Recommended Non-Fiction

Here is a list of non-fiction I found to be worth reading. It is organized alphabetically by author. In addition, for comprehensive reviews of selected titles, check here. For fiction recommendations click here.  Also, I am a particular fan of survival stories so for a short list of my favorites in that genre, click here:  Survival Stories. For featured “conspiracy theory” recommendations, click here: Conspiracy Collection.

In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic
4 of 5 stars true
Up there with all the great stories of survival I have read. Includes two great elements: shipwreck and fine writing. So many parallels with Shackleton, including the characters’ unawareness of the outbreak of WWI!
The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
5 of 5 stars true
Beautiful book. Nicely written. Pictures like you have never seen before. Must own.
The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
4 of 5 stars true
Great book. What a difference in factual and educational value vs the tall-tale quality of the Bounty Trilogy (Mutiny on the Bounty et al).
A Short History of Nearly Everything
4 of 5 stars true
I could not put this down. The best work of “pot boiler” science I’ve  ever read. Totally comprehensive and engaging. The last chapter was gratuitous and predictable, but the book’s only real flaw.
The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer
3 of 5 stars true
Well-written, interesting account of a super scary guy. I kind of wanted to get it over with because it seemed pointlessly gruesome. I do want to watch the HBO documentaries though.
The Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Join the Millions Who Have Become Nonsmokers Using the Easyway Method
5 of 5 stars true
Without question the most important book I have read in my life. By the time I finished the book, I had not only stopped smoking (after 25 years on the weed), but I stopped drinking as well.
The Bad Popes
3 of 5 stars true
This was an interesting, objective narrative of seven popes reigning from around 900-1600. A smidgen dry but informative, concise and basically well-written.
Witness
5 of 5 stars true
A fascinating story by an exceptional writer.  Chambers was at one time the senior editor for Time magazine and he went from a card-carrying communist to a whistle-blower on communist spies. It cost him his health and his heart and was only truly vindicated for his hardship over thirty years later.
With God in Russia
4 of 5 stars true
So simply and humbly written, it took me half the book to realize what horrors Fr. Ciszek lived through. This is the account of the life of a saint written by the saint himself. Truly horrifying to realize that all of his suffering was unjustly visited upon him by fellow human beings.
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
4 of 5 stars true
Fantastic book. Just what I was looking for and it lays out everything I believe about the nexus of science and religion. The appendix had a hint of well-meaning politics but that’s my only criticism of this book.
The Story of Philosophy
5 of 5 stars true
The only philosophy book I have ever read the purpose of which seemed to be for the reader to understand the philosophy of the philosopher. This should be the starting point of any serious inquiry into philosophy or even a particular philosopher covered–it will all follow from this clear foundation.
Eleni
4 of 5 stars true
Fascinating true story but suffers from some quality I often find (and dislike) in books written by journalists. Lack of flow perhaps.
Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy
5 of 5 stars true
This book covers everything you need to do to go through the process of determining whether or not there is likely a God and then touches on how to evaluate the likely nature of God if He exists. It’s set out in simple terms for the beginner to philosophical thought, but don’t be fooled–the questions cannot and should not be merely dismissed.
Churchill: A Life
4 of 5 stars true
The best single volume on the life of Churchill out there, in my opinion, of course.
A Constitutional History Secession
4 of 5 stars true
This book was fantastic. I had long wondered how the founders could have done such a sloppy job that the constitution is toothless after less than 200 years. This book explains it–they didn’t screw up–it took Lincoln and a million dead Americans to kill the constitution they thought they were fighting for.
Drug Crazy: How We Got into This Mess and How We Can Get Out
0 of 5 stars true
For my comprehensive review of Drug Crazy, click here.
The Road to Serfdom
4 of 5 stars true
It’s a great book to the extent it examines socialism and communism but Hayek fails to realize that the type of limited government he advocates cannot exist as the government being a monopoly cannot limit itself.
The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments
3 of 5 stars true
This is a good overview of the British, French and American Enlightenments. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the British Enlightenment as it was the most thorough and also the Enlightenment itself was the most interesting, the most original and seemed to be driven by philosophers looking to discover truth rather than to push an agenda (as were the French philosophes). However, Himmelfarb displays in the end a most irrational conclusion often reached by neo-conservatives: that the experiment worked, that the Constitution was successful and that we are living in the vision of the Founders. Further, the implication is that our success is a result of the atmosphere and actions of the US Government not despite it. Overinvestment in industry and infrastructure resulting from government distortions will ultimately lead to our downfall; the government itself is a tyranny much more oppressive than the English was to the American colonies; and the Anti-Federalists were right not the Federalists–why don’t neo-conservatives see this? The neo-conservatives’ misguided acceptance of the status quo–the government is thus, use it for good–is the reason traditional, Libertarian conservativism seems to have lost its voice in this country.
Democracy: The God That Failed
5 of 5 stars true
Check out my comprehensive review of this book here.
The Myth of National Defense
5 of 5 stars true
From the horror of wars of ideology to the democratic state killing its own people to the ability to defend oneself even from foreign attack, The Myth of National Defense is essential reading for anyone ready to question his or her assumptions that the all-encompassing modern state is the only way or even the best way to defend oneself.
Einstein: His Life and Universe
4 of 5 stars true
Excellent. Isaacson is a superb biographer and this work supports that. My only criticism is that Isaacson is ridiculously forgiving on the following points–Einstein was outrageously outspoken in favor of total unconditional pacifism and absolutely no nationalism under any circumstances. These were Einstein’s two causes. Yet, when Israel needed his support for statehood he made an exception to the nationalism rule and when we went to war with the Nazis he made an exception to the pacifism rule. Instead of admitting he was wrong on his positions, he claimed these were two unique justifications. The only thing unique is that they happened to be two situations he could relate to and wanted to defend. That’s selfish and not right. He should have been held accountable for his impractical and ultimately immoral initial positions, instead Isaacson makes him out as an idealist and an absent-minded professor and excuses it all. I’m still mad about it!
A History of the American People
4 of 5 stars true

For me the two critical elements of “pot-boiler” history like this is that it is enjoyable to read and aims to convey the truth. It is a joy to me to find such a book on a subject I wish to broach and this is such a book. The writing and narrative style are engaging if not compelling from start to finish and I get the strong sense that Paul Johnson is critically assessing and interpreting the facts and presenting them fairly. He does offer, I think helpfully, the occasional editorial comment, but only when the weight of the evidence strongly indicates a certain conclusion be drawn.On a whole, I believe Mr. Johnson presents the facts and their natural conclusions in a fair-minded and rational way, but I think perhaps he takes this approach too far in his assessments of the Presidents, showing a strong preference for each man’s stated intentions and administrative abilities even if the man’s policies were misguided and damaging–or even unconstitutional. I found this approach overly non-judgmental and it did not satisfy my desire to call these men to account.

It may be that Mr. Johnson’s viewpoint demonstrates an observation I have made more than once, which is this: I think Mr. Johnson is probably considered a conservative Briton but even the conservatives in England seem to stipulate that the government is charged with certain positive moral and social obligations (i.e., requiring action rather than forbearance) and certain foreign responsibilities as well, and it is with that baseline viewpoint that Mr. Johnson assesses the rights and wrongs in US history.

As a libertarian and an heir to the Enlightenment embodied in the American Revolution, I would not so stipulate. Here is a demonstration of Mr. Johnson’s viewpoint (p. 922): “[Reagan:] asked Paul Volcker, chairman of the Fed, ‘Why do we need a Federal Reserve at all?’ Volcker . . .sagged in his chair and was ‘speechless for a minute.'” Clearly, Mr. Johnson identifies with Mr. Volcker. As for me, I would like to know Mr. Volcker’s answer.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book as an overview of American history.

The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy
4 of 5 stars true
I bought this book for a catholic school administrator I know and I decided I ought to flip through it before I give it to her to make sure it is worth reading. I ended up reading the whole thing cover to cover in one night! It is an amazingly concise, erudite and well-written explanation of the most important features of Austrian economics which alone made the book worth reading. This discussion was set on a backdrop of the moral underpinnings of Austrian economics and how they are consistent with the Church’s teachings and basic principles, as laid out by Aquinas among others. Woods also respectfully points out places where popes have gotten it wrong (in particular Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.) This being said, there isn’t very much religious discussion, and there seems no need for more. One of the best points Woods makes (and I am beginning to get a fuller grasp of this over time) is: Austrian economics like all sound systems in the natural or social sciences are both moral and efficient not by coincidence but by the inherent and sublime organization of nature. I thought this book was very, very well done.
The First and Last Freedom
5 of 5 stars true
For a comprehensive review of this book click here.
The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World
4 of 5 stars true
The only thorough, factual and comprehensive survey of the state of the environment, man and the world I have read. If you do not check with this book on your assumptions about the environment or find a book that is equally thorough and scientifically sound, you are doing yourself and the cause an injustice. It is pretty much a textbook though so get your caffeine working.
Nicholas and Alexandra
4 of 5 stars true
The first of Massie’s pot-boiler history I read–so-called because it’s not an original source it just pulls together other sources in a highly readable if not purely academic form.  Highly readable and engaging.
Dreadnought
4 of 5 stars true
Excellent narrative of the events leading to the Great War.
Human Action: A Treatise On Economics
5 of 5 stars true
The best work on economics ever written. If Mises had been an anarchist he’d have been perfect.
Abandon Ship!: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster
4 of 5 stars true
This was one of the saddest stories I have ever read, if not the saddest. About the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the loss of over 800 men in the final days of WWII. A horrible miscarriage of justice on so many levels.
Our Enemy, the State
5 of 5 stars true
For my comprehensive review of this book–one of my all-time favorites–click here.
The Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy
4 of 5 stars true
Wonderfully written, fascinating tale of the sea. The books get better as the trilogy progresses. My only criticism is that an awful lot of the facts seem to be disputed in more serious sources.
The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
5 of 5 stars true
I would not believe this book if I did not know it was true. If you need to give yourself anIi-can-do-it talk, read this and you will know you can do anything if you have the character and determination.
America's Great Depression
5 of 5 stars true
Rothbard and Mises are the simplest and most brilliant economists of all time. Even as Keynesianism brings the world to its knees and proves the Austrians are right, still no one will see the truth.
For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto
5 of 5 stars true
The Libertarian Manifesto. Cursorily answers all the questions about anarcho-capitalism, or a natural law society. I only wish the examples were more recent. Each chapter could be a book on its own and, actually, the Mises institute (mises.org) has many books that are dedicated to one or another of Rothbard’s topics. A joy to read.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
5 of 5 stars true
This book showed me that coming to the end of external knowledge about God is actually the beginning of the journey to look inward and know His nature. Made me interested in the early Christian Gnostics who believed we could know God through his reflection in ourselves. Also introduced me to the concept that the question of the existence of God is unanswerable and irrelevant–you can’t prove it or disprove it, and no matter what, the path to contentment in this life is the same as the path to contentment in the next life: freeing yourself from the cycle of desire. Find the path and live it–if you do, you will maximize happiness and fulfillment in this life whether or not there’s an afterlife and if there happens to be an afterlife, you will be well-prepared for it.
Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism
4 of 5 stars true
A great overview of Reagan’s greatest achievement. Inspiring.
Me Talk Pretty One Day
4 of 5 stars true
The best David Sedaris has put out, I think. Hilarious.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
5 of 5 stars true
PERFECT. An astonishing work of historical writing bursting with facts, support, riveting narrative and a great writing style–never dry, always engaging. Provides evidence that there was a time when presentation of facts and ability to write prose were parts of a journalist’s repertoire.
Whittaker Chambers: A Biography
4 of 5 stars true
Excellent, fair, thorough biography of Whittaker Chambers, a fascinating character. I would still read Chambers’ Witness first–it’s essentially the same story but first hand.
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
4 of 5 stars true
What an incredible insight into the way in which Mother Teresa shared Jesus’ suffering on the cross. What lessons she has for us.
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
4 of 5 stars true
Thoreau exhorts us to refuse the tax collector or move out of our State to protest slavery in the US. Thanks to FDR and the withholding tax and, ironically, Lincoln and the Civil War, both of these defenses against an unjust government have been taken from us. Woe are us.
Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams
4 of 5 stars true
I really loved this book. Great writer, great subject.

3 Responses to Recommended Non-Fiction

  1. Helen H. says:

    Wow- what an awesome list of books! No wonder Monica is so well read and smart. Excellent reviews too.

  2. poguesheridan says:

    What a marvelous collection! I’m heading to Abebooks.com now to begin ordering!

  3. Norman Von Ustead says:

    Fantastic books all of them. One exception , mother Teresa was a fraud that feasted on money and power in a false belief that her God the Catholic Church would some day help her to meet her imaginary friends in the sky.

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