I particularly like science of the popular variety. Love Michael Pollan, love Richard Preston, loved Bill Bryon’s* A Short History of Nearly Everything. * I loved* The Professor and the Madman* and Krakatoa, but couldn’t get into *The Map that Changed World. *
I just finished *The Day We Found the Universe. * It was pretty good, not great.
So, whaddya got for me?
When you say you love Michael Pollan, have you backtracked on his older work? His Botany of Desire is one of my all-time faves.
Another really interesting, really well written book on gardening history: The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, on what was going on in England in the 18th century, and the role that plants played in the creation of their empire, including Philly’s own John Bartram (who explored the colonies looking for plants – like azaleas and monarda – to be sent to England as “exotics”), and the Bounty, which had a cargo of breadfruit to be sent to the Caribbean to feed plantation laborers.
Another all-time fave is David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo (which I’ve recommended here at least a dozen times). It’s about what island biogeoraphy – isolated ecosystems like islands or mountaintops – can tell us about evolution.
I am a total gushing fanboi for Steven Pinker, a neurolinguist who advocates for the theory that a propensity for language of a specific type is hardwired into the human genome. He moves from this idea to all sorts of interesting corollaries. The Blank Slate is probably the most influential nonfiction I’ve read this decade, in terms of changing the way I view the world at a fundamental level. The Stuff of Thought is pretty interesting. Words and Rules is really wonky, but if you’re at all a grammar nerd, you’ll totally get into it.
On political history, you could do much worse than Isaiah Berlin’s book The Crooked Timber of Humanity, an examination of the rise of romanticism and the devastating effects of idealism on the twentieth century. This book is a major reason that I’m no longer the political radical I was in college. It’s dense and beautiful.
Thanks, LHOD. I really liked The Stuff of Thought so maybe I’ll try Words and Rules.
Botany of Desire is my absolute fave, twicks, especially since I live in Johnny Appleseed country. Your other recs sound very interesting.
I’m finally getting around to reading “Case Closed” by Gerald Posner. I’m about halfway through, and it is excellent. It is information-dense, yet very readable.
If you haven’t heard of it, it is about the JFK assassination. It does a superb job of debunking a number of assertions made by conspiracy theorists.
Pinker’s “Words and Rules” is good, but not as good as his other works, IMHO.
The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross is a great book. It’s a kind of social history of classical music in the 20th century. I just wish Ross or somebody else would do the same for the 19th and 18th centuries.
Richard Dawkins is usually good. The first book I read by him was Unweaving the Rainbow and it literally changed the way I see the world. I think any of his biology books would be good, however I haven’t read The God Delusion and have heard bad things about it.
I second Steven Pinker, though I’ve only read The Blank Slate by him. I keep meaning to read the others but haven’t had the time yet.
Judging by the books you’ve mentioned I suspect you might like the works of Henry Petroski. His M.O. is to take a common object (pencil, toothpick, bookshelf) and write a monograph on its history, development, manufacturing processes, etc. His books are not for everyone, but I find they’re a lot more entertaining than they have any right to be.
I enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Interesting look at the societal impacts of science.
The ones I usually recommend in these threads are:
A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey, about the Salt Lake City bombings of the mid-1980s, and two white collar true-crime books by Kurt Eichenwald: Conspiracy of Fools, about the Enron collapse, and The Informant, about ADM, price fixing, and tangled webs. The latter was recently made into a movie I have not seen (but have sitting on my TV at home waiting to be watched).
I just read The Ghost Map, which was excellent (until the last few chapters, which are no longer about cholera in 19th century London and are stupid.)
Brothel by Alexa Albert, which is about an MD who does a public health study on the Mustang Ranch in NV. The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. The sequel, The Male Brain, comes out later this month.