Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Part III

by Kim on March 13, 2014 · 16 comments

Many months ago, I tried to launch a feature that I, uncreatively, called the Nonfiction Recommendation Engine. Basically, I asked readers to fill out a short list of questions that I’d use to develop a couple of personalized book recommendations. The feature got a great response, but after two posts (Part I and Part II) I lost steam and the posts stopped coming.

I really liked this feature, so I’m committing to bring it back regularly. Forgive me for my negligence – I hope these recommendations are still worthwhile!

First up is a request from Katie at Book Addict Katie

I’m looking for a book on civilization/culture, especially the Renaissance. I’ve read The Swerve: How the World Became Modern and I loved the topic, but I found the book lacking in actual evidence. It was more hypothetical than actual findings. I’m looking for something not too academic, but definitely something that has citations or footnotes. Something that’s easy to read, but has actual facts to back it up

blood workMan! This one is a challenge. My depth of reading for history is pretty slim, especially when it comes to the Renaissance. But I do have two suggestions, one new suggestion and one that I’ve previously mentioned. 

First, I suggest Blood Work by Holly Tucker. The book is a history of blood transfusion in France between 1665 and 1668. At that time, French and English scientists were in a race to see who could perform a successful transfusion the soonest, first focusing on animals and then people, and a mysterious death that took place with one of the first recipients. Tucker is history professor, so the book is definitely well cited, but also very readable.

Second, I think Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sorbel would be great. The book is 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.

Second, we have a request from Jenn at Give a Hoot, Read a Book

I’m surprisingly interested in Nazi Germany and WWII and such. I say surprisingly, because I had a horrible time in history classes. The Book Thief was one of my top favorites in 2011. I can’t think of any others off-hand that I’ve read. I do have Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany on my to-buy list, so I’m more interested in the off-beat stories like that, I think. Please don’t recommend The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich!! My dad has been trying to get me to read that one for years! I guess I just don’t want those “old man” war books, if you know what I mean. I’d say more light and personal, but it’s obviously going to be a little serious if it’s about Nazis. :)

the boys in the boatI am totally with you on avoiding “old man” war books. I have a really hard time with a lot of World War II history books for precisely that reason; I like quirky stories and stories about people more than I like stories about battles and strategies. Happily, I have two books that may fit the bill – both are set during the World War II time period, but don’t actually focus much on the war itself.

The first is one of my favorite books from 2013, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The book is set, in part, at the the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and tells the story of how a group of working class college students from the University of Washington challenged the elite crew teams of Europe during the games. It’s an amazing underdog story that I totally adored.

The second is The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey, the story of how a rich family tried to hide some of their family secrets, including a plot that protected one of their sons from fighting on the front lines during the war. This one is a great historical mystery set in the time period Jenn is interested in.

Whew! It feels good to have another one of these posts out there. My real hope with this series 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. Please add your recommendations to the comments and I solemnly swear that I will get another one of these up soon.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Trisha March 13, 2014 at 8:44 am

This is such a great project, but wow it must be quite a bit of work. Awesome suggestions. I have Blood Work somewhere around here.

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Kim March 13, 2014 at 9:18 am

It depends on the request. For some of them, I can come up with books right off the top of my head because it’s a subject I tend to read more often. When it’s a subject I’m less familiar with, I have to dig a little bit which is a (good) challenge.

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Jenn March 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

Hey, that’s me! :) I’m glad you brought this back, I enjoyed the first two posts. And that is exactly what I’m looking for! Both of those books sound awesome.

I just read “Destined to Witness” at the beginning of the year and really enjoyed it, so I’d recommend that one too for others interested in quirky WWII stories.

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Kim March 13, 2014 at 9:19 am

Oh good, I’m glad you saw it! I was just getting ready to send an e-mail about the post so that saved me a step :)

I hope you enjoy the books — I liked both a lot. The links go to my reviews if you want more information.

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Vasilly March 13, 2014 at 10:27 am

It’s nice to see you’re bringing this project back! I’m looking forward to reading more of these posts.

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Jenny @ Reading the End March 13, 2014 at 10:52 am

As ever, I love this project! Ooh, and I just thought of one that I think will be easy and fun for you to answer: Nonfiction books about what it is like to work in a certain profession. I love those books yet have read very few of them.

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Kim March 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

That is a good one! I love books about people and their jobs.

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Marcia March 14, 2014 at 8:29 am

OK.. here goes..History is not one of my strong suits..but I do know that anything written by Barbara Tuchman is well researched, footnoted and interesting. The other book which might fit the bill is GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by ?? Diamond.
THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is our next read for our couples book club which has been going since 1983!! RE: WWII…I picked up an interlibrary loan yesterday afternoon and finished it last night. The first mystery iN the BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE series by Martin Walker. Bruno is COP in the small French town of St. Denis and he very much reminds me of Gamache in Louise Penny’s Three Pines novels. In Bruno ..An Algerian man has been found in his St. Denis home, murdered..with a swastika carved into his chest. From the bookjacket blurb : “His investigation draws him into one of the darkest chapters of French history…World War II, a time or terror and betrayal that set brother against brother.” An aspect of WWII, French history that I knew nothing of..This series now has 4 or 5 titles nd I learned of it in the March issue of BookPage..
Happy Reading!!

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Kim March 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for the recommendations — I’ve never heard of Barbara Tuchman.

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Leah @ Books Speak Volumes March 14, 2014 at 1:52 pm

This is a great feature! I never know where to start with non-fiction. I have a recommendation for WWII reading, though: A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead, about women in the French Resistance. It focuses on a particular group of women — what they did as part of the Resistance and their eventual experiences in the concentration camps.

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Kim March 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Great suggestion! I had a copy of that one, but I’m not sure if I got around to reading it.

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R.J. Koehn March 15, 2014 at 11:09 am

I just stumbled upon your blog and this post. Thank you for it too, I am in need of expanding my nonfiction repertoire and Blood Work sounds perfect! i may even check out Galileo’s Daughter. I would never have found these two on my own.

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Frank M March 18, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Non-fiction books I’ve read recently that I’d recommend are “The Answer to the Riddle is Me” by David Stuart MacLean – an interesting journey through amnesia suffered while the author was in India. Its an exploration of what actually defines us as a person if we have no memory. And “Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong” by David Edmonds about the development of an ethical puzzle and how we decide what to do when confronted with the choice between a greater and a lesser horrible outcome.

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Katie @ Doing Dewey March 20, 2014 at 6:47 am

Although it’s not focused on the Renaissance, if you’re interested in learning how civilization came to be, I’d recommend anything by Jared Diamond. For books on WWII, I really enjoyed Monuments Men, but I think it’s possible you’d consider that an old men kind of book. Great post!

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Care April 21, 2014 at 3:22 pm

This is my recommendation for Katie – although I can’t recall if it had footnotes: Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.

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