News and updates about Gordon's fiction, available at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, courtesy of Oghma Creative Media.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

... and some favorite non-fiction

As has been noted, my first list was all fiction. I don't want to give short shrift to the many wonderful non-fiction books out there, so here is My Book List, Volume Two -- the non-fiction selections.

1) John McPhee, The Control of Nature.  John McPhee is one of my two favorite essayists (the other will make an appearance below). I swear, this man can make any topic interesting; he wrote a fascinating book on orange growers, for crying out loud.  The Control of Nature is one of my favorites by McPhee, and there's some stiff competition (having a geological bent, I also really enjoyed his foursome on the geology of the American West -- Basin and Range, Rising from the Plains, In Suspect Terrain, and Assembling California).  In any case, The Control of Nature is about human attempts to change, control, or subdue nature, with decidedly mixed results.  The three sections are about the attempt by Icelanders to stop a lava flow using cold seawater, the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the Mississippi River in its channel using levees, and the double threat of mudslides and wildfires in California.  Brilliant writing.

2) Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos.  An updated, and even more mindblowing, sequel to his book The Elegant Universe.  In these books he provides the most lucid explanation of the bizarre world of quantum and relativistic physics I've ever encountered; beats Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time (even the illustrated version) by a mile. Read it if you want to find out how peculiar the universe actually is.

3) Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.  Another pinnacle of lucidity, this time about a subject near and dear to me, evolutionary biology.  Dawkins isn't everyone's cup of tea -- besides his penchant for picking fights with the religious, he comes across as arrogant sometimes (and may well be in actuality).  But man, he is one excellent writer, and this is, in my opinion, his best book.  Again, there's some stiff competition, but if you only want to read one Dawkins, this should be it.

4) Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World.  A brilliant exposition of how science has been in the vanguard of humankind's ongoing battle against goofy thinking, superstition, and gullibility.  Should be required reading in every high school science curriculum.

5) Sarah Vowell, Take the Cannoli.  I'd recommend anything by Sarah Vowell, who is my other favorite essayist -- Vowell is best known for her pieces on NPR, and for lending her distinctive voice to the character of Violet on The Incredibles.  Here, she presents essays from the funny to the heartbreaking, on topics such as her inability to learn how to drive, her fascination with The Godfather, and the Trail of Tears. Brilliant from beginning to end.

6) Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape.  A classic -- a look at human behavior through the eyes of a behavioral scientist who is treating humans as if they were just another animal species worthy of study. You'll pull up sharp more than once, and say, "Good lord, I do that!"

7) Tobias Schneebaum, Keep the River on Your Right.  In 1955, a cultural anthropologist studying tribes in the Peruvian Amazon disappeared. He reappeared a year later, stark naked, covered in body paint, and having in virtually every way "gone native."  This book is his account of what happened in that missing year.  You won't be able to put it down.

8) Jamie Whyte, Crimes Against Logic.  The world would be a lot saner place if everyone read and understood what Whyte is saying.  In this thin, quickly-read little book he rails against the illogic that permeates our lives -- in the media, in politics, in every-day "common sense."

9) Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism.  The biography of the groundbreaking geneticist Barbara McClintock.  Even if you're not a genetics nerd this is one of the most interesting biographies you'll ever read -- McClintock was a fascinating, eccentric, brilliant individual.

10) Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat.  Whether or not you agree with Friedman's attitude toward globalization, this book will be an eye-opener.  One man's approach to how we can survive in the 21st century economic markets.

11) K. David Harrison, The Last Speakers.  A linguist's journey to try to understand and record the languages spoken by only a handful of people in the world, and his impassioned argument regarding why we should preserve them.

12) Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island.  An American's view of Britain -- endearing, wry, and hilarious.  The best Bryson, in my opinion.

So, those are my dozen top picks. What are yours?

No comments:

Post a Comment