One thing I've noticed is that a lot of the bloggers that I follow tend to be mostly fiction readers, and I really enjoy fiction, but I also really enjoy non-fiction. So, my question to my readers this week is:
What's the most fascinating non-fiction book(s) you can recommend? I'm not great with history-I can't retain names and dates and battles, but if you can interest me in a story, then you can sneak some history in, so please keep that in mind with your recommendations.
Here are a few that I've read in the past that I've particularly enjoyed. If I've reviewed them on my blog, I'll link to the review.
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson-There are two story-lines here, one about a serial killer operating in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair and the other about the men responsible for putting the fair together. The serial killer part was interesting, but I thought the parts about how the World's Fair came together were fascinating. It was a stunning achievement and something about which I had no previous knowledge. (I read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson and didn't care for it as much...so don't recommend that one, 'kay?).
Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i by David E. Stannard-This is one of those books that makes you embarrassed to be white. In 1931 Honolulu, Navy wife Thalia Massie claimed that she was raped by a group of local boys. Despite the total lack of evidence of their guilt which should have led to an acquittal, the case resulted in a hung jury. This was still good enough to get the boys released; but Thalia's mother, outraged by this injustice, arranged for the abduction of one of the boys. His abduction ended in his murder for which Thalia's mother was charged. The outpouring of support for poor Thalia and her mother from wealthy white folks all over the country was overwhelming. People were outraged that she was being put through the trauma and embarrassment of a trial. She had done what any honorable person would have done in her position. You see where this is getting embarrassing, right? I thought Stannard did a wonderful job of integrating the courtroom drama with the history of Hawai'i and its different cultures in order to explain the political climate that led to this circus. If you've ever heard people say, "Oh, there's a lot of racism in Hawai'i," and wondered what that was all about, this gives you a good place to start with Hawai'i's business/political/military/cultural history.
Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales by William Bass-Did you ever wonder how forensic investigators can see a maggot crawling on a dead body and tell you with absolute certainty how long the body has been lying there? Or how a body that's been lying in an icy stream would decompose differently from, say, a body that's been left in the trunk of a car in the middle of summer? Oh. You were in the middle of breakfast? Sorry. This isn't exactly meal-time reading, but it is interesting and, actually, kind of funny at times. Bass tells about his research at the Body Farm and how it has been used to solve cases. Interesting stuff. Gross, but interesting.
The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs And Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury-In 1925, Nome, Alaska, diphtheria broke out. It went something like this:
Hey, doc, do you think we need any more diphtheria serum for the coming winter?
Naaah. We should be fine.
Hey, doc, I don't feel too well.
Hey, doc, me neither.
Hey, doc, why do all our kids keep dying?
Mushers were called on to bring their best dogs forward for the 674-mile dogsled journey that was going to be needed to get the serum to the town, and this is the amazing story of the men and the dogs that did it. (Note: I could be making the doctor out to be more of a bad guy than he really was. I don't remember for sure-it's been a while since I read this).
**edited 1/30/10 to add: Heather J. just reviewed this book, and cleared up the fact that the doctor was not, in fact, as negligent as I remembered him. Sorry doc!
Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Susan Warren-Lest you think all my favorite books are about death (note to self: reassess reading lists), I thought I would throw this one out there. I thought this was a fun and interesting read, and I reviewed it here.
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh-I was intrigued by this look at life within a large inner-city gang in Chicago. It's not as easy to rid a city of a gang as you might think.
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan-I don't necessarily think this was the most well-written book, but it opened my eyes to a part of history about which I was pretty ignorant.
So, there you have it. That's the stuff I like to read. What do you think I might like? What book shocked you? Amazed you? Fascinated you? Moved you to tears? Educated you? Enlightened you? Please share!