An  "I Read" list, from the librarians on Iowa's iread e-maillist

Fascinating Reads in Non Fiction
Off the beaten path of nonfiction

 

Napolean's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History, by  Penny M. LeCouteur and Jay Burreson
(Molecules that changed the world--vitamin C to prevent scurvy, antibiotics, etc)

Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery, by Terry Jones, et al (Was Chaucer murdered because of his political leanings/writing?)

Shadow divers: the true Adventures of two Americans who risked everything to solve one of the last mysteries of WWII,  by  Robert Kurson

Confederates in the attic: dispatches from the unfinished Civil War,  by Tony Horwitz

Phineas Gage: a true but gruesome story of brain science, by  John Fleischman Railroad worker Phineas Gage survived 10 years after a 13-pound iron rod was shot through his brain.

Stiff: curious lives of human cadavers,  by Mary Roach

The Murder of Tutankhamen,  by  Bob Brier 
 An Egyptologist that specializes in paleopathology, Brier presents evidence both from the body and from history that there is a good chance that the young Pharaoh was murdered.

Foreign Correspondence,  by Geraldine Brooks
Australian Brooks tracks down three pen pals she had as a youth (one from New Jersey, and two from Israel - one an Arab Christian and the other a Jew) to find out what happened to them after finding their preserved letters in her parents' basement.)

Falling Leaves,  by Adeline Yen Mah
Her mother dies at her birth and thereafter Adeline is considered a bad omen.  Uninterested in his seven children, her father remarries a woman who "makes Cinderella's stepmother look angelic."  This is her struggle to be loved by a family that treats her poorly and her eventual escape from them.)

Washington Goes to War,  by David Brinkley An interesting account of Washington, DC during World War II and its change from a sleepy little town to the center of government of a superpower

Working Fire; the making of an accidental fireman, by Zac Unger.

One man's experiences as a professional fireman in training and his first few years in service.

The Children's Blizzard: January 12, 1888, by David Laskin. 
Tells the story of several immigrant families from when they left their homelands and followed them as they settled in the Dakotas and Nebraska,--  the hardships they endured, and the meteorology of the storm.  When the blizzard actually occurs, the story is powerful because  the reader has a more personal interest in the families involved.

Books by Tracy Kidder:  Among schoolchildren, Home town, and Mountains beyond mountains ("nonfiction that read like novels")

Midwife's tale, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Set in Maine just before the turn of the nineteenth century, the book simultaneously shows a gifted historian can use a primary source--in this case the 27-year diary of Martha Ballard--to understand an era, and presents an astonishing character--a midwife who attended hundreds of home births without losing a mother.

Birdsong, a natural history, by Donald Stap
 Birdsong and how it is learned and what it may mean; follow a dedicated scientist and see how avian bioacoustics is done.

A fortune-teller told me: earthbound travels in the Far East, by Tiziano Terzani
Offers insight into the political and religious upheaval in that area of the world.

Bound feet and western dress, by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang
Tells the story of her great aunt who she knows as part respected elder and part unsophisticated immigrant.  Chang reads her great aunt's name in a history book and realizes she doesn't know the whole story.
Her aunt had been married to one of China's pre-eminent poets, had run the Shanghai Women's Savings Bank during the 1930's and suffered through the first western-style divorce in China.  Reading the book was like listening to many of my friends whose children are first generation Americans.  A fascinating look at the past culture of China which still resonates in many families today.

Diving bell and the butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Bauby was editor-in-chief of Elle when he suffered a brain-stem stroke.  After 20 days in a coma, he woke up to find only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and eventually communicate by blinking.  An amazing story written--or should I say blinked--by a man who never felt sorry for himself.  Having a bad day?  Read this.

Piano lessons: music, love & true adventures, by Noah Adams

Will in the world : How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,  by Stephen Greenblatt
The author attempts to describe Shakespeare's undocumented early life and how his situation, family dynamics and political realities could have come together to influence the man we know as William Shakespeare.

Outwitting History : The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, by Aaron Lansky
 Interesting story of man who inadvertently starting to save collections of Yiddish books all over the United States.  He describes how it all came to be, the interesting people he met along the way and some last minute daring rescues.

Revolutionary Mothers : Women in the Struggle for America's Independence, by Carol Berkin
Other perspectives of the Revolution from a point of view we don't often get to hear.

Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,  by Gladwell, Malcolm
An examination of the process of making snap decisions. Most of our decisions are made instantaneously and unconsciously and we don't realize how we know what we know.  Very interesting

Postcards from France, by Megan McNeill Libby
A recounting of her year abroad in high school.

Nothing to Do But Stay, by Carrie Young
A biography of the author's mother who moved from Minneapolis to North Dakota as a single woman to homestead at the turn of the last century.

The Circus Fire, by Stewart O'Nan
A fiction author writes a nonfiction account of the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 and discusses Little Miss 1565, an unidentified and unclaimed child killed in the fire.

Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris
A recounting of her two nine-month stints at St. John's monastery in Minnesota as a Benedictine oblate.

Meditations from a Movable Chair, by Andre Dubus
A collection of essays that together form a type of spiritual biography of the writer, including commentary on his 1986 accident that cost him his leg and, for a period of time, his ability to write.

Sisterhood of Spies, by Elizabeth McIntosh
A fascinating story of the upper-class women who became spies for the OSS (the precursor of the CIA) during World War II, including Julia Child.

Apple pie; an American story,  by John T. Edge

Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren F. Winner

The United States of Europe:  the new superpower and the end of American supremacy,  by T. R. Reid

In my father's bakery;  a Bronx memoir, by Marvin Korman

The emperors of chocolate, by Joel Glen Brenner.  The history of two men and the companies they started:  Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars.

   

 

 

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