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Topic: Good nonfiction

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Subject: Good nonfiction
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 8:20 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Next year one of my reading goals will be to read 5 non fiction books. Im interested in hearing what the best nonfiction you have ever read was. It can be anything from true crime to a memoir to a book about science.

Ok after going over my profile I realized that I read 5 nonfiction last year so Im upping the goal to ten.

Last Edited on: 12/24/08 11:32 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 8:51 AM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2007
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"Three Cups of Tea". Can't remember the author but it's excellent. It will make you want to do something. I have "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin under the tree but I haven't yet read it. It is supposed to be very good.
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 8:59 AM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2008
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Living Proof: Courage in the face of AIDS  by Sir Ian McKellen and Carolyn Jones.  This is a dated photo essay book of HIV/AIDS victims. This is one of the most hopeful texts I have ever read.

Language of Life edited by Bill Moyers. This anthology is a collection of interviews and selected poems by contemporary poets. There is quite a bit of diversity in style and demographics of the poets in this work. It is my favorite anthology. I guess I could say it's my poetry bible since it introduced me to the greatest number of poets I love and continue to read today. It was my introduction to a world of poetry I knew little about.

Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker. Tucker, a former journalist for a Detroit paper writes about his experiences as a journalist covering the political and social climate in Zimbawai in the late 80s-early 90s and his personal journey with his wife trying to adopt their daughter. Tucker is an accomplished, lyrical writer. His professional and artistic writing styles blend effortlessly in this work.

Dreads by Francesco Mastalia, Alfonse Pagano, and Alice Walker. A photo essay book about individuals, cultures and sects who wear various styles of dreads. Beautiful images and very informative and interesting personal stories about how we define our selves through our beliefs and how those beliefs are manifested in the way we wear our hair.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Read this in high school. One of the most transformative works I have ever read. I was immensely impressed with this man's personal journey and conviction. I could not believe a man would purposely subjected himself to the life a black man especially during this period in our history.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 9:15 AM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2006
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I read almost exclusively non-fiction. Some really good ones I have read this year include:

A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools by Alec Klein

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex Harris, Brett Harris, and Chuck Norris

The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower by Robert Baer

An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't by Judy Jones

Four Days to Glory: Wrestling with the Soul of the American Heartland by Mark Kreidler


Last Edited on: 12/24/08 10:46 AM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 9:22 AM ET
Member Since: 7/2/2008
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The River of Doubt by Candice Millard  -- about Theodore Roosevelt's trip down an unexplored tributary of the Amazon River. Lots of great history, science, politics, and personalities. We read it in my book club and loved it!

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson -- about the Chicago World's Fair (and all the preparations leading up to it) and a murderer who was on the loose in Chicago at the same time.



Date Posted: 12/24/2008 9:41 AM ET
Member Since: 8/14/2006
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What about history?

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 9:45 AM ET
Member Since: 3/4/2007
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A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (He's also a great reader, if you like audio books.)

Land Below the Wind and Three Came Home by Agnes Newton Keith (hard to find, but well worth the effort)

seconding Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

If you haven't already read it, Marley and Me by John Grogan is a really sweet story. 

Frank McCourt's books are all wonderful and they're made even better if you have the time to listen to them with him as the reader.  Hearing his voice tell his stories adds such a nice layer.

Last Edited on: 12/24/08 10:57 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 9:47 AM ET
Member Since: 8/14/2006
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thirding Devil in the White City

John Adams by David McCullough if history is an option.


Date Posted: 12/24/2008 10:19 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I like David McCullough too - 1776 and The Johnstown Flood are very good also. Others I like are:

The Worst Hard Time - Timothy Egan - the dust bowl

In The Heart of the Sea - Nathaniel Philbrick - riveting account of 19th century whaling

Grand Avenues - Scott W. Berg - the building of Washington DC (dry in parts but overall very good)

Devil in the White City - Erik Larsen - the Chicago World's Fair

Thunderstruck - Erik Larsen - invention of the wireless telegraph

Riding the Rails - Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression - Errol Lincoln Uys

The Lost Men - The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party - Kelly Tyler Lewis

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irine Gut Opdyke - excellent

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - LOL memoir

Another nod for A Walk in the Woods by Bryson

Population 485 by Michael Perry - charming memoir, he writes from the heart

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali - excellent

Fatal Forecast, An Incredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea - Michael Tougias

Girls of Tender Age - Mary Tirone Smith - very compelling

I read a lot of nonfiction ;-)

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 10:27 AM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2006
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Population 485 by Michael Perry - charming memoir, he writes from the heart


I didn't care for this book despite a friend recommending it to me. I thought it was rather simplistic. To each their own.


Date Posted: 12/24/2008 10:52 AM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2008
Posts: 573
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Laurie and Sandy,

Would you mind sharing why you recommend the reads? What are they about or was the writing exceptional and that's why you're recommending them?

Titles alone are usually not enough to motivate me to read something versus someone sharing why the book is worth the read.


Date Posted: 12/24/2008 10:56 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
Posts: 20,024
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Ive read Devil In The White City. I did enjoy it very much. I actually read it right after I watched a documentary about the Worlds Fair. History is cool too. Any nonfiction recomendations are welcome.

Marley and Me is pretty much a no go. Whenever my niece sees the book or a commercial about it shes gets angry. Her name is Marlee and ever since the movie trailers have been playing this year people have been saying stupid things to her like "give the gift of Marlee this year." I almost bought it for her as a gag gift actually.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 11:21 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Oh I guess I'll throw in some recs of my own.

Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil its my recomendation to people who want to read NF but generally dont like it. Reason being it reads like fiction but its not. Its got quirky, zaney and insane people plus the story is very much about Savannah not just the people in it. I love the movie but the movie is more about the people so they are pretty different.

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen is a true crime book about two sisters who were taken advantage of and one ultimately died in the care of a fad diet specialist. They were fadist who went from one fad medical treatment to the other. The doctor claimed that her starvation/fasting treatment would cure everything from depression to serious physical conditions. One of the sisters died of starvation but not before she signed over everything to the doctor. Its another one that reads almost like fiction.

The Accidental Mind by David J. Linden, every wonder how the brain works. Hes a brain surgeon he can tell you. Its a page turner for any true dork but its not the easy to read and understand guide to brain function that he claims it to be. There were several things in the book that I thought would take more than a laymans understanding to get.

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade was a pretty good read but I got the feeling that the author doesn't care much for men. Its about writers in the 20's and she raves about the women but she talks about all the men in pretty unflattering terms.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg. Ok so this one is technically fiction because its a novelization of the authors life. She was schizophrenic and didnt want her story to be linked to her so she changed the names and used a pen name but the story is so rich and detailed. It reads almost like a fantasy novel in some parts. Its so richly detailed that I didnt notice that it was so short 256 pages and I felt sorta like I was reading someones diary. The movie is also really good.

Under The Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer is a true crime/history book. Its about the murder of a woman and her child by her husbands brothers who were deep in the FLDS culture. They killed them because the claimed it was a revelation from God. On top of that though he piles high the history of the religion from its origins to its vast and quick expansion. I didnt put it down for more than an hour while I was reading it.

Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner. Its .... interesting. I dont know that I bought most of what he said but it kept me interested and catered to my scattered thought patterns since he goes from one subject to another and then back again. That would probably irritate other people though.

Hiding My Candy by The Lady Chablis, anyone whos read Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil will enjoy this book written by The Grand Empress of Savannah. She details her early life and even gives some fashion tips and recipes.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 11:25 AM ET
Member Since: 3/4/2007
Posts: 4,582
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LB, I enjoy Bill Bryson's books because he takes you along on his journeys instead of simply telling you about the places he's been.  When reading his books I feel his headaches and joys and laugh right along with him, sometimes at him. *g*  He always gives interesting history about the place, in these cases the Appalachian Trail and Australia, and doesn't perpetuate the romantic notions of places like so many travel authors tend to do.  He talks about the positives and negatives of his adventures.  If you listen to him read his books, it's even better.  He has a lovely reading voice and hearing him really makes you feel a part of the journey.

Frank McCourt's books give such a personal feeling as to what life was like for he and his family from his early days all the through his teaching career, depending on which book you read.  I came to care about each of his family members, especially Malachi, as I remember seeing him on the Tonight Show all those years ago.  He's another one with a lovely reading voice and I love listening to him as much as reading his words for myself.

Devil in the White City was interesting from an historical perspective, as well as a murder mystery perspective.  Larson does an interesting job of weaving the history of the Chicago World's Fair with the serial killings going on at the same time. 

Marley and Me was just such a sweet story.  It's not my usual kind of read, but it was one I was given to review, so I gave it a try.  Having just lost a family dog a few months earlier, it struck a chord. 

The Agnes Newton Keith books are ones I read when I was probably 10 or so.  My grandmother had them in her house and I read both while visiting one year; they were the only things of hers I asked for after she died, so they are precious to me in that respect as well.  Both books are about her life in North Borneo, but Three Came Home, is mostly about her internment in a Japanese POW camp during WW2.  The accounts of her capture, separation from her husband and child and general life in the camp are fascinating.  There was a terrific movie of the same name starring Claudette Colbert, which I'd also recommend.  There are actually three books in this series, the last being White Man Returns.  I only recently found a good, clean copy of it and while I continue to love her writing style, the first two books are the ones that have stayed with me. 

I thought of a couple more in the meantime, both by Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.  These are both slim volumes but rich with language and love.  I didn't discover the books until after I'd seen the movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, which is unusual for me.  If you enjoyed the movie, then you'll love the books as they add so much more to the story. 


Date Posted: 12/24/2008 11:59 AM ET
Member Since: 4/11/2006
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LaTonya, I also highly recommend 'Love in the Driest Season'.  I enjoyed Neely's political view of the countries he wrote about and realized what a toll reporting takes on the individual.  The love story between him and his wife as a multi-racial couple was also endearing and so honest!

I read 'Black Like Me' when I was in jr. high...my mom was taking college courses and I was able to read a lot of her recommendations.  It was moving and it's time for me to reread that one.

Laurie Anne - I didn't care for 'Population 485' either; it eventually quit reading it and mailed it to another PBSer.

Most of my favorites are memoirs, which already has a thread.  But my mom bought me 'Team of Rivals' and it's lonnnnng!  I heard from another couple readers (Lester was one) who highly recommended that work. 

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 12:18 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Lester was the one who recommended Population 485 to me :-)

I think its appeal for me was small town life, neighbors caring for neighbors, a feel-good book about a guy finding his "place" in the world.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 1:07 PM ET
Member Since: 11/28/2007
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I always recommend Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, his harrowing account of climbing Mount Everest.  He gets right to the action and does not waste time on boring stats or stuff.  You won't be able to put it down.

I also suggest The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy, about his years teaching in a very rural and backwoods school off the coast of South Carolina when he was young.  Just a great read.

I also loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, his story of raising his 8 year old brother when he was only 20, after his parents both died, and also his experience of starting a magazine at the same time.   The book is a little off-beat, but I loved it and have read it several times.

Hope you read these and many others!


Date Posted: 12/24/2008 2:04 PM ET
Member Since: 11/24/2005
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Last Edited on: 2/21/10 7:05 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 2:28 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2008
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I like non-fiction but I seem to always stumble upon it instead of seeking it out. Loved reading your personal views of the books. Now, I'm very interested especially the Keith books. Thanks for coming back to this.

Last Edited on: 12/24/08 2:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 2:36 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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L B Im the same way. Thats why I decided to make that one of my goals. That and I've run out of genres I havent read so I needed something new to do next year.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 3:48 PM ET
Member Since: 3/4/2007
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You're welcome LB.  I looked and there are copies of Three Came Home in the system right now.  The others you'll have to search a little for, but they're out there.  I found my copy of White Man Returns on eBay and paid under $10 for it, including shipping.  If you do read any of her books, I'd love to know your thoughts; it's difficult finding anyone who's even heard of her and few seem interested in reading books that aren't current.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 3:56 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2008
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I read a lot of non-fiction (I read a lot of everything).  Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History  was excellent.  It was about the Galveston hurricane of 1900.  If you like biographies, Allison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII is good.  Anything by Ann Rule is good if you like true crime.  All of James Herriot's (All Creataures Great and Small) books are wonderful.  Kenneth Davis has written several informative books that were interesting - Don't Know Much About History, Don't Know Much About the Universe,  There's about 5 or 6 on different topics

I'm adding The Great Mortality:  An Intimate History of the Black Death to my WL.  Sounds facinating

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 5:54 PM ET
Member Since: 2/5/2007
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Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
Author: Muhammad Yunus, Alan Jolis if the non-fiction book I recommend the most.    This is a very short book description: "Banker to the Poor is an autobiographical account of the founder of the Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus. This work is fundamental rethink of the economic relationship between the rich and the poor, their rights and obligations."

While it did drag towards the end of the book, it made me completely rethink the way I look at poverty and what it means to be the poorest of the poor.  It also gave me an appreciation for what one person can do if the desire is there.

Date Posted: 12/24/2008 6:03 PM ET
Member Since: 7/22/2008
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I know that I am late to this but I have several I would like to add: James Herriot's bookshttp://www.paperbackswap.com/book/browser.php?k=James+Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small) are sweet but rather more real life than some people expect. Not all good people have wonderful lives, not all animals live well but they are interesting and leave me feeling more optimistic.

Paula Deen's book http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9780743292856-Paula+Deen+It+Aint+All+About+the+Cookin(It Ain't All About the Cookin'). I have tried a few of her recipes and seen her on TV, the food channel. She seemed put together, fun and successful. In her book she is also amazingly honest but still fun. I no longer want to be like her, she works way too hard but it was a fascinating read.

Barbara Curtis book http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9780834120976-Lord+Please+Meet+Me+in+the+Laundry+Room+Heavenly+Help+for+Earthly+Moms(Lord, Please Meet Me in the Laundry Room). She has a strong Christian world view but she comes from a very disfunctional family and is now the mother of 12. Three of her youngest children are adopted with Down Syndrome.

George MacDonald Frazer http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/author/George+Macdonald+Fraser(Steel Bonnets,Quartered Safe Out Here, The General Danced at Dawn) He is much better know for his Flashman series which I do not like but these non-fiction stories are fabulous. Steel Bonnets is about the border region between England and Scotland when the 2 nations were at odds. Those trying to live on the border learned to play both sides against each other to survive. The other 2 are based upon his experiences in a Scottish regiment during WW II.

Elenor Lattimore's Turkestan Reunionhttp://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9781568360539-Turkestan+Reunion+Kodansha+Globe She took a honeymoon trip without her husband thru central Asia in the 1920 to meet up with her husband who was traveling with a camel caravan on the old Silk Road. Other people's list have given me some ideas for 2009's reading list.
Date Posted: 12/24/2008 7:00 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2008
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I, too, want to read more non-fiction. This thread has been helpful. Thank you.

Some recommendation: (BTW I'm terrible at remembering author's names)

TUESDAYS WITH MAUREY by _______________.  Poignant. Inspiring.

JAPANLAND: A YEAR IN SEARCH OF WA by Karin Muller. PBS (thd other one) photo journalist who spends a year living with a Japanese family. I wrote a review of this book. She also has one titled HIKING THROUGH CHILI (or something like that)

A MONTH OF SUNDAYS by Julie Mars. After spending seven months caring for her dying sister, the author goes to 31 (a month's worth) different churches in search for some answers. Also wrote a review for this book.

My favorite (so far) Non-fiction is THE DAY THE WORLD CAME TO TOWN by ______________. On 9/11 all plane in the air headed for the US were diverted or grounded. Gander, Newfoundland, the site of a former and important WWII air base became the destination for over 200 aircraft. This book tells how a town of about 6,000 rallied to feed and house the passengers for 4 days. It is a different take on the day we will all remember.