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The Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Part I

Thank you to everyone who helped promote or decided to participate in my little nonfiction recommendation feature. I still haven’t thought of a name or a logo — pre-vacation brain can only handle so much — but I wanted to get the first recommendations up before everyone forgot about them.

If you missed the introduction post, basically all I’m doing is offering up personal nonfiction recommendations like I did during Armchair BEA. To get a recommendation, just fill out the questions on this form and, over the next month or so, I’ll go down the list and offer books. But my real hope is that other blog readers will jump in and help out too, making each post a big list of great nonfiction for people to consider.

With that, here’s the first request from Kimberly:

I’m looking for a book about little known historical figures or events or truly useful books about human behavior.

One book I enjoyed was Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I am also interested in the books of Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. Nancy Goldstone ended up writing a whole separate book while researching Joan of Arc because other players in the story (in this case, a Sicilian queen) presented themselves unexpectedly. I love unexpected adventures, insider looks at things (I read with morbid fascination Going Clear about Scientology) and anything that helps me better understand people whose life experience is very different from my own.

I have a wide interest and a lot of time (I work nights at 911 and read piles of books) so anything goes! Books are my favorite passport.

This was one a little tricky, but after some thinking I have three books to suggest that each fit into one of the things you said you are looking for.

fooling houdini 168 hours by laura vanderkam galileos daugher by dava sobel cover

The first is Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone, an inside look at the world of amateur and professional magicians. By day, Stone is a graduate student in physics and Columbia University. By night, he is a budding magician with a love of magic. In the book, Stone uses psychology, true crime, religion, psychology and history to look at the secret world of magicians. I totally loved this one and highly recommend it.

The second book is for your interest in human behavior — 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I’ve only read the first few chapters of this one, but I’m confident recommending it because of how much I enjoyed another one of Vanderkam’s books, All the Money in the World. I like her no-nonsense attitude and willingness to take on assumptions we have about the way the world is supposed to work in a pragmatic way.

Finally, for your interest in lesser-known biographies and different people, I suggest Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sorbel, a biography of Galileo and his daughter, a cloistered nun, and a look at the world when Galileo was turning it upside down. Everyone I know who loves science writing loves Sorbel, and a brief skim through this book (which has been sitting on my shelves for ages!) makes me think it will be wonderful.

Happy reading!

This second request comes from Colleen:

I love to read about women in literature or women in history — anything to do with pop culture or literary history. I’ve read read tons of Nancy Milford who is my favorite biographer and several other biographies on Gertrude Stein, Samuel Steward, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, etc.

I prefer biography or narrative nonfiction, but I’m open to anything. I’m looking to broaden my nonfiction horizons. Quite honestly, I will read close to anything put in front of me so I’m happy to read something outside of my comfort zone.

Oh gosh, requests from people who say they will read anything are both the most fun and the most difficult to handle because it’s hard to know what path to start heading down. With that in mind, I tried to come up with three books that vary in content and style in the hopes that at least one will stick.

margaret fuller by megan marshall margaret mitchell's gone with the wind cover everything bad is good for you

First, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall. I didn’t know much of anything about Margaret Fuller until a friend on Twitter mentioned this book, but as soon as she did I went out and bought a copy for myself. Fuller was a front-page columnist for the New-York Tribune and avid crusader for the poor and destitute. Late in life she took a secret lover in Europe, but died tragically in a shipwreck. This book incorporates a previously unknown diary Fuller kept and looks just great.

Second, Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With the Wind’ by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, a sort of dual biography of an author and her book. I loved this one for it’s discussion of literature and the impact that a “popular” book has had on our literary culture. It’s a tad dry in parts (especially on international copyright), but overall a great read.

And finally, a little different suggestion that does to your interest in pop culture: Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson. In the book, Johnson looks at how the “stuff” we absorb every day that critics argue is making us dumber may actually be making us smarter by helping our brains take on different types of cognitive challenges. I don’t know that I agreed with all the conclusions in the book (and on some level it’s a bit of a fluffy book), but it’s a good read nonetheless.

A big thank you to Kimberly and Colleen for being the first people to play along with me. If you are interested in getting a recommendation, please fill out this form to get on the list. Given the number of people signed up so far, I think I will get through the list fairly quickly.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jennifer June 24, 2013, 7:55 am

    I’m so in love with this whole idea that I WANT TO HUG IT!

  • Nikki Steele June 24, 2013, 12:15 pm

    I love this feature! Signing up now.

    For Colleen, I’d also recommend Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff and if she’s reeeeally into literature/women/history, I was surprised to like The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy by Cathy Porter. It just helped you realize how hellish it was to stand next to such a bright star such as Leo Tolstoy.

    • Kim June 26, 2013, 6:37 pm

      That’s a great recommendation! I liked Cleopatra quite a bit, and it’s a great biography. I’ve been curious about Sophia Tolstoy since I read a fictional book about their last years together, so I might check that out.

  • Kimberly Robinson June 24, 2013, 1:28 pm

    So excited. Thank you, Kim! Going to my favorite big city e-book stacks to look for these now!

    • Kim June 26, 2013, 6:37 pm

      I hope you can find them!

  • Andi (@estellasrevenge) June 24, 2013, 3:49 pm

    Yayyy! I feel like cheering! Great recommendations.

  • Athira June 24, 2013, 5:09 pm

    What a great idea! I can’t wait to read your recommendations and I’ll probably be coming here for suggestions because I listen to only (and a lot of) nonfiction in the car.

    • Kim June 26, 2013, 6:37 pm

      Ooo, nonfiction audiobooks. That’s an entirely different challenge, isn’t it? I’ll have to think on that one.

  • Rebecca @ Love at First Book June 24, 2013, 5:14 pm

    Oh I love this!!!

  • I love this feature! I’m going to think of more things to submit if that’s okay — there are tons and tons of areas of nonfiction that I want to know about. And I’ve added Fooling Houdini to my library wish list.

    • Kim June 26, 2013, 6:38 pm

      Yes, absolutely! I think your request for books on spies will be in the next post (once I can think of some good suggestions!). Fooling Houdini is totally delightful.

  • Charlie June 25, 2013, 3:35 pm

    Awesome. You recommended The Omnivore’s Dilemma to me and I should say I’ve got a copy 🙂

  • Christy June 25, 2013, 5:02 pm

    The 168 Hours book looks very interesting – it will be fun culling from the recommendations for others. Great idea for a feature!

    • Kim June 26, 2013, 6:38 pm

      I’m excited to read that one, although probably not until I get back from vacation. Who wants to think about time management then?

  • Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm June 26, 2013, 5:12 pm

    What a fun idea! (And how challenging… impressed with the recommendations you came up with!)

    • Kim June 26, 2013, 6:39 pm

      It has been a little tough, but it’s fun to dig through my archives and wish lists to think of books to suggest.