Please recommend some fascinating non-fiction

Hi there.

I’ve been looking for some interesting non-fiction to buy, and so far I’ve found:

The Mountain People by Colin M. Turnbull
St Kilda: Island on the Edge of the World by Charles Maclean
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Anyone read any of those? I’m looking for similar books, though really, I don’t mind what they’re like as long as you find it them fascinating. Fire away, if you would be so kind.

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz – Travelogue following the voyages of Captain Cook

The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson – a history of the financial industry from the Middle Ages to today
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely – an interesting account of modern behavioral economics

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell – the history and context surrounding the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, as told by someone with a quirky, funny, somewhat morbid fascination with the subject
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell – history of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Company (Founders of Boston, Salem, and, ultimately, Rhode Island)
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – many major events of history depend on who controls the production of salt, or at least Kurlansky makes that argument (fairly persuasively)

All great books. Enjoy!


A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert Sapolsky. Fascinating and hilarious. About half the book is about baboons - the other half is about his encounters with people in Kenya.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt. People’s driving habits reveal more than you might think.

How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. in my opinion, this book has a much sounder scientific basis than Jayne’s “Breakdown.” Many of Pinker’s other books are also very good, like The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

Awakenings—Oliver Sacks
(The stage director is telling me I have to explain this one…the real story that the famed movie was based on. If you weren’t interested in neurology before reading this, you will be afterwards.)

Gunpowder—Jack Kelly
The history of the development, manufacture, use, and socio-historical impact of black powder Fascinating stuff.

Mars on Earth—Robert Zubrin
About the Mars Society’s simulated Mars expedition projects in the Canadian arctic a couple of years back.

The Book of Lists—David Wallechinsky et all
Not deep reading, but an old weird classic (or an old classic for weirdos. Whichever). A fun read, even if you occasionally have to rinse of a film of frustrated post-counterculturalism.

The Zeppelin in Combat—Douglas Robinson
A detailed history of the German airships of WWI. Very slightly possibly an acquired taste, but it has some engrossing tales even if you’re not into the technical side; most notably the exploits and raids of Heinrich Mathy, and the record setting (aborted!) resupply flight of LZ104. You’re welcome.

I’ve also got some lovely recommendations for books about the history of germ warfare programs, and Apple Computer before Steve Jobs’ return to the company in the late 90s. Eh? Eh? :wink:

Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer: A fascinating (if biased) account of 1996’s deadliest climbing season on Everest

The Ghosts of Everest: Account of George Mallory’s and Andrew Irvine’s last attempt on Everest in 1924, the attempt to find Irvine (or any artifacts) in 1998, and finding Mallory’s body instead in 1999.

A First Rate Tragedy: Account of Scott’s and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole.

Shadow Divers: Two divers locate a u-boat sunk off the coast of New Jersey and go to great lengths to identify it.

Hmmm - I might be back with more.

Thanks a lot for all the recommendations. They’re exactly the type of thing I had in mind.

Thanks again, and keep 'em coming if you can!

Some favorites of mine:

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger - gripping adventure and tragedy at sea.

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams (yes, that one) and Mark Carwardine - a tragicomic travelogue about endangered species.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston - fascinating nonfiction about a near-outbreak of the Ebola virus in the U.S.

My Dark Places by James Ellroy - the author investigates the murder of his own mother. Chilling but true.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer - true story of a Mount Everest climbing expedition gone horribly awry (seconding Snickers).

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis - masterful, Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Framers and their dealings with each other.

Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington by Richard Brookhiser - witty, engaging, quick read on why Washington really was that important and that admirable.

*Blink *and The Tipping Point, both by Malcolm Gladwell.

A Walk In The Woods, by Bill Bryson.

A Distant Mirror – The Calamitous 14th Century, by Barbara Tuchman

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

The Civil War: A Narrative (trilogy) by Shelby Foote

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History, by Howard Bloom (I don’t endorse everything Bloom says but his thinking is wide-ranging and provocative)

edit: I have not read this yet but it’s on my list:

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, by Simon Winchester


Longitude: The Ture Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time is one I love.

Totally different vein, but possibly the best non-fiction I have read, given that I am obsessed with military history, is The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. It is so moving…

The Professor and the Madman, about the creation of the OED. And insanity.


My Father’s Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD by Brian McDonald. From Tammany to Serpico, the New York Times journalist used family history and the NYPD archives to recount the experiences of his brother, father, and maternal grandfather, on and off the job.

The grandfather rescuing people from the General Slocum and trying to be an honest cop amongst a sea of corruption. The father’s rise from flatfoot to being in charge of Fort Apache, including his encounter with the detectives lying in wait for the big bust in what became known as “The French Connection”. The brother’s rise from flatfoot to detective, falling hard, and rising again.

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

The son of a W Virginia coal miner builds and launches home made rockets and goes on to win the national science fair. A great sense of place and time, in the late fifties and a wonderful coming of age story.

If you haven’t read it, and in honor of his recent death, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

Medieval Lives by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira. Yes, Terry Jones of “Monty Python.” He knows his stuff.

Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott. How the priorities of a state clash with the way people live. It could have been edited for length, as it gets somewhat repetitive, but it’s a very well-researched book.

Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas. A fascinating set of essays, if you’re at all into biology.

By far my favorite non-fiction read:

Endurance, by Alfred Lansing.

It covers Earnest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to cross the Antarctic continent overland. Instead, his ship was trapped in pack ice and eventually destroyed. The book meticulously covers the entire voyage and fight for survival and rescue. Everyone survived, due in large part to Shackleton’s extraordinary leadership. There are photographs (it blows my mind that these made it) and lots of excerpts from the diaries kept by various crew members, including Shackleton. Absolutely great.

I like Stephen Jay Gould’s books, especially “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History”. It’s the story of the discovery, and interpretation, of a set of fossils that represent a sort of “alternative experiment” in evolution.

Isaac Asimov was also a very prolific nonfiction writer and an excellent explainer. I would recommend “Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos”.

If you want to tackle something really in depth, try William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”.

“The Guns of August”, by Barbara Tuchman, is an account of the beginning of World War I and basically the end of the “old world”.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes: Fascinating and exhaustive account of the times, people, and processes involved in the Manhattan Project. The book assumes no previous physics experience.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris: Exhaustively researched and thoroughly readable account of how and why Roosevelt became one of America’s greatest presidents.

The Places In Between-Rory Stewart. This guy hiked across Afghanistan right after the fall of the Taliban(Herat to Kabul). Fascinating.


Second this one. Coulpe others from World War II: “Flags of our Fathers” and “Flyboys”.

Also, “The Devil in the White City”, which examines a serial killer’s crimes against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair. Excellent read.