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Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Bananas and Presidents

nonfiction recommendation engine

The Nonfiction Recommendation Engine is a semi-regular feature in which I offer personalized book recommendations based answers to a short list of questions. My real hope with the series is that other readers will jump in with recommendations in the comments, making each post a great resource for nonfiction reads. 

One of my friends from high school, Anna, has a couple of topics she is curious about. Here’s her first request:

I’m looking for a book about bananas or the banana industry. I loved Banana: Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel and also The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen

This is probably the most specific request that I’ve gotten and, to be honest, I had to do a little digging. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about bananas (although after reading the summaries of the books Anna mentioned, I totally want to)! But, I did find one that I think sound pretty interesting, Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World by Peter Chapman. Another book on a particular food industry that I’m really curious about is Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook.

And here’s Anna’s second request:

I’m also curious about American presidential history. I’ve read a biography of Taft, as well as a book called The Presidents and Their Faith by Darrin Grinder and Steve Shaw, which was super interesting. I’m particularly interested in biographies (good ones), and interesting tidbits about a broader range of presidents.

This is more up my alley! I’ve got a couple of suggestions:

The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy – I’ve been THIS CLOSE to buying this book several times in the last few months. The Presidents Club was established by Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover when Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated. Since then, this group has offered an opportunity for the men who have been president to build relationships (complicated, exclusive and powerful) with one another. Every time I see it I think about the episode of The West Wing where all of the presidents head to a funeral together – super fascinating.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard – I am a sucker for any book with the words “murder” and “madness” in the subtitle, so it’s probably no surprise this book – the story of President James Garfield – has been on my TBR pile since the moment it came out. I’ve heard wonderful things about it, as well as about Millard’s other biography, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey.

That’s it for this edition of the Nonfiction Recommendation Engine! If you have any additional suggestions for Anna, please share them in the comments!

Interested in getting a personalized nonfiction recommendation? Please fill out this form to get on the list. I currently have two requests in my queue, so any new requests should get answered within the next month. 


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bookmammal July 17, 2014, 6:02 am

    “Destiny of a Republic” is an EXCELLENT read! I read it a year or two ago and was totally riveted. I really enjoy presidential nonfiction as well, and another one that’s been in my own TBR pile for quite awhile is (get ready–this is the longest book title I’ve ever seen!) “The President Is A Sick Man: Wherein The Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives A Secret Surgery At Sea And Vilifies The Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared To Explore The Truth” (whew!) by Matthew Algeo. I’ve had this on my kindle for awhile and just haven’t gotten to it yet (so many books, etc etc etc!).

    • Kim July 21, 2014, 8:58 pm

      Awesome, I’m glad to get an endorsement, since I haven’t read that one myself.

  • Jennifer July 17, 2014, 9:46 am

    I love both of these topics! I’m adding all the titles you mentioned to my TBR list now! I only wish I could think of some recommendations to add to your list!

  • Andi @ Estella's Revenge July 17, 2014, 2:07 pm

    I would also suggest Upstairs at the White House, thought that’s heavy on tidbits and bits about the first ladies. Good stuff!

  • Anmiryam July 18, 2014, 8:31 am

    I can offer no additions to the banana recommendations — but the ones you list sound fascinating, but I can throw out a few that look at presidential history list.

    First up is Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation which is a book not to miss. It’s a funny, yet serious, look at the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley that illuminates the circumstances around each, as well as providing a glimpse at the political atmosphere surrounding each man. Her tour — the vacation of the title is literal as Vowell embarks on a macabre itinerary for fun and research — takes you to places in this country you never knew existed, creates historical context and offers parallels to more recent political actions that work together to create a great book. Best nerd road trip book ever.

    On a weightier note, David McCullough’s biography of John Adams is not only a wonderful look at a key player in the origins of the US, but also a fabulous look at the politics of the early presidency left me with a more informed background on how the office as we know it began to take shape in the early days following independence. If you think partisan divides are contentious today, don’t imagine it’s anything new!

    If Anna is up for a compelling though long read, Robert A. Caro’s multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson is at once a sweeping narrative, a character study to rival the best fiction and also a survey of political history in the 20th century. Brilliant.

    Another writer to check out is Doris Kearns Goodwin who considers herself to be primarily a Presidential historian and who has written on Teddy Roosevelt FDR, Lincoln, and Lyndon Johnson (who she controversially got to know well as a young woman).

    • Kim July 21, 2014, 8:57 pm

      Very good suggestions! I forgot about Sarah Vowell, but she is awesome. And I considered a Doris Kearns Goodwin book, but went with Millard instead.

  • Erin July 18, 2014, 10:12 pm

    I have a banana book! Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States by John Scoluri. I enjoyed it but it is kind of on the academic side if I’m remembering right (I read it for a class a couple years ago).

    • Kim July 21, 2014, 8:56 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  • Jenny @ Reading the End July 19, 2014, 8:23 am

    I would now like to request a nonfiction recommendation engine about bananas who have been presidents. :p

    On behalf of my dear friend Miniature Roommate, who is obsessed with presidential biographies, I second the Robert Caro recommendation. Miniature Roommate adores those Lyndon Johnson biographies and recommends them to me all the time even though there simply is no chance that I’m ever going to read them.

    • Kim July 21, 2014, 8:56 pm

      If there was a book about a banana president, I would buy it in a second.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) July 19, 2014, 11:07 am

    Banana books sound interesting. I would read that. I have been reading about bees… I will post why soon 🙂

    • Kim July 21, 2014, 8:56 pm

      I saw you did a review of Hannah Nordhaus’ book — I’ve had that one on my TBR forever!