Friday Five: Non-Fiction

For today’s Friday Fun thread, your favorite non-fiction books. Either because they influenced you or because they were so fun to read.

My five?

Free to Choose: Three decades after it was published, Milton Friedman’s opus to economic liberty remains one of the most cogent, inspiring and prescient defense of the free market and capitalism yet made. It’s anti-matter to Das Kapital. The PBS series that accompanied it is good too.

The Wisdom of Crowds: Surowiecki has one of the best examinations of not only how people make good decisions, but how they make bad ones. His description of the Columbia diaster is enraging.

Gulag by Anne Applebaum is a stunning and grueling indictment of the Soviet slave labor system. Gulag Archipelago should be required reading as well.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: William Shirer’s documenting of the Nazi regime is both exhaustive and exhausting. The most gripping part is the horrific plans Hitler made for Eastern Europe had he won the war. Honorable mention goes to Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and The Histories of Herodotus.

The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract: Probably the most comprehensive look at the game ever put together. A must for any baseball fan. Even after ten years, it’s still a great reference.

(Note: those last three combined for about 3000 pages. I used to have so much time to read …)

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  1. hist_ed

    Holy crap dude, only 5?

    Dreadnought by Robert K Massie
    Great work of history that tells the story of the years prior to World War One. It has two main threads, the friction between the new, rising Germany and Great Britain (including a lot of the geeky tech details about warship design) and the family story of the Royal houses of Germany, Russian, and Britain.

    Sex at Dawn. by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. They argue that humans are not naturally monogamous. According to them, pre-historic people were all a bunch of crazy swingers. They also go into biology (human and otherwise-there is a chapter on the shape of the human penis and how that means we are all supposed to be banging each others’ wives and girlfriends), history, and a butt load of other stuff. Sounds dry but it isn’t.

    “The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud**And those who are too fearful to do so” Lawrence Solaman. No matter where you are on the AGW debate, this book will disturb you. The way dissenting scientists are treated is awful (and dissent is just saying “No its all crap” but just saying “Yes yes, the consensus is 90% right, but what about this one little problem”)

    Everything by Thomas Sowell. I particularly liked “Economic Facts and Fallacies” Loaned in out to my liberal-ish uncle in law. Never got it back.

    Uhhhh Biograhpies. Love historical biographies. Can’t narrow it down to just one. Churchill’s history of the Second World War (yes self serving-duh, not 100% accurate, but wonderful and huge), William Manchester’s Churchill biographies (he died before getting to the third volume, alas)-also loved Manchester’s Arms of Krupp and American Caesar, Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage” was good, as well as his Band of Brothers . . . Shit baby just woke up. Could probably add a half dozen biographies (read a great one of Sulla in college) but gotta feed the kiddo.

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  2. Argive

    1. Moneyball, by Michael Lewis: Surely one of the best baseball books ever written. But past that, it’s a fabulous business book as well. The scene where Billy Beane slices Steve Phillips into a million pieces during trade negotiations is particularly awesome.

    2. Boomerang, by Michael Lewis: The chapter on Greece in particular will blow your mind. The chapter on California will make you start stockpiling canned food and ammunition.

    3. Methland, by Nick Reding: A really fascinating examination of how meth has affected a small town in Iowa. Although the book is a success story (the town profiled managed an economic renaissance which helped to provide people with jobs that didn’t involve selling meth), the author concludes that the meth trade is a basically unstoppable force, and that no easy answers exist for how to deal with meth in rural America.

    4. Hell In A Very Small Place, by Bernard Fall: 46 years after its original publication, this book remains (IMO) the definitive account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu from the French side. The tenacity that the paratroopers (70% of whom were Algerian, Moroccan or Vietnamese) showed in the face of unrelenting Viet Minh attacks makes for a spellbinding read.

    5. A Rumor of War, by Philip Caputo: My favorite Vietnam War memoir. Caputo really makes you feel the insanity, desperation and blinding heat that characterized his tour in Vietnam.

    Honorable mentions: Dispatches, by Michael Herr; I’ve Got The Light Of Freedom, by Charles Payne; Vietnam at War, by Mark Bradley (yes, I am a Vietnam nerd); The South Versus The South, by William Freehling.

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  3. West Virginia Rebel

    Cosmos by Carl Sagan
    A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
    Parliament of Whores by P.J. O’Rourke-one of his best, still relevant today
    The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe-account of the early space program
    The Civil War by Shelby Foote-difinitive military history of the War Between the States

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  4. salinger

    Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
    Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain – David Eagleman
    Mosaic of Thought – Ellin Keene and Suzanne Zimmerman
    It’s a Wonderful Life – Stephen J Gould
    Hell’s Angels – Hunter S. Thompson

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  5. bgeek

    There are so many, so I’ll post some that I’ve enjoyed reading more than once.

    A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell
    The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek
    A Year at the Movies: One Man’s Filmgoing Odyssey by Kevin Murphy
    Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
    The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin Mitnick

    I’m also really into cooking and homebrew, so I guess these count as nonfiction.

    Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick Bayless
    The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos by Robb Walsh
    How to Brew by John Palmer
    The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm (that’s how the title is spelled)
    Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn, and Thomas Keller

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  6. CM

    The Agassi book ‘Open’ is the most enjoyable biography I’ve read in a while. I bought it for a couple of people as a present.

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