Are you looking to add more nonfiction to your reading list in 2020? Or do you generally enjoy nonfiction but want reading recommendations? Look no further! These are some of my favorite nonfiction books that I believe will be interesting and relevant to a wide audience, no specific interest in the topic necessary.
Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt
Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve is a great choice for readers interested in nonfiction about reading and writing and even what characteristics can make writing seem “good.” Blatt uses data science to explore what classic authors do in their writing (do they avoid too many adverbs? write short or long sentences?), which is thought-provoking whether you’re working on your own novel or just thinking about books you’ve read. He also addresses things like how to judge book covers and whether you can tell who wrote most of a book that is co-authored.
A 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Winner, Quiet explains the benefits of introversion and how extroverts can better support and maintain positive relationships with introverts. The book received a lot of attention when published and was even adapted for a younger audience, but its message about how introverts work differently than extroverts remains relevant, and its suggestions about creating workplaces and educational spaces that allow introverts to thrive without relying on things like open office plans and public speaking still haven’t been implemented in many places.
The major conclusion of this book is that it is beneficial for people, under the current system, to obtain an advanced degree (because “everyone else” has one), but the look at credential inflation and his argument that education is more about “signalling” capability/conformity/sometimes knowledge more than actually knowing things is fascinating. It helps add some nuance to the question of whether countries should provide free university education to all citizens, and it’s an interesting topic since all of us have been through the educational system to some degree or another; you don’t have to agree with all of Caplan’s points to get something out of the book.
Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber by Joe Clement and Matt Miles
Another book about education that will resonate with readers because it addresses a topic people have big feelings about: Is a reliance on technology helping or hindering students’ education? The general argument of the book is NOT that technology is overtly bad but rather that it’s not always good and is often a distraction, so it should be utilized thoughtfully when it has a clear advantage over a non-technological approach. Again, one needn’t agree with all of the raised points, but the book is based in an impressive amount of research and provides lots of food for thought.
Moonwalking with Einstein is a fascinating exploration of the history of memory and the capacity of human talent. It does offer a disclaimer that it is not a self-help book to teach the reader how to capitalize on his memory, but there are just enough tricks mentioned to pique one’s curiosity and perhaps even get one started in learning.
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson
Monster, She Wrote is an incredibly thorough overview of women authors who wrote and pioneered horror and speculative fiction, ranging from Gothic authors like Ann Radcliffe to modern-day writers. Including anecdotes from the authors’ lives and summaries of their most prominent (or just strangest) works, it’s sure to help you add a bunch of books you’ve never heard of before (but probably should have) to your reading list.
Wonder Women is a delightfully informative yet informal look at amazing women in STEM. Maggs purposely tends toward less-known women (personally, I’d heard of about six), meaning the book isn’t just the same-old stories of Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart (though these women get mini bios at the end of each section). Maggs explores the lives and accomplishments of 25 historical women in the fields of science, medicine, espionage, innovation, and adventure, and sprinkles in some interviews with women currently working in STEM to help inspire readers to go do all the science.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Understanding Comics is itself a comic book that explains how to read and interpret comics, starting with basically terminology like what a gutter or a frame is and then moving on to more advanced topics. If you’re interested in reading more comics or graphic novels but don’t know much about them from a technical aspect, this may be the book for you.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
A 2019 Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, Invisible Women takes a detailed look about how nearly everything in our lives has been designed for (often by) men, from cars where the safety features are tested for the “average male” to office temperatures set to be comfortable for the “average male” to medicines that are often tested only on groups of men (because women’s hormones might “complicate” the data!). This book has been receiving a ton of attention and I hope it receives more and accomplishes some social change, to get women noticed in the design of, well, everything from bathrooms to military equipment to city planning.
Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence
Everyone eats, so although this book is frequently focused on high-end food the likes of which I personally have not actually eaten, it provides a fascinating look at how external factors can influence the way we perceive/taste food. For instance, chip bags are noisy because the crispy sound of the bag open makes people rate the chips as fresher and crisper than the exact same chips in a quiet bag. This book explains this and more about the science of food and how you can be manipulated by chefs or big food companies into having specific thoughts about their food.