Sunday, November 25, 2012

Non-Fiction You Can’t Put Down

While searching for non-fiction books to take with me on my recent vacation, I came across a list of "Non-Fiction books You Can’t Put Down" at my local library. Since Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books was at the top of the list I decided the list deserved a second look.  Here are my thoughts on the other selections:

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer :
Krakauer writes an inside account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster when eight climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a horrific storm.  This book has been on my reading list for several years, but I’ve been waiting for the right moment to read about mountain climbing gone wrong.    Previously, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Krakauer’s book Into the Wild and am sure I will get around to this one eventually.  

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
The library list describes this book as Informative and funny without being disrespectful, the author investigates what happens to bodies after death when donated for medical research transplants and forensic science.  Though the book sounds interesting, I was not in the mood to read about dead bodies at the time.

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss:
In 1891, 24-year old Marie Sklodowska moved from Warsaw to Paris, where she found work in the laboratory of Pierre Curie, a scientist engaged in research on heat and magnetism.  They fell in love.  Their work was revolutionary and deadly.  Here is the enthralling story of their lives, work, and deaths.  This book sounded intriguing and I've added it to my TBR list.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Why did the peoples of certain continents succeed in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples? Why weren’t native Australians, Americans or Africans the ones to colonize Europe? Diamond has written a book exploring his theories in answering these questions.  I’ve read this one.  It was readable, entertaining and thought provoking.  If you haven’t read it and are interested in social issues I recommend reading this one.

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall
This is the best-selling classic that tells the story of Jane Goodall’s study of chimpanzees in the wild. This sounds like a great read for my BE Strong reading challenge I will be undertaking in 2013. I would like to read a couple of books about strong women and think this one might be a good selection.

                  Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry
Perry a Wisconsin native returns to his home town of New Auburn Wisconsin and writes a book about the year he spent restoring an old truck and falling in love.  This book is the reason I now take four or five books with me on a vacation. I read it while on a camping trip in western Wisconsin with my husband who spent the trip trying to convince me we should relocate to the area.  I had grown up on a farm in western Wisconsin and had spent the first 18 years of my life plotting how to get as far away from the area as possible.  The last day of our trip it rained, my husband took our vehicle to go fishing and there was nothing for me to do accept sit under a screen tent and try to keep my book as dry as possible while reading.  The more I read, the more annoyed I became about the prospect of moving, camping in the rain and reading this book.  I didn’t finish it and haven’t been able to bring myself to open another book written by Perry since.  This is a perfect example of reading a book at the wrong time.

True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman:
In 1997 author Mark Salzman paid a reluctant visit to a writing class at LA.’s Central Juvenile Hall a lockup for violent teenage offenders, many of them charged with murder.  What he found so moved and astonished him that he began to teach there regularly.  In voices of indelible emotional presence, the boys write about what let them to crime and about the lives that stretch ahead of them behind bars.  We see them coming to terms with their crime-ridden pasts and searching for a reason to believe in their future selves.  Insightful, comic, honest and tragic.  True Notebooks is an object lesson in the redemptive power of writing.  Wow, I hadn’t heard of this book prior to seeing it on the list.  This one sounds like a must read.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel. I listened to this book on audio several years ago and although I frequently see it listed on lists of nonfiction books that read like fiction I wouldn’t include it on a list of my favorites. I‘ve often wondered if I missed something by listening to the book rather than reading it.  Despite not being overly enamored with the book, I did add visiting Savannah to my bucket list.

The Physics Book: From the Big Bang to Quantum Resurrection, 250 Milestones in the History of Physics by Clifford A. Pickover
A richly illustrated chronology of physics contains 250 short, entertaining and thought provoking entries.  In addition to exploring such engaging topics as dark energy, parallel universes, the Doppler effect, the God particle and Maxwell’s demon, the book’s timeline extends back billions of years to the hypothetical Big Bank and forward trillions of years to a time of quantum resurrection. I am not interested in reading about science, so I will be skipping this one.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick:
A fresh and extraordinarily vivid account of the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony.  From the Mayflower’s arduous Atlantic crossing to the eruption of King Phillip’s War between colonists and natives decades later, Philbrick reveals a fifty-five year epic, at once tragic and heroic, that still resonates with us today.  One of my nonfiction reading friends read this book and highly recommended it, so after seeing it on this list I decided to take it with me on vacation.  I didn’t get around to reading it while in California, but did so after returning home finishing it the Friday after Thanksgiving. It was a perfect November read and an eye opener into what really occurred during that period in history.  I was both appalled and disgusted by the brutality the English (especially the religious Pilgrims and puritans) subjected upon the Native Americans. Philbrick pulled the book together for me with this paragraph: 

It is easy to mock past attempts to venerate and sanctify the Pilgrims, especially given what their sons and grandsons did to the Native Americans. And yet, we must look with something more than cynicism at a people who maintained more than half a century of peace with their Native neighbors.  The great mystery of this story is how American emerged from the terrible darkness of King Philip’s War to become the United States. (Pg. 397)
If you don't care to read this book, but would still like to learn more about the real Pilgrims please see Talkin' Turkey: What Travel Taught Us About the First Thanksgiving on the Huffington Post.
Have you read any of the books listed above?  If so, what were your thoughts? Do you have any non-fiction recommendations you think should be added to the list?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Non-Fiction Books Every Woman Should Read
Ten Nonfiction Books That Help Us Understand the World
SWG Coffee Social: Book Lists
Band Discussion: How Did You Get Into Nonfiction?


  1. This actually seems like a very thoughtful (and quite diverse) list. I would totally second the "Radioactive" title--it's unbelievable--but maybe not to travel with. It's a big graphic novel, which means it's really neat to read but won't take you too long. (Too heavy + too fast to read = not great travel book.)
    Michael Perry is always a great choice too, although I'd start with Population 485 if you haven't read that one.

  2. CR,
    I enjoyed your take on the list. I think I will read "Radioactive" in the upcoming months, if you liked it I am sure I will too. I am taking a break from my self-imposed challenges for a while to just read good nonfiction. I’ve missed it.

  3. I don't often think of non-fiction when reading for enjoyment. Thanks for the suggestions.

  4. What a cool list! I loved Into Thin Air; Into the Wild; and Guns, Germs, and Steel. I'd like to read Radioactive. A non-fiction book I found really fascinating was A History of the World in 6 Glasses.

  5. I haven't read any but you make me want to read them all!

  6. Sorta Southern Single Mom,
    I started reading non-fiction serveral years ago after finding Oprah's picks so depressing. I'll worn you if you find non-fiction you like you may never go back!

  7. Marcy,
    I haven't heard of A History of the World in 6 Glasses. I looked it up on Amazon - sounds interesting. I love those kinds of books. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Jodi,
    Thanks for the kind comment.

  9. Anonymous2:46 PM

    Brain on Fire was an especially riveting book I read it in a day

  10. Anonymous,
    I've seen Brain on Fire. I think I would have to be in the right frame of mind to read this one. Thanks for suggesting it.