Hot Books - Nonfiction

Judith Stokes
Librarian and
Associate Professor
In April, Judith Stokes looked at the fiction books in the Adams Library’s Browsing Collection that have been borrowed most frequently, as of Spring 2009. In May, she checked out the top 10 nonfiction books. Then, in June, Stokes reviewed 10 of her favorites. Perhaps among these books you will find some to put on your personal summer reading list.

Top 10 most popular nonfiction books in the Browsing Collection, spring 2009

"Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia" by Elizabeth Gilbert is her very personal memoir of a year of travel following a painful divorce. Gilbert pursues her dreams of learning to speak Italian in Italy, finding spiritual transcendence in an Indian ashram, and understanding the wisdom of a Balinese medicine man. Not a travelogue, but an intensely individual monologue of healing, painted with all the exotic colors of Italy, India, and Indonesia.

"The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" by Barack Obama is well-written, warm and thoughtful in tone. He considers opposing views without demeaning people who hold them, and cites facts to support his views. Essentially, this is a personal account of what became the winning platform for the presidency. The book is well organized, with a detailed index, and statistical sources used for the book are provided on the website

"In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto" by Michael Pollan is the book that brought us the quote, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The industrialized food products we have been eating are not only using up scarce water supplies in former desert regions and burning fossil fuels to travel across the world, but they are making us fat and sickly. So, how can you tell the difference between real food and all the other stuff they sell at the supermarket? Prominently advertised health claims, Pollan says, are a sure tip-off that eating it will not be good for your health!

"Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s" by John Elder Robinson recounts his painful childhood with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother, and the social handicap he endured until he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 40. Encouraged to write this memoir by his brother, Augusten Burroughs, author of "Running with Scissors," Robinson illumines the extraordinary intelligence and creativity of “Aspergians,” as well as the heart-breaking isolation and rejection.

"Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant" by Daniel Tammet, is an extraordinary, indeed, unprecedented memoir. Because savant syndrome and autism, even in its mildest form, affect emotional experience, social interaction, and imagination, the public communication of individuals like Tammet is usually limited to displaying feats of calculation and memorization. Tammet’s life story, however, highlights his extraordinary communication skills. Vivid descriptions of his synesthetic experience of numbers (in colors, shapes and textures) help explain why when, as a child unable to relate to other children, he thought of numbers as his friends. More than a heartening story of disabilities overcome, the book offers insights into learning, communication, and differences among us all.

"The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" by Alireza Jafarzadeh makes a credible, detailed, and frightening case. In 2002, Jafarzadeh alerted the IAEA to Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program. Here is more evidence that the program proceeds apace, and Jafarzadeh asserts that negotiation with the Iranian government is useless. The one bright spot in all this would be that there is active organized resistance within Iran (the Mujahedin-e Khalq) and abroad, (the National Coalition of Resistance of Iran), but, the U.S. and Europe Union have both these organizations on terrorist watch lists. Recommended reading on Middle East affairs.

"The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch packs into one small book the wisdom and inspiration of a highly successful Carnegie Mellon professor, father of three young children, written knowing that he would soon sicken and die of pancreatic cancer. A traditional “Last Lecture” is a reflection on life looking back on one’s own life and career. In his literally “last” lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” and throughout this surprisingly upbeat book, Pausch’s own love of work and play, family and fun come through loud and clear, but every reader will also hear something about her/himself, something about her/his own life and dreams, and pause to reflect on what is truly important.

"The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman purports to be a thought experiment on what the world would be like if humans suddenly disappeared. From the untenable situation of Manhattan, which would flood if not constantly pumped free of ground water, to the conflagration that a single unattended spark could make of the Houston petrochemical industry, human folly is part of the picture. Evidence of nature’s healing, from the primeval forest that renews itself and the perpetual tides that refresh the oceans, to the microbe that would probably evolve to feed on plastic debris, completes the story.

"My Year Inside Radical Islam: a Memoir" by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the personal account of a young man’s spiritual quest. Impressed by a (moderate Shiite) Muslim classmate in college, he converts. After college, given a job in the office of al-Haraman, a radical Islamic charity, he strives to conform, adopting the strict practice and intolerant attitudes of the group. Later, in law school, his perspective changes with his surroundings and he converts to Christianity. After 9/11, discovering the connection between al-Haraman and al-Queda, he becomes an FBI informant.

"I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman" by Nora Ephron is a collection of humorous essays on aging. Ephron takes a personal look at the lighter side of losing the youth and beauty war. Most are new essays, but two engaging reminiscences were previously published in the New Yorker.