In 1959 nine smart, experienced college explorers head out to one of the most remote places in Russia: the Urals. So remote the last leg of the journey must be made on skis, they are headed to what is now called Death Mountain. This mysterious tale is eerie and tragic, brought to life by the students' own journals and pictures - the only things left to tell their tale. I was left thinking about this book for weeks after, and I continue to ask the same haunting question: why would these nine expert explorers cut their way out of their tent in the pitch black of night, taking no supplies or preparation, and flee into conditions certain to kill them? Many theories have been put forward of what transpired that night, but at the end of this book, you might find that fact may be stranger then fiction.
Nuclear power is a technology that is still very young, and most of us all have a very natural fear of its power. Downwind takes us to the dark time of the above-ground nuclear testing that happened in our very own back yard, and is very critical of those of us who call these western states home. Most importantly, this story is about how the government manages its secrets and clean-up. Without huge breakthroughs in cutting edge batteries for bio-solar or fusion power, nuclear power inevitably will play a much bigger role as mankind is forced into a more desperate fight against climate change. But citizens will need more trust and more knowledge to embrace nuclear expansion. There is only one way for that to happen, open and accountable government. A must read for the future ahead.
Curiosity is one of the most useful human traits; we strive not only to survive, but also to discover. Right now, about 35 million miles from where you stand, several robots are working away on the red jewel of the sky: Mars. They all have amazing stories to tell, but the star of this story is the Mini Cooper-sized Mars Science Laboratory rover named Curiosity. Curiosity loves shooting lasers at rocks, making maps, plotting courses, driving itself, looking for evidence of ancient life, and just wants to meet a nice robot to share the warmth of its plutonium core. Robotics will soon be changing our world faster then ever before and robots will spearhead mankind's journey to our future in the stars. Not just a story of robots and space, this is the story of a community of dedicated men and women who carry the banner of pioneers.
Quammen is my favorite non-fiction writer, and Spillover is no exception to his merit. Having read this book, I understand so much more about how viruses operate, why outbreaks occur, and perhaps most importantly, how our disturbance of ecosystems and the tearing down of the less-explored areas of nature are bringing to the forefront viruses we once would have had little chance of being exposed to. Told with Quammen's natural storyteller gift, this both informs and entertains, and might leave you just a little frightened. --Em
I've been waiting since childhood for someone to tell me the Amazons were real, and finally this book is doing just that...sort of. Mayor delves into the history of the warrior women who likely inspired the Amazons of Greek myth, most prominently the Scythians. Living a nomadic lifestyle, these women were equals with their men, expert archers and horsewomen, and buried as honored warriors. Exploring both myth and fact, The Amazons is an exceptionally well-presented look at the real warrior women of history. --Em
Larson's newest shifts perspectives back and forth between the passengers and crew on the luxury ocean liner and the captain and crew aboard the German U-boat. Although the end of the story is well known, many of the circumstances and personalities involved were fresh revelations – surprising, curious, tragic, and thoroughly engaging. The way Larson tells this story recalls other compelling historical works like those of Laura Hillenbrand that read like the best fiction, propelling the reader from chapter to chapter. --Bob
I love both Ancient Egypt and Hatshepsut, so I knew I was either going to love or hate this book. Fortunately I loved it, and learned Hatshepsut was even more amazing that I'd initially thought. Her political acumen and ability to get herself - a woman - legally crowned pharaoh are astonishing enough. Compound this with her bringing to Egypt one of its most stable and wealthy periods of rule and I really want to nominate her for female role model of the year. Despite her clear qualifications for the job, Hatshepsut's rise to power was anything but easy, and Cooney does an excellent job of pointing out the obstacles in Hatshepsut's way, and how the female king likely overcame them. Even if you think Ancient Egypt isn't your thing, I can't recommend a better book to prove that women could rule, and rule well, in a time period still dominated by male rulers. --Em
This is the riveting story of the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days in 2010. I was about half way through this book, and I had reached the point where the men had been trapped below ground for two weeks. They have run out of food, the temperatures are 115 degrees, there is 95% humidity, and they are at times in complete darkness. And it struck me, "Good God, these men have been down in this mine for 14 days going through this ordeal... how can they possibly last another 55?" And yet they do. This book is a page turner, albeit that we already know the outcome. It is a terrifying story, the men truly struggle with the mine, their own demons, and with each other. Yet it is life affirming, showing the best of man--how faith, camaraderie, trust and love can get us through the most horrific of ordeals. --Walt
Perhaps the scariest book in the store, but also one of the most moving. Scheeres reexamines the infamous story of Jonestown, drawing from previously unreleased documents and focusing on four of the tragedy's survivors. What she delivers is an epic study about how what's best in human beings -- empathy, love, sharing, a desire to do good works -- can be twisted and deformed under the control of a malignant leader. Why do people join cults? Why do they become terrorists? How can they believe ridiculous doctrines? Read this book and you'll come closer to an understanding. And the story's supreme monster, the Reverend Jim Jones, may very well haunt your nightmares. --Stephen
If you can’t tell by the title, this isn’t your average, yawn-inducing account of the history of money. Martin argues persuasively for a new concept of money that derails many of the common beliefs about it, asserting that money is actually a social construct, namely society’s system of credits and debits. While this may seem counterintuitive, if you consider how little physical currency we actually use today–just think about the dominance of the credit/debit card over cash–the concept makes a great deal of sense. Martin shows that a better understanding of what money actually is will in turn lead to better financial policy decisions–think fewer financial crises. Martin’s writing is entertaining and refreshingly free of unnecessary and often convoluted academic jargon. Even if you don’t agree with everything Martin says, reading this book will give you a clearer concept of what money is, how money works, and how and why financial systems fail. --EM
If you only read one history book, make it this one. It is an immensely readable and well-written account of history from prehistoric times to the mid-20th Century. He doesn't just talk about wars, conquests, and religion, he talks about the entire human experience including ideas, art, science and math. (The author also wrote one of the "bibles" of art history, The Story of Art.) This edition includes gorgeous illustrations, as well as maps. A wonderful read-aloud for a child interested in history (the author wrote it for a younger reader), although adults will enjoy it as well. --KATHY
Hampton Sides is one of my favorite nonfiction writers and, once again, he doesn't disappoint. He brings the two-plus year odyssey of the USS Jeannette and her crew to life with a well-researched and superbly written account of this historic journey which began in the summer of 1879 and sought to find the "open polar sea" widely believed, at that time, to be in existence at the North Pole. His characters are fascinating men, and their ingenuity, bravery, and capacity to endure hardship under extreme conditions is almost unfathomable. We also see the hints of the ecological and cultural disasters beginning in the far north as sea animals are hunted nearly to extinction, and Native Americans are influenced by an influx of liquor and cheap goods. A fascinating account of this period in American and world history when exploration was still at the forefront of American politics and society, and new inventions were starting to play a role in these expeditions. --Kathy
Alright, so if you’re an aficionado of Russian history, you get +10 cool points. For those of you that aren’t, like me, be ready to break out your inner researcher for this one. That’s not advice that stems from obligation, but rather genuine curiosity. In this biography, Emmanuel Carrére tells the story of Russian writer and political nonconformist Eduard Limonov. Be careful in your research, though. If you’re like me, you’ll end up buying a copy of Limonov’s first novel that now costs around $70 for a decent paperback edition. Why would a poor college student drop so much money on one book, you ask? Well, that’s how much this biography drew me in -- I want to know everything Limonov -- his history, his poetry, his ever-controversial partly fictional memoirs. From his somber childhood in the former Soviet Union, to his welfare-driven life in New York, to his random success in Paris, follow Limonov through this fascinating tale of the most raw elements of human nature. --Becky
The story about developing a lifelike android that so closely resembles science fiction writer Philip K. Dick that it's difficult to tell the difference between man and machine almost sounds like a story PKD himself would write. A slide show in book form, Dufty sheds light on how collaborations occur between the worlds of science and academia. He also explores the philosophical question of what makes us human and the possibility of building an android who could truly hide among us, a paranoia that is rampant in Dick's novels. --Jeremy
I have always been a major fan of learning. Anything and everything really (except math). However, I was never too fond of textbooks and the writing that inhabits them, specifically any on science. They always took subjects that sounded incredibly fascinating and made it hard to even make it through a paragraph. Bill Bryson shared my same feelings (as can be seen in the dedication) and decided to break that trend with his Short History of Nearly Everything. The writing is brilliant and the time and effort he took to convey subjects in an understandable and inspiring way shows through every chapter. This book will not only delight people who are already fans of the sciences, it will show new people that when you take the subject out of the textbook, it is just as interesting as it sounds. --Meghan
If you're on the hunt for some honest writing that isn't weighed down with any bullsh*t, Meghan Daum is your woman. In The Unspeakable, Daum takes topics that other people might skirt around, such as the death of her mother, her pregnancy (and subsequent miscarriage), her awkward encounter with Rob Reiner at a party hosted by Nora Ephron, among others, and presents them in ten sharp and concise essays. I wholly appreciated the way that Daum didn't try to make messy subjects into pretty ones, and candidly portrayed her experiences on the page. Add this to your "To-Be-Read" list immediately! --Heather H.
One of the best parts about reading non-fiction are the graphs they can include through the reading, if you are a fan of infographics and mapped out data then get ready for Dataclysm! Christian is one of the co-founders of the online dating site OkCupid and throughout the book he uses a wealth of data from his site and others (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, etc) to lay out information about who we are and what we think of others. From algorithms that show where your spouse stacks up against your friends via your facebook account (and how likely your relationship is to last because of it), to the intimacies that our “hash tags” in blog posts reveal about us, the data we freely put on the internet is being mined and formed to the collectors will. Christian goes into great effort and detail to lay out his information and points, in a transparent manner to the reader, giving them the chance to see his thought process and what it can be like when someone is given the personal information of millions of people and the ways they can put it their own purpose. My biggest takeaway from this read is not just how we act when we think we’re alone, but how many people are actually watching and what they are doing with what they see. --Andy
Speaking with empathy to the fear and mistrust felt by the anti-vaccination crowd, Eula Biss gives us an impassioned defense of science and medicine. On the surface this is a call to vaccinate, but it is also a reflection on race and class and sex and how we came to fear what should protect us. Without invalidating those fears, Biss makes clear that our health as a body of people depends on the protection of our bodies as individuals. On Immunity gives us much needed context in one of the most important conversations of our time. Written in beautiful prose, this book is a joy and a comfort to read. --Heather W.
The 1980s were the decade of Magic. From 1979, when Earvin "Magic" Johnson first joined the Los Angeles Lakers, to his retirement in 1991 after acquiring the HIV virus, the Lakers dominated basketball in the U.S. with 9 trips to the NBA Finals and 5 championship rings. In Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman, I learned about the intriguing rivalries between Magic's Lakers and Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons as well as the unlikely friensdships between these three men. Even a casual basketball fan (like me) will find this engaging history of sporting excellence and celebrity excess hugely entertaining. --ROBERT
I picked up this book because I love all things Egypt, but at the same time I wondered, how do you write an entire book on papyrus plants? The answer: easily. Gaudet traces the papyrus plant through history, showing how papyrus swamps have been an integral part of Africa's environment and economy, and how the destruction of papyrus swamps is having many adverse effects. Without being preachy, Gaudet shows how bringing back more Papyrus swamps could help filter badly polluted waters in Africa, and preserve a fragile environment. Papyrus has my favorite two qualities in a non-fiction book: highly informative and not boring at all. --EM
It speaks to the quality of storytelling and bizarre historical details that make Gottland so enjoyable while focusing on such a niche subject. Inside are some truly absurd and lyrical essays centered around Czechoslovakia, mostly starting during the Modern Age and through Communism. Szczygiel is a Polish journalist investigating such strange stories as a Czech shoe manufacturer who built the first company towns, and another about a Soviet statue of Stalin that is “disappeared,” along with all the artists who took part in its construction, but my favorite is the story about tracking down Franz Kafka’s living niece that’s truly Kafkaesque. This is a wonderful book and perfectly examples how history can be penned with an artist’s flair. For fans of Mark Kurlansky, strange history,Stephen Greenblatt and offbeat news. --JEREMY
This book will take you back to a time when sport wasn't about a big pay check, "enhancing " your performance, or product endorsements. The boys in the boat rowed for the pure love of rowing and the joy of being the best at what they did. This is a "feel good" book without being maudlin or cloying. The nine boys overcome the challenges of the Depression, take on the Ivy League colleges back East, and finally meet Hitler's minions at the 1936 Olympics. It is a very American book. Small town boys making it good! I smiled and "pulled" for these young men throughout this uplifting satisfying read. --WALT
Are you interested in reading about the time Franz Kafka and Adolf Hitler could have been eating in the same cafe, one year before Europe was swallowed whole by the Great War? Or what Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse did in their off time when they weren’t turning the world of art on its head? Illies’ narrative moves month by month in short pieces that ultimately bring the world of this peculiar year at the dawn of the Modern Age to illuminating life. While not ignoring the politics entirely, Illies’ characters are more often the day’s artists, writers and social critics—the true manufacturers of culture and history. Wonderfully stylized, This non-fiction narrative is written in a very literary style and is utterly addicting. --Jeremy
Command and Control is the perfect non-fiction. Eric Schlosser weaves together two unbelievable histories with page-turning precision, taking us down the dark and winding road of the United States development and handling of man's most powerful weapon, and how all of that history plays out one day in Damascus, Arkansas. This is not a technical manual, it is a fast-paced tale of government and military, man and machine, safety and inevitability. I could not put it down. --Drew
Naturalist, tracker, and photographer David Moskowitz has created a fresh new addition to the dialogue on America's most revered and hated animal. Focusing specifically on the Pacific Northwest, we get a detailed look at wolves and how they they continue to live in the most remote corners of this region's backcountry. Moskowitz combines raw data, his own field research experience, and some of the most intimate photographs of these animals ever taken to show us their losing and near impossible struggle to survive. Both a personal work and serious piece of scholarship-- this is an essential volume in the library of any wildlife enthusiast. - Kyle