Help my inner geek: Find books to "go deep", learn new things/actively learn
February 21, 2011 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Nonfiction book recommendations for books that both 1) explain the why behind things and 2) list specific things that you can do to learn the idea (not just “read along with me).

I recently ran across these two books in the bookstore, and what I really like about them is that

• They explain the why behind something (why add baking soda or why add this particular flavor); okay, my inner geek needs to understand the why behind something.

• I really like having an experience to go along with it. The book about cooking lists simple recipes and the wine book lists wines that you buy, drink, and drink along with the lesson to learn the basic ideas for each chapter. To me, unless I am doing it, it will fall out of my head and reading becomes just a passive activity. (These ideas are typically easy to implement, not get a PhD in rocket science or buy a laboratory..things that are easy to get, acquire, and follow along).

I’d really like to find other books like this (the fact that the ones up there are about cooking or wine is completely random – I can only cook 1 or 2 meals, and know nothing about wine) – so this is open to other topics. I don’t know of a search term that I can use to find similar books to the ones that I described, so I think that this needs to be a hive mind query. But the main goal is something that I can read that explains some new/novel ideas and that I can experience.

Also, as a small plus, it would be great if the book can be broken up into small activities/chapters. That way, if/when I have time, I can peck away and try things out, and not be obligated to remember what I read several months ago.

If you found your own way to read a book and “go deep” (maybe you read a historic event and then traveled to an easy to get to location and it came alive for you), feel free to share. I don’t want to buy a guide book, though/a combo of book and experience.

Thank you
posted by Wolfster to Education (6 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Light and Color in the Outdoors is pretty great for deep geeking -- it's all about interesting phenomena that you can go outside and look at, from the reflection of light on distant pavement to the shapes of shadows underneath trees (and it includes precise descriptions of how these things happen, with physics and geometry). It's also split up into small chunks.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built and A Field Guide to American Houses are good if you like to walk or bike around neighborhoods — you can try to actively identify the types of buildings and styles that you've read about.
posted by dreamyshade at 2:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most textbooks and language learning books are going to be like this, but maybe that's not quite what you are after.
posted by lollusc at 2:43 PM on February 21, 2011

How to Read a Book (summary here) is a book about how to read a book (i.e. how to read carefully--mainly nonfiction). As if that weren't meta enough, one of the exercises is to read How to Read a Book according to its own method. (By the way, many people love this book, but I didn't think it was that great; it was written in 1940 and that shows. But it's still useful. I guess it's popular because it's the only book of its kind.)

Bicycling Street Smarts is a short and useful book (and website) about how not to get hit by cars, with helpful pictures. Obviously, you shouldn't literally follow along as you read.

Keys to Drawing gives you drawing exercises in each chapter.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2011

In the vein of Cooking for Geeks, which you list above, you may want to consider On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best Foods, both by Harold McGee.
posted by proj at 3:34 PM on February 21, 2011

Best answer: I really enjoyed A History of the World in Six Glasses. It breaks down most of modern civilization as being related to different kinds of drinks. And, I would add, I also learned how to make the early forms of grog AND who it's named after and why.
posted by rileyray3000 at 4:01 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Aaron Copeland's classic What to Listen for in Music, each chapter ends with a list of several suggested musical pieces to listen to to hear what you just read about -- I've always meant to work my way through it.
posted by LeeLanded at 6:52 PM on February 21, 2011

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