By Will Griggs
Non-Fiction is the most inclusive of the literary genres; it encompasses comedy and drama, mystery and mastery, history and heresy. Non-Fiction allows for all ideas and expands the minds of those who read. The following ten books are a wide range of topics and concepts, yet they all do one thing: detail a part of the human condition. Find out how the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary tie into mental illness and how segregation—both financial and racial—leads to misconceptions and exploitation of the subjugated groups. These ten books have touched my mind and soul, as I hope they will for you.
1001 Things Every College Student Needs to Know by Harry H. Harrison, Jr.
This is a book intended for your young adults headed into a new phase of their lives, yet I found it at the age of 33 and it convinced me to quit my job, return to school, and ultimately earn my degree. It is a simple list book (as the title shows), yet it is so much more. I found it to be a self-help book as well as a how-to guide. It was also a reference text and a comedic escape. I have recommended this book to every returning or beginning student of every age with the hopes that it inspires each of them as it inspired me.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn has shown himself to be one of the most progressive conceptual historians of the twentieth century. His People’s History is a staple of all bookshelves for those who wish to learn the stories of those who have been subjugated or ignored. It spans the spectrum as it details what would normally be ignored by the old adage of “might makes right.”
All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Both the book and the movie detail the backdrop of one of the most intensive and important modern-day journalistic accomplishments—the takedown of an entire administration. The two authors were lower-tier writers at the Washington Post who happened to uncover the details of Nixon’s and his minion’s attempt to win the 1972 presidential election through any means necessary.
Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston
America has incurred its fair share of shame as it has made its place in this world. One of those shameful histories is the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, after Pearl Harbor. Manzanar is one of more than half a dozen internment camps that were set up as prisons for thousands of American citizens. This book details the shameful and, often times, laughable lengths to which the government went to “protect” itself from sabotage and subversion.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
An economics book for those of us who have no hopes of becoming an economist. This brilliant book explains economic concepts through every day concerns and ideas. It has also lead to a great documentary and wonderful podcast.
How the Other Half Lives by Jacob A. Riis
The oldest book on this list, Other Half documents the amazing atmosphere in the slums of turn of the twentieth century New York City. With the use of flash photography, the writer is able to look into the hovels of humanity that were (and are) mere blocks from the financial temples of Wall Street and the mansions of Park Avenue. This account of income inequality is just as important today as it was in the time of Jacob Riis, and every reader should be prepared for the gut punch of realism it imparts.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
How would you feel if you found out that not only was your mother, who died of cancer, was treated as a second-class citizen at the very hospital she went to to save her life, but that the research that was performed on her has led to a multi-million dollar medical industry due to the incredible ability of her cells to survive. Skloot looks into the hows and whys of what happened to Henrietta Lacks, but more importantly she provides a very human context by explaining the resulting condition of Lacks’s family, and their fight for recognition and compensation.
Passport to Your National Parks by the National Park Service & Eastern National
Unlike any other entry on this list, Passport requires input and phenomenal effort on the part of the reader. It is a guide and literal passport of discovery to visit and learn about the 400+ National Park Service landmarks and parks. The Passport has been aiding travelers for more than a quarter century and every year sees changes and expansions to this wonderful book. I spent more than two years traveling around the country and still have only filled half of my Passport!
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
This is a wonderful linguistic study of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Uniquely developed over decades by user submitted entries, like a modern day Wikipedia dictionary overseen by professionals, the OED’s most prolific submitter was discovered to be an American Civil War veteran living his life in a British insane asylum following a grisly murder. Part history, part mystery this book shows how even dictionary creation can be exciting!
Scientists at War by Sarah Bridger
I will admit that this is the only book on the list I have yet to read, as it is being published today (4/1/15). Yet, I had to include it as it is the first full-length book written by one of my favorite professors I ever took classes from. Sarah Bridger is a fun and entertaining professor with a doctorate from Columbia. Her expertise on the atomic age is apparent from the word go and I cannot wait to see what she has to say about the ethical impacts of the Manhattan Project.