Friday, October 16, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-39: Recommendations

This week, Becky wants to know where we get our book recommendations. Well, more and more, I am getting them from fellow book bloggers. I read a review, think, Hey, that sounds interesting! and then I add it to my Wish List. I don't usually buy anything off my Wish List, but I use it to keep track of all the books I want to read. I will also usually add a comment saying which blogger recommended the book so that I know who to thank (or blame!) later. I will also browse Amazon's personalized recommendations from time to time, which are based on ratings I've given other books or books that I've recently added to my Wish List.

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 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.

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!


Ana S. said...

You're the second person to temp me with The Devil in the White City this week! As for a non-fiction book I'd recommend, I've just finished The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and it was fascinating!

Dreamybee said...

Ooh, Victorian murder and mayhem-sounds right up my alley! Thanks for the recommendation.

I don't know if you're a fan of the show "Supernatural", but the serial killer in Devil in the White City made an appearance in Season 2, Episode 6, ("No Exit") which my husband and I just watched tonight, and I was all excited that I knew who they were talking about. I'm such a dork.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I LOVE fiction but I also enjoy non-fiction. A couple of non fiction books which I really liked were Alex and Me; Pepperberg (audio version was terrific). I also liked a few memoirs: Never Have Your Dog Stuffed; Alan Alda; A Paper Life; Tatum O'Neil; Gringos in Paradise; Golson; Finding Your Own North Star; Beck.

Dreamybee said...

I've heard interviews with Irene Pepperberg, and I think I would definitely enjoy her book. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed? Seems like common sense to me, but people do odd things! LOL. Thanks for the recommendations!

Melanie said...

have you read anything by Jon Krakauer? Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven are both good and very different

Dreamybee said...

Melanie-No, but I've heard good things about his books. HIs latest book, Where Men Win Glory, sounds good too.

Jeanne said...

My reaction to what you say about Devil in the White City is the same as Nymeth's (we must have read it the same place). Have you read Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle yet? It's pretty interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading her new one about a grandmother who works with horses or something--pretty much whatever she writes, I'll try now, after reading that first one.

Sarah said...

I know virtually no non-fiction. The last one I read did not impress, but I do want to read some of Jeremy Paxman's political stuff, and Karen Armstrong's The Case for God. My choices sound kind of dry; they probably are!

I do lose track of what I want to read. Using the Amazon wish list is a great idea. I'm going to do that. Thanks!

Dreamybee said...

Jeanne-Yes, I listed to The Glass Castle, and every time I thought I'd been shocked as much as I could be, she would tell the next crazy story about her parents. The part about her mother and the land drove me crazy! I didn't realize she had a new book out-I'll have to check it out.

Sarah-I think I've picked up The Case for God several times before while browsing in the bookstore-it's one that always catches my eye, but I've never quite committed to reading it. I've never heard of Paxman before, but he does sound like he could give some interesting insights on his subjects.

I hope the Amazon wish list works for you. The only quibble that I have with it is that it isn't very searchable, at least if it is, I haven't figured out how to do it!