Tag Archives: nonfiction

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (2015)

neurotribesSteve Silberman has taken on a large task, trying to cover the whole history of autism and neurodiversity in a single book, but NeuroTribes brings us about as close as we can get. Despite some news articles, autism is by no means a new thing; it’s just gone by other names in the past. Silberman looks at the major players who “discovered” the neurological differences at roughly the same time in multiple corners of the world, works through the research of the last 70 years, and dispels rumors related to disability and vaccines. Throughout, he shares personal stories from the families and doctors of, and especially the autistic people themselves. Reading this book will give you a new appreciation for how brain chemistry and sensory abilities have changed over time and see that often, autism can act not as a bug, but as a feature.

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill (1995)

irishsavedIf you enjoy history, you will want to pick up this engaging title. In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill relates the philosophy, culture, and history from the decline of the Roman Empire to medieval Europe. In a mere 246 pages, this narrative is told through the lives of individuals—including the remarkable figure of St. Patrick. As the Dark Ages descended, Irish monks preserved Western civilization through transcriptions of Greek and Latin manuscripts. In so doing, the Irish put their unique imprint on medieval society, and Ireland became known as the “isle of saints and scholars.”

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life by Niki Brantmark (2017)

lagomDespite living a few months of the year without sunlight, Sweden regularly appears highly on the Happiness Index. Almost everything, from their friendly, welcoming communities (which take in more refugees than any other country) to eco-friendly construction to their trademark interior decorating can be traced back to the Swedish philosophy of lagom. Roughly translating to “not too little, not too much,” lagom is all about taking life in moderation. In Lagom, Niki Brantmark explains Swedish culture through the eyes of an adopter, discussing how to balance life in a large number of ways. You don’t need to deny yourself pleasures, nor do you need to ignore responsibilities—you just have to find the right amount of each. With tips on crafts, holidays, decoration, health, relationships, diet, and more, Lagom is the perfect whole-life introduction to living like a Swede, wherever you are.

The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism by John U. Bacon (2017)

In 1917, a ship full of explosives en route from New York to France exploded in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. Killing 2,000 people and wounding 9,000 more, the explosion leveled 2.5 square miles of Canada. In The Great Halifax Explosion, author John U. Bacon combines engaging human interest stories with what happened leading up to and after the explosion (which was the largest in the world until the atomic bombs were dropped in 1945). He introduces readers to the families of Halifax and details their daily lives in this fascinating story. For fans of history books with a personal narrative. If you visit Halifax, you can see the Mont Blanc Anchor. Learn more from Canada’s Historic Places.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo (2014)

When cleaning, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed to the point that you stop before you begin— all because of one question: “Where do I start?!” Marie Kondo’s answer is clothes! Gather up all the clothes in the house you can find (yes, even the ones in the back of that third closet in the room no one goes in) and go through them. From there, how do you decide whether you keep it or not?  Ask yourself this: does it bring you joy? Have you even worn it in the last year? (Did you forget it existed?) Find your inner clutter-free calm with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones (2015)

What an eye-opener—investigative journalist Sam Quinones pens a compelling and horrifying tale of how a combination of factors lead to the current devastating opiate problem affecting people across the United States. In Dreamland, short chapters focus on various individuals (dealers, doctors, addicts, and their families) and corporations (marketing firms and pharmaceutical companies). Quinones weaves multiple threads together, showing how an influx of black tar heroin from Mexico (and a new delivery system) and the rise of OxyContin and other legal pharmaceuticals created today’s widespread challenges. He successfully humanizes people in this narrative, including some individuals that may surprise you. There is so much to talk about—consider discussing Dreamland with your book group.

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King (2016)

In this engagingly readable mix of art, history, and biography, author Ross King details the later years of Claude Monet’s life. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Mad Enchantment documents Monet’s work on paintings both large and small as well as his life in Giverny, France (and his relationships with other artists such as Renoir and Rodin). The prolific artist, although hindered by grief and failing eyesight, produced the massive paintings found in l’Orangerie in Paris. The Art Institute of Chicago plays a role in the book, too. Did you know its representatives tried to purchase the paintings that ended up in l’Orangerie? At least we have many other Monet works in Chicago. Whether you’re planning a trip to Paris or Chicago, or just want to learn more about one of the greats (who was not always admired during his lifetime), I recommend this book—I lost track of the number of times I thought, “I didn’t know that.”  

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

At turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Trevor Noah’s candid memoir is a powerful, moving story of his life as a mixed race child growing up during apartheid. Told in vignettes, Born a Crime documents his relationship with his mother, his childhood and teenage antics, and his struggle to fit into a world that considered him a crime (at the time of his birth, interracial relationships were illegal). Perhaps best known as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Noah does infuse humor into his stories, but this is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Listen to the audiobook: the author’s command of multiple languages and skill at impersonations shine in his engaging narration.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (2017)

Ranking as the happiest country in the world three years running, the Danish know a thing or two about creating pleasant environments. A Dane himself, there is perhaps no one more qualified to write on this topic than Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. One of the reasons for their happiness is hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), which loosely translates to a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. Some of the ways you can achieve hygge are warm blankets, crackling fireplaces, good conversation, homemade sweets, and candles—lots and lots of candles. This little book’s pages are packed with ideas for nights on your own or with others; recipes; happiness research; history; travel tips; and Danish wisdom. Check out The Little Book of Hygge today.

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom (1999)

This is Mitch Albom’s second nonfiction book since Tuesdays with Morrie. If you enjoyed that one, I think you’ll enjoy Have a Little Faith, possibly even more. It is heartwarming, inspirational, thought-provoking, and, at times, humorous. Albom’s hometown rabbi asks Albom to deliver his eulogy when he dies. On his quest to learn more about this man, he encounters an African American pastor who, despite a past as a drug dealer and convict, is leading a Christian ministry serving the poor and homeless in Detroit’s inner city. The book alternates between these two very different men, religions, and their worlds. In the process, you learn valuable lessons about the power of faith to bring people together to accomplish great things. Great read for a book club.