Non-Fiction

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Solt
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Non-Fiction

Postby Solt » Wed Aug 29, 2007 4:55 am UTC

Ok, as far as I know no one has really talked about this yet. Non-fiction is much cooler than fiction because it actually happened. What are we going to learn from a made-up story happening in a made-up world containing made-up characters dealing with made-up situations? The most exciting stories are the real ones.

So what's good non-fiction that you've read?


Some of mine:

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman - This has been mentioned so many times in this forum, you better have read about it for yourself by now, if not bought it. Otherwise, you fail. Go home.

The Informant - Great account of the FBI investigation into the ADM price fixing scandal, which was the first major bust under the ancient Sherman Antitrust Act, with a fine of $100 million. You don't know it, but ADM products are in literally everything you eat (if you're American) and these guys were busted on your behalf. Really interesting insights into corporate America, price fixing, the FBI, politics in law, and how people act under immense pressure. The investigation was made possible by a high level informant, a CEO at the company, who had everything to lose by cooperating.
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Postby Cabhan » Wed Aug 29, 2007 5:23 am UTC

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman was pretty funny. Not that it comes as a surprise.

I do mostly read sci-fi / fantasy, but I did rather enjoy Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolution (Linus Torvalds's autobiography), which was pretty funny, but also a good look into what went into the entire process.

Also, I read Mountains Upon Mountains about a year ago. It's written by a journalist about Paul Farmer, this incredible doctor who opened up what may as well be the only rural AIDS clinic in Haiti, and then expands to working with AIDS and Tuberculosis all over the world. A pretty good read, if only because of what an amazing man Farmer is.

And I recently read China Wakes, which is coverage of the Chinese social and economic situations from Tiananmen Square (the xkcd forums are now no longer accessible in China...sorry) through about 1995. Pretty interesting read, and really goes into a lot of the political corruption.

The Informant sounds pretty interesting: once I finish my current books on Japan, I may need to take a look into it.

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Postby MEGAMERICAN » Thu Aug 30, 2007 3:49 am UTC

I must agree with both of you on Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman. Anyone who enjoyed that book would probably like iWoz. Steve Wozniak is almost as great a character as Feynman.

If you are interested in the CIA, LSD and prostitution, check out In Search for the Manchurian Candidate. It is all about the MK-ULTRA and related programs. It focuses on some of the more interesting stories that came out of those programs.

Body of Secrets was fairly good. It is on the history of the NSA. The stories are extremely interesting, but the author goes into them so deep that it gets a little exhaustive at times.

Isaac Asimov Book of Facts is awesome. Some of the facts are dated because it was published around 1975. However, most of the facts are extremely interesting and pretty obscure. You can find it online for free using google books.

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Postby lowbrass » Thu Aug 30, 2007 6:45 am UTC

I favor pretty much anything by Carl Sagan (Excluding Contact, of course). Favorites are Cosmos and Pale Blue Dot.

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Postby pollywog » Thu Aug 30, 2007 7:39 am UTC

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is good, if you're into horticulture and and the like. Actually, most of my non-fiction books are about farming, so probably not of much interest. The autobiography of David Suzuki as well, and various texts on the Gaia hypothesis and permaculture. And the Principia Discordia and Steal this Book and all the other anarcholy ones.
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Postby JamesA » Thu Aug 30, 2007 2:26 pm UTC

Bruce Catton's three-volume set about the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War. It is so readable, providing both facts and insight into this critical segment of American history.

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Postby evilbeanfiend » Thu Aug 30, 2007 2:50 pm UTC

"talking cock" by richard herring -starts puerile but funny but gains depth as you go through it

"histories" by herodotus -potentially may have bits of fiction in it but mostly its taken as a frank discussion of his travels and what he learned about the persian war from various sources.


"ethics" by benedict de spinoza -pretty hellish to read unless you like logical proofs derived from flawed axioms. personally i found it hilarious that he concluded that god has no free will tho, hence it gets a mention.
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Solt
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Postby Solt » Fri Aug 31, 2007 12:54 am UTC

Language in Thought and Action - A must read book if you want to be informed about the use of language in our society. Covers everything from advertising to argument to the role of rituals and symbolism in religion. It helps you look past what others say and see what they mean. Very enlightening.

The Prince - a book on cutthroat diplomacy by the famous Machiavelli, a diplomat during the Italian era of competitive city-states. Interesting as both an insight into Italian history and, more famously, as a handbook of rules and strategies to win in a competitive environment, many of which are still applicable in business today. Also a short read.
"Welding was faster, cheaper and, in theory,

produced a more reliable product. But sailors do

not float on theory, and the welded tankers had a

most annoying habit of splitting in two."

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Postby drosophila » Fri Aug 31, 2007 3:22 am UTC

If you have any sort of chemistry interest, I'd recommend Napoleon's Buttons. It's an entertaining mix of anecdotes and facts about 17 different kinds of chemicals with historical and cultural significance.

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Postby bookishbunny » Fri Aug 31, 2007 4:55 pm UTC

I enjoyed:

Salt: A World History by Kurlansky

The Arcanum: the Extraordinary True Story of the Invention of European Porcelain by Gleeson

Monster of God by Quammen

The Professor and the Madman by Winchester
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Postby Alisto » Fri Aug 31, 2007 6:19 pm UTC

Positively Fifth Street by James McManus. My favorite part about the book is how it does a great job of illustrating how small the world is; everyone is connected to everyone.
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Postby Belial » Fri Aug 31, 2007 6:41 pm UTC

I'm currently reading "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain (who is now the host of "No Reservations" on the food network). It's a great book about the seedy underbelly of the restaurant kitchen scene. He's a really funny writer and has a lot of good stories to tell, so I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

Another favorite of mine is "Phantoms in the Brain", by Dr Ramachandran. It's a group of stories and musings from a rather accomplished neurologist, on some of the stranger cases of brain dysfunction and damage he's seen. It's extremely interesting.
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Postby grim heart » Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:35 am UTC

I always have to recommend The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. It's an interesting leftist critique of the whole anti-consumerist mindset embodied in Naomi Klein's No Logo.

Potter is also coming out with a new book on authenticity (featuring such things like CBGB's being replicated in Las Vegas so as to provide an 'authentic' experience for tourists) which should be really good. His columns in Maclean's magazine are usually spot-on.

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Postby evilbeanfiend » Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:44 am UTC

ooo another i liked:

"do not pass go" by tim moore - a history of the london version of the monopoly board and the places on it.
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Postby Clumpy » Tue Sep 04, 2007 5:32 pm UTC

Nonfiction is better because it actually happened. . .

. . . or because it's an instruction manual, book about gardening, collection of movie scripts, comic strips or a Garfield collection, a magazine or philosophy book.

At least it's based on something concrete rather than a story some obnoxious writer thought would be interesting.

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Postby Jesse » Tue Sep 04, 2007 5:35 pm UTC

Yeah, I sure hate those damned exciting stories that act as metaphors for life. They get my goat every time.

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Postby Dostoevsky » Wed Sep 05, 2007 6:10 pm UTC

The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test
On The Road

both of them are "Mostly nonfiction" i guess, but they're based on accounts, documents, pictures, videos, etc.

They mean a lot to me right now, since a spent a good amount of my summer road tripping across the States.

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Postby Flying Betty » Fri Sep 07, 2007 5:49 am UTC

I like Stephen J Gould's essays on natural history. He helped develop the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium and wrote about all sorts of things in the natural world including the evolution of the size/price of Hershey bars.

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Postby bigglesworth » Fri Sep 07, 2007 5:20 pm UTC

I loved Genesis Machines, about DNA computing, Snowball Earth, about the culture of snowball fights worldwide (natch).

Also really good was Stalingrad, by Anthony Beevor. I really need to find Berlin: The Downfall as well, as apparently it's even better.
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Postby Amicitia » Fri Sep 07, 2007 9:13 pm UTC

Making the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes. Superbly written books which give you a through understanding of the scientific progress that led up to the creation of atomic/hydrogen bombs and how they influenced science and the world.

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Postby Jesse » Fri Sep 07, 2007 10:07 pm UTC

How The Mind Works by Stephen Pinker. It's massive, it's well written and it's all about how the mind works. It is also my favourite non-fiction book ever. Also also, it disproves Ladder Theory and replaces it with a decent model, which is a good thing, because Ladder Theory gets on my nerves.

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Postby SecondTalon » Fri Sep 07, 2007 10:20 pm UTC

How to Make War... I think it's the second edition, but it might have been the third.. as there's a Fourth edition from 2003, I'm considering getting that.

Granted, the book I've got mostly talks about Cold War stuff, and it's tons and tons of figures and such that are incredibly outdated... but it's still astounding how inexpensive the person actually is compared to the equipment... I really need to pick it up and read it again, it's been quite some time since I've read it.
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Postby bookishbunny » Mon Sep 10, 2007 4:25 pm UTC

I just started In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Foods by Stewart Lee Allen. I love books on food!
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Postby McLurker » Mon Sep 10, 2007 4:34 pm UTC

I've just finished Raw Spirit by Ian Banks. A book on whisky, driving around Scotland, practical jokes, whisky, drunken urban climbing, rants and whisky.

Brilliant.

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Favourite non-fiction books

Postby Pebbles » Sun Jan 06, 2008 10:34 am UTC

Ive made myself a New Years resolution to read more non-fiction books instead of just copious amounts of fictional stories. So to get me started tell me about your favourite non-fiction books, ones that have made a great impression on you or that were really interesting or anything like that.

So whats your favourite non-fiction book?
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby l33t_sas » Sun Jan 06, 2008 10:43 am UTC

Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins

It's brilliant, a simple, easy to understand guide that traces humanity back as a species from ancestor to ancestor, all the way back to the primeval soup. Also filled with anecdotes and quotes from famous people (including a few by Douglas Adams). It's one of my favourite books ever.
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby livelyness » Sun Jan 06, 2008 11:05 am UTC

Inside, Inside by James Lipton. Really was good for the actor in me. Better written than I expected, with lots of little antidotes you'll want to tell your friends, but at the same time, its a very straightforward look at Method and the craft of acting and 200 hundred of its most successful craftsmen.

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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby l33t_sas » Sun Jan 06, 2008 11:09 am UTC

livelyness wrote:with lots of little antidotes you'll want to tell your friends


Planning on poisoning them soon, are you?
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby LoopQuantumGravity » Sun Jan 06, 2008 1:38 pm UTC

l33t_sas wrote:
livelyness wrote:with lots of little antidotes you'll want to tell your friends


Planning on poisoning them soon, are you?


A fatal Freudian slip! Now they know of your plans!

If I had the presence of mind, I'd throw things like this into every day conversations just to mess with people...
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby headprogrammingczar » Sun Jan 06, 2008 3:09 pm UTC

I found Einstein's autobiography to be very interesting (although that may have been because he called it his obituary).
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby Jesse » Sun Jan 06, 2008 3:10 pm UTC

"Hope and Memory" by Tzvetan Todorov. A look at Totalitarianism in the 20th Century. Manages to be profound, touching and poignant all at the same time.

Go read it.

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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby aion7 » Sun Jan 06, 2008 4:35 pm UTC

Isaac Asimov wrote quite a few good nonfiction books. Also, if you are willing to stretch the definition a bit, I highly suggest Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes.
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby livelyness » Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:32 pm UTC

antidotes for the poison of boredom, or the pestilence of flagging conversations with friends, thats what I meant... Oh but on Einstein, there was this great book I read a while back, called E=MC^2. It did a cursory examination of Einsteins life but also took a look at the science in a very non threatening and easy to handle method. Which is great for those of us who aren't scientists. Along a similar vein to Surely, You Joking Mr. Feynman. Which coincidently is another great non fiction.

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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby scowdich » Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:34 pm UTC

I really enjoyed A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. He's a very readable writer, and the book covers the development of our picture of science over the last 200 years or so.

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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby Angelene » Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:36 pm UTC

Oh I went through a big non-fiction phase...my favourite was probably Jung Chang's Wild Swans, the tale of three generations of Chinese women.

Also, Caroline Knapp's writings, especially those released post-humously, broke my heart...they related to her struggles with addiction, anorexia, and women's struggle to exist in society today.
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby aion7 » Sun Jan 06, 2008 10:54 pm UTC

I'll second Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby mmx49 » Mon Jan 07, 2008 1:25 am UTC

Completing the Union: Alaska, Hawai'i and the Battle for Statehood by John Whitehead. It shed a lot of light on an important era in my state's history, and gave me a greater appreciation for the statehooders' struggle to make Alaska a state.

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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby Gaz » Mon Jan 07, 2008 1:38 am UTC

War Criminals Welcome and A Short History On Almost Everything.
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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby Pebbles » Mon Jan 07, 2008 11:49 am UTC

Thanks guys, this has definitely given me a starting point from a few different angles.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.

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Re: Favourite non-fiction books

Postby arbivark » Mon Jan 07, 2008 12:12 pm UTC

Robert Caro has written/is writing a series of books about LBJ. 3 out so far, the 4th in 4 years or so. It's not just the story of a guy, it's a study about power and the kind of people who end up running countries.

Malcolm Gladwell's the Tipping Point, about how social change happens quickly because of certain key players.

The Richest Man in Babylon, a set of parables about managing money and life.

How to take back your government, Robert Heinlein.


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