What books can make you super excited about topics?
October 5, 2014 9:15 AM   Subscribe

What books can take someone from "Say, that's an interesting topic" and turn that into absolute enthusiasm? I'm thinking of analogies in other topics to Martin Gardner's fantastic Mathematical Games publications (or even more examples from math!)
posted by LSK to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
"The Short History of Nearly Everything" can make you excited about science.
posted by mulligan at 9:19 AM on October 5, 2014

The Power Broker will make you super interested in urban planning and political machinations.
posted by thejoshu at 9:27 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Home Comforts will leave you thinking that housekeeping is an art and a craft.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:34 AM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Codebreakers, by David Kahn. It's a comprehensive history of secret writing up to, but not including, modern computer ciphers.

(There's also a cut-down version which originally sold as a paperback. Don't get that one. Get the full version, which I linked to.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:40 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Emperor of All Maladies made me excited about cancer research.
posted by Dragonness at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I find all of Mary Roach's books have this effect.

Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air really got me into books about mountain climbing.
posted by neushoorn at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

For Geology type stuff "Annals of the Former World" by Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee is pretty fun.

I notice more as a result of having read this.
posted by vapidave at 10:33 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yes anything by Mary Roach! I think the fact that she's a journalist not a scientist makes her writing really engaging.
posted by radioamy at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2014

David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity got me very, very excited about science. What it is, why we do it, and why he thinks it's going to last forever (to be very reductive). Probably the most exciting nonfiction book I've ever read.

(And I strongly second The Emperor of All Maladies.)
posted by gracenote at 11:14 AM on October 5, 2014

The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters was so full of interesting information that I have recommended it to a LOT of other people since reading it. It is not a topic that I would have ever expected to find vaguely interesting, let alone fascinating.
posted by VioletU at 11:25 AM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Emperor of Scent about perfume, how we smell and the scientific peer review process
posted by KateViolet at 12:20 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was just about to say, Essence and Alchemy: A natural history of perfume by Mandy Aftel!

It's especially good winter reading.
posted by Blitz at 1:06 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene is a primer on Utilitarian Ethics, with something interesting on almost every page. Even if you're not a utilitarian, you'll be fascinated by the reporting on current research into how the human brain constructs moral thinking.

The Little Schemer teaches you recursion: the mathematical version of a snake eating its own tail. No math is required, but it will strain your brain. It's teaching method is pretty unique. The entire book is a long series of Qs and As.

From Dawn to Decadence is a history of the last 500 years, all geared to convince you that the Protestant Reformation started a snowball that is now finally nearing the bottom of the hill. In other words, according to the book, we're living at the end of something, and what will supplant it will be entirely different. Lucidly written, it will excite your neurons, whether you agree with its thesis or not.

The Ghost Map
is best advertised via its sub-title: "The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. I tried and failed to slow down as a read it, because I never wanted it to end.

The Age of Insight is Art History written by a neuroscientist. “Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.” —Oliver Sacks

In the Blink of an Eye is an exploration of movie editing, by the Great Walter Murch, who worked on "The Godfather," "The Conversation," and many other classics. Murch really embeds you in his craft and gives you insight into the way he thinks. I'm not an editor, but the book affected the way I approach many of my own projects.

I am halfway through reading The Sense of Style which is, so far, the most valuable and entertaining book of writing advice I've read. A close second (and a good companion) is Spunk and Bite
posted by grumblebee at 7:05 AM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Michael Pollen's Cooked has recently made me so, so excited about bread and natural fermentation.
posted by kitcat at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2014

All of John McPhee's books.
posted by OmieWise at 9:56 AM on October 6, 2014

"All In Startup: Launching a New Idea When Everything Is on the Line" by Diana Kander, is fiction that throws you (in a fun way, unbelievable as that sounds) into the shoes of someone starting a business.
posted by mirileh at 10:05 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The soul of a new machine had that kind of effect on me.
posted by rjs at 10:34 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Melissa Milgrom's Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy is hands down one of my favourite books of all time. It got me enthusiastic about taxidermy, yes, but really it just made me really curious! Mary Roach was a late discovery for me comparatively. It all started with taxidermy.
posted by 9000condiments at 10:50 AM on October 6, 2014

The Rest Is Noise made me want to listen to every piece of music described within.
posted by cybertaur1 at 11:58 AM on October 6, 2014

i haven't read it but ed yong sez: "THE FOREST UNSEEN by @DGHaskell is the best science book I've ever read. *Ever*. Breathtaking in its quality."

(or even more examples from math!)

e :P
posted by kliuless at 6:27 PM on October 7, 2014

Totally agree with The Big Necessity and The Ghost Map. Adding The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down, a book about the culture clash between American doctors and a Hmong family whose child suffers from epilepsy, which they have a spiritual rather than medical explanation for. I missed my stop of the bus reading this! And remarkably, the author manages to convey sympathy for everyone.
posted by ontheradio at 7:40 AM on October 8, 2014

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