Help me read the world through different eyes
March 27, 2010 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Back in January, as a New Years resolution, I set myself the goal of reading a book a month in 2010. Each book would help me expand my world view or be the seminal book about an interesting topic. They would be non-fiction. I'm looking for recommendations.

Books I have read so far:

1] The Gift Of Fear.
2] Feeing Good.
3] The Introvert Advantage.

I picked these up because I've seen them recommended on the Green so often.

Books I plan to read:

1] The Greatest Show on Earth.*
2] The Female Eunuch.^

Subjects I'd like to read about:

1] Buddhism.
2] Career choices.

I'm basically looking to be challenged, in the sense of reading about a POV that either I disagree with or haven't considered before. I'm pretty open as to subject, but I think I'm interested in less mainstream ideas, such as feminism or racial equality. I think I have a vague human-oriented bent to this.

* Recommended by a friend.
^ It's the only book about feminism I've ever heard of (and I know very little about feminism), please feel free to suggest others.
posted by Solomon to Education (31 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Off the top of my head, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan & On Photography by Susan Sontag are three seminal works in the media/visual culture field(s).

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Ludwig Wittgenstein) if you want to be a total badass when it comes to philosophy...(well he thought so.)
posted by i_cola at 6:13 AM on March 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Free To Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman
posted by dinger at 6:20 AM on March 27, 2010

This is a wide question!
Here's my shortllist
Getting Things Done - David Allen
The Black Swan - Taleb
GEB - Hofstadter
The Selfish Gene - Dawkins It's the book which launched Dawkins.
The Demon Haunted World - Sagan or as that seems to be out of print (great shame) maybe Bad Science - Goldacre which at under £4 is amazingly good value.

And never read these but heard recomended to me:
Theory of Justice - Rawls
Beyond Fear - Schnenier
posted by 92_elements at 7:09 AM on March 27, 2010

Derrick Jensen, The Culture of Make-Believe, on the history of hatred and violence. Brutal topic, great read, and even though I don't agree with him up to the point of wanting to dismantle industrial civilisation, this book absolutely blew my mind.
posted by Catseye at 7:23 AM on March 27, 2010

Best answer: I went through a period where I was very interested in reading exceptionally well-written non-fiction on subjects that didn't interest me. I wanted to see how the authors were able -- if at all -- to make a dull (at least in in my way of thinking) subject fascinating. Many weren't up to the task. Two that were:

Annals of the Former World - John McPhee
Arctic Dreams - Barry Lopez

"Annals" in particular might fit your criteria. It's ostensibly about geology. McPhee is not a geographer, but he travels with geologists. Among the topics considered include why these men & women chose geology as their career -- or, in some cases, how geology chose them.

"Arctic Dreams," while not fitting with the themes of Buddism or Career Choices, does seem to have a humanist bent, as Lopez tries to make sense of how humankind can (or can't) interact with the Arctic environment.
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:25 AM on March 27, 2010

Look into Tracey Kidder and John McPhee, seriously. Their fantastic work has transported me into the minds of people building a house, truck drivers, schoolteachers, Bill Bradley as college basketball star, and much more. I highly recommend them both.

But the gold standard of "nonfiction about career choices" has to be Working, by the late, great Studs Terkel.
posted by sallybrown at 7:31 AM on March 27, 2010

From a sociological standpoint, Random Family took my breath away when I read it years ago.

Also: What is the What, which is listed as fiction but is really the autobiography of a Sudanese lost boy as told to Dave Eggers.

Both of these books took me outside my own life in a profound way.
posted by something something at 7:40 AM on March 27, 2010

Buddhism books can get a little tricky, as many devolve into dreamy talk about living in the present, and don't get to the bloody point (if you want to learn about the actual religion, I mean).

Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, however, I consider to be very good (not exactly an expert here). As the PW review describes it, it's an "inventory" of all major Buddhist concepts, explained quite clearly.

What the Buddha Taught is older, but was a gold standard in this category as well.

For Zen Buddhism, of course, there's Alan Watts' classic The Way Of Zen, which I believe is sort of the hipster book of choice in this category (because, you know, it's what the Beats read). I actually haven't read it myself, but it scores points for importance in influencing Western Buddhism.

As I said, be careful when you wade into this category.
posted by hiteleven at 7:42 AM on March 27, 2010

'Conjectures and Reftations' by Karl Popper. No book demonstrated I was so wrong about so much as this did. Runner up: 'The Open Socety' by Popper.

'South' by Ernest Shackleton. 'The Walking Dead' is a great comic on the evil men do to survive. 'South' is the best coming out in men to survive. Runner up: 'Papillon.'

A fine project, enjoy.
posted by eccnineten at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2010

Sorry, here is What the Buddha Taught.
posted by hiteleven at 7:44 AM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: I probably should qualify that while I'm specifically interested in Buddhism and career choices and would welcome suggestions on those topics (in particular), I'm open to other stuff too.
posted by Solomon at 7:54 AM on March 27, 2010

If you're interested in Zen and are willing to sit down with a notepad to work through math, you could do worse than Godel, Escher, Bach. Though I see 92_elements has already recommended it... in any case, if you pick this one up, rest assured that the really hard bits are right up front, that it does in fact get easier as you go along, and give yourself more than a month on it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:58 AM on March 27, 2010

He seems to get dissed a bit on MeFi, but I enjoyed Gladwell's latest, Outliers (with the caveat that I listened to it on the commute, didn't actually read it, per se. It would be an easy read, I imagine. In case you fall behind schedule while reading Wittgenstein).

Career-wise, I enjoyed Po Bronson's What Should I Do with My Life (but bear in mind it consists of short vignettes about how people have tackled that issue, and is not any kind of career guide).

Somewhat career-related, +1 on Tracey Kidder's work. I've read House and Soul of a New Machine and found them fascinating.

In the 'other (non-fiction) stuff' category, Into Thin Air was great. As was In the Heart of the Sea, the true life account of a whaling ship attacked by a whale (and the inspiration for Moby Dick).
posted by Bron at 8:05 AM on March 27, 2010

There was a FPP post yesterday with a link to The Browser and its Five Books section; there seem great recommendations in the interview section, often with books that are related to a subject without being on that subject.
posted by bwonder2 at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2010

Anything by Henry Petroski (architecture and engineering, usually, but the book "The Pencil" is fascinating)

Anything by John McPhee (mentioned by others, but all his stuff is super)

"A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn (Recently passed away, bummer)

"Guns Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond - why the europeans invaded the americas and not the other way around

"The Dinosaur Heresies" Robert Bakker - great book about dinosaurs and where they went when the became extinct

"A Natural History of the Senses" Diane Ackerman - one of the most beautiful non-fiction books I have ever read.
posted by KenManiac at 8:28 AM on March 27, 2010

Lots of my recommendations already covered, particularly Soul of a New Machine, and GEB.

The Timeless Way of Building Christopher Alexander
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward Tufte
Kinds Of Minds: Toward An Understanding Of Consciousness Daniel Dennett
posted by ecurtz at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is putatively fiction (it features a philosopher gorilla!), but was pretty mind-blowing to me when I first read it. (From Wikipedia: "It examines mythology, its effect on ethics, and how that relates to sustainability.")

I also quite enjoyed Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is a wide-ranging examination of human knowledge written in the engaging manner that is Bryson's hallmark.

Both of these might be too rudimentary for your purposes, but I'll bet that you find at least a few things to contemplate in each of the works.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:36 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (if you can excuse the gooey title) is both excellent and engaging, and has been credited with launching modern feminism.

I just finished The Places In Between, a book about Afghanistan by a Scottish historian who crossed the country on foot in 2002. Definitely world view-expanding; also a quick read.

I'd also recommend Reading National Geographic, which discusses National Geographic Magazine's portrayal of the developing world through photography. Read it in college and it made me rethink my perceptions of other countries as well as the way I approach travel and other cultures.
posted by rebekah at 8:47 AM on March 27, 2010

I'm pretty open as to subject, but I think I'm interested in less mainstream ideas, such as feminism or racial equality. I think I have a vague human-oriented bent to this.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus radically changed my concept of the history of American Indians. My textbooks spoke of Indians as a doomed race whose history was both static--little interest in the rise and fall of their empires, the evolution of their religions and technology--and tragic--they were just hanging around the Americas when white people showed up and eradicated them with their diseases and guns. Really, I knew next to nothing of the first people who inhabited America before this book, and had no idea how advanced their culture was. The book is a great starting point to analyze the origins of white American colonialism.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - It's beautiful, enlightening and wicked short. You've set yourself a reasonably vigorous task, and sometimes you need a break.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2010

Ain't no makin' it is a book I read a few years ago and I still think about it. The author spends a lot of time with different kids in a low-income neighbourhood and then returns eight years later (and then interviews some again, several years later). It's academic but not theory-laden.
posted by scribbler at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2010

I would recommend Physics for Future Presidents

Really informative and accessible on just about all the controversial science of the day presented fairly and openly with suggestion for further reading. There is probably no better way to figure out who has an agenda than getting the real science behind what bs they are spouting.
posted by bartonlong at 6:29 PM on March 27, 2010

Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically
posted by Abiezer at 6:59 PM on March 27, 2010

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich was very thought-provoking. He's conservative, but points out a lot that all strategically-minded, "wanting to take the long view" Americans can agree with, no matter their political persuasion.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 7:44 PM on March 27, 2010

For Buddhist books, I must recommend Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg. Everyone I've recommended that book to has loved it - I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't benefit from it.

I'm currently very much enjoying Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson Ph.D. and with Richard Mendius MD, which gives an overview the neurology of meditation.
posted by smartyboots at 7:54 PM on March 27, 2010

Three Cups of Tea
posted by kylej at 8:15 AM on March 28, 2010

I thought The Prize, by Daniel Yergin was a good look at the history of the oil business.
posted by Nabubrush at 4:42 PM on March 28, 2010

I came here to recommend Working by Studs Terkel. It's already been mentioned upthread, and I can't praise it enough. It's a collection of oral histories of people talking about their jobs -- "People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do" -- which is a simple formula I can't do justice. And if you're interested in racial equality, you should also think about checking out another book by Studs Terkel, Race.

I read the Female Eunuch when I was starting to learn about feminism, and I actually wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to the subject. I recently read The Gender Knot by Allen G Johnson, which explains in layman's terms ideas like patriarchy, sexism and privilege, and provides an extensive bibliography should you want to read further. It was accessible, but it gave me a lot of food for thought. I'd recommend it as step one for reading about gender inequality and patriarchy.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 12:18 PM on March 30, 2010

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