Nonfiction Potpourri

Meeting Winter (tbd) in the Community Room

Please read 2 books from 2 different remaining nonfiction subject areas. Below are some suggestions to get you started.


  • Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll offers a revealing portrait of how one of the largest and most global companies in the world uses its power to influence the politics and policies of a number of countries. Tracing two of its legendary CEO’s, Coll details how the giant corporation works and the cost of big oil beyond the price at the pump.
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is an iconic book on leadership that serves as a good example of the “how-to-do-it” style business book. Covey’s primary premise is that success and effectiveness grow out of seven habits (e.g. being proactive and thinking win/win) at the core of a principle-based life. As is characteristic of this type of business book, Seven Habits is rich in anecdotes and examples to illustrate Covey’s points.
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It by Charles Duhigg provides readers interested in brain science a look at how habits are formed and how businesses take advantage of our tendency to be habitual creatures. Everything from why we brush our teeth to how we decide to shop (and where) rests on habits others have instilled in us.
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is a riveting example of business biography. In detailing the life of the Apple founder, Isaacson is both blunt in his revelations of Jobs’ personality and fully attuned to his contributions. His ability to bring this larger-than-life figure into a nuanced and full reality, as well as re-create the culture Jobs strode through, makes for addictive reading.
  • In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy is an investigation into the heart of Google and a good example of a corporate profile. Levy had full access to the company for several years and combines his onsite reporting with hundreds of interviews to create a vivid portrait of the Internet giant and its driving creative and business philosophies.

Food and Cooking

  • Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton is a memoir that blends two popular forms: personal stories and food-focused writing. In a sure-footed style, Hamilton recounts her capricious career trajectory, her unsettled early life, and her complicated adult loves. In so doing, she fashions a story that is as much about her personal yearnings as it is about the food she cooks.
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser changed the way many people felt about the food they ate, and where it came from. By shining a light on the fast food industry, and its practices in both food production and culture, Schlosser helped to create a conversation about eating locally and in a more sustainable fashion. Well-researched and unsettling, it is a book many readers consider a touchstone title.
  • Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz traces the life of America’s most beloved chef, including her childhood, work for the OSS, and marriage to Paul. In particular, Spitz pays careful attention to Child’s process while learning to cook as well as her life as a food celebrity. The result is a big, wonderful book that is utterly engaging.
  • Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good by Barb Stuckey is a scientific examination of taste, consumption, and flavor. How is food developed? What kind of flavor profiles appeal?  How do we really taste food? Stuckey answers all those questions. This is a compelling and intriguing study of the way taste is created and experienced.
  • Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily by Jessica Theroux is a charming example of a narrative cookbook; one full of stories that contextualize the recipes. Theroux also includes photographs of her travels around Italy, making the pleasures of this book far greater than the recipes it holds.

Politics/Current Events

  • Pure Goldwater by John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater is a good example of a political biography. It provides a detailed consideration of Goldwater’s relationship with Nixon, Goldwater’s philosophy, and his political legacy.
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert illustrates the best in current event reporting. Kolbert was praised for her evenhanded approach and her reliance on fact over opinion when researching this book on the effects of climate change.
  • Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead is a reporting book on the state of the world’s refugees. Moorehead outlines the history of the world’s response to the displaced and then relates the fates of individuals who are caught in a hopeless trap. Whether exiled to the fringes of their own nation, camping on the edges of a war torn border, or trying to survive in a new country where they have few rights or resources, today’s refugees are facing a bleak prospect — one that Moorehead stirringly illustrates.
  • Truth and Consequences: Special Comments on the Bush Administration’s War on American Values by Keith Olbermann and Culture Warrior by Bill O’Reilly serve as examples of the highly charged political opinion book. Both Olbermann and O’Reilly have talk shows on cable news channels and their public platform brings them great notice. The content of both books is similar to the content of the shows, where each defends the political and cultural positions they support.
  • Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright is a work of political and social reporting on the changing culture of the Middle East. Wright, a foreign policy reporter forThe Washington Post, provides a clear summary of the political and cultural movements affecting the region and synthesizes decades of past history to explain what underpins these changes.

Religion, Spirituality and the Supernatural

  • Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom offers readers a chance to meet Morrie Schwartz, a man dying from ALS, who taught Mitch Albom how to live. A cross between a spiritual guide and a memoir, this beloved book illustrates the deep appeal of life lesson titles.
  • The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron provides guidance and understanding from a Buddhist nun. Chodron offers readers a way to embrace their fears and find strength in offering compassion to all through the application of meditation and mindfulness.
  • Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels is an excellent example of historical biblical research. Pagels is a professor of religion and here examines the differences between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas, and what the wider adoption of one over the other meant to Christianity.
  • Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential by Joel Osteen suggests how readers can fulfill their true promise. Osteen is a televangelist and a pastor of a mega-church; his positive approach and biblical teachings have gained him a high profile with the religious self-help readership.
  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle is a book that typifies the new contemporary spirituality that is not connected with a specific faith. Tolle teaches readers about suffering, happiness, and peace. This book was an Oprah pick and its selection has made Tolle a household name.

Social Science / Society / social issues

  • The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop explores the homogenization of American society. Bishop’s reporting finds that we tend to group together, into comfortable, self-reflecting, units. It is a fascinating read, supported by a range of well-researched surveys.
  • Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover is a classic in immersion journalism. Conover wanted to know what it was like inside the infamous prison, but blocked at every turn, he finally decided to take a job as a corrections officer to get the scoop. His account of life behind the walls is a vivid testimony to what happens when violence, fear, and boredom meet.
  • Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace!One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin tells the story of the creation of the Central Asia Institute, an organization devoted to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also tells the story of Greg Mortenson, his ill-fated mountain climb and his determination to give back to the people who rescued him — even if it meant navigating the complex social and political realities of the region.
  • Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario explores the life of illegal immigrants and the families they leave behind. In brilliant reporting Nazario recounts the life of Enrique, whose mother left when he was five to work illegally in America. She planned to save money and return to her family, but after 12 years of absence, Enrique sets off to find her. His story, illustrating that of many, is full of danger, uncertainty, and desperate hope.
  • A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind tells the story of Cedric Jennings, a smart, poor, African-American student attending one of the nation’s worst high schools. Suskind followed Jennings through high school on to Brown University and relates the struggles Jennings has fitting in and navigating the harsh politics of race and class in America.

Arts and Entertainment

  • Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissell collects fourteen essays on the creative process exploring everything from Emily Dickinson to video game voice-over artists. His work, sharp, ferocious, often exasperated, often funny, explores the creative life and its costs and conceits.
  • Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert recounts Ebert’s life as a movie critic and as a cancer survivor. Ebert helped create and define the modern understanding of film criticism through his work for the Chicago Sun-Times and partnership with Gene Siskel. His memoir is candid, chatty, and full of vivid portrayals of film stars and directors.
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey describes the life of a comedian in hilarious detail. Be it her years at SNL, her struggles as a female comic in a male dominated world, or her life as a mother, Fey riffs on it all in anecdotal, charming, and laugh-till-you-cry fast and smart writing.
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith captures the wonder of Robert Mapplethorpe and the late 1960’s in her memoir recounting her early years and friend-lover-friend relationship with the iconic photographer. Connected by love and mutual creative appreciation, the two kept each other fed and safe as they each forged remarkable careers. Smith’s elegant and descriptive writing brings the character, and characters, of the age to signing life.
  • Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton examines the contemporary art world through a sociological and art historian’s sharp and insightful eye. She explores the high stakes deals at both Christie’s and Art Basel, sits in on a crit session at an art school, and comments on the cultural and artistic drive dominating the hip art scene. Her compulsively readable account is insightfully and sharply written.

Other: self-help, war reporting, journalism, …

Please comment on this post with both of your titles choice to avoid duplication.

If you need help finding books to read, please ask!



10 Responses to Nonfiction Potpourri

  1. Pingback: Nonfiction Genre Study Meetings | forbesgenrestudy

  2. Ben says:

    My first book will be The Big Sort : Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. (I haven’t chosen my second yet.)

  3. Faith says:

    I’m reading Beyond intelligence : secrets for raising happily productive kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster.

    • Faith says:

      Hard to categorize “Schlepping through the Alps” by Sam Apple: Journalism, social issues, also travel, biography and memoir and possibly arts and politics and humor.

  4. Janet says:

    I am reading The Big Short (not the same as Ben’s) by Michael Lewis about the subprime mortgage lending crisis.

  5. Paula says:

    I’m going to read Talking to the dead : Kate and Maggie Fox and the rise of spiritualism by Barbara Weisberg and Forbidden diary : a record of wartime internment, 1941-1945 by Natalie Crouter.

  6. Molly says:

    I am reading The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, and Something to Talk About by Ann-Marie Cyr.

  7. Julie says:

    I am reading In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue by Lauren Weber and Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit

  8. Bridget says:

    I am reading The Rich and The Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West

  9. Lilly says:

    I am listening to Just Kids by Patti Smith and reading A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

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