23 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Non-Fiction

  1. “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary,” by Simon Winchester
    Because: It’s a page-turning history book with drama, intrigue, and totally unexpected twists

    “Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life,” by Sissela Bok
    Because: Reading this book was a life changing experience for me.

    • I’ve read THE PROFESSOR AND THE MAD MAN. Wonderful book. I wish I knew where my copy is. Must have loaned it to someone.

      Never loan books.

  2. Oh my goodness. That’s way harder than asking my favorite novel because I consume far more non-fic than fic. I’ll have to choose by category–19th century America (mainly American West) rather than by book.

  3. THE GREAT BRIDGE, by David McCullouch. Outstanding tale about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Honorable mention: INFERNO (Max Hastings), SEABISCUIT (Laura Hillenbrand), THE ONION FIELD (Joseph Wambaugh)

  4. That’s easy. BLUE HIGHWAYS by William Least Heat Moon. I read it 40 years ago when my son was born– think he got some of that blue-highway bug ‘ cause he hardly stays in one place very long–and the story stays with me though the son doesn’t. Moon’s book is both a travel diary and a gorgeous paen to the real USA.

  5. “The Israel Lobby” (2006) by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

    This is an increasingly timely book, when viewing the trajectory of recent history in the Middle East, the causes at work (on both sides of the political aisle and in the halls of power) and their overall negative impact on Americans, as trillions of our shrinking resources are devoted to war, “national security” and special interest business ventures globally, piling up national debt that can never be repaid, all at the expense of dire domestic needs, so that for 90% of Americans and infrastructure-wise, we’re a third-world country.

    Here’s a review by the respected London Review of Books, one of the few objective ones you’ll find, as much of American media and political establishment is captured by, you guessed it, the Israel Lobby.


    Read what happened to Chas Freeman, a respected former diplomat, Defense Department employee and academic at Brown University, when he was appointed to a national intelligence position in the Obama administration:


  6. he Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel Brown. History as fascinating narrative tale

  7. Grant, by Ron Chernow. It’s an amazing period in US history dealing with the Civil War, reconstruction, discussions of purchases of Canada and the Dominican Republic, Civil Rights, Women’s Right to vote, Civil Service, and the role of Mark Twain in the life of Grant and his role as a publisher (he was the publisher of Grant’s autobiography and Grant died 3 days after completing the manuscript.

    • Second the nomination for GRANT. Hard to choose, though, because I have so many nonfiction favorites!

  8. Tough question. I can’t choose just one non-fiction book, because there are many that I love. I recently read a memoir, A Fine Romance by Candice Bergen, that I couldn’t put it down. She married Louis Malle in 1980. (I’m a big fan of his films, particularly Au revoir, les enfants.) In the book, Bergen shares intimate details about her life and travels—everything from the country life at her home in France to the poverty in India to the trials and tribulations of balancing her family life and career. The book includes some of the love letters that Malle wrote to her. Raw, passionate stuff. It’s a must-read for Candice Bergen fans. She writes the book in a way that makes the reader like a close friend.

  9. Salt, a history of the world as it was influenced by salt. Fascinating book.

  10. #1: Archaeology and Language by Colin Renfrew. From this book I learned that the ‘accepted’ ideas – even when taught as fact – may not be completely right. I have a degree in anthropology, with emphasis on archaeology and linguistics, and this book expounds theories in both areas on the spread of agriculture and Indoeuropean language through Europe. Colin Renfrew, then (and possibly still) a professor at Cambridge University, also has a writing style that is easy to read without dumbing anything down. This book, more than any other, taught me to think for myself.

    #2: Gracie: A Love Story by George Burns. Burns’ voice shines in this memoir about his wife – but not as brightly as his love for her. His self-deprecating style is filled with honesty and humour, nostalgia and regret, and most of all gratefulness for living in those times of vaudeville, early radio, and television, with an angel by his side.

  11. The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg. It’s also one of my favorite audiobooks ever, too. What can I say? I’m a word nerd!

  12. The Killer Angels left a mark on me. The drama of Pickett’s Charge with all those men knowing their chances of making it was slim is heart wrenching.

  13. Check out The March of Folly by historian Barbara Tuchman. It’s a well-written account of official idiocy from Troy to Vietnam. It’s entertaining and full of story ideas.

  14. No Man Knows My History. It is the biography about the late LDS Church founder and president, Joseph Smith, written by Fawn Brodie, published in 1945.

    Mrs. Brodie, was one of the first female tenured professors at UCLA. She was estranged from the LDS Church for most of her life. Before she died of cancer, she asked her brother, and active Mormon, for a priesthood blessing. He issued a statement that her asking for the blessing was not a request to return to fellowship in the LDS Church.

    She is known for five biographies, each of which incorporates elements of Freudian psychology and are considered works of psychobiography.

    No Man Knows My History is a deep plunge into superior writing, research, and historiography skills. My own opinion is that it is one of the best books, fiction or non-fiction, ever written.

    At her death, her ashes were spread over the Santa Monica Mountains, a placed she loved and helped to spare from real estate development.

  15. A PATTERN LANGUAGE: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein

    Written in 1977, it defines patterns that make up our lives, seen through architecture, materials, and populations.

    I love this book. In a parallel universe, I’m definitely an architect or architectural historian. Probably why houses and their structure are often prominent in my stories.

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