Books about things hidden in plain sight
August 3, 2014 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I recently reread René Daumal's Mount Analogue and am looking for other books about things - buildings, people, phenomena, organizations, parts of the natural world - that are hidden in plain sight.

I'm mainly interested in literary fiction and non-fiction focusing on an aspect of the world that is right in front of us - or just out of sight - but that requires specialized knowledge, persistence, or just dumb luck to discover. Recommendations for high-quality fantasy and science-fiction (e.g. Ben Aaronovich's "Rivers of London" series) on this theme are also appreciated.
posted by ryanshepard to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
China Miéville's The City and The City fits the bill, but to say much would be to spoil it.
posted by mumkin at 8:58 PM on August 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Iain M. Banks' The Algebraist came to mind immediately for reasons I can't tell you.
posted by teremala at 9:32 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:31 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Neverwhere" (both a fantasy book by Neil Gaiman and a BBC mini series) is set in a world of London that is invisible to us because we work hard to not notice the people around us who seem homeless or crazy or other. The metaphor becomes literal.
posted by anonymisc at 12:48 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

The second chapter of Annie Dillard's book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" is titled "Seeing," in which she meditates on the inability of people to see or recognize the beauties of nature that are right in front of them.
posted by Quaversalis at 2:37 AM on August 4, 2014

M E Thomas - a psychopathic lawyer.. book is something like "hiding in plain sight" - she has a youtube vid.
posted by tanktop at 4:10 AM on August 4, 2014

Two things come to mind, both from the world of non-fiction (and, specifically, from psychology research).

Investigative reporter Robert Whitaker wrote a book about an epidemic of mental illness that has been sweeping through society for the past several decades. Not many people are aware of this epidemic (i.e., it's hidden in plain sight), and the cause of it is surprising – and, actually, fairly appalling. The book is called, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, and it won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors book award for best investigative journalism.

Psychologist James Flynn has documented and described a puzzling and very surprising trend in intelligence scores. Here is how WikiPedia describes it: "The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day." In other words, people seem to be getting smarter over time, at the rate of roughly three IQ points per decade. Again, not too many people are aware of this trend, although it seems to be occurring throughout the world.
posted by alex1965 at 5:09 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:06 AM on August 4, 2014

I just read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. I didn't love it but you might.
posted by Brittanie at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2014

Tim Powers is a master of the "secret histories" genre. The Fault Lines trilogy is his best work, IMO: Last Call, Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:08 AM on August 4, 2014

Even though it's not a book, someone has to mention E. A. Poe's short story The Purloined Letter, so I just did.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:13 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in to mention Poe's The Purloined Letter, but SemiSalt just did.

Here it is online. It's good.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2014

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