Hot Books II – 2010

Judith Stokes
Electronic Resources/
Serials Librarian and
Associate Professor

In April, Judith Stokes reviewed fiction books in the Adams Library’s Browsing Collection that have been borrowed most frequently, as of Spring 2010. This month, she’ll check out the top 10 nonfiction books. In June, Stokes will review 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 2010

1. In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan climbed to the top of this non-fiction list, from number 3 last year. Food books are generally popular these days, but this well-written, informative, and delightfully quotable book deserves all the extra attention. This is the book that brought us the epithet, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Pollan carefully distinguishes between industrialized food products and real food, and advises, “Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food."

2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch moved up to the number 2 spot in the collection from number 7 last year, which is no surprise, because this book speaks to everyone. Expanding on his literally “last” lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch shares his love of work and play, family and fun, and the success he achieved realizing his own childhood dreams as a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Knowing, as he wrote it, that he would soon sicken and die of pancreatic cancer, he made this profound yet warmly personal book a tribute to life, as uplifting as it is true.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell shows how opportunity determines whether and how much hard work really does pay off. The well-known Bill Gates story, that of the youngster who had access to a computer at a time when others did not, is more common than we realize. Bringing us serious social research in an entertaining manner, Gladwell exposes little-known circumstances behind well-known successes, showing when practice makes perfect and when it does not.

4. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman revisits global capitalism – particularly information technology and its effect on international economics (as he did in his best-seller, The World is Flat) – but, this time, in light of global warming. Clearly, innovation in energy technology is the only way anyone can slow the rate of carbon emissions, and the fact that America lags behind other nations in energy technology development is demonstrably attributable to long-standing government policies that favor petrochemical industries. Friedman points out that, while recycling is important, we “need to change our leaders more than we need to change our lightbulbs.”

5. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter begins with a nearly frozen ball of fur in the book-return bin of the Spencer, Iowa Public Library. Along with Dewey Readmore Books, the library cat and soon-to-be media darling, we get to meet the library staff, the people who live in the heartland of America, and share in librarian Vicki Myron's passion for library service. Dewey's exceptional composure and love of people not only helps to make the library a real warm and vital community center, but a destination for cat lovers from all over the country.

6. Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller has it all – biography, feminist history, folk music, gossip, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Weller follows the three singer/songwriters from girlhood, switching from one to another, weaving the personal details of that unprecedented phenomenon, the successful independent young woman artist. In the popular music business, where every move is fan fodder, among performers who must be forever young, they upstaged the men they loved without even trying. With hearts on their sleeves and in their lyrics, they led and bore witness to a generation of women who struggled with choices women had never had before.

7. Against Medical Advice: A True Story by James Patterson and Hal Friedman is told in the voice of Hal Friedman's son (with his permission), making for an intimate and compelling read. At the age of five, the boy suddenly began to exhibit symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome, frequently embarrassing and offending himself as much as those around him. Later diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well, this boy’s childhood was a constant struggle for his entire family, with doctors, drugs, side effects and setbacks.

8. Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach was a new book last year, when we recommended it for its special blend of science and humor. Roach frankly enjoys exploring the euphemisms and circumlocutions peculiar to research in human sexuality and so do we. From Alfred Kinsey’s surveys to the author’s first person account of sexual intercourse inside an MRI machine, Roach covers the progress and pitfalls of studying human sexual response.

9. Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West by Benazir Bhutto refutes the assertion that Islam and democracy are incompatible (as does the aftermath of her assassination, and the subsequent Pakistan People's Party/Pakistan Muslim League coalition government). Bhutto's goal was even greater than returning Pakistan to democratic governance – to prevent the “Clash of Civilizations” theory from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bhutto conceded that conflict in the Muslim world has been persistent, but pointed out that it has been more violent within that world, than on its borders. She asked for more dialogue, diplomacy and cultural exchange with the West, more humanitarian support from the West within fledgling democracies, and an end to U.S. aid to dictators.

10. Methland: the Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding looks back on four years in Midwest small towns, particularly Olwein, Idaho, witnessing the so-called methamphetamine "epidemic." Looking beyond the specious statistics that fuel media reports, Reding got to know addicts and their families, 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.