Sounding the Clarion Call: I Need Nonfiction Recs!

May 21, 2015

You know how I've been learning a statistical programming language? (If not, now you do!) In a fit of nerdiness, I decided yesterday to take a crack at visualizing some of my Goodreads data from the last three and a half years of my reading life, and... I found something horrifying.

I honestly had no idea that my nonfiction reading has declined so steeply over the years until I saw this graph. I decided to see how this compared to my fiction reading over time.

I'm not sure what happened in 2014 to make my fiction reading take off so significantly. Maybe I finally realized that I was done with college and could devote myself to all the non-assigned fiction I'd missed over the years. I do know that I started making a sincere effort to read more classic literature, so that could account for some of the increase. Still, the imbalance! I wrote recently that I want to get back to reading nonfiction, and now the impulse is even more urgent.

So, what do I want from you, dear reader?

All the nonfiction recs, please!

I usually describe my taste in nonfiction as "science, history, and social justice, and even better if all three are combined." Here are some of my favorite nonfiction reads from over the years. This might give you a better idea of the types of books I enjoy:

And here are a few recommendations I've received recently that sound up my alley:
But I still want more, because I'm a glutton for the written word. Feel free to throw out things that don't fit the categories above; so long as the writing and the research are there, I'm more than willing to try out something new! Thank you in advance, lovely people.

P.S. I'm heading to Chicago today for a friend's wedding, so things are going to get quiet around here. My comment replying and blog visiting will also be even slower than usual due to inconsistent Internet and food coma from deep dish pizza. Be back soon!

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27 comments

  1. I'm sorry, I stopped at statistical programming language because I had to find out more. I think I missed your last post about it! Are you teaching yourself? Heading into this um...unemployment, I guess we're calling it...I think I better put myself to use and learn SAS or something.



    Sorry, books!

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  2. Amanda @ The Zen LeafMay 21, 2015 at 4:45 AM

    I've never been able to read much in the way of nonfiction, so I can't really offer much in recommendations. I *do* have an entire page devoted to what I've read/reviewed in nonfiction over the years, though. Feel free to take a look! http://thezenleaf.com/directory/nonfiction-by-category/

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  3. Whew - statistical programming language...those words terrify me! But, I love your graphs! And - I think my own nonfiction reading has probably decreased as well. So, here's a rec for you: Brain on Fire (fascinating medical mystery...thought may be a good one since you liked Henrietta Lacks, which I also liked). Also - Nonfiction November sounds like it's calling your name :)

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  4. How about The Sports Gene by David Epstein and Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman. Not too much social justice, but science in the first one and history in the second. I enjoyed both.

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  5. I really enjoyed "Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science" by Rachel Swaby. The chapters are relatively short, but I learned a lot about science, the history of science, etc.

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  6. I love graphs! I'd add The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace to your list if you're interested in social justice and poverty--it's not uplifting, but it's well-written. Also Our Kids and Under the Bus. And for one not dealing with poverty (most of the non-fiction I've read of late has been for work...): How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, if you have even a passing interest in the movies/books/any of it. Really interesting dive into how it became the mega-pop-culture icon that it is today.

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  7. Oh, I've had Brain on Fire on my shelf for a while now and really need to pick that up. And Henrietta Lacks, too.

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  8. Oh and everything by Mary Roach and I'll stop dominating your comments field now.

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  9. For history/social justice, I recommend Adam Hochshild's Bury the Chains about the British abolition movement. Stunning, and Hochschild does a great job of making sure that the people who were ignored by history because they were not white men (or because Wilberforce's sons wanted their father to get most of the glory) get their due. Hochschild's better known book is King Leopold's Ghost, which I am told is very very good as well.

    Adrian LeBlanc's Random Family is an impressive, fascinating and up-close look at the lives of various family and friends in the Bronx.

    I know Jon Ronson's more famous book is probably The Psychopath Test, but if you go into his backlist, you'll find Them: Adventures with Extremists, which is excellent.

    And finally I will rein myself in with just one more recommendaton: The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder. Tom Hart Dyke, a budding botanist and orchid lover, ill-advisedly goes into the Darien Gap with fellow British adventurer Paul Winder and are promptly kidnapped by FARC guerrillas and kept hostage for nine months. Tense at times, but also shot through with humor: there's a bizarrely glorious moment when, for a contextual reason that escapes me now, they start singing Monty Python's "Look on the Bright Side of Life" to entertain their captors.

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  10. My favorite nonfiction book is Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer - and while it's not exactly science and certainly not about social justice, it is a beautiful meditation on nature and it made me think hard about our society. A little bit different, but I think it might be something you like!

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  11. Got on! The Birth of the Pill by Jonathon Eig. Excellent! Have a fun trip! Hopefully you get some good weather to go with your pizza while you're here!

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  12. I've got Ten Million Aliens: A Journey Through the Entire Animal Kingdom by Simon Barnes in my TBR pile. I read an interview with Barnes a while back, and the book sounded so interesting.

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  13. The only nonfiction I seem to read is memoirs. Do you want memoirs? You probably don't want memoirs.

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  14. It depends on the memoirs! What kind?


    Also why am I not still on your futon.

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  15. Oh wow, this sounds magnificent! It seems like the type of NF I'd keep on my night table for a couple of months so I could slowly take it all in. Thanks for the rec!

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  16. YES, I've been meaning to get to Birth of the Pill since I first saw it as a Goodreads giveaway! Thanks for reminding me.


    And oh, I did. So much pizza. I might never eat again.

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  17. Yes, I read this one while I was still in college and liked it a lot! Thanks for reminding me of it. :)

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  18. I know so little about the British abolition movement, beyond a movie I watched in high school starring Ioan Gruffudd. We also watched it in U.S. History class, because... I don't even know. I'll definitely be checking this one out, because it'll probably be more informative, haha.


    Thanks for offering so many books I haven't heard of before!

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  19. "Not uplifting but well-written" could describe most of the books I read. Everything you've recommended sounds great (and mostly devastating)! I'll have to save Star Wars and Roach for last to perk me up. :)

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  20. Yes, I just finished this one on my trip! I got an ARC way back when (oops) and finally got around to it. I'm hoping to put up a review sometime this week. I really enjoyed it, too!

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  21. Haha, it IS kind of scary, but also a lot of fun. It's been a really good challenge for me!


    Brain on Fire sounds really intense. I'm very interested in mental health advocacy and education, too, so it sounds like a lot of my interests dovetail nicely with this one. Thank you!

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  22. Ooh, I will definitely look into it! Thank you. :)

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  23. Not too I would normally pick up, but they might be good for a set change! Thanks. :)

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  24. Haha, no worries! I'm learning how to use R, which is a free/open-source programming language (http://www.r-project.org/). It seems like it's gaining a lot of traction with social scientists these days. It's especially great to be able to download it and learn it without the upfront cost of other programs (SAS, SPSS, etc). I'm taking a sequence of Coursera courses and also noodling around on my own with it (hence GR graphs).

    Let me know if you want more info. I'd be happy to nerd out. ;)

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  25. Oh yes, Amazing Grace. I saw that movie some time before I read this book, so names were familiar, and I had a loose idea of what went on. In real life, Wilberforce's wife turns out not to have been as gung-ho abolitionist as her husband, though there were plenty of women who did crucial if unappreciated work for the movement. I will also thank the movie for casting Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson, so I had that nice visual in my head while reading about Clarkson, who became one of my historical heroes after reading Bury the Chains.

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  26. The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony--one of the very best nonfiction reads ever for me, especially since I adore animals and am particularly fascinated by everything elephant! The Big Burn by Timothy Egan--great read, informative, and suspenseful--he knows how to make nonfiction enjoyable to read! I found The Wave by Susan Casey to be a great read, informative and very interesting! The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks--fascinating! The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown has been highly recommended to me. I really want to read Missoula by Jon Krakauer.

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  27. I don't read a lot of non fiction so I'm not a huge help. I'm wracking my brain here to remember the last one that I read and loved and think it was probably The Bookseller of Kabul which I read about years ago. *blushes* I'll have a look at your suggestions.

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