Non-Fiction Round-Up

I generally agree with Mark Twain when it comes to the new year:

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

However, I have made one reading resolution that I will do my best to stick with and that’s to read more non-fiction.  For years, my reading proclivity strongly favored non-fiction works, probably by a margin of 2:1.  Last year that ratio was reversed.  Not a bad thing necessarily, but I’d like to balance it out a bit more this year.  In that spirit, here are three mini-reviews of some non-fiction books I’ve read in the past few weeks.

The Wave by Susan Casey

This was a fascinating account of some of the most powerful and unpredictable forces on the planet.  The book really tells two parallel stories:  the first being a scientific and historic account of waves and the second being about those surfers who risk life and limb – literally – to hunt down and ride the biggest waves they can find.  The surfer dude stories I could have done without, although some of the anecdotes were harrowing.  The scientific and historic segments, however, were truly amazing and mind-boggling in scope.  Imagine a 120 foot wave washing over a boat.  Happens much more frequently than you might imagine and, with the climate system under flux, is bound to happen more and more often.  Now imagine a 1720-foot wave.  Turns out they don’t just happen in Roland Emerich movies and during asteroid strikes.  A particular bay in Alaska in prone to gargantuan waves, the 1720 footer having happened in the early 1900’s.  Amazing stuff and a wonderful read.

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a smart guy.  He knows it, and he certainly wants everyone else to know it as well.  There’s no denying that his anti-religion screed is clever, well-written, and engaging.  It just really isn’t all that convincing.  Hitchens relies on the boilerplate athiest arguments:  the universe is cruel and religious people do bad things, therefore God cannot exist.  He makes many valid points – the universe is not as ordered or benevolent as many fundamentalists would like to believe and much evil has been done in the name of religion.   I’m just not convinced that these facts justifies the conclusion that any belief in a higher power is an evil self-delusion.  For the staunch non-believers, this book would be a welcome justification and reinforcement of their views – preaching to the choir, so to speak.  But I doubt it will change many minds one way or the other.

Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Being the political junkie that I am, I had been dying to read this book for close to a year, I just had a hard time getting my hands on a copy.  Buying an e-reader solved that problem and I ripped through it in a day.  Ever since studying the US political system in college, I’ve been fascinated with the personalities of major political characters and how those personalities shape government and policy.  While this certainly isn’t the most academic or enlightening volume on the subject, it’s one of the most fun to read.  All the major players from the 2008 elections – Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, John Edwards, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney – are featured at their best and, more often, at their worst.  Seeing these figures lapse into moody funks, bouts of angry profanity, and outright tantrums is not only fun, but drives home the reality that, despite being world-famous statesmen (and women), they’re still just ordinary people, foibles and all, trying to do their jobs.

What other non-fiction have you been reading lately?



  1. Have you read Richard Dawkin’s ” The God Delusion” & if so how does Christopher Hitchen’s book compare: At the moment I’m reading Umberto Eco’s ” Serendipities, Language & Lunacy” in this he discusses how serendipities – unanticipated truths – often spring from mistaken ideas, it also is fascinating history of language & ideas. I’ve just finished O.U.P,s a very short introduction – Spanish Literature, this is part of a series of books under the oxford university presses V.S.I title which reveals the history of span lit & discusses what makes a countries literary identity. Two books not read ( but have) are Alberto Manguel’s “A reader on reading” which covers the twin crafts of reading & writing, also Mark Abley’s ” The prodigal tongue – dispatches from the future of English” which is a linguistic study of English around the world, covering Japan, oxford LA etc. NYT called it provocative, just looking at this list I’ve realised I’m reading a lot of Language related books & upped my own nonfiction. Thanks.

    1. I haven’t read The God Delusion, but I am currently in the middle of Dawkin’s The Greatest Show on Earth. In this book, at least, Dawkin’s seems to be slightly less antagonistic than Hitchens, even conceding points where the religious and the atheistic can agree and work together, something that Hitchens discounted completely. The Umberto Eco book sounds interesting, as does The Prodigal Tongue. Being an EFL teacher, that one looks like it would be fascinating to me. Thanks for the suggestions!

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