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Book recommendations non-fiction, anything weird, unusual or just plain interesting

LibrarianLibrarian Registered User regular
edited December 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
I intend to buy a bunch of books for myself as an early christmas treat.
Since I still have about 2 shelves of unread novels, I want to enlarge my collection of unread non-fiction now.

I am interested in history, social sciences, politics, natural science, mythology and weird shit, but I prefer books with some unique angle on the topic at hand.
Or just books that are really well written and that you would want anyone to read, no matter what topics.

I am not too interested in math or physics, so any book from that direction would have to be super awesome.

Stuff I have read or ar familiar with include the Stephen Hawking books, Naomi Klein's No Logo, Jared Diamond, Joseph Campbell, just to give a general idea.

EDIT: Bonus points if someone can recommend an entertaining book about chess that would appeal to someone with only rudimentary knowledge of the game.

Librarian on
friedegg wrote: »
Lord of the Flies. Frightening. Especially if you are a fat kid with glasses.

Posts

  • HypatiaHypatia Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Well, it isn't chess but there's a book called Bringing Down the House about one of those groups of MIT students that did the whole card counting thing at blackjack.

    There's also Word Freak, it's about the kind of funny world of obsessive Scrabble players.

    Hm... Salt is kind of interesting, by Kurlansky, it's a history of the importance of salt in...well, history, it's a bit dry though.

  • PirateJonPirateJon Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Guns, Germs and Steel (history)
    Lies my teacher told me (U.S. History)
    Zombie Survival Guide (reference)

    all perfectionists are mediocre in their own eyes
  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • ThundyrkatzThundyrkatz Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
  • pots+panspots+pans Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Politics and Natural Science you say?

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    Trying Leviathan:
    The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature
    D. Graham Burnett

    Blurb:
    In Moby-Dick, Ishmael declares, "Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me." Few readers today know just how much argument Ishmael is waiving aside. In fact, Melville's antihero here takes sides in one of the great controversies of the early nineteenth century--one that ultimately had to be resolved in the courts of New York City. In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recovers the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new sciences of taxonomy against the then-popular--and biblically sanctioned--view that the whale was a fish. The immediate dispute was mundane: whether whale oil was fish oil and therefore subject to state inspection. But the trial fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature--and how we know it--was at stake. Burnett vividly recreates the trial, during which a parade of experts--pea-coated whalemen, pompous philosophers, Jacobin lawyers--took the witness stand, brandishing books, drawings, and anatomical reports, and telling tall tales from whaling voyages. Falling in the middle of the century between Linnaeus and Darwin, the trial dramatized a revolutionary period that saw radical transformations in the understanding of the natural world. Out went comfortable biblical categories, and in came new sorting methods based on the minutiae of interior anatomy--and louche details about the sexual behaviors of God's creatures.

  • ceresceres Just your problem OooSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited November 2009
    "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" - memoirs of a physicist (liking physics not required)
    Survival in the Killing Fields - by Hang Nor. This is the autobiography of a man who somehow survived the Cambodian Holocaust, and once you pick it up you won't put it down. It's incredibly chilling, and probably not for the faint of heart or stomach.

    I've got my own life and I've got my own plans
    I hope you understand, and like the way that I am
    Dear Satan...
  • FandyienFandyien But Otto, what about us? Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Have you ever heard of Masters of Doom? It's a non-fiction biographical account of the two Johns before founding id software in the early '90s, and it's incredibly engaging.

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  • Pipe DreamerPipe Dreamer Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice for All Creation is an awesome book about the evolutionary biology of reproduction. It's structured as a sex-advice column with various plants and animals writing in seeking advice about their species' reproductive habits. It's a lot lighter than what's been mentioned in this thread so far, but it's absolutely hilarious at times and you do end up learning a lot of cool shit.

    The author has a column in the New York Times website if you want to look at some of her writing first. She's one of my favorite science writers working today.

  • LibrarianLibrarian Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Alright, some good ones so far, but keep em coming.

    On my list is:

    Masters of Doom
    Dr. Tatjana's sex advice
    Survival in the killing fields
    Word Freak
    Trying Leviathan sounds interesting, but I will wait or the paperback edition.

    Guns, Germs and Steel is by Jared Diamond, know that one already.
    I also got the Zombie survival guide(and WWZ).

    Freakonomics sounds nice, but has some really bad reviews, claiming that he uses statistics to back his claims in ridiculous ways, still entertaining enough to read it?

    It has been mentioned before in other threads and I am interested in "Lies my teacher told me", but since I am not American my knowledge of American history is a bit sketchy at best, will I be able to enjoy the book(I have a basic understanding of American history, but I am not too sure on the details)?

    What's a good book on American history?

    friedegg wrote: »
    Lord of the Flies. Frightening. Especially if you are a fat kid with glasses.
  • mullymully Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, it is my favourite book of all time ever.

    (Not about American history, though.)

    edit: whoops, missed the "non-fiction" part of this, somehow

  • The_Glad_HatterThe_Glad_Hatter Rogue Jpeg Jockey Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I recently really enjoyed "the man who mistook his wife for a hat" by Oliver Sacks.

    A neurospecialist (forgot the exact title) discribing some of the weirdest cases he has encountered in his career. It truly was amazing to read about in how many different ways your own brain can get fucked up, with hilarious results. (the title can be taken literally).
    Not only funny, but it also introduces some workings of the body that i wasn't even aware of. (like proprioception.. The sixth sense that didn't make the list of senses since it's so bloody obvious you forget you have it.).

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  • Moses555Moses555 Registered User
    edited November 2009
    I'll second "Lies My Teacher Told Me" for US History. I also really like "The Rise of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida. It examines the rise of "creative" workers in the economy and their influence.

    Bear down, Chicago Bears!
  • edited November 2009
    Salt by Mark Kurlansky. It's basically a world history focusing on (you guessed it) salt and I found it extremely interesting and well written.

    He wrote one called Cod that I didn't like as much.

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  • Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Anything by Oliver Sacks. The latest is, if I remember correctly, Musicophilia, which was wonderful.

    If you're still interested in music then I'd suggest some stuff by Daniel Levitin, specifically This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs.

    On Freakonomics, I think the whole point of the book is that he's using statistics to back things up in weird ways. It's an exercise in trying to see things from a different angle. I didn't agree with half of the conclusions, but it was still a fun read.

    Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, which I don't want to forget. It's not what you'd think from the title; it's actually a book about musical tastes. The author, who admits that he can't really stand Celine Dion, spends about a year trying to figure out why other people do. What is bad taste, what is good taste, why do people like shit music? And not in any kind of mocking way.

    (Mostly) Competitive Gaming Blog Updated November 18th. I'd rather fight monsters than demons
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  • ScalfinScalfin __BANNED USERS regular
    edited November 2009
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
    The rest of you, I fucking hate you for the fact that I now have a blue dot on this god awful thread.
  • bfickybficky Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I really enjoyed Jon Krakauer's books.

    Into Thin Air is the author's account of his climb up Mt. Everest on the deadliest day on record. I went on an Everest kick after reading that.

    Into The Wild was made into the movie a year or two ago. It was pretty good, but I didn't relate to the kid as much as people who loved the book seemed to.

    Under The Banner Of Heaven is about the FLDS, or the Mormons that are batshit crazy. Really freaky and good book.

    Edit: added links.

  • LawndartLawndart Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Non-fiction, you say?

    If you want an overview of U.S. History from a (very) leftist/progressive/etc. perspective, there's always A People's History Of The United States. As with most agenda-driven history books, it's worth taking with more than a small grain of salt.

    Other good U.S. history books:

    Alexander Hamilton - shockingly enough, a biography of Alexander Hamilton that also recaps the major events (and ideological conflicts) of the Revolutionary War-era United States. It also helps that Hamilton was such an entertainingly batshit insane genius (or villain, depending on your political stances) that the details of his life are more melodramatic than, say, most of the other Founding Fathers.

    Nixonland - Recaps the sweeping cultural and political changes America underwent from 1964 to 1972, and puts the tenor of modern American politics in context.

    Team Of Rivals - Obligatory Civil War book. Plus it's a great read. Unless you really, really hate Lincoln.

    The Nine - An accessible history of the Supreme Court, focusing more on the 20th Century Justices but covering most of the SCOTUS' Greatest Hits. Also enjoyable if you like reading about how unqualified and petty Clarence Thomas is.

    1491 - American history from before it was "America". Fascinating revisionist history of what Native American culture and society was like before the arrival of Europeans.

    More random shit I enjoyed reading:

    The Battle For God - A history of religious fundamentalism. Gets a bit dry at times, but full of eye-opening details about the appeal of religious extremism that's more nuanced than "they're all crazy".

    Charlatan - The rise and fall of one of the most notorious quack doctors of the early 20th Century. Any book that involves border radio and goat testicles is worth reading.

    Paddy Whacked - An anecdote-heavy history of Irish-American organized crime, basically Goodfellas meets Potato Famine.

    McMafia - A far less romanticized take on organized crime, covering how international organized crime has changed since the fall of the Soviet Bloc.

    Black Sun - In the weird shit category, this is a recap of increasingly bizarre post-WW2 Neo-Nazi groups, including the truly batshit insane "Hitler will return from the hidden Nazi UFO base under the Arctic Circle" folks.

    Men Of Tomorrow - A very entertaining history of the early years of comic book publishing, focusing on the incredibly shady business practices and oddball characters of that era.

    Low Life - A history of New York City from the late 19th to early 20th Century, focusing on what life was like for the poor, the outcasts and the criminals.

    The World Without Us - Speculates on what would happen if humanity vanished off the face of the Earth, and which of our creations would last the longest without our help (and the answer isn't all that inspiring).

  • Kris_xKKris_xK Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I'm currently reading "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives" by Leonard Mlodinow.

    As you could probably tell from the title its about probability, but its really interesting and entertaining so far. And when I say that, keep in mind I fucking hated stats classing in university.

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  • JinnJinn Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan was really nice to read as someone completely unfamiliar with Islam.

    I'm reading Eastward to Tartary by Robert Kaplan right now. Its a history lesson/travelogue through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asian written about 10 years ago. Its really interesting to learn about a part of the world you don't generally hear much about, and Kaplan is a great writer. He does a great job of mixing history lessons with a compelling travel narrative. Its a bit of a period piece, because it was written 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall which influences many of his observations about the region, particularly since we just passed the 20th anniversary of the fall. I plan to read a lot more Kaplan in the future. He's a regular contributor to The Atlantic, so you can get a taste for his style there.

  • RethiusRethius Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    The Interrogator - A book about the 'Master Interrogator' of the Luftwaffe. He approached his interrogations of American Airmen differently than most of his colleagues: respectfully. He was always very polite and charming, and he managed to get information from every POW he encountered, usually without them knowing it.

    I found it to be a refreshing angle on the war.

  • admanbadmanb the bored genie Seattle, WARegistered User regular
    edited December 2009
    ceres wrote: »
    "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" - memoirs of a physicist (liking physics not required)

    Seconding this. So good. Feynman is one of the most brilliant people, ever.
    Freakonomics sounds nice, but has some really bad reviews, claiming that he uses statistics to back his claims in ridiculous ways, still entertaining enough to read it?

    It's good as long as you don't take it as pure science. Like Gladwell (who's also getting a lot of backlash these days) it's great at making you look at a subject from an angle you'd never think to look.

    Mind and Nature

    Godel, Escher, Bach

    Two of the most important books that no one ever reads. You never will either, but you'll sure feel good with them sitting on your shelf.

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  • Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Anything by James Burke would be a good bet. He really rekindled my love of history and makes some nice points without getting too preachy.

    (Mostly) Competitive Gaming Blog Updated November 18th. I'd rather fight monsters than demons
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  • Moses555Moses555 Registered User
    edited December 2009
    I've always wanted to read An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. Amazon describes it as an "anthology of collective nouns," such as school of fish or pride of lions.

    And yes, the author is the James Lipton of "Inside the Actor's Studio."

    Bear down, Chicago Bears!
  • SkyGheNeSkyGheNe Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
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    Say hello to one of the most interesting books and men of modern history.

    If you have any interest in the middle east and it's current turmoil, this book will help explain a lot and give you a ton of insight into the culture and politics of the region.

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  • nescientistnescientist Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    mully wrote: »
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, it is my favourite book of all time ever.

    (Not about American history, though.)

    Now don't get me wrong, I love me some Oryx and Crake, but it is most certainly fiction. Science Fiction, even, though for some reason (probably to do with nonsensical distaste for the genre) that's not where you'll find it shelved at Borders.

    Most of my non-fiction reading is done in front of a computer screen rather than a book, but one that absolutely sucked me in recently was Legacy of Ashes, by Tim Weiner. Though obviously Weiner has an agenda, the book is extensively researched and the fact is that the CIA had its fingers fucking everywhere, so you'll find yourself covering all kinds of major events since the inception of the agency. Very awesome angle to look at history from, if like me you find yourself wikipedia'ing details as you go; to me, the last fifty years of history are vastly more interesting than the 14,950 years prior to them, because the fuckers who made it are still alive and in power today. Regardless of your position re: history repeating, recent history provides insight into both the present and future.

    Carl Sagan wrote:
    The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.
  • badger2dbadger2d San FranciscoRegistered User regular
    edited December 2009
    "Stiff" and "Bonk", both by Mary Roach, very entertaining.

    "Stiff" is all about dead bodies. A little off the beaten track, but she's a witty writer, and she explores all sorts of topics you've probably never thought of, like what exactly is done with bodies that are donated to science, both in the present and historically, and exactly how the decomposition process works and how it connects to ancient vampire and ghoul myths. It's a very weird subject, but hey, you asked for weird, and it's definitely an entertaining read.

    "Bonk" is about sex, and again each chapter explores the topic from angles that you've probably never thought of. Funny and fascinating. I guess 'fascinating' pretty much goes without saying if you're a human with any hormones at all and the topic is sex. Easy to read this one and be entertained without feeling squeamish like you might with her other book.

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  • ascannerlightlyascannerlightly Registered User
    edited December 2009
    Fandyien wrote: »
    Have you ever heard of Masters of Doom? It's a non-fiction biographical account of the two Johns before founding id software in the early '90s, and it's incredibly engaging.
    if you've ever played doom or any video game really you'll enjoy this book. it's a stark contrast to the way video game companies are run today (ie that slimy prick bobby kotick)

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  • Teslan26Teslan26 Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    Labarynths of reason.

    Zen and th art of motorcyle maintenance.

    Old, but good reads.

    Snowbeat wrote: »
    get out of here, numbername
  • spacerobotspacerobot Registered User
    edited December 2009
    I much prefer fiction and can reccomend plenty of those, but as far as non-fiction goes, one of my favorites is The New Kings of Nonfiction by Ira Glass. Ira Glass is the host of the popular Chicago Public Radio show This American Life and the book is basically a compilation of different stories that could be on his radio show. Excellent stuff.

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  • TomantaTomanta Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    I'm going to recommend Badass: The Book from the guy that runs Badass of the Week. You may want to check out the website to see if you like his style first.

    The book is full of historical figures, some well known and some not so much, who were unequivocal badasses.

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  • LibrarianLibrarian Registered User regular
    edited December 2009
    I'm gonna be poor the way I keep on ordering books and books, but keep going ;)

    I already ordered the stuff I mentioned on page 1, but there's enough to keep me interested.

    Today I also picked up:

    Gang leader for a Day
    Which looks really good so far

    and

    Eating Animals

    Cause I really liked Everything is Illuminated.

    friedegg wrote: »
    Lord of the Flies. Frightening. Especially if you are a fat kid with glasses.
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