Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Inform My Reading List! Episode IV

[Results for the Seriously Old Book voting are here.]

That's right, it's time for the penultimate episode of the five-part Inform My Reading List series! This week, you may remember, we are looking for:

Non-Fiction Books

It's a very broad category, and the situation is complicated by my inability to give much in the way of starter suggestions. Friends, I'm afraid that Michael5000 doesn't read much non-fiction. So, your job is to let me know what I'm missing. (Tip for the strategically inclined: Whoever get their votes in first will probably shape the debate. If there's a debate.)

Two lists that might help get the juices flowing:

OK, over to you! Hit that comment button once more, and VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!


fingerstothebone said...

Oooh, oooh, oooh, me first!

Motoring With Mohammed by Eric Hansen, about his journey to Yemen to retrieve his journals which he had to bury in the sand on the coast 10 years before. Another book that I bought lots and lots of copies of and gave to everyone I knew. (My Name Is Red being the other one.)

Baghdad Without a Map by Tony Horwitz.

More later as I think of them.

Anonymous said...

one river by wade davis.
the two greatest academic adventurers never portrayed by sean connery or harrison ford, in one book. scholarly bushwhacking in the amazon, astonishingly prolific botanical exploration, first contact with lethal tribes, reverential illumination of indigenous myth and culture, psychoactive concoctions, imagination and power. a dozen plus years in the jungle joining the ancient, the earthly, the modern, and the heavenly.

also, daniel j. boorstin's knowledge trilogy (the discoverers, the creators, and the seekers).

chuckdaddy2000 said...

Peter Hessler's "River Town"

A Peace Corp worker teaching English in a little known Chinese City (that still has like 2 million people). Funny, interesting, and great.

Nathan McCall's "Makes Me Want To Holler"

Was just thinking about this book the other day. the story of a Black man's life that spans the middle class to jail to succeeding in the journalism world. Very interesting takes on his life. My favorite part was when he went into how drug dealing was the hardest job he'd ever had (keeping up w/ all the calls).

You've read "Guns Germs and Steel", right?

Jenny! said...

Either one's fine with me!

Rebel said...

Before even looking at the list, I would recommend "Guns, Germs & Steel".

Rebel said...

"Amusing ourselves to death" was a good read, short, somewhat depressing. I still watch TV though, so maybe not particularly sucessful.

Along those lines, "Fast Food Nation" was a good book (I still eat fast-food... but now I feel really really guilty about it.)

DrSchnell said...

-- I'll second "Fast Food Nation." And "Guns, Germs, and Steel" along with the followup "Collapse" (sort of the flip side of GGS).

-- Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (in which he traces four meals - a fast food meal, a conventional ag meal, an organically grown meal (both big bizniss organic and small local) and one meal that he hunts/gathers himself.

-- Also, Pollan's "the Botany of Desire" is fascinating. Chapters on the potato, pot, apples, and tulips and the way they and humans have shaped each other.

-- Naomi Klein, "No Logo" - about corporate power, resistance, etc. etc.

-- Pietra Rivoli " The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade." - the subtitle pretty much explains it.

-- Mike Davis - "City of Quartz" and "Ecology of Fear" -- all about why Los Angeles is A) fucked up and B) doomed.

-- Adam Hochschild -- "King Leopold's Ghost" - about the Belgian Congo and many not-nice things that happened there.

-- Any of Edward Tufte's books on information design. Really! They're beautifully produced page turners! About making great informational graphics! Just read 'em, wiseacre.... "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information", "Envisioning Information", "Visual Explanations," and "Beautiful Evidence." Probably start with the second one and work out from there.

- Edward Abbey, "Desert Solitaire"

- Art Spiegelman - "Maus". Graphic Novel (i.e., comic book for big people) about the Holocaust and his family's experience of it and its generational aftershocks. His "In the shadow of No Towers" is also worth reading.

-- the complete run of Doonesbury books from 1970-present. You'd be hard pressed to come up with a better social/political history of the last 37 years than this.

So many more, but I really should go now....

photobrea said...

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester.

Actually just about anything by Simon Winchester is worth reading. And who could possibly turn down a book about the greatest dictionary of all time?

fingerstothebone said...

Oooh, here's another one:

Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk, about the archeologists who went to Central Asia, liked what they saw, and took it all away.

And a vote for Tufte's books as well.

Anonymous said...

Primo Levi’s memoir Survival in Auschwitz, and (because you will need to see him home) its sequel The Reawakening. The Drowned and the Saved, a later and more analytical meditation on the concentration camps, is also extraordinary.

Two books in the incredible journey vein: Slavomir Rawicz, The Long Walk, a rather matter-of-fact account of a handful of men who escape from a labor camp in Siberia and travel on foot to India. And Cabeza de Vaca, Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, a sixteenth-century odyssey across what would eventually become Florida, Texas, Arizona, and northern Mexico. A more sympathetic traveler than your average conquistador. Bonus angle: what is not spelled out in his account is vividly imagined in the Mexican film Cabeza de Vaca.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a vote per se except to say that narrative non-fiction just plain isn't non-fiction. It is something else entirely, a mixture.

Real non-narrative non-fiction is hardcore learning and usually constitutes the foundations for narratives both fiction and "non."

So I would vote for picking a scientific study from this years batches about something that sparks your interest and reading that. And then reading a comparative study.

Or adding another category that really is non-fiction.

But truly, if one is starting from the baseline (and you aren't obviously) the non-fiction category of sacred texts will enhance the other readings and current events too.

fingerstothebone said...

Point taken about narrative non-fictions not being 'real non-fictions', but I think you'd also have to distinguish between scientific works written by scientists vs. those written by science reporters. More often than not, I find inaccuracies or omissions in materials written by science reporters (if it's a topic I'm familiar with).

So towards that end, I'd contribute Bright Earth, by Philip Ball, a book at the intersection of science & art. It's great fun and informative (I am just half way through it though).

And anything by Stephen J. Gould.

Michael5000 said...


@fingers: Thanks for kicking things off.

@austin: Sweet. 2:19 a.m.? Man, you and your schedule....

@chuck: Actually, I can't remember if I've done Guns, Germs, and Steel. I just finished Collapse.

@jenny!: I'm confused. But I'm also very sleepy, so I'll probably figure it out eventually.

@rebel: I don't eat much fast food, so maybe it would make me feel smug and enlightened.

@drschnell: It would appear we've found a category you like. You don't have to work quite so hard to sell me on the Tufte, though -- I own all his books (except for "Beautiful Evidence." True to it's cover, I found that one to be a bit of a dog.)

@brea: Ah yes, that one I have read. Dictionaries and maniacs, two great topics that go great together.

@Mrs. 5000: You are full of surprises.

@Boo: Your point is well taken. I thought about this when "In Cold Blood" was nominated as a novel. But I think I leave 'er open to all comers, just for grins.

@fingers: I've got a bunch of Stephen J. Gould books on tape waiting for this winter. I've heard that they're, like, good.

Thanks for your votes, everybody!

Jenny! said...

No...I am the one confused...sorry...I am being dimwitted today...and yesterday apparantly!

Let me think!

Rebel said...

Another really interesting non-fiction book I would recommend is 'The Moral Animal' by Robert Wright. It's an interesting exploration of Evolutionary Psychology. It poses interesting answers to the question of why we do the things we do.

Shanthala said...

I think you should add Manufacturing Content by Chomsky to the list. I got hold of it this summer but haven't finished it.

I've been asked to read - God is not Great by Chirsopher Hutchins and Among Believer by Naipaul. I am resisting reading both because they usually stir up questions and negative emotions and I'd rather read another book on designing Japanese gardens!

gl. said...

i'm a little late to the party, but if you have some shelf space left, may i recommend:

365 starry nights by chet raymo: the -best- way to learn the night sky, even here in portland where it's often cloudy. gentle & knowledgeable. this man -loves- stars.

galileo's daughter by dava sobel: the real story of galileo, punctuated with a lifetime of letters from his daughter in a convent.

how the universe got its spots by janna levin: a lonely physicist explains physics to her mom in a series of letters.

phantoms in the brain by v. s. ramachandran: neural science makes me squirm. extremeley well written & approachable.

the man who mistook his wife for a hat by oliver sacks: more oddities of the brain.

ben franklin's autobiography: lots of little lifehacking & inspiration.

gl. said...

oh, and things by bill bryson.

Anonymous said...

It looks like we need more structure, because it seems you are getting everyone recommending something different. I will not break this trend:

A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky.

I am sure there is a lot of other great nonfiction I could suggest, but this comes to mind, and I know you'd like it a lot. So that's my recommendation for nonfiction :)


Unknown said...

@jenny!: You were all flustered from your encounter with the scary doll woman.

@rebel: Oooh, that does sound up my alley....

@Shanthala: One notes that you did not nominate your favorite Japanese Garden design book, however. Is garden design your backup plan if the whole engineering thing falls through?

@gretchen: You are in PLENTY of time for the party. Lots of beer left here. However, I have read most Bill Bryson, and I'm pretty sure all of Oliver Sacks.

@Vida: Eh, structure. Who needs it. I'll figure something out.

Rex Parker said...

"Dominion" by Matthew Scully - This book literally changed my life. All about humankinid's relationship to animals. Changed the way I see the entire world. Scully is a former G.W. Bush speechwriter, which is part of the reason my mind was blown ("How could anyone affiliated with Bush have anything valuable to say to me?"). The most original and convincing argument for the humane treatment of animals I've ever read, despite / because of its unabashedly biblical POV. It's something close to a Jeremiad against the attitudes of the vast majority of his conservative colleagues. Inspiring reading.

Also, read "Louis Riel," a comic strip biography of an early Canadian rebel. By Chester Brown. It's ... indescribable. Along with "Fun Home," the most original piece of comics art to come out in the past few years.

Shanthala said...

The book that charmed me was Japanese gardens by Philip Cave(since you insist). It's from an architect's perspective and Sue might enjoy it even more. Makes me want to tour Japan even if i didn't make a yen from it!

Karin said...

I'll divide my suggestions into two categories: Non-Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction. I love both and they make up the vast majority of what I read.

-The Way We Eat and Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason
-The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II
-Food Revolution by John Robbins
-Junk English by Ken Smith
-Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loen
-You Can't Stand Still on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn
-A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
-Stupid White Men by Michael Moore
-Dude, Where's My Country by Michael Moore
-Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
-The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman
-When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work and Identity by Elizabeth Perle McKenna
-Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
-What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World by ML Rossi (a good bathroom read and well researched; she knows her stuff)
-Guns, Germs and Steel (essential)

Creative Non-Fiction:
-So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places by Elinor Burkett
-Around the Bloc: Moscow, Beijing and Havana by Stephanie Elizondo
-One Year Off by David Elliott Cohen
-Jarhead by Anthony Swafford
-Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell
-The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
-No Touch Monkey! and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late by Ayun Halliday
-Funny in Farsi: Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas
-Slave: My Story by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis
-Up All Night (25 stories about people who work the night shift in Portland, OR!) by Martha Gies
-Things I Like About America by Poe Ballantine (boy, not what'd you'd expect)
-Lifesaving: a Memoir by Judith Barrington (stunning NW writer)
-My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru by Tim Guest (fascinating account of a Rashnishi childhood)
-The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
-Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (hysterical)
-Dress Your Family in Courduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (even more hysterical)
-A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch both by Haven Kimmel (the female version of David Sedaris, hysterical)
-Lost on Earth: Nomads of the Modern World by Mark Fritz (although I think you recommended this one to me)
-Travelling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and
-Bird by Bird: Some Thoughts on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
-Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert (brilliant internal journey and funny, too)

I'm leaving out large chunks of good ones on grief, writing and spirituality, but you know where I am if you're interested in more.


Anonymous said...

one more for the road:
"i heard you paint houses", the story of frank sheeran, by charles brandt. warmhearted revelations by an amazingly levelheaded guy who did irrevocable favors for people with their fingers in many pies. a panoptic survey of the moral trajectory of a single human soul. and a page-turning whodunnit.