Since it is Valentine’s Day (or it will be when this post comes out), I thought I would share some nonfiction books I have greatly enjoyed.
First off, I will say, I am not the biggest consumer of nonfiction. I like it, depending on the topic, but I tend to have a 1:10 ration of nonfiction to fiction. But when I do read nonfiction, I tend to go science, weird, or very niche, so buckle up for my 10 favorite nonfiction books so far.
- From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty– Caitlin Doughty is the figure head of the Order of the Good Death, a death positivity group online. She is also an incredibly engaging writer. If you’re interested in death rituals, the American alternative funeral industry, and the morbid in general, definitely hit her works up. I also highly recommend her first book, Smoke Gets in your Eyes. What I especially love about her work is that she doesn’t sensationalize things that aren’t the norm. She treats death rituals with a great deal of respect and talks about the cultural reasons behind them.
- The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris– As a writer of Victorian stories that often have medical scenes, I greatly enjoy learning about antique medical science. Lindsey Fitzharris is a wealth of information regarding medical history. The Butchering Art talks about Joseph Lister’s journey to promoting germ theory and totally transforming the medical profession but especially surgery. There’s an incredible amount of depth to this story that interweaves Lister’s life with his professional contributions as well. Fitzharris has a new book coming out about plastic surgery during WWI that I am looking forward to as well, called The Facemaker, and she hosts the show The Curious Life and Death of… which is also fascinating.
- Fabric, Colors, or Jewels by Victoria Finlay– I will auto-buy anything Victoria Finlay comes out with. I absolutely love her books and hope she makes many more in the future. All three books are close looks into the cultural significance, history, and composition of fabric, jewels, and pigments. What I love about her books is that she goes all over the world to do deep research and talk with the people in the communities that create these things or are affected by their harvesting/creation. I’m a nerd who loves super deep, niche research, and Finlay’s books fill this void for me.
- Spirals in Time by Helen Scales– I have a thing for sea creatures, and spirals in time does a deep dive into the anatomy of molluscs, the way they were used in different cultures, how they can be used for drugs or food or poison, how they are being affected by climate change, etc. Basically anything you wanted to know about molluscs, Scales talks about. Once again, probably niche for some, but if you like to learn about a large part of ocean life that happens to be quite small and seemingly unimportant, this is for you.
- Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake– First off, the author’s name is amazing, especially in relation to a book on mushrooms. Second, fungi is the most fascinating of kingdoms. Much like Spirals in Time, it is a deep dive on the structure, life cycle, toxicity, promise, and even processing power of fungus. I know a nonfiction book is good when I want to read five more books on the same topic. Definitely leans more toward the creative nonfiction side than a try text, which I appreciated (other reviewers, not so much).
- The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams– This was one of those books where it just got wilder and wilder. The world of dinosaur hunting and selling, international trade regulations, fraud, Mongolian politics, and so much more. As a child who was obsessed with dinosaurs, I am still an adult who loves dinosaurs. This book is less about the dinosaurs themselves and more about the craze surrounding them. The magnetic appeal that leads to international smuggling rings and high profile arrests.
- An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage– an interesting look at food from pre-history to modernity with detours into the evolution of grains, how empires were built around them and transported them, as a tool to create ideologies, the spread of foods through empires, and how modern farming and consumption affects food. I didn’t love the more modern chapters, but the archaeology/anthropology-based bits were far better.
- When Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan– This is a book I’ve been referencing since starting the Paranormal Society Romance books. Ryan takes readers from Walt Whitman’s home in the 1850s to the sapphic women of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in WWII. The book is loaded with information but told in a way that feels almost like a story. It’s a comfortable pace without becoming too dry. I ran through When Brooklyn was Queer far faster than George Chauncey’s Gay New York (which I also recommend but it was drier). Ryan also provides a great works cited section at the end.
- A History of Ancient Egypt by John Romer– I will warn you, it is dense and large with tiny print. But if you are interested in Ancient Egypt, it is worth it. So far, there are two volumes, and I am DYING for the third which runs from the beginning of the New Kingdom to (I assume) the end of the Ptolemies. What I love about Romer is he only uses archaeological evidence for his theories, which takes away a lot of the “assumptions” we have about Ancient Egypt that reflect a British imperialist mindset.
- The ReVisioning American History series by Michael Bronski, Kim E. Nielsen, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Paul Ortiz, Daina Ramey Berry, and Kyle T. Mays (so far)- This series is really a starting point for further reading, but I like them because they talk about the history that often isn’t taught in schools. The books focus on queer history, disability history, Indigenous history, an African American and Latinx history, a history of Black women, and Afro-Indigenous History. The histories are often horrific at times, but they need to be told and read. As I said, they are not comprehensive, but they are a good starting point in order to delve deeper.