Although I'm a huge fan of fiction and will read almost any genre
(but no horror, please), I have deep fondness for nonfiction. Since my
elementary school days, biography, science, and history have made up a
significant percentage of my reading life. Here are a dozen recommended
titles, all coming out this month. Whether you're into medicine or
Hollywood, you're sure to find something to add to your reading list.
Biology & Medicine
- In The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee explores the theories and mechanics of heredity from the ancient Greeks to the mapping of the human genome. What does it mean to be human -- on the genetic level -- and what are the ramifications of genetic engineering? Thought-provoking and easy to read. (Scribner).
- The Age of Genomes by Steven Monroe Lipkin looks at our genetic makeup from a medical point of view, clearly explaining the good and evil aspects of current research into genetic testing and genetics-based cures for devastating diseases. What the potential long-term consequences of messing around with our genes? (Beacon Press)
- Sean Carroll's The Big Picture can be summed by its subtitle: "On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself." This extremely accessible account explores our place in the greater context of the universe, from the stars to the smallest particles. (Dutton)
- Could you be single (but dating) for an entire year? In Available, Matteson Perry tells what it's like, as he shares the foibles and fun and downside of serial dating in the 21st century, all while trying to maintain his nice-guy status. (Scribner).
- Her Again by Michael Schulman takes a look at one of the most honored actors of our time. His perspective is to introduce us to a young Meryl Streep, from her New Jersey teen years, through college stage plays, and finally to her first Oscar. Well researched and respectful. (Harper)
- Wendy E. Simmons is one adventurous traveler who rarely loses her sense of humor. The essays collected in My Holiday in North Korea describe it all, from weddings to hospitals and cities to countryside, providing a intimate view of West meets East. Amply illustrated by photographs. (Rosettabooks)
- Shelley Emling's Setting the World on Fire transports us to medieval Italy, bringing the life of St. Catherine of Siena to modern attention. How did this daughter of a tradesman balance her feminist ideas against her devotion to the Church? Fascinating reading. (St. Martin's Press)
- Nathaniel Philbrick is one of my go-to authors for early American History. His Valiant Ambition focuses on the relationship between two of the main players in the American Revolutionary War: George Washington and Benedict Arnold. This is a well-balanced account of the men's individual personalities and the choices they made during wartime. (Viking)
- The Edge of the Empire by Bronwen Riley takes us across the ocean and into the past to discover the world of the Roman emperor Hadrian. We embark on a journey from Rome to the far northwestern territory known as Britannia, seeing the sights, eating the food, and soaking in the different cultures along the way. Travelogue and history all rolled into one. (Pegasus Books)
- Sebastian Junger's Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging explores the phenomenon of being a member of a small community, from precontact Native Americans to veterans of modern-day war. Junger asks, Why do we form stronger bonds during times of adversity than we do when all is well? Delving into history and the social sciences, he attempts to answer this and other questions about how humans form connections. (Twelve)
- In The First Signs, Genevieve von Petzinger sets out to interpret the earliest human art--the paintings and carvings found in caves and at other prehistoric European sites. What exactly do those dots, hand prints, swirls, and geometric shapes mean? Even if archaeological research cannot determine the meanings with certainty, we can appreciate how such art connects us with our ancient ancestors. (Atria)
Many of us are familiar with Neil Gaiman's fiction, including Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. You might not know, however, that Gaiman also writes essays, reviews, and speeches. The View from the Cheap Seats collects dozens of these short works, in which Gaiman explores a wide variety of topics and issues. You'll find pieces about writing, bookstores, and book awards. Others focus on people and books (including reviews). Gaiman talks about science fiction, fairy tales, and art. He muses about comics, film, and music. This is a must-read collection for fans and for anyone interested in a smart, well-thought-out perspective on a variety of contemporary issues. I've been dipping into this randomly, reading an essay here, a keynote speech there as my mood dictates. (William Morrow)
NOTE: These are the books at the top of my current nonfiction list. For more of my nonfiction picks, check out my stream on the Litsy app (for iPhone), where I'm BethFishReads.