Reading Nonfiction Books

Photo is courtesy of Creative Commons,

Photo is courtesy of Creative Commons,

This long weekend is a good time for me to delve into The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914, this month’s selection for our nonfiction book club. The book looks daunting, all 700 or so pages. Yet, what motivates me to get started is the trust I have in club members who have recommended noteworthy books by authors who can craft memorable, literary works of art.

Our method of selecting books is fairly arbitrary. If a club member likes a book and wants the club to read it, we do so as long as the roster for the year covers a variety of nonfiction genres and topics. Of the 50 plus books we have read and discussed, some have been gems.

On a long, hot, summer day, grab a drink, stretch out on a hammock, become immersed in someone else’s world, and enjoy reading a great book. Ten books that I might not have selected on my own but found to be more than worthwhile might just suit you. Take a look.

10 favorite nonfiction books

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. There’s so much to learn about a remarkable individual who held the moral high ground, at great cost, during World War II Germany.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. This is a wonderful record of President Garfield’s life and long, painful, mistreated illness and eventual death.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.S. Reid. While searching for a remedy to his own medical problem, the author uncovers how the approaches to treatment and healing vary from country to country.

The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us by Diane Ackerman. With the voice of a poet and the eye of a scientist, the author provides an optimistic look at how humans can make this a livable, sustainable world.

In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time by Peter Lovenheim. A tragedy prompted one neighbor (the author) to transform his neighborhood into a place where someone is there for you in that moment of need.

Malcolm X: Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. Marable brought alive the life of Malcolm Little in his transformation to Malcolm X, amid all the complexity and difficulty of the American story.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. For those of us who pay attention to words and language, learning how the Oxford English Dictionary came about is fascinating. Getting to know about one prolific contributor, Dr. W. C. Minor, and his unusual home base while crafting his submissions makes for a textured, multilayered read.

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury. Though the meaning of provenance was unknown to me, I quickly learned how the art of deceptive documents can fool even the most adept and discriminating art connoisseurs.

The Snakehead: An Epic of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe. The smugglers spearheading the complex and precarious journey from one continent to another make for a riveting story.

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle. The story of the fire in a shirtwaist factory in lower Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century reminds us that cutting corners to garner greater profit comes at great human cost.

Local authors

Our nonfiction book club typically reads some books by local authors whom we invite to participate in the discussion. Having the author right there with us to answer our questions has enriched our understanding of the book and the author’s craft.

Amy Bach joined us in our discussion of Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court. Having her young son on her lap certainly added to the ambiance of our meeting.

In our discussion of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, D. H. Cook, author of Edge of the Triangle, drew us a detailed map of the shirtwaist factory, floor by floor, window by window, door by door. We could see how grim the situation was for the many immigrant women who were at work that fateful day.

David Cay Johnston opened our eyes when discussing two of his books The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind and Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill).

Peter Lovenheim was able to bring us up to date on the neighbors we met in his book, In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.

Anthony J. Sciolino rounded out his story of The Holocaust, The Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences: How Christian Anti-Judaism Spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism.

Your favorite books and authors

Among my 10 favorite books discussed above as well as the additional books by our community’s local authors, you’re sure to find some that suit you. Let me know what you liked. Recommend your favorite nonfiction books and authors. I’d love to be introduced to them, right here, right now.

  1. Ken Nash said:


    Your blog provided a very nice summary of our readings. I think that the majority of the group would agree that your list represents the top ten.


    • I started the Panama Canal book yesterday. It looks like another winner.

  2. Mike O Neal said:

    A great job Judy! Mike

    • You’ve made some great suggestions for the group to read. Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven, was a contender for my top 10.

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