Skip to main content
PBS logo
Want fewer ads?

Discussion Forums - Hidden Gems Hidden Gems

Topic: Top five must read non-fiction books.

Club rule - Please, if you cannot be courteous and respectful, do not post in this forum.
Page:   Unlock Forum posting with Annual Membership.
Generic Profile avatar
Subject: Top five must read non-fiction books.
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 10:46 AM ET
Member Since: 11/8/2006
Posts: 871
Back To Top

There are many great books.  We all find non-fiction books we read that we must share with others because they redefine how we view the world, see our place in society, or inform us in a way that we feel better for knowing.

My five.

"Fast Food Nation:  The Dark Side of the All-American Meal"  by Eric Schlosser.  What does getting fast food really mean?

"Guns, Germs, and Steel:  The Fates of Human Societies"  by Jared Diamond.  Where do we come from?

"The Weather Makers:  How Man is Changing the Climate..." by Tim Flannery.  Where are we going?

"The Omnivore's Dilema:  A Natural History of Four Meals"  by Michael Pollan.  Where does our diet come from?

"Zero:  The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife.  Math, science, and religion clash, how does man fit in the universe?

Last Edited on: 8/31/07 10:55 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 11:32 AM ET
Member Since: 8/12/2007
Posts: 129
Back To Top

Wow.  That's some list.  I'll have to think awhile to come up with even one book.  Seems I read mostly for escape and enjoyment.  I know I've read something recently that was memorable, but I can't come up with it right now.

Thank you for the list.  I'll be looking for several of the books you listed.

There is one book that didn't exactly change the way I see the world, but which did provide me a new tool to cope with all the world brings...."Walking a Sacred Path" by Dr. Lauren Artress.   It discusses the use of the labyrinth as a meditation tool.  I discovered the labyrinth by accident; I was visiting Grace Cathedral in SF with a friend who wanted to pray, so I idly read the posted comments about their labyrinth and began walking it.  I found it to be an excellent tool.  My church here in Wausau WI has since made a portable canvas labyrinth that we will have out regularly beginning this fall.  It's exciting.


Page5 avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 1:08 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
Back To Top

I liked Guns, Germs & Steel. The Weather Makers and The Omnivore's Dilemma are on my TBR.

Here are a couple of nonfiction books I have recommended to many friends. They are of a little different nature than the one's Kerry listed.

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In My Hands - Memories of  Holocaust Rescuer - Irina Gut Opdyke

The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchman


Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 1:14 PM ET
Member Since: 4/12/2007
Posts: 140
Back To Top

I would add:

The Working Poor:  Invisible in America - David Shippler

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann

The Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz

Genome - Matt Ridley

- Tracy


Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 3:04 PM ET
Member Since: 2/25/2007
Posts: 13,991
Back To Top

 Seconds on "Fast Food Nation," and I'd add "Animal Vegetable Miracle" to that.

"Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenrich (unsure of that spelling, and I had the title totally wrong earlier! thanks for correction) ) was a scary account of how impossible it is to make it even if you have a job that just pays minimum wage and no benefits, as so many jobs are.

Last Edited on: 9/2/07 12:15 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 5:54 PM ET
Member Since: 8/28/2007
Posts: 2
Back To Top

I was going to say The Paradox of Choice too -- subtitled "Why More Is Less: How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction."

Your Money or Your Life.

Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well.

Addictions (Welch) --  for Christians


April0409 avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 5:55 PM ET
Member Since: 5/17/2007
Posts: 316
Back To Top
Betty, did you mean "Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America"? That one was a good one as is her book "Bait and Switch: the (futile) pursuit of the American dream" I also like No Logo by Naomi Klein.
Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 7:27 PM ET
Member Since: 8/12/2007
Posts: 129
Back To Top

OH, yea....Nickled and Dimed.  There but for the grace of God.....

ThreeCats avatar
Member of the Month medal
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 9:25 PM ET
Member Since: 2/2/2006
Posts: 2,246
Back To Top

In addition to the fine books already mentioned:

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin. A button-hole book, the kind of book that makes you walk up to total strangers to see whether they've read it and to talk them into reading it if they have not. PBS link: http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9780060520755-The+Childrens+Blizzard

The Great Influenza by John Barry. PBS link: http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9780670894734-The+Great+Influenza+The+Epic+Story+of+the+Deadliest+Plague+In+History

Franklin and Winston by John Meacham. PBS link: http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9780812972825-Franklin+and+Winston+An+Intimate+Portrait+of+an+Epic+Friendship

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. PBS link: http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9781594489259-The+Ghost+Map

And those are just off the top of my head.


wirenth avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 9:55 PM ET
Member Since: 11/5/2005
Posts: 571
Back To Top

the pit bull placebo: the media, myths and politics of canine aggression by karen delise

parasite rex: inside the bizarre world of nature's most dangerous creatures by carl zimmer

stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers by mary roach

the coming plague: newly emerging diseases in a world out of balance by laurie garrett

Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 9:59 PM ET
Member Since: 6/18/2006
Posts: 79
Back To Top

Wow, the books you all have recommended are awesome!  I'd like to add:

eat, pray, love by Elizabeth Gilbers

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

 The Devil in the White City by Erik  Larson

Last Edited on: 9/1/07 10:24 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Catspaw avatar
Date Posted: 8/31/2007 10:09 PM ET
Member Since: 7/14/2007
Posts: 8,942
Back To Top

Guns, Germs & Steel is an amazing book.  My husband used to use excerpts from it when he taught Human Relations at the local college.  I saw part of the documentary on PBS, and the tone of the narrator/author was completely different from the book.

Havana-Bill avatar
Friend of PBS-Silver medal
Date Posted: 9/1/2007 7:44 AM ET
Member Since: 9/16/2006
Posts: 19
Back To Top

My all time favorite non fiction book has to be The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Of the list above The Great Influenza  was a fabulous book that makes you stop and think how dangerous a simple disease might be and how devastating it might be not just way in the distant past but within the past century and in the country with one of the most up to date medical systems.


vprosser avatar
Standard Member medalFriend of PBS-Silver medal
Date Posted: 9/1/2007 10:33 AM ET
Member Since: 7/14/2005
Posts: 7,939
Back To Top

I second Devil in the White City!  That was an incredible book.  Slow at first, but definitely worth it once you got into it.  A couple of other books I enjoyed and haven't seen mentioned yet are Parched by Heather King and Eats, Shoots & Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.

Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 9/1/2007 6:52 PM ET
Member Since: 11/8/2006
Posts: 871
Back To Top

I would second "The Great Influenze" and "Devil in the White City," both are incredible books that go back to near turn of the century America 1900's.  History and suspense meet to create great non-fiction.  Lynn Truss does make punctuation interesting and funny as well. 

Last Edited on: 9/6/07 11:00 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
L avatar
L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 2:26 AM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
Back To Top

Next of Kin by Roger Fouts.  A  must read for everyone, but especially if you feel a kinship toward animals:


Five Past Midnight in Bhopal by Domimique La Pierre


Also, check the bottom of my profile...I have a partial list of recommended reads, both fiction and non-fiction.

LaurieAnne avatar
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 9:22 AM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2006
Posts: 4,972
Back To Top

My all time fav NF book is Random Family: : Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx  by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.


CozSnShine avatar
Standard Member medalMember of the Month medalFriend of PBS-Double Diamond medalPBS Cruise Attendee medalPBS Blog Contributor medal
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 11:09 AM ET
Member Since: 2/5/2007
Posts: 30,817
Back To Top

A book that changed the way I thought about poverty in the world and how it can be changed:  Banker To The Poor - Muhammad Yunus.    One of the most powerful books I've read in years.   Almost everyone on my Christmas list this year will be getting one.    Muhammad Yunus loaned $27 to 42 stool makers in 1976 and changed their lives and it grew from there.  Amazing story about how one person can make a difference.  

Caryn9802 avatar
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 12:58 PM ET
Member Since: 7/13/2005
Posts: 8,410
Back To Top

Eat, Pray, Love

Manhunt: The 12 Day Search for Lincoln's Killer

The Devil in the White City

Catspaw avatar
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 1:52 PM ET
Member Since: 7/14/2007
Posts: 8,942
Back To Top

Hmmm, I've got Devil in White City.  Looks like I have to read it now.

jscrappy avatar
Friend of PBS-Silver medal
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 3:00 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
Posts: 3,237
Back To Top

My top five:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Miriam's Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich

Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler

Growing Up by Russell Baker

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin

readergaltoo avatar
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 3:43 PM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2006
Posts: 775
Back To Top

My favs:

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (another recommendation)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (his other book Into the Wild is also good)

Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

Peace, Love and Healing by Bernie Siegel

I also recommend The Great Influenza by John Barry. I read it a while ago and forgot how much I liked it.




Last Edited on: 9/2/07 3:44 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
MaryMary avatar
Date Posted: 9/2/2007 4:25 PM ET
Member Since: 2/13/2007
Posts: 8,411
Back To Top

Fast Food Nation

Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser


I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting at the moment!

apachesun avatar
Date Posted: 9/3/2007 12:44 AM ET
Member Since: 7/24/2006
Posts: 80
Back To Top

One of my all time favorite nonfiction books that influenced me greatly was A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.  I can't think of another 4 that come close to that right now. 


Generic Profile avatar
Date Posted: 9/3/2007 12:46 AM ET
Member Since: 6/2/2006
Posts: 21
Back To Top

If I were to go on influential value, I'd say:

The Zone Diet, Barry Sears

The Secret, Rhonda Byrne

The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck

The World is Flat,  Thomas Friedman

For Knowledge:

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson

Asimov's Chronology of the World,  Isaac Asimov

For Entertainment:

(Anything else by Bill Bryson)


In the Heart of the Sea,  Nathaniel Philbrick

Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage,  Alfred Lansing

1776, David McCullough

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

For Inspiration:

The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron


Want fewer ads?