Nonfiction books that are off-the-wall, of mixed-to-dubious accuracy, but which are also entertaining and insightful as works of literature, irrespective of the factual claims presented therein. Clarification and examples lurk within.
I'm looking for nonfiction books that are too strange and/or creative and/or wrong to be considered "normal" nonfiction, but which are also too readable to be considered gibberish or pure formal experimentalism.
For the purposes of this question, I'm not looking for personal stories or personal journeys. These books should be about history, science, travel, language, etc. etc. etc.
The author should be attempting for factual accuracy, even if s/he falls short of the mark.
Encyclopedic books are more than fine, so long as they're readable front-to-back.
I'm not interested in straight-up conspiracy literature of the "who killed JFK" variety, let alone anything of the "aliens at Area 51" variety, unless the book is truly, truly amazing, especially as far as the prose itself is concerned. I'd rather come way from the book feeling that I've actually learned something, even if I'm not entirely sure how reliable the lessons were.
I'm not really looking for pop science or pop history, not because I'm a snob, but because those books are generally not weird enough. For example, Mark Kurlansky's books are good, but they're not what I'm looking for.
Some examples of what I am
looking for include:
Peter Levenda's Sinister Forces
trilogy, which reads American history through an occult lens. Distinguishes itself from plain old conspiracy books by being much more about undercurrents and strange connections than it is about any particular big-C Conspiracy, especially since most of the conspiracy elements are about things which are verifiably true to some extent or another (e.g. MKULTRA really did exist, Frank Olson really did die at the Pennsylvania Hotel, and so on). This book is maybe the best example of what I'm looking for - there's a thesis, there are subtheses, it's well-researched, it's sort of insane, much of it is perfectly true, much of it is probably false, but I read the entire thing with pleasure. Levenda's Unholy Alliance
also fits within what I'm looking for.
Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia
fuses a loose fictional frame with some truly heady theory. This one's further out on the experimental fringe of what I'm looking for. While the factual assertions made in this book are not meant to be taken at face value, the theory is, so it still has that feeling of a delirious nonfiction book.
Ernest Becker's The Birth and Death of Meaning
is on the more sober, academic fringe of what I'm looking for. It's well-cited, with a mature and respected thesis that has been developed in further works, including Becker's own work and in the work of his acolytes.
G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man
is a conservative example of what I'm looking for. It's a loose history of the world, as seen through the lens of a fervent Catholic. Neither fish nor fowl, but a very good book.
Colin Wilson's A Criminal History of Mankind
. I'm currently reading this book, and I love it. I'm also very much aware that much of what Wilson is writing is complete bunk - not quite woo, just bunk. Nonetheless, this book is what inspired this question. For all of the nonsense the book has, it's very well-assembled, and what's more, there's real insight in here, as well as real facts and anecdotes.