Top 10 most popular nonfiction books, spring 2011

Judith Stokes
Electronic Resources/
Serials Librarian and
Associate Professor

Continuing a series that began in 2008, RIC's Judith Stokes reviews selected books from Adams Library’s Browsing Collection. In April, she reviewed the fiction books that have been borrowed most frequently, as of Spring 2011. This month, she’ll check out the top 10 nonfiction books. In June, Stokes will review 10 of her favorites.

We hope you will enjoy reading these informative descriptions, and perhaps some of these titles will find their way onto your personal reading list.

Top 10 most popular nonfiction books, spring 2011

1. “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a real page turner despite its heavy topic. Kristoff and WuDunn tell true stories of Asian and African women who have survived, and even thrived, after beatings, rape, and forced prostitution, and of villages where determined women have led the way to better health care, nutrition, and education for their children. The international aid community has begun to discover that the best way to fight poverty and extremism in third-world countries is to educate and empower women and girls, on their own terms, whether that means building schools or just buying uniforms for girls who cannot afford them, building and staffing hospitals or making small loans to female entrepreneurs who will use the profits of their businesses to feed their families, educate their daughters, and save for the future – goals their husbands tend to neglect. Kristoff and WuDunn bring the stories and the solutions to life and tell us how we actually can help change the world.

2. “Methland: the Death and Life of an American Small Town” by Nick Reding has moved up from number 10 on our popular nonfiction book list last year. Reding looks back on four years in the Midwest, particularly in Olwein, Idaho, where he witnessed the so-called methamphetamine "epidemic." Looking beyond the often specious statistics that fuel media reports, Reding got to know addicts and their families, and became friends with the doctor, county prosecutor, social worker, and mayor of Olwein, who struggled to take back their town. The roles of the drug trafficking organizations, the Big Pharma lobbyists, the meat-packing industry and the illegal immigrants it recruited are all there, along with the history of the drug, itself, “once heralded as the drug that would end the need for all others,” and the people it hurts.

3. “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” by Steve Harvey, a comedian, is not a comedy, but a simple instructional handbook – just what the title indicates. Harvey insists that all men are simple, just like him. Also: all women are complicated, nurturing, irrational beings (or if not, they should fake it, so that they can get a good man). According to this book, whenever a “real man” chats with a woman it is because he wants to sleep with her. Mr. Harvey compares dating to sport fishing: a woman who is too easy is a “throwback,” not a “keeper.” So, ladies, if you want to be kept by a 55-year-old talk show host, this book is for you.

4. “I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness” by Kyria Abrahams takes a humorous approach to apocalypticism. That a young woman, coming of age, believing that the end of the world is near, is unprepared for adult responsibility just begs for pleasing punch lines and Abrahams provides them. Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs, for example, that attending birthday parties or buying used furniture will result in demon possession, adds to the silliness. However, after Abrahams is “disfellowshiped,” and she still cannot distinguish the effects of real demons, like alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity, the laughs are fewer and more self-conscious. Without the bio on the dust cover, saying that she is alive and well and making it as a comedienne, it could be gruesome.

5. “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty” by Peter Singer easily and convincingly defeats every argument you have heard (and probably some you have not,) against pitching in to eliminate the causes of extreme poverty, worldwide, in our lifetime. The evidence is convincing, the moral imperative undeniable, and the means is simply for all of us to forgo some of our luxuries and enjoy the rewards of ethical living. We can even choose where to donate our money and/or time among a variety of effective organizations that have the methods and the track records of saving lives and empowering impoverished communities to help themselves. Any doubts? Read this!

6. “How Capitalism Will Save Us: Why Free People and Free Markets Are the Best Answer in Today's Economy” by Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames blames the Great Recession on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's low-interest-rate, weak-dollar policies. Capitalism's bad “Rap” is nothing new, as Forbes points out. Still, the fiscal crisis has prompted many to ask for more government regulation, so Forbes's argument on how the “invisible hand” of the market will restore the economy is well-timed. Much of the text is footnoted with supporting material, but the occasional undocumented allegation, for example, “the IRS gives taxpayers on its hotline wrong information at least 25 percent of the time,” shows carelessness. Those, combined with a tone that some will find condescending, (for example, in the prominent labeling of “Real World Lessons”) throughout the book, undermine the message.

7. “Columbine” by Dave Cullen dispels the myths and uncovers the cover-up that helped broadcast mistakes and lies about the horrific Columbine High School shooting of April 20, 1999. It is true that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher, injured many others, attempted to blow up the school, and succeeded in killing themselves on that day. But nearly all the contemporary coverage was false: about the Goth loners, the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” the bullying jocks, the girl who professed her faith in God before she was shot to death. The real story is more complicated, but not beyond comprehension. Cullen's book shows how two bright, somewhat popular students, were able to hide the psychopathy and depression which spurred them to plan the event they hoped would outdo the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 and the Waco Massacre of 1993, and preserve their names in infamy.

8. “Lost Boy” by Brent W. Jeffs with Maia Szalavitz is the memoir of a boy with a repressed memory. Nephew of Warren Jeffs, “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Brent Jeffs is one of hundreds of “lost boys” who have been pushed out of the polygamist FLDS in order to assure a stable supply of young fundamentalist Mormon wives for high-ranking officials of the church. On the other hand, he is the first to file a sex-abuse lawsuit against his uncle. Here is an intimate view of the corruption that gave Warren Jeffs absolute power over members of his community – power to abuse children, to reassign the wives and children of one man to another, and to drive many young men to lives of isolation and self-abuse.

9. “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World” by Don Tapscott is based on the findings of a $4 million private research study of 8,000 young people in 12 countries. Tapscott characterizes tech savvy youth born between 1978 and 1994 by the strengths inherent in their collaborative, connected, passionate approach to life. Cautioning baby boomers and gen-Xers to think twice before condemning behavior that appears distracted or immature, he explains the work habits of the net generation can be highly productive, their civic engagement and volunteerism is exemplary, and by every traditional measure, they are as intelligent as their elders, if not more so.

10. “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer combines a personal memoir with an investigation of industrial food production. Foer becomes a father and takes his own vegetarian ambivalence in hand by investigating factory farming and the devastation wrought by high tech fishing. He finds plenty of reasons to deplore and avoid meat and meat products. Although he admires the efforts of the few family farms that conscientiously practice old-fashioned animal husbandry, he recoils from the complexity of an omnivore's choices, reaffirming his vegetarianism.