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    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    What non-fiction book or books have influenced you? Do you have a favorite?

    I suck at reading non-fiction. I rarely have the focus to make it through anything. But one of my favorite books ever is Inviting Disaster - which apparently was a 4-part History Channel series as well, which I didn't know until right now.

    I honestly believe that this book captures the essence of human response in crisis - in a very human way. Sure, there are diagrams and statistics, but this is about how both people and systems fail.

    I think most people would enjoy it, in our world of perpetual technological and system brinksmanship, but people in crisis-prone environments (working in IT, airports, trains, anything where things can go Oh So Wrong) will get a great deal out of it.

    What non-fiction book do you love? Why?
  1.  (2350.2)
    I love Hemmingway's "Green Hills of Africa". He set out to write a non-fiction novel that would rival fiction and I think he mostly succeeded with his tales of chasing game, drinking beer, and dealing with alcoholic natives. The Black Swan also looks like an interesting read...

    In the comics world : Blankets, American Splendor, and A Complete Lowlife are my favorites.
  2.  (2350.3)
    There are many non-fiction books with some influence in many areas of my self... Below, some of them (if my memoryh could drag anything from the past):
    - "Minima Moralia" - Theodor Adorno
    - "The Romantic Agony" - Mario Praz
    - "Fear and Trembling" - Kierkegaard
    - "Crowds and Power" - Elias Canetti (well, the Caneti's roman "Auto da Fe" is the true discovery of my teenage years and, in my opinion, the best fiction in the 20th century)
    - "From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film" - Siegfried Krakauer
    - "The Republic" - Plato
    - "Supernatural Horror in Literature" - H. P. Lovecraft
    - "Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography" - Roland Barthes
    - "Great Art Of Light And Shadow: Archaeology of the Cinema" - Laurent Mannoni
    - "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" - Robert Jungk

    The why of the influence of this books I couldn't explain easily. I think my researches and my ideas follow a kind of tendency, and these tendency starting at the technical and ideological point and ending at the narrative, imagetic universe (well, technical and ideologial as well).
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    Anything non-fiction by Hunter S. Thompson of course.

    Also "The Redneck's Manifesto" by Jim Goad because it was well-researched, eye opening and so very very angry. And I love me some angry writers.

    The most fun non-fiction book I'd ever read was "Stiff: the secret lives of human cadavers" by Mary Roach. She approached the subject matter with such a great humour while maintaining the dignity of her research.

    As a wee lass in elementary school I adored Machiavelli's The Prince. I think I had designs of becoming a dictator...

    I also read a lot of Carlos Castaneda - even if people believe it's less real than he claimed it to be. They're beautiful books and have helped me along in life dealing with hallucinations (mental disordered), utilizing psilocybin mushrooms as a medicinal/psychological aid and lucid dreaming.
    • CommentAuthorfro
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. It made me want to learn to fly a lot.
    I also really enjoyed Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane, but it didn't have the same influence on me.
  3.  (2350.6)
    The only non fiction book I can remember reading all the way through is Malcolm X's autobiography.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    I've read Stephen King's On Writing at least ten times, and it never gets old. It is endlessly, almost magically, inspiring to a young writer.
  4.  (2350.8)
    I much prefer non-fiction to fiction in general.

    Books that have made a mark:

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M Pirsig)
    Quantum Psychology and Prometheus Rising (Robert Anton Wilson)

    American Ground (can't remember who by) - about the unbuilding of the twin towers, focusing on the people who organised the cleanup - very moving book.

    Have a fascination with the second world war, in particular the skullfuck idiocy of the nazis - I tend to read these when I need to beat down a period of dangerous optimism:

    Stalingrad, Berlin (Anthony Beevor)
    The Last Days of Hitler - (Hugh Trevor Roper)
    Albert Speer - His Battle With Truth (Gitta Sereny) - there were passages in all of these that made me weep with rage at the ghastliness and stupidity that the human race can inflict on itself.

    Evolution's Captain - (Peter Nichols) - a wonderful book about Robert Fitzroy, the naval officer who commanded the Beagle on Darwin's fateful voyage and was driven mad by the enormity of the ideas he'd been instrumental in unleashing.

    Darwin Among The Machines - (George Dyson) - I think this would appeal to a lot of people here, it's a lovely book that talks about the implications of evolutionary theory on artificial intelligence and the development of computing.

    Into The Blue - Tony Horwitz - narrating the voyages of Captain Cook set against the author's contemporary travels in the places that Cook 'discovered'.

    Eh, that's just a few.
  5.  (2350.9)
    Non fiction is really hard to narrow down without topical limits. I've read tonnes of mindblowing stuff. :P

    In Search of the Miraculous - PD Ouspensky.
    Quantum Psychology - Robert Anton Wilson
    Critical Path - Buckminster Fuller
    The Lucifer Principle, and Global Brain - Howard Bloom

    All of those I read ages ago, but made a large impression.
  6.  (2350.10)
    I like me some Roman History. Rubicon by Tom Holland was a pretty good recent one.

    The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell was a revelation. We take for granted the idea that women have always historically been subordinate to men, and have had it tougher in almost every way, but it's more complicated than that. While almost all of the people at the top may be male, almost all of the people who get chewed up and spat out by society are male as well - and there are far more of the latter than the former. The subtitle is "Why Men are the Disposable Sex".

    God: A Biography by Jack Miles is very good - analyses the character development of the character "God" in the work of literature "The Old Testament" to fascinating effect.
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    I love reading non-fiction, especially if it deals with history. Amongst my favourites are:

    - The Isles by Norman Davies, which is an extensive look at the history of the British Isles. The chapters on the Plantagenet dynasty are particularly interesting to read - they make the Tudors look like amateurs.

    - A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya. I can't really describe this book in words. It's something that people ought to read.

    - Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps by Romulus Hillsborough. When I saw this book on the shelf of the Kinokuniya near the Rockefeller Center, I just had to have it. I'm a huge Japanese history buff, and I'm especially interested in the Meiji Restoration and the late Tokugawa era. The Hillsborough book was the first proper history of the Shinsengumi in English that I read, and it's still my favourite.

    - The Dragon Seekers: The Discovery of Dinosaurs Before Darwin by Christopher McGowan is a book that I got as a Christmas present from a friend. It's a very intriguing and thorough look at the early palaentologists who were more treasure hunters and beach bums than actual academics. The whole book is wonderful, bringin to the fore such pioneers as Mary Anning, who was one of the most successful fossil collectors, and William Buckland, who found the world's first dinosaur. A brilliant, brilliant book.

    - Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie contains more mafia history than you can shake your stick at. For me, this is a must-read, since I have always been interested in the history of criminal organizations. Now if only I could find books that are as good and extensive as this on the yakuza and the triads...

    And then there's the infinite amount of books out there that detail the history of the Silk Road. If only I could get my hands on every single one of them...
  7.  (2350.12)
    tom wolfe's Right Stuff was mentioned. the last chapter where chuck yeager is ejected from his jet gave me the most riveting reading experience of my life. i don't think i was able to breathe until the end. piers read's Alive, about the uruguayan rugby team whose airplane crashed in the andes, gave me a similar experience. i read it in one night because i couldn't stop untill they were rescued. also very good: maas's Serpico, charriere's Papillon, william least heat-moon's Blue Highways and anything by carl sagan.
  8.  (2350.13)
    I'm not sure how essential they are, but I like anything by Thomas Cahill, Dava Sobel, and William Manchester (especially A World Lit Only by Fire).

    Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Pahluiniuk

    Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World
    by Simon Garfield.

    The Arcanum by Janet Geeson

    Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

    Mathematics books by James Gleick, Stephen Hawking, or Richard Feynman.

    The Serpent and the Rainbow
    by Wade Davis.

    Anything by Vincent Bugliosi. (courtroom stuff, Reclaiming History is a hell of a read about the JFK assassination)

    Anything by John Douglas (psychological profiling and such)

    God - A Biography by Jack Miles.

    Any history by Howard Zinn.

    by Charles Seife.

    Most anything that Disinformation publishes is decent.
  9.  (2350.14)
    Neighbors: The single most frightening book I've ever read. It's the intimate history of one town's destruction of it's Jewish community. It's a small book, but devastating.
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    One I forgot to mention here (but mentioned in another thread) is Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran. It's an incredible view into neurology, from mostly an experimental view, examining the exceptions that help explore the edges of the science. It's written in an incredibly accessible way, targeted to the intelligent layman. The author does something that *really* helps me, in re-stating previously mentioned concepts in different contexts, and providing excellent additional notes.

    This is ar great thread - like I said, I'm slow to get through non-fiction, but looking up some of these have really intrigued me. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World is on hold from the library.

    American Ground is definitely going on my list.

    kahavi: I will point my boyfriend to your post, he is a huge history reader. I think he might have the Zombie Survival Handbook, too, but I can't remember. He's really the big non-fiction reader between us - I have not been holding up my end of late night drunk conversations about things neither of us knows anything about directly.

    I keep forgetting I want to read The Right Stuff. For some reason, instead I started to read This New Ocean and barely made a notch in the 752 pages of it.

    I'm really enjoying hearing about what makes the non-fiction books listed personally important to people. To me, too often the writing gets in the way of the subject matter... but in those rare cases of a non-fiction book that really grips me, it's as much the writing as the subject.
  10.  (2350.16)
    @ zoem - Phantoms in the Brain is outstanding, I'm glad you mentioned it. Now I've got to reread it.

    I can read a book on most anything if the writer can engage me. I think Dava Sobel or Thomas Cahill could write about me making a sandwich and it would be good.

    By the way, Wade Davis also a book called Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie. I don't think he meant it this way, but it's sort of an instruction manual on how to make your own Haitian zombi.
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2008
    ReverendJoe : You say "haitian zombie" like it's a drink. Come to think of it, it probably is. And you could have the irony of having a Haitian zombie making you haitian zombies...

    What do Dava Sobel and Thomas Cahill write about? Any recommendations of their work, aside from sandwiches?
  11.  (2350.18)
    My favorite Thomas Cahill is How the Irish Saved Civilization. It's part of the "Hinges of History" series which also includes:

    Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, about Greek contributions to history.

    Desire of the Everlasting Hills, about Christ and his impact on history.

    The Gifts of the Jews, about, surprisingly enough, the Jewish contribution to history.

    From Dava Sobel, my favorite is probably Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. I had no idea that Galileo had a nun for a daughter. It's based on her correspondence with him.

    She's also written:

    Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
    About John Harrison developing more accurate clocks to measure longitude.

    The Planets. Each planet gets it own chapter.
  12.  (2350.19)
    Yeah - this is a great thread, I 've put a few on my 'list' from it.

    I've not read Longitude, my mother has the book, but there was a wonderful TV adaptation of it a few years back starring Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons. As well as being a fascinating story it was also very moving.

    Another couple: Dispatches - Michael Herr; about his experience as a correspondent in Vietnam - I believe he was involved in the script for Apocalypse Now, you can see a lot of the things he describes in the book in the movie, including the Dennis Hopper playing Tim Page character.

    The Noonday Demon - an atlas of depression (Andrew Solomon) - fascinating book that explores cultural and historical attitudes to depression and its treatment intertwined with the author's experiences. Very powerful and thought provoking.

    Anything by Edward Tufte on information design
  13.  (2350.20)
    I don't want this to come off picky but you can do a lot better than Thomas Cahill.

    He's a historical reductionist and simplifies huge ideas and events into factoids. For instance, he has a bit where he compares the Mongols to the Nazis in "How the Irish...". That's inaccurate at best. He's trying to do general history which is hard because history is so damn specific.

    Generalist history can be done well. Takes a great deal of craft though. John Norwich's Byzantium series is a perfect example. Norwich gives the rise and fall of the eastern roman empire a narrative that spans a millenium. It's brilliant and daring and fun. This is the condensed version. The three full volumes are definately worth hunting down though.

    Other solid general history:

    -Bernard Lewis: Islam and the West and From Babel to Dragomans. Lewis is a dyed in the wool old school academic puttering in the world of middle eastern history. He famously argued with Edward Said on pretty much damn near everything and represents a kind of bygone scholarship that's both gilded and bracing.

    -Edward Said: Orientalism and Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said. To say that Said was a historian is to be inaccurate. He was an observer of historians without the dryness of historiography. He was able to discern a deeper picture of the madness of the Middle east than most scholars with far more letters after their names.

    And the history of ideas you can't go wrong with Umberto Eco. On Ugliness is his latest work following an idea to it's root. At turns history, philosophy and general scholarship, it's like a great conversation that flows and ebbs. Most of his non-fiction is marvelous.

    My take on history is it should be utterly, totally human. I don't want myths and heroes and villains. I want people, flawed broken and fascinating. All the gentlemen above will give you that.