≡ Menu

Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Part II

A few months ago I started a new feature that I am (temporarily) calling the Sophisticated Dorkiness Nonfiction Recommendation. Readers fill out a short list of questions and I’ll use those answers to make some personalized recommendations. 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.

Here’s today’s first request from Rachel: 

I am interested in books about women in history, whether they are famous in their own right or were the wife of a man who was important in history. I also am interested in books that deal with the role of religion in peoples’ lives, especially when they are “extreme” religions, or just extremely involved in their religion.

I haven’t read much about the women in history thing, so I probably need a little more help in that area. The letters of John and Abigail Adams have been sitting on my TBR list for years. As far as religion, right now I am reading a memoir about a woman who used to be a nun (The Red Skirt: Memoirs of an Ex Nun by Patricia O’Donnell-Gibson) and really enjoying it. I just read The Lonely Polygamist, which is fiction and deals with a polygamist family. I also have watched multiple documentaries, but the only title I can remember right now is Jesus Camp, which was about children raised in fanatical evangelist homes.

I like them as personal as possible, hence why the only nonfiction reading I’ve ever done has been memoir. I also don’t want anything academic, because as a college student I have to do enough academic reading already.

This is such a good question. Who doesn’t love a good religion memoir? Because I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, my first suggestion is to check out this post by my friend Rebecca over at Book Riot on “losing my religion” memoirs. Rebecca has collected quite a few good ones worth checking out including one that was on my TBR list already, Unodthodox by Deborah Feldman.

does jesus really love meThe best book on religion I’ve read lately is Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu. In the book, Chu, a gay Christian, sets out on a year-long pilgrimage to ask tough questions about why so many people who read the same scriptures can come to such radically different ideas conclusions about issues of faith, the church and homosexuality. It was a generous, smart, intriguing book that I think everyone should read.

For women in history, I want to suggest Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie. I listened to this one on audio book and enjoyed it a lot. Massie keeps the biography focused on the people around Catherine, a smart move that kept this one new and interesting for me.

My final suggestion is Just Send Me Word by Orlando Figes, a book that just caught my eye a few weeks ago. It’s a book of letters between a 29-year-old man stuck in a gulag in Russia and his missing sweetheart. I know it’s a different time period entirely than the letters of John and Abigail Adams, but it seems in the same family of stories.

Next, we have my most challenging request to date from Jenny:

spy princess

I want a book about SPIES. I have not read any other books on this topic. I read Code Name Verity but that is pretty much it. I want to read about spies in like, 1880 to 1940. That period. Ideally.

I spent a long time thinking about this one and, to be honest, couldn’t think of a single book on spies. But then I came across a wonderful post at The Literary Ominvore about a book called Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu. Spy Princess is the story of Noor Inayat Khan, “the first woman wireless transmitter in occupied France during WWII” who was trained to be a British spy. It sounds awesome, so I hope you read it and tell me what you think!

Interested in getting a personalized nonfiction recommendation? Please fill out this form to get on the list. I hoping to do these posts a little more frequently, if there’s more interest!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) July 26, 2013, 6:48 am

    Ooh, I need to get Spy Princess for my mother! She wanted to be a spy when she was growing up.

  • Nikki Steele July 26, 2013, 10:41 am

    Great recommendations Kim! I don’t have any more thoughts on spies either… I love how specific that request was though 😀

  • Rachel July 26, 2013, 10:44 am

    Thanks so much for the recommendations! I can’t wait to check them out. JUST SEND ME LOVE immediately sparked my interest. And as a constant BookRiot reader, I can’t believe I never saw that post! Thanks for the link.

    • Kim July 28, 2013, 7:47 pm

      I think that was one of the sites early posts — it’s been up for awhile. I hope you find a few you enjoy!

  • Savvy Working Gal July 26, 2013, 12:38 pm

    I can vouch for Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie which I read for women’s history month. It is long, but well worth it.

  • Emma @ Words And Peace July 26, 2013, 12:49 pm

    for spies:

    very good too but in HF:
    For women and religion, I suggest the excellent HF on Hildegarde of Bingen:

    and for spies:
    The Lavender Garden, also HF:
    http://wordsandpeace.com/2013/06/05/i-love-france-53-book-review-the-lavender-garden/, on women in the SOE

    • Kim July 28, 2013, 7:48 pm

      Thanks for the additional recommendations!

  • Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader July 26, 2013, 3:11 pm

    I’m in the middle of Catherine the Great right now and really enjoying it.

    I’d suggest Alison Weir’s books – she’s got lots, although I haven’t read all of them so I can’t guarantee they’re all good. I’ve read The Six Wives of Henry VIII as well as Eleanor of Aquitaine and thought both were very well done. She does write fiction as well, so a heads-up if you’re looking at her bibliography that they aren’t all nonfiction.

    Rachel Held Evans’ memoir Evolving in Monkey Town was good, but I loved her more recent book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Not precisely a memoir but memoir-ish.

    If you want a conversion memoir, Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God is my favorite.

    Spy Princess sounds fabulous. Years ago I read The Spy Wore Red, and there’s a sequel, The Spy Went Dancing. I know I liked the first when I read it, although I don’t know how strongly I’d recommend it now, and I’ve never read the sequel.

    • Kim July 28, 2013, 7:48 pm

      I saw a couple of good reviews of A Year of Biblical Womenhood — I’m curious about that one.

  • Erin July 26, 2013, 7:05 pm

    I was so excited to see the spies one because I actually have recommendations! Although not for the specified time period.

    For both spies and women in history, I definitely recommend A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm. Atkins was the head of the French section of British special ops during the war, recruiting and sending many agents (including Noor Inayat Khan) to occupied France, and after the war she dedicated herself to finding out what had happened to the many agents who had disappeared, including 12 women (as you might imagine the parts where she discovers their fates are frequently hard to read). Helm also works to uncover the prewar history of Atkins herself, who hid her origins from basically everyone.

    For just spies, I’ve also read Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage by Stephen Budiansky. It was about six years ago, and I vaguely remember finding it interesting, but I can’t recall any more details than that. It’s about spies though!

    I haven’t read Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy by Elizabeth R Varon, but I found out about it while I was trying to remember Mata Hari’s name and now I really want to.

    • Kim July 28, 2013, 7:49 pm

      Also good recommendations. A Live in Secrets sounds awesome.

  • Aw, yay, thank you! I’m sorry I caused you so much trouble to think of a spies book. But I am also really excited to read the book you recommended. I think you are extremely cool.

    • Kim July 28, 2013, 7:49 pm

      Oh no, it wasn’t troubling at all! Just challenging, but challenging in a good way. And I ended up finding a book I wanted to read too, so win-win.

  • Aarti July 27, 2013, 12:58 am

    I would recommend America’s Women and When Everything Changed to Rachel – not about one woman in particular, but about a whole host of women who changed our country for the better, and then she can dig in on some biographies! I also really liked A Midwife’s Tale.

    I should have known Jenny would want to read about SPIES 🙂

  • Teresa July 27, 2013, 8:01 am

    Another memoir about religion that I recommend is Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase. It’s another memoir by an ex-nun turned nonbeliever turned believer again. The convent she was in was really extreme, and it took her a long time (along with dealing with some health issues) to come to a place of being at piece with God while rejecting the way she was treated in the convent. It’s a lovely, personal story.

  • Christy July 27, 2013, 11:00 am

    For Rachel, I would recommend The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose, where he went “undercover” at Liberty University for a semester.

    • Rachel July 27, 2013, 6:13 pm

      The Unlikely Disciple has been on my TBR forever, I just never got around to reading it. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Rachel July 27, 2013, 6:15 pm

    Thanks for all the rec’s in the comments, these are all great suggestions!

  • SoCalLynn July 31, 2013, 1:19 pm

    On my bookshelf: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant
    I love Julia Child and have a read a few books about her and by her. This one tells of when she worked in the OSS’ “ambitious mission to develop a secret intelligence network across southeast Asia” during WWII. What could be better than Julia Child, spy? 😉