Welcome to my Non-Fiction November appreciation post. I am going to be sharing the book that made me fall in love with the genre, What If? by Randall Monroe, and the elements I appreciate the most about it. I also have a selection of quotes from some of my favourite bloggers sharing their own personal favourites. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this post, I am incredibly grateful. If you want to share your own favourites in the comments then be my guest 😀 On to the books!
What If? By Randall Monroe
From the creator of the wildly popular xkcd.com, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask.
Millions visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. Fans ask him a lot of strange questions: How fast can you hit a speed bump, driving, and live? When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British Empire? When will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than living? How many humans would a T Rex rampaging through New York need to eat a day?
In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations and consults nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.
Why I Love What If?
What’s not to love. I adore the hypothetical; boundaries are so boring! Monroe takes us through a scientific explanation of some of the most pressing (and random) physics questions. Each question that RM covers has a certain degree of scientific intrigue or mythos within science and I was captivated from the very beginning. I read this book approximately 3 years ago and it has stuck in my mind ever since. What If? pulled me into the NF genre and I have been enjoying it ever since. Answering questions like ‘What would be the last light left on if everyone suddenly disappeared?’ or ‘What if the entire population of earth travelled to one point and all jumped at the same time?’. Not only does RM tackle these daring question with a combination of scientific knowledge and charming humour, but he gives meaningful answer that really stick in your mind. He also approached plenty of questions that should never have been asked in his mini-sections of ‘weird/wonderful/concerning’ questions. I highly recommend this book to every single reader that stops by. Pick it up and broaden your hypothetical minds :D.
Blogger Appreciation Section
The Autobiography Of Malcolm X
I am fascinated by many aspects of non-fiction. Whether it be ww2, the aids epidemic, global politics, African culture or LGBTQ rights. There is always a general theme of humanity in my non-fiction reading.
Last year I wanted to learn about civil rights globally. I began with the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, then Martin Luther King Jr. Finally, getting to Malcolm X.
What fascinated me about Malcolm X, was that he spoke with such conviction and that he didn’t come from the same background as MLK or Mandela. Malcolm X knew real poverty, deep oppression and it had not broken his spirit. His father was killed by the KKK and he witnessed his mother crushed by an unjust and unfair society. I have so many favourite quotes from Malcolm X and yes they are highlighted in the pages. I shall leave you with a few of the ones that touched my heart!
“I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight”
“But people are always speculating – why I am as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that has ever happened to us is an ingredient”
“That to me the earth’s most explosive and pernicious evil is racism, the inability of God’s creatures to live as one, especially in the western world”
“I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I am written to these friends. I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole”
“I was against straight-jacketed thinking, and strait-jacketed societies. I said I respected every man’s right to believe whatever his intelligence tells him is intellectually sound, and I expect everyone else to respect my right to believe likewise”
The Girl with Seven Names
This is a memoir about growing up, and life, in North Korea. It explains how the author escaped, and why her brother chose to stay behind. There are fascinating details of everyday life in North Korea – a country the author loves, and the contrast with life just across the river in China.
I have chosen this book as it is particularly relevant in today’s politics, and is a thought provoking read.
Link to book page: emmabbooks.com/the-girl-with-seven-names-by-hyeonseo-lee
Link to website: emmabbooks.com
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
Outstanding. I loved this and I’m really glad I found in the library whilst looking for another book. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while and it really did live up to my expectations. Anna Funder is brilliant at describing the people, place and situations she found herself in, that I felt as if I’d been in Germany whilst reading this. Most of the time I was chilled to the bone and depressed, but it certainly didn’t make me want to stop reading. It has certainly made me appreciate what it is like to live in a country with freedom, and not having to worry constantly that I am being watched or having to inform on my family, friends neighbours, because my government blackmails me into it.
I read this back in 2014 and still the remember the chills it gave me whilst reading it. I probably found this more fascinating because I actually visited Berlin the summer before the Wall came down. I was inter-railing and we stopped off for a couple of days venturing into the East for a day, which was a very memorable experience in itself.
The Fact of a Body
Everyone knows I’m mostly a fiction girl. I think I’ve read only about 5 non-fiction books in my life. However, The Fact of a Body made me reconsider this. It’s a deeply dark and thought-provoking book that made me reflect on various themes and kept me glued to its pages. It read practically like a novel and although I had a hard time reading some parts because of its content, it was definitely a memorable read.
Book- Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History, Told From All Sides by Christian G. Appy
Why did I choose this as my favourite? When I came across this book about Vietnam in a bookshop some years ago, I knew I had to read it. We have all heard about Vietnam, one side at a time and in this case you truly get the many sides of the coin about what war means… not just the American propaganda, not the journalists take, but also what it meant for the people of Vietnam. There truly is no better way to tackle a non-fiction topic than to pull off the covers from all sides involved and leave subjectivity at the door. Having read this book, which comes with all of it’s dark and light, I think you cannot find a more comprehensive account of the Vietnam conflict.
The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean
“Biologists summarize these hypothalamic duties as the “four F’s” of animal
behavior—feeding, fleeing, fighting, and, well, sexual congress.”
Sam Kean, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
I couldn’t resist The Duelling Neurosurgeons when I saw it, it’s got everything I could possibly ask for from a popular science book. Firstly, it focuses on arguably the most exciting and mysterious organ in the human body – the brain, which has always fascinated me ever since I studied a module on neuroscience as part of my first degree. Secondly, it combines triumphs (and disasters) of neurosurgeons through history and provides case studies of “real,” patients, some of whom left me dumbfounded. For example, the blind man who travelled the world by using echolocation and textbook studies such as Phineas Gage who received such a traumatic brain injury that it ended up changing his entire personality. Finally (and perhaps one of the things that excited me the most), Sam Kean introduces each chapter by providing a little puzzle or “rebus” to illustrate what the content of that particular chapter might be about.
This was so much fun and I was quite strict with myself, not going on to read the chapter until I had figured out the rebus. This proved quite frustrating with some of the trickier images! There is a wealth of interesting information from case studies put forward in this book but I’ll just mention a couple of my favourites. The section on phantom limbs, where someone who has recently had a limb amputated can still feel pain in the area that the limb used to be was fascinating but did you know that some women who have had complete hysterectomies can still have phantom menstrual pains? Or that there are even such things as phantom teeth, phantom penises and phantom erections? The topics covered by the author are intriguing, informative and endlessly thought-provoking. In fact, I’ve never had so much fun before reading a popular science book.
The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell
The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell. I became obsessed by the novels written by Nancy Mitford when I moved from Buckinghamshire to Derbyshire when I was ten. I subsequently became intrigued by her unconventional family, and visited Chatsworth House – their home – on numerous occasions. Lovell’s biography recounts the lives of all six sisters, from Unity’s love and obsession with Hitler and Nazism, Diana’s imprisonment for her love of Oswald Mosely, to Decca who eloped with Churchill’s nephew and who eventually became a civil right’s campaigner. There are some beautiful family photos placed throughout the book, which really enhance the history. It’s a book I will treasure forever, re-read, and dip into when nostalgia knocks at my door.
Up Till Now by William Shatner
Thank you so much Stuart for asking me for my input on my favourite non-fiction book.
When it comes to non-fiction I am someone who loves autobiographies and there is one in particular that always sticks in my mind, William Shatner’s Up Till Now.
William Shatner is probably best known as Captain James Tiberious Kirk in the original Star Trek series and more recently as the quirky lawyer, Denny Crane, in Boston Legal.
As a Trekkie I had to read Shatner’s autobiography and it was an absolute hoot, til a point…. Shatner’s wife was found dead in their pool in 1999 and he addresses this in his book. It is an exceptionally short chapter that reduced me to tears.
The reason that this book always comes to mind, when asked about my favourite non-fiction book, is that it shows how regardless of someone’s jovial behaviour you never know what darkness they are carrying.
So many people see how happy someone behaves and seem to believe that what is seen is enough to define a person but that happiness can be just like makeup. You face the world with your favourite bright lipstick or bold eye makeup but when the day is over and the doors are closed you remove that makeup, look in the mirror and see the person that only few have seen. Up Till Now displays the very common show of frivolity – pain – frivolity and reminds us that at the end of the day when the smiles and makeup are removed there is a real person feeling more pain than anyone can comprehend due to outward appearance. Remember, that sometimes, smiles are only skin deep!
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
I probably don’t read quite as much non-fiction as I should. After all, it was a non-fiction book by Joe Simpson called Touching the Void that made me the bookworm I am today. I picked up the book after listening to Joe at a live reading many years ago. This harrowing tale of one man’s determination, grit, bravery and will to survive had me on the edge of my seat for the entire time. It was a reading experience to truly savour. Simpson’s book led me on a voyage of discovery. I sought out other books by famous explorers and mountaineers and became addicted to their real-life tales of daring escapes and fantastic discoveries. I went to another of Joe’s readings a few years later and told him how much his book meant to me, to which he simply smiled and said “Thank you”. Touching the Void holds a very special place in my collection. As far as I am concerned, it is a must-read.
Non-Fiction will always have a home here on my blog. I can’t get enough of all the great content that has come out in 2017 and I will continue to make my way through all the brilliant books that have been generously sent to me for review. I am also incredibly grateful for everyone’s contribution to this post! There was a lot of excitement when I asked around about promoting and celebrating Non-Fiction and a lot of you have come forward with your thoughts and appreciation. I can’t thank everyone enough for all the support I have received during Non-Fiction November; the genre has been thoroughly celebrated!