Help me find the common thread...
May 30, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

I want to read more nonfiction. About anything, really. I'm having trouble capturing the way to describe the kind of nonfiction I want to find.

Yes, I very much enjoy popular nonfiction in the vein of Bonk, or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But I could easily name for you the nonfiction I "enjoyed" the most: Bury Me Standing, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families, Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. So....readable anthropology??? Can you suggest either specific books in this vein that I might enjoy or better ways of describing what it is these three books have in common so that I might hunt on my own?
posted by atomicstone to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Readable anthropology" sounds pretty good to me.

Without question, Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:28 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Jared Diamond
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 1:29 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm reading Mukiwa right now and it's hard to put down. It's a person account by a white boy growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at the end of white rule. I think you'd enjoy it if you read We Wish to Inform You...

What you might be looking for is personal accounts written during times of extraordinary historical shifts.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:29 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't normally read non-fiction, but I really enjoyed In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbricks. It's an account of the shipwreck of the whaling ship Essex, but it's also a larger exploration of the whaling industry in Nantucket in the 18th century, of shipwrecks, and the capturing of popular sentiment that certain shipwrecks bring because of things like cannibalism among the survivors.
posted by LN at 1:30 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also participatory journalism (which is sort of related to anthropology) like Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and some of Ted Conover's other books.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 1:34 PM on May 30, 2012

Barbara Ehrenreich?
posted by jbickers at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2012

You might want to look at past nonfiction winners/nominees of the National Book Critics Circle Award. I used to do public library displays of these pretty frequently and they always flew out of the library. Unfortunately the site isn't set up that nicely.
posted by jabes at 1:41 PM on May 30, 2012

Gulag. You follow lives from an unfair conviction under the soviet system, travelling to the work camps, and somehow trying to survive. I thought it was an amazing (albeit depressing) read.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 1:45 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might try Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, which describes the life and work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a major player in terms of improving global health, especially for poorer countries.
posted by xenization at 1:46 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was just popping in here to suggest Paul Farmer. I'm a former anthro student, and Pathologiesof Power was deeply influential for me.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:03 PM on May 30, 2012

I really enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Into The Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven. (I didn't care for his most recent one about Pat Tillman, but, of course, YMMV.) And for a conflicting P.O.V. on the same mountain disaster depicted in Into Thin Air, read The Climb. (I didn't find The Climb as engaging, but many people did.)

You seem to maybe enjoy books about medicine/science written for the layperson? (I do, too.) I like Richard Preston's The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer. Both really interesting and exciting, but you may never touch anyone or anything ever again. GERMS!!! I found The Cutter Incident really fascinating, though very sad. (Lots of dead and maimed children there, so...)

I don't have kids yet, but I'm enjoying Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children. And I couldn't put Dave Cullen's Columbine down for DAYS once I got my hands on it. It basically ran my life for about 4 days.
posted by Aquifer at 2:05 PM on May 30, 2012

Also, No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. Slightly more popular/journalistic than you want, and a little dated, but it's eye-opening; so many badass activists profiled here that I'd never heard of before. It's also a good jumping-off point for finding newer and/or more academic books about disability studies.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:08 PM on May 30, 2012

One of my favorite nonfiction books of all time, The Fruit Hunters, is food anthropology, if you're interested in food exploration and issues. Or even if you're not. ;)
posted by weeyin at 2:12 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Worse Than Slavery, also adding a vote for Mountains Beyond Mountains and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The latter is the best work of nonfiction I think I have ever read.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy, about life in North Korea. She has also written a book about one particular street in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, which I haven't read yet.

Is it the investigative aspect or the lived experience aspect of the three books you've mentioned that you enjoyed? That might be helpful in describing what you like. Or maybe it's the combination of the two? Nothing to Envy has both. I haven't read any of your examples, except The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I would say has the investigative aspect without the direct lived experience.
posted by snorkmaiden at 2:22 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you read any Bill Bryson?
posted by gingerbeer at 2:43 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed on the un-put-downable-ness of Columbine.

Other possibilities, although they might be more "readable sociology" than "readable anthropology":

Kristin Luker, When Sex Goes to School
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together
H. G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights
Sudhir Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a Day
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 2:47 PM on May 30, 2012

Seconding Nothing to Envy. I would also recommend Death Without Weeping about hunger, poverty and infant mortality in Brazil.
posted by click at 5:29 PM on May 30, 2012

It's a memoir, not anthropology, but Evgenia Ginzburg's "Into the Whirlwind" is probably the most gripping piece of nonfiction I've ever read. She's a Soviet academic who was exiled to Siberia under Stalin.
posted by elizeh at 7:46 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing "Columbine"

"First They Killed My Father" by Luong Ung
posted by backwards guitar at 7:47 PM on May 30, 2012

"We Wish to Inform You..." is one of my all-time favourite books. I also love anything and everything by Simon Winchester.
posted by fso at 6:51 AM on May 31, 2012

Ted Conover is a great choice. I really enjoyed NewJack as well as Coyote (which involved dealing with the issues of the US-Mexican border area) and Rolling Nowhere (which involved hitching rides on trains and living with hobos).
posted by mmascolino at 7:18 AM on May 31, 2012

I think these might be along the lines of what you're looking for. Check 'em out; all excellent, IMO:
Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood by Jay MacLeod
Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau
Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg.
posted by littlecatfeet at 2:55 PM on May 31, 2012

Debt: The First 5000 Years is more about anthropology than you'd think.
posted by JDHarper at 7:50 PM on May 31, 2012

Response by poster: Wow! A reading list for...ever. They're all great and could be marked as best answer, but since I downloaded "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" immediately and finished it that night, it wins, I guess.
Thanks to all!
posted by atomicstone at 8:33 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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