What We Are Reading: Nonfiction

Converses75 Books Challenge for 2020

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What We Are Reading: Nonfiction

1drneutron
des. 26, 2019, 12:24 pm

Are you a history buff? A science maven? A biography hound? Here is the place to share your nonfiction interests!

2Storeetllr
gen. 1, 2020, 3:45 pm

Currently reading Hawking's A Briefer History of Time and The Grand Design. Dense and often difficult to grasp for this science/math-averse 70-something who nevertheless finds herself fascinated by quantum theory, black holes, dark matter, the theory of relativity, M theory, the origins of the universe, the possibility of multiple universes, and all things cosmos.

It's just happenstance that I'm reading two by Hawking at this time. One I started back in the summer but didn't finish due to time constraints, and the newer one I just found in December at the library. In the past couple of years, I've read other books on the subject by other astronomers and physicists, including Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Jo Dunkley. Wish I'd discovered my interest back when my father-in-law was still alive. He was, before retiring, head of the Physics Dept. at UC Berkeley (I have a copy of the textbook he wrote: Fundamentals of Electricity and Magnetism, though I haven't tried reading it - yet). I know he would have helped me navigate the concepts.

3fuzzi
gen. 1, 2020, 4:06 pm

Oh, my, you just triggered a memory of a book I read 40 years ago: The Collapsing Universe by Isaac Asimov. As I recall it was a good read.

4Storeetllr
gen. 1, 2020, 7:27 pm

Oh, wow! I didn't know Asimov wrote a book about black holes. Wish I'd read it back then - I might have gotten interested in astrophysics when I had a physicist around with whom to discuss it.

5drneutron
Editat: gen. 1, 2020, 8:03 pm

I'm most of the way through History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer. It's the followup to her History of the Ancient World and has quite the same global look at things. Very good!

6fuzzi
gen. 2, 2020, 7:40 am

>4 Storeetllr: I was living at home in the 70s, and a member of The Literary Guild. My mother was a member of BOTMC (Book of the Month Club) as well. I got a number of good books that way.

7Storeetllr
gen. 2, 2020, 12:59 pm

>5 drneutron: Sounds interesting, Jim. I'll have to check out Bauer's histories.

>6 fuzzi: The Literary Guild and BOTMC! I remember them. I wonder if they're still around. I think I was a member of BOTMC and got some books that way too, but I don't think I stuck with them long. I was too poor and did most of my book shopping at a used book store where they took back books for credit.

8fuzzi
gen. 3, 2020, 7:01 am

>7 Storeetllr: I still have a 2 volume book club edition of Roger Zelazny's Amber chronicles that I got through a book club. Not sure I still have it, but I bought a boxed copy of The Hobbit through BOTMC, too (they had "higher-end" books compared to LG). I was working full time and living at home at the time I started buying new books for my shelves.

9NielsenGW
gen. 3, 2020, 7:43 am

Just started The Spanish Press, 1470-1966 by Henry Schulte. A few chapters in, and it's an odd mix of pop history and academic monograph. So far, so good.

10norabelle414
gen. 6, 2020, 12:08 pm



Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich

Nature writer and researcher Bernd Heinrich describes several years of his experience with ravens. Based mostly in western Maine, he raises ravens from chicks, observes and experiments with wild ravens, and travels to Germany to collaborate with raven researchers there. He observes things such as how his captive-raised ravens interact with wild ravens, what kind and quantity of food adult ravens feed their babies, and if ravens will notice if you add or remove eggs from their nest.

In contrast with the previous book read for my book club, The Truth About Animals, this is 360 pages of excruciating detail about just one animal. I didn't have a problem with anything about it, but it's just a lot. Heinrich's observations are very thorough, and he's an excellent science communicator. His prose is easy to read, and never jargon-y. The book was enjoyable to read in small chunks but I had to read it quickly for book club and that was not easy. I skimmed a lot. I think the book does a good job of capturing the tedium of scientific research - trying the same thing or slight variations on a thing over and over again to see if you get a different result. Like the science itself, this can be thrilling if the reader is interested in the particular research topic, but I can't recommend more than skimming if you're not.

11Only2rs
Editat: gen. 10, 2020, 3:24 am

I don't read a lot of non fiction these days, but when I do it tends to be history, archaeology, languages, science etc.
I'm currently about half way through The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. He proposes that as a species we are less violent now than ever before (contrary to what you may have been lead to believe). The evidence he produces is impressive. However, it is very dense and I've had a stressful couple of years and all I want to read is brain candy so sadly this has been languishing on my kindle for a while. I guess my challenge for this year is to get it finished!

12drneutron
gen. 17, 2020, 8:06 pm

I started The Impeachers today - a history of the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. Seems pretty relevant to today...

13Nancyjcbs
gen. 24, 2020, 8:54 am

I'm currently reading The Ungrateful Refugee. It really makes you think about how we treat others.

14drneutron
gen. 30, 2020, 8:10 pm

About 1/3 of the way through Whoever Fights Monsters, about the creation of the Behavioral Sciences Unit at the FBI.

15nrmay
gen. 30, 2020, 8:53 pm

I just finished

The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson :)
and
Cosy: the British Art of Comfort Laura Weir :)

16Only2rs
feb. 2, 2020, 4:09 pm

I have just finished reading The Deprat Affair by Roger Osborne. A foresnsic analysis of a scandal about trilobites that ruined a man's career a hundred years ago. Fascinating read.

17drneutron
feb. 3, 2020, 4:01 pm

just started Poisoner in Chief by Stephen Kinzer. It's a biography of Sidney Gottlieb, the CIA's lead for mind control techniques/drug and other nasty stuff, as well as a retelling of the US government's experimentation and use of said things.

18Only2rs
feb. 23, 2020, 5:30 am

I finally finished Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History by Lewis Dartnell. Another geologically based one for me! This time it linked how the way the Earth developed over time has in turn shaped how humans developed, from our original evolution in the East African rift valley (no rift valley=no humans) to things like the configuration of medieval trade routes e.g. the Silk Road. Fascinating stuff. ****1/2

19Only2rs
març 17, 2020, 6:04 am

My non-fiction book for March was Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. In some ways very similar to my previous book in 18 above. This one looks more at the development and history of nation states, using geography as an explanation for the way they behave. For example, Russia's interest in the Crimea is all about not losing access to a warm water port. All other ports Russia has freeze up in the winter. The section on the far east is particularly interesting, especially the chapters on China and Korea. *****

20drneutron
març 17, 2020, 9:46 am

Started The Role of the Scroll by Thomas Forrest Kelly, discussing mainly scrolls from the Middle Ages period after codices became the standard format for writing. The question is really if the codex format offers so many advantages and became standard, why did people still put time and effort into writing scrolls? Interesting findings, with many beautiful illustrations.

21fuzzi
març 18, 2020, 12:42 pm

I finished a bio of Seattle Slew, thoroughly enjoyed it.


Seattle Slew: Racing's Only Undefeated Triple Crown Winner by Dan Mearns

Very good bio of the first undefeated Triple Crown winner. Slew was an "ugly" foal, had foot issues, and was refused by Keeneland to be offered at their yearling sales. He was sold for less than $20K to a pair of 30-something couples who wanted to own a race horse. Unorthodox owners, unorthodox trainer, unwanted horse wound up becoming a champion and the sire of champions.

I enjoyed this one a lot.

22nrmay
abr. 6, 2020, 6:16 pm

I pulled out an old copy of Wright's Complete Disaster Survival Manual: How to Prepare for Earthquakes, Floods, Tornadoes, & Other Natural Disasters by Ted Wright.

I bought this in the 90s when I lived in Seattle and wanted to be ready for earthquakes.

23fuzzi
abr. 8, 2020, 6:37 am

>22 nrmay: anything useful for our current situation?

24nrmay
abr. 8, 2020, 12:29 pm

>23 fuzzi:

It has tips/lists/instructions for what you need for self-sufficiency when hunkering down for awhile.

i was reading up on how to store water.
I'm sure that's not necessary now but it gives me some peace of mind to have some jugs on hand.

When I can get out again I'm buying a couple rain barrels!

25fuzzi
abr. 8, 2020, 1:06 pm

>24 nrmay: thanks.

I have two small ponds. In a pinch the fish will have to share. ;)

26Storeetllr
abr. 8, 2020, 4:50 pm

Ew, pond water. :)

I'm lucky. A few months ago, our town's water reservoir had an algae bloom that made it taste like raw sewage, so we bought bottled water for awhile. I still have a 2-1/2 gallon container left, which I'm saving "just in case." I hope it doesn't come to that, but you never know.

Your comments remind me I have a couple of old books on homesteading, hunting and fishing, and how to prepare wild caught food and the like. I think I'll dig them out and take a look at them.

27fuzzi
abr. 8, 2020, 6:08 pm

>26 Storeetllr: ew, indeed.

I've read a number of books on survival, both fiction and nonfiction, and recall descriptions of how sweet even muddy water tastes when one is very, very thirsty. In Savage Sam there's a scene where the captive children are shown how to drink muddy water through a clump of grass.

28nrmay
abr. 9, 2020, 1:27 pm

One of my very favorite NF books is
Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens (yes, the author of Where the crawdads…)
An exciting account of their life alone in the African desert among the wildlife. As I remember, they had to truck in their water from 50 miles away or more. And in a pinch they drank from some pretty awful puddles!

Their other journals from Africa are also wonderful.
Eye of the elephant
Secrets of the Savanna

>27 fuzzi:
I also love to read survival fiction!

29drneutron
abr. 9, 2020, 1:30 pm

Picked up from Overdrive:

American Nations that talks about how North America is really eleven different regions with differing cultures and

Horizon, Barry Lopez's travel and exploration writings.

30fuzzi
abr. 9, 2020, 4:46 pm

>28 nrmay: if you love survival fiction, then you MUST check out Follow the River! It's based upon a true story.

31nrmay
abr. 10, 2020, 1:01 pm

>30 fuzzi:

Read it and liked it.
I think it was on your suggestion a couple years back!

Recently finished an unusual one - Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis.

32fuzzi
abr. 10, 2020, 8:50 pm

>31 nrmay: I'm always happy when people like the books I like, or that I recommend! It's like sharing a special moment with someone.

33Majel-Susan
abr. 18, 2020, 1:22 pm

Currently reading Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

34Only2rs
maig 20, 2020, 9:35 am

Have just finished The Long Weekend by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge. A social history of Great Britain in the interwar years was always going to be interesting, although as I've said elsewhere it's really a social history of the south east of England as that's the only part of the island of Great Britain that's covered in any depth at all. Graves was an excellent writer and along with Hodge has produced a readable and entertaining book. The period is broken up into blocks of three or four years, and subjects such as politics, business, education, housing, entertainment etc are covered in turn before moving on to the next block. This makes the period more manageable, and shows how things changed throughout the period. It's a bit dated now, and particularly for the final section covering the late thirties, perhaps lacked the perspective of history rather than current affairs, but is nevertheless well worth a look at, as much for the quite gob-smacking attitudes to things like class and race as anything else.

35Only2rs
juny 28, 2020, 6:52 am

Recently finished Factfulness by Hans Rosling. This was a very interesting analysis of a number of different metrics for looking at the world which we consistently get wrong. Things are not as bad as we think they are. Or at least they weren't pre-Covid. Not sure what the position is now.

Have just started reading Francis Pryor's The Making of the British Landscape. Once again though the focus seems to be largely on the south of England, with the obligatory excursion to prehistoric Orkney, but it's early days yet and I may be being unfair. We shall see.

36Storeetllr
juny 28, 2020, 10:00 am

Listening to The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. It's riveting!

37mnleona
Editat: juny 28, 2020, 9:23 pm

>2 Storeetllr: A Brief History of Time is on my table next to me. I try to read a little at a time. What a special talented mind he had.

38drneutron
juny 29, 2020, 9:25 am

Started I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Basically, deathbed retelling of a mobster’s life, mostly focusing on Jimmy Hoffa and his interactions with the Mafia.

39Only2rs
jul. 11, 2020, 5:25 am

Recently finished The Making of the British Landscape by Francis Pryor. Fascinating account of the development of the landscape of the island of Great Britain from the end of the ice age onwards. A bit too focused on the south of England, but very readable.

40nrmay
jul. 15, 2020, 12:15 pm

I'm currently reading The Kate Greenaway book a collection of illustrations, verse and text by Brian Holme.

41MaxsPlanck
ag. 18, 2021, 10:12 pm

Reading Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives; for a non physics major, very readable.

42fuzzi
set. 9, 2021, 3:14 pm

I just finished one that fits this category:


The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, edited by John Bakeless

I recalled very little about Lewis and Clark's expedition from my school days, so I when I saw this little paperback at a yard sale I thought I'd give it a read. And I'm glad I did.

While some might feel that reading journal entries from over 200 years ago would be boring or tedious, I found them fascinating. Yes, some of the attitudes could be considered old fashioned or out of date, but many of the interactions between the native tribes and the exploration team were refreshingly respectful and compassionate.

And I was never bored.

It could be that the huge volumes produced on this trip by Lewis and Clark might be tough to get through, but the editor waded through the mountains of information to create a satisfying read.