Recommend some entertaining nonfiction, please

The title pretty much says it all. I’m looking for some nonfiction to read. I like history, social science, biography – that sort of stuff. Not so much for hard science because it tends to lose me, but if you give it an “A” for “accessible” then good enough.

What’s your favorite nonfiction book? Which one have you read recently that you would recommend?


Are you into actual knowledge, or is shallow trivia deep enough for you? Hey, shallow works for me, often enough.

For trivia, you could do worse for entertainment than the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series. No, they don’t need to be kept in the bathroom, nor read in one sitting (har). The hardest part is admitting to anyone just where you picked up a particular nugget of information.

Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed the “Don’t know much about” series by Davis. He’s got books on Geography, American History, the Bible, and (I think) Astronomy. All pretty readable.

Hidden Minds: A History of the Unconscious by Frank Tallis. It’s the best book on consciousness I’ve ever read by far.

The Devil in the White City
Guns, Germs and Steel

Bill Bryson. I really enjoyed his book about walking around England, and about the Appalachian trail. The one about the US was a little disappointing–too much driving. For some reason, I’m bogged down in the Australian one. But the England book, I really, really enjoyed.

Dreadnaught by Robert Massie is a good read

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat


An Anthropoligist on Mars

both by Oliver Sacks.

A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert Sapolsky.

Is There No Place on Earth for Me by Susan Sheehan.
Follows a schizophrenic woman for more than a decade. Starts out hilarious, then moves into depressing.

Under the Banner of Heaven & Into Thin Air: John Krakauer

Garlic & Sapphires: Ruth Reichl (about being the NY times food critic)

Lost Daughters of China: Karin Evans (about the Chinese adoption phenomenon)

The Ethical Brain: Michael Gazzaniga (healthcare law is a minor hobby that I keep up with and I thought this was interesting from a policy perspective since I’m usually reading about the law side of developments)

The Science of Good and Evil: Michael Shermer (morality and human beings)

Friday Night Lights (about football in small Texas towns)

I’m working my way through Collapse (Jared Diamond) and have Guns, Germs & Steel (same) under my table right now. I do like Collapse though I’ve heard it’s slower reading than Guns, Germs & Steel.

I usually have about 10 books going at once and I’ve been slacking off on a lot of the non-fiction on my floor so I’m determined to read at least 5 of my abandoned books before buying any more.

Parliament of Whores by PJ O’Rourke
The Double Helix by James Watson
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

History, crime, murder, espionage, literature and intrigue. It’s all there in The Reckoning the Murder of Christopher Marlowe. A prize winning non-fiction book so good, I wish I’d written it.

Hey, want to read about the issues that really matter, and, in the process, become hopelessly depressed?


Read The Party’s Over by Richard Heinberg. If that doesn’t do it, read The Long Emergy by James Howard Kunstler.

You won’t be able to use the SDMB without feeling like Satan after reading those two.

All of mine have been mentioned; Sacks, Krakauer, Diamond…although if “Guns, Germs and Steel” is too much science all at once (although it IS accessable) try his “Why is Sex Fun?”

A few I read recently:

The Dinosaur Hunters the story of the original research into dinosaurs, from Mary Anning’s finds through to Darwin’s publication of the Origin of Species and the opening of the natural history museum.

Zulu was a very good read, and interesting as it does remove a lot of the spin and propoganda that has been applied to Rouke’s Drift, as well as putting the events in context.

Paul Britton’s books “The Jigsaw Man” and “Picking up the Pieces” are interesting works on psychology and criminal profiling, but there seems to be some bias towards the author (understandably) and the author’s personal beliefs (moreso in the second book) and the cases covered mean the books are not suitable for younger readers.

The Washing Of The Spears and The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom* are both excellent non-fiction works (the former about the Anglo-Zulu Wars, the latter being Lawrence of Arabia’s account of the Arab Revolt).

Papillon is arguably non-fiction (and a great story), and pretty much anything Bill Bryson has ever written should be on your “Must-read” list, too…

Cosmos by Carl Sagan. It was a book before it was a TV series, and one of the best reads I’ve ever had.

My two standard recommendations are The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen.

I recently enjoyed *Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America *by John Barry. I don’t know if it’s entertaining exactly, because it’s about a terrible flood, but I thought it was very interesting.

The first third or so has a lot of technical information about flood plains and flood control, which did a decent job to explaining the basic set up of the Mississippi, and to be honest, there were parts where I skimmed a bit when it got more detailed with the engineering stuff.

The rest of the book was more about the social and political situation, before, during and after the flood. The Klan, Hoover, and New Orleans high society are all on the scene, which made for some pretty dramatic reading.

I’m currently reading The White Nile by Alan Moorehead, about the search for the source of the Nile River in the mid-19th century. Great reading, filled with interesting characters like Sir Richard Burton (explorer, not actor), Livingstone, Stanley, etc. Written in 1960, the language is a bit dated, but Moorehead is a complelling writer. I’m finding it fascinating. It has shocking details of the slave trade and the white man’s first glimpse of life in Central Africa. Moorehead discusses the differences between Burton’s affinity with the Arab slave traders and Livingstone’s love of the African people he spends time living with. He seems to be the only white explorer of the time who care enough to live with the native people and learn their culture and languages. Man, those Victorians were intrepid.