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Old 08-17-2012, 09:56 PM
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Looking for nonfiction books to read


I'm looking for some recommendations to load my Kindle up with that hopefully I can learn something from or take something away from reading. Topic doesn't matter as long as if the book is written for a general audience and doesn't require in-depth knowledge of its specific subject to understand it. Pretty much hoping to hear about books which you feel "smarter" after reading. Any suggestions?
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Old 08-17-2012, 11:27 PM
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Well, I just finished Ken Jennings' Maphead and thoroughly enjoyed it. Did you read Freakonomics? The Steve Jobs bio?

Do you like history? What about In the Garden of Beasts or Americans in Paris by Charles Glass?
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Old 08-17-2012, 11:34 PM
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The only non-fiction ebook I've ever bought was "The procrastination equation" by Piers Steel. It was a good read, I'd thoroughly recommend it.
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Old 08-18-2012, 12:34 AM
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Most of my reading is fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. If you'd asked me if I would like a book about Garfield and his assassin I would've said "no thanks"but I heard a radio interview with the author and was intrigued. I

My sister, who knows my tastes well, has given me Salt and Cod by Mark Kurlansky. She's currently reading and will likely soon also pass on to me his book on Clarence Birdseye. I haven't read them yet, but her enthusiasm, and a quick look at the front matter earned them a spot on my "to be read"shelf during the great book purge of 2012.
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Old 08-18-2012, 12:40 AM
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There have been a few previous threads on this topic, you should do a search.
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Old 08-18-2012, 01:35 AM
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I don't know if it qualifies as being written for a general audience, but Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is amazing.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements is a much easier read, quite funny and interesting.

I'd also recommend Mary Roach's books.
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Old 08-18-2012, 01:36 AM
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Well, I just finished Ken Jennings' Maphead and thoroughly enjoyed it. Did you read Freakonomics?
Both entertaining books.

If you want a history recommendation, I'd suggest American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 by H.W. Brands. As the title implies, it's a general history of post-war America and Brands is an excellent writer.

eta: It's an excellent book. But checking on Amazon just now, I see it isn't available in Kindle format.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 08-18-2012 at 01:38 AM.
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Old 08-18-2012, 02:02 AM
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1968: The Year that Rocked the World, by Mark Kurlansky

The Last Grain Race, by Eric Newby

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, by Michael Ghiglieri

Paris 1919, by Margaret Macmillan

All recommended.
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Old 08-18-2012, 07:38 AM
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1968: The Year that Rocked the World, by Mark Kurlansky

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, by Michael Ghiglieri
Seconded -fascinating, couldn't put down. But also not available on Kindle but I got it free at my local library
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Old 08-18-2012, 07:50 AM
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I don't know if it qualifies as being written for a general audience, but Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is amazing.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements is a much easier read, quite funny and interesting.

I'd also recommend Mary Roach's books.
I bought a copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach almost twenty years ago, and I have made several attempts at reading it. It is an excellent book, and the concepts Hofstadter discusses are amazing.

But I never manage to finish it. I bog down somewhere about two thirds of the way through.

Note that it isn't available or Kindle, and it would be a terrible candidate for a Kindle book. There are too many illustrations.

The Disappearing Spoon is excellent.

I would also recommend "The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug"
This book gave me an interesting historical understanding of the early beginnings of the pharmaceutical industry.

Last edited by minor7flat5; 08-18-2012 at 07:52 AM.
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Old 08-18-2012, 08:12 AM
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Anything by Michael Shermer is good, and very Straight Dope-minded. Why People Believe Weird Things is a good place to start.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is very enjoyable. It's non-fiction that reads like fiction.
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Old 08-18-2012, 10:52 AM
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My Top Three


Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture [Paperback]
Joseph Heath (Author), Andrew Potter (Author)

Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond [Paperback]
Martin A. Lee (Author), Bruce Shlain (Author)

Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind [Paperback]
V. S. Ramachandran (Author), Sandra Blakeslee (Author)

My top three, still think about, learned a lot reads - so far. I'm a non-fiction, sociological study junkie.
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Old 08-18-2012, 10:57 AM
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Well, it's not in digital format (Yet?) but I still recommend Scottish Customs: From The Cradle To The Grave by Margaret Bennett.

Last edited by Zabali_Clawbane; 08-18-2012 at 10:59 AM. Reason: Forgot a link! *doh*
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Old 08-18-2012, 11:02 AM
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I found Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics to be pretty interesting reads.
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Old 08-18-2012, 02:06 PM
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http://tapu-tapu-tapu.blogspot.com/search?q=nonfiction

This is a link to some reviews of nonfiction books that I've posted on my blog. (My own reviews, so expect amateurish, but at least they're short!) I review the type of book you're describing, I believe: books on conjoined twins and identity, the representational features of sign language (Oliver Sacks), Gary Gilmore's childhood, and a historical play about an American town that hung an elephant.

In the middle of the search, there are a few stray posts listed--go further down to see more books.

I hope you enjoy these--I did, so much!

Last edited by tapu; 08-18-2012 at 02:08 PM.
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Old 08-18-2012, 03:41 PM
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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements is a much easier read, quite funny and interesting.
Sam Kean's latest, The Violinist's Thumb is just out. Equally as good IMHO.
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Old 08-18-2012, 10:41 PM
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Richard Feynmann's autobiographies are interesting, and funny as well.
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Old 08-18-2012, 11:56 PM
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What, no Guns, Germs and Steel? I thought it required a mention in any SDMB thread about non-fiction.

My Kindle is full of the type of books you're looking for. Some of my favorites:

The Warmth of Other Suns, about the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North. Provides a whole new perspective on a lot of American history, and where we are today.

A History of the World in 100 Objects, 100 stories about world history that you probably didn't know. I gave this book to my 80-year-old, extremely well-read father, and he was astonished at the things he learned.

Young Men and Fire, about a devastating wildfire in Montana. You will learn a lot about wildfires (this book lead to me to read several others on the subject), but mainly it's just an absolutely beautifully written work by Norman Maclean of A River Runs Through It fame.

Final Cut, about the making of the massive Hollywood flop Heaven's Gate. A real insider's view of the movie industry, written by a producer, so it's the nuts and bolts of the business rather than celebrity gossip or p.r.

All the President's Men, about the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon administration. I'm a Watergate buff, but if you're not, and especially if you don't know much about this moment in history, it's well worth reading and an exciting thriller too.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, about the Hmong people of Laos and the clash of cultures when they came to the U.S. as refugees. A window into a completely new world.
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:14 PM
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The Emperor of All Maladies is remarkable. It's a history of cancer research, but it's much more than that. This is a book that I finished in one night's reading. Stayed up till 4am because the book was so thought-provoking that I didn't want to let go of it.
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:28 PM
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I highly recommend The Lost City of Z by David Grann.
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:35 PM
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I just read The Empire of Wealth based on a recommendation from someone on the SDMB. It is basically a financial history of the U.S. A lot of information about banking and finance that does not show up in typical history books. It is written from a conservative viewpoint but the author only occasionally leaves the reality-based world.
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:49 PM
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an oldie but a goodie is The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. the dullest parts were all those put in to make you feel like you knew the crew, but as for learning it includes all kinds of stuff from what it feels like to drown to how rescue jumpers train. fascinating!

and don't miss Into Thin Air, if you have the slightest interest in the insanity that is climbing Mt. Everest.
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:57 PM
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The Emperor of All Maladies is remarkable. It's a history of cancer research, but it's much more than that. This is a book that I finished in one night's reading. Stayed up till 4am because the book was so thought-provoking that I didn't want to let go of it.
That's a pretty big book. You must be a super reader
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:58 PM
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I found In the Heart of the Sea very compelling and it's not the kind of thing I normally read.
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Old 08-20-2012, 07:02 PM
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an oldie but a goodie is The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. the dullest parts were all those put in to make you feel like you knew the crew, but as for learning it includes all kinds of stuff from what it feels like to drown to how rescue jumpers train. fascinating!

and don't miss Into Thin Air, if you have the slightest interest in the insanity that is climbing Mt. Everest.
If you like The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air, I also highly recommend Shadow Divers, by Robert Kurson and Iron Coffins, by Herbert A. Werner.

http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Divers-...5506835&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Coffins-P...5507173&sr=1-1
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Old 08-20-2012, 07:02 PM
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For something that won't make you feel smarter but is still intriguing (if you're into politics), try Game Change, about the 2008 US presidential election. If you didn't follow it closely, you'll learn lots of interesting stuff. If you DID follow it closely (as I did) you'll still get a different perspective on the cast of characters. Everyone comes off as very human, with human strengths and foibles.
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Old 08-20-2012, 07:14 PM
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thanks, Kansas Beekeeper, I'm on it!
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Old 08-20-2012, 07:26 PM
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Also:

Chickenhawk:

http://www.amazon.com/Chickenhawk-Ro...5507767&sr=1-1

The Ghost Map:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Ghost-Map-...5507814&sr=1-1

The Grizzley Maze:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Grizzly-Ma...5507968&sr=1-1

Into the Wild:

http://www.amazon.com/Into-Wild-Jon-...5508650&sr=1-1

Ghost Hunters:

http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Hunters-...=ghost+hunters

Empire of the Summer Moon:

http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Summer-...5508499&sr=1-1

Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight:

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Lets-Dogs...5508725&sr=1-1
  #29  
Old 08-20-2012, 07:39 PM
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"The Devil In The White City" is pretty much nonfiction, and a great book. I say pretty much because there are quite a few speculations- in terms of, say, a conversation that may have taken place. But it's cool how the story of the serial killer is woven into the story of the World's fair, and the building of the fair.
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Old 08-20-2012, 07:46 PM
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That's a pretty big book. You must be a super reader
I read it in about ten hours (with several bathroom breaks). Not so super.
  #31  
Old 08-20-2012, 08:20 PM
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I love history. Several of these are Pulitzer winners, and richly deserved them:

Joseph Ellis, Founding Brothers - A great look at the Framers of the Constitution and their relationships - sometimes friendly, sometimes not, always competitive - with each other.

Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg - Disassembles and explains the Gettysburg Address - literate, classy and insightful.

James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom - One of the best one-volume histories of the Civil War out there, IMHO.

Geoffrey Ward et al., The Civil War - Ditto.

David McCullough, Truman - A great bio of a long-underappreciated leader.

James Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man - Also a great bio. Read this to see just why Washington was so vital to the cause of American independence, and then how he practically invented the Presidency.

Garry Wills, Cincinnatus - Examines Washington as a man shaped by, and who became an icon of, the Enlightenment.

David McCullough, 1776 - Follows Washington as a determined and inspirational military leader during the darkest days of the Revolution.

Richard M. Ketchum, Victory at Yorktown - Explores Washington's greatest triumph, in the 1781 battle which virtually ended the war.

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton - A magnificent, highly readable profile of the brilliant but deeply flawed man, a key Washington advisor, who did more than anyone else to lay the groundwork for generations of American prosperity.
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Old 08-20-2012, 08:26 PM
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Just started in on Luc Sante's Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. If you're interested in the underclass of the late 19th century in NY, it might be of interest. If you're interested in crime generally, or cons specifically, The Big Con might be interesting. It's focused on the con racket of the early twentieth century, so a bit dated--I don't think you're going to find many of these cons around today, other than in heavily modified form. But it's fascinating nonetheless, and inspired The Sting, as I recall.

Also just finished Where the Money Was: Memoirs of a Bank Robber, by Willie Sutton. Truth be told, it comes closer to being "Memoirs of a Serial Prison Escapist", but still a good read.

Obviously, this kind of stuff fascinates me...
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Old 08-20-2012, 08:37 PM
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Try Fasting Girls by William Alexander Hammond (make sure you have the right book -- there is another one by the same name, but this one is free). It's a 19th Century doctor's look at the subject of girls and women who claimed to be able to miraculously survive without food (not to be confused with anorexia nervosa).
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Old 08-20-2012, 09:03 PM
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*Ahem*


























I'll stop now. I promise.
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Old 08-20-2012, 09:27 PM
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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Mesmerizing!
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Old 08-20-2012, 09:31 PM
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American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

Scar Tissue - Autobiography of Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot CHili Peppers)

Inside Apple-Americas Most Admired and Secretive Company (liked it better than Jobs' biography)
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Old 08-20-2012, 09:45 PM
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Helter Skelter - http://www.amazon.com/Helter-Skelter...helter+skelter

Night Stalker -http://www.amazon.com/Night-Stalker-ebook/dp/B005G49JP2/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345516650&sr=1-2&keywords=night+stalker

Zodiac -http://www.amazon.com/Zodiac-Robert-Graysmith/dp/0425212181/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345516753&sr=1-1&keywords=zodiac

Rip it Up and Start Again -http://www.amazon.com/Rip-Start-Again-1978-1984-ebook/dp/B000R7G8MA/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1345516822&sr=1-4

Retromania -http://www.amazon.com/Retromania-Cultures-Addiction-Past-ebook/dp/B004GHN2IA/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

Fast Food Nation -http://www.amazon.com/Fast-Food-Nation-All-American-ebook/dp/B003G83UI2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345516918&sr=1-1&keywords=fast+food+nation+kindle

The Omnivore's Delimma -http://www.amazon.com/The-Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-ebook/dp/B000SEIDR0/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

Hip: A History -http://www.amazon.com/Hip-The-History-P-S-ebook/dp/B0013L2BMU/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345517006&sr=1-1&keywords=hip
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Old 08-20-2012, 10:17 PM
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Let me throw in am enthusiastic seconding of some already mentioned:

Richard Feynmann's autobiographies (particularly the first - Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynmann)
All the President's Men
The Devil In The White City
Helter Skelter


Some others that are great reads:
The Final Days by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (something of a sequel to All the President's Men)
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
The Price of Power by Seymour Hersh
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan
The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
The Civil War by Shelby Foote (a three volume set)
On a Wing and a Prayer by Harry Crosby
Goodbye, Darkness by William Manchester
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Generation Kill by Evan Wright
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Old 08-20-2012, 11:31 PM
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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls - http://www.amazon.com/Easy-Riders-Ra...5523080&sr=1-1

is another good pop culture book.
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Old 08-21-2012, 12:16 AM
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It's old stuff, but if you have not encountered James Burke's "Connections" PBS television series before, the book that is based on the series is on Kindle and it's a fun, fascinating read with a very different take on the history of technology.
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Old 08-21-2012, 12:53 AM
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Sterling Seagrave's The Soong Dynasty. The ultimate book of the history of China in the first half of the 20th century.
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Old 08-21-2012, 02:21 AM
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John M. Barry's The Great Influenza about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. A history of politics of war, of politics of disease, and of how the studies started with this disease lead to a number of world-changing discoveries.

Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. An absolutely stunning book, about one of the most amazing feats of survival I've ever read. First published in 1959, this is one of the enduring tales of the sea, right up there with Walter Lord's A Night to Remember. (Another recommendation.) It tells of what I like to call one of the glorious failures of history: Shackleton and his men intended to cross the Antarctic continent from one end to the other, instead his ship, the Endurance was caught in the pack ice, and sunk, leaving him and his crew to try to survive in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. Once he got his crew to a point of relative safety, he and a picked crew, then sailed in an open boat, through the most harrowing seas, to get rescue. Absolutely amazing.
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Old 08-21-2012, 06:22 AM
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For history, try Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, and Caesar.

Max Hastings' autobiography, Going to the Wars, is an interesting read, as is Martin Middlebrook's The Falklands War 1982. For something completely different, try Shaw's Fighter Combat.
  #44  
Old 08-21-2012, 09:09 AM
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Witness by Whitaker Chambers
The Illusion of Victory by Thomas Fleming
The Rise of Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
1491 and 1493 by Charles Mann
  #45  
Old 08-21-2012, 09:37 AM
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A thread from last December with some recommendations. I proposed The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars and The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.
  #46  
Old 08-21-2012, 09:49 AM
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An enthusiastic second for Destiny of the Republic, one of the best books I've read in recent years. James A. Garfield is now one of my personal heroes.

I am about halfway through American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow. I have had to put it down several times to attend to other things, but it is very engrossing.
  #47  
Old 08-21-2012, 07:06 PM
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Anything by Malcolm Gladwell.
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Old 08-21-2012, 08:24 PM
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Arc of Justice is about a black doctor who moved into an all-white neighborhood in 1920s Detroit (it doesn't end well) and the court case that followed.

It's a very interesting read. While it focuses on that one incident it does a very good job of describing race relations in the U.S. then, and sheds a lot of light on why we (as a country) are where we are.
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Old 08-21-2012, 08:45 PM
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The Mother Tounge - English And How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson is a great read.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid McCulloch is a great look into the shaping of today's western world. As born-again atheist I found it illuminating, and the former seminary student who decided instead to join the Army (still a christian to this day), loved it so much he never did return it to me! What I'm saying is, it's really meant for everybody.

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789 - 1815, by Gordon S. Wood taught me so much about the early US I had never known before. The depth and level of detail is amazing.

I also heartily second Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.

And in my experience: Any biography will do in a pinch.
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Old 08-21-2012, 09:11 PM
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For the true crime category try:
The Mormon Murders by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (July, 1988)

For adventure

Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan (Oct 17, 2002)

Gipsy Moth Circles the World by Sir Francis Chichester (Jun 1968)
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