Nonfiction for hipsters?
May 6, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Good non-fiction books similar to Sarah Vowell?

What are some books that are similar to Sarah Vowell's "Assassination Vacation" and "The Wordy Shipmates"? I recently read those two books and enjoyed Vowell's anecdotal style of history. I also like that the books show a sense of humor, although I think Vowell might find herself cleverer than I do. I don't really care one way or the other about her politics and that's the one thing I like the least about the books. What are some other non-fiction books that use a conversational tone to discuss a topic? It doesn't have to be history, but I like books larded with tidbits of trivia. Anything that will provide me with good trivia fodder for Jeopardy is a plus. Thanks!
posted by hilaritas to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Bill Byron's "A Brief History of Nearly Everything" is exactly what you are looking for.
posted by The Whelk at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2010

Bill Bryson! My favorites are In a Sunburned Country and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
posted by something something at 11:05 AM on May 6, 2010

Blue Latitudes andA Voyage Long and Stange seem to follow the same M. O. as Vowell, and they are equal in quality and interest.

Horwitz goes to historical places and intersperses the history with what is there today.

Very entertaining and educational. Recommended.
posted by Danf at 11:08 AM on May 6, 2010

Another Tony Horowitz that I adore... Confederates in the Attic.
Candyfreak by Steve Almond
The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David Plotz
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

And while not exactly conversational/anecdotal, Devil in the White City by Erik Lawson reads like a thriller, and is very educational.
posted by kimdog at 11:19 AM on May 6, 2010

I borked that link to The Orchid Thief
posted by kimdog at 11:20 AM on May 6, 2010

Also this is the genre Mary Roach lives in.
posted by The Whelk at 11:25 AM on May 6, 2010

Mary Roach's three books- Bonk, Stiff, and Spook- are perhaps up your alley.
posted by cheap paper at 11:32 AM on May 6, 2010

Doh! Should have previewed.

Conciliatory suggestion: Jennifer Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.
posted by cheap paper at 11:35 AM on May 6, 2010

There could be no more applicable book than Bob Harris' Jeopardy! memoir Prisoner of Trebekistan. I've read it twice.

(And, while non-narrative, Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions and How to Get on Jeopardy... and Win are de rigeur for Jeopardy! prep.)
posted by Zed at 11:53 AM on May 6, 2010

You might like Bill Buford's non-fiction. "Among the Thugs" is "a highly personal nonfiction account of crowd violence and British soccer hooliganism." "Heat" is about restaurant cooking (among other things).

Also, just finished "52 Loaves" by William Alexander. (Plot line: Trying to bake the "perfect" loaf a bread). He wrote "The 64 Dollar Tomato" a few years ago, which had a more "cute" writing style. The 52 Loaves has a much greater "John McPhee"-factor to it (full of all sorts of interesting facts/trivia) and the ending is quite good. During the course of the book, he investigates (and blows up) ovens, grows and mills his own wheat, visits a yeast factory, enrolls in the requisite French bakery class, and ultimately ends up baking bread at a French monastery where the monks are tired of eating bland bread. Very easy and yet informative read.

(I stumbled across 52 Loaves about 2 months ago at my local "1/2-Price Books" shop; when I got it home, I noticed the cover said it was scheduled for release May 4, 2010 and the copy I bought was a reviewer's edition "not for resale." Best 6 bucks I've spent on a book in a while).
posted by webhund at 12:13 PM on May 6, 2010

Also, you might want to check out the the compilation "The New Kings Of Non-Fiction"
posted by The Whelk at 12:16 PM on May 6, 2010

In the summer of 2005 I read Assassination Vacation one day. In it, hipster icon Vowell takes a road trip in the summer of 2003 to visit the sites of several American presidential assassinations and writes a road trip story, part of which details what happened to her during the Northeast blackout that August.

The following day, I read Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself To Live. In it, hipster icon Klosterman takes a road trip in the summer of 2003 to visit the sites of several American rock star deaths and writes a road trip story, part of which details what happened to him during the Northeast blackout that August.

I have little doubt that within a few more years, these books will have fused into one in my memory.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

TheWhelk's recommendation jogged my memory some more:

You might also like the "Best American Non-Fiction of [year]" and "Best American Essays of [year]" series. These anthologies have exposed me to some great writers I might not otherwise have come across, which then leads me to their complete books. You might also be interested in the best science, food, and related non-fiction topics published in this series.
posted by webhund at 12:53 PM on May 6, 2010

It's a bit old now, but David Bodanis's The Secret House.
posted by jocelmeow at 1:03 PM on May 6, 2010

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned With Savages and Lost on Planet China are all excellent books by J. Maarten Troost. I recommend the first and third in particular.
posted by lore at 2:46 PM on May 6, 2010

It's not historically-oriented, but David Foster Wallace writes truly wonderful non-fiction. See Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:12 PM on May 6, 2010

Seconding David Foster Wallace and nthing Bill Bryson (not sure he is exactly what you are after, but I think he is super funny, so I recommend him still)
posted by backwards guitar at 5:32 PM on May 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good suggestions! I've read "Stiff" and a lot of DFW. I'll tackle the rest of the stuff you guys suggested.
posted by hilaritas at 2:08 PM on May 7, 2010

Sara Wheeler on Antarctica
posted by Morpeth at 2:09 PM on May 7, 2010

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