? What’s next on your to-read list?

    A: Currently mostly finished with Ralph W. Yarborough, The People’s Senator, by Patrick Cox. It’s a biography of the great liberal Democrat from Texas who did so much for environmental and civil rights legislation.

    Next up in the non-fiction list is The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama. But I intend to read Cloud Atlas first.

    Q: What non-fiction genre do you read for pleasure? For business? To learn something just for you? To solve a problem?

    A: For pleasure? Science writing, like Gleick’s stuff. For business I read a never ending flow of technical documents that are part of the job. I sometimes write those too. For self education I read history and philosophy. Problem solving reading is usually the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook or a similar technical reference.

    Q: What book did you really look forward to reading, only to be disappointed?

    A: The Forgotten Heroes, by Clinton Cox. This history of the buffalo soldiers was sadly disappointing for a lack of scholarship. I hope a better military historian takes a swing at writing a proper history of the 9th and 10th Cavalry.

    Q:What non-fiction book was an unexpected delight?

    A: Dark Genius of Wall Street, the misunderstood life of Jay Gould, by Edward J. Renehan Jr. — Not that Renehan convinced me Gould was a good guy, but because he gave such a deep understanding of what made Gould the real person he was, and not the carricature he’s so often portrayed as.

    • Bill, as you know I don’t have enough scientific or mathematical training to appreciate some of the books you read (and write). Can you give me a rundown of which of your ‘science-y’ books are accessible to laypeople with decent to above average intelligence but perhaps lacking in some of the fundamentals?