One Book For College Guy
December 19, 2014 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend. What one book would you recommend for a college aged son who has specifically requested a book "to learn about something"? He's a really great kid who has really matured a lot in the past year - business major, likes sports. Open to all suggestions!
posted by wearyaswater to Shopping (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five". I know it is assigned reading in some schools. I thought it really humanized war for me and, really, every time I reread it, I get a different perspective.
posted by jillithd at 11:42 AM on December 19, 2014

This is a cool opportunity to gift him with something that he wouldn't otherwise learn about. The Peoples' History of the United States is a good example in that vein.

If you're looking for a more standard book, moneyball is a very good nerd book for sports nerds.
posted by zug at 11:48 AM on December 19, 2014

This previous question about What One Book Could Give Me a Superpower? might have some answers.
posted by mathowie at 11:51 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon. This is a great book that's about so many things. You learn about catapults (what they're good for, their history, and how to build one), welding, the history of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the creative process, friendship, and lots of other wonderful things.
posted by janey47 at 12:01 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Last Place on Earth
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South Pole was the most coveted prize in the fiercely nationalistic modern age of exploration. In the brilliant dual biography, the award-winning writer Roland Huntford re-examines every detail of the great race to the South Pole between Britain's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen. Scott, who dies along with four of his men only eleven miles from his next cache of supplies, became Britain's beloved failure, while Amundsen, who not only beat Scott to the Pole but returned alive, was largely forgotten. This account of their race is a gripping, highly readable history that captures the driving ambitions of the era and the complex, often deeply flawed men who were charged with carrying them out.
posted by bricksNmortar at 12:06 PM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love Bernd Heinrich's Winter World. Fascinating and not something I expected to enjoy. It would be well outside the interests you mention, which is probably good in this case.
posted by that's candlepin at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2014

Best answer: The Anarchist's Tool Chest teaches you how to build a traditional wooden English joiner's chest with hand tools. Also, why you might want to build one.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which is essentially a geological/ecological history of the world.

Or, alternatively, also by Bill Bryson, One Summer: America, 1927 which has a lot on Babe Ruth.
posted by damayanti at 12:31 PM on December 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This may be odd, but his requests seems to be asking for a certain amount of didactic reading, so this is a super-readable book about how to tan deerskins into buckskin. YMMV.
posted by resurrexit at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2014

business major, likes sports
Moneyball would be a good choice, if he has not already read it.
posted by soelo at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

How Not to be Wrong by Mefi's own Jordan Ellenberg.

Or any book by John McPhee or Studs Terkel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:36 PM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson would be a good one too. It's eminently readable and while some of the science is a bit out of date, it's a fascinating account of how we know a lot of things about the world.
posted by klangklangston at 12:38 PM on December 19, 2014

Best answer: "You Are Not So Smart," by David McRaney is a book about human self-delusion. It's a series of short chapters detailing what scientific research has discovered about how humans fool themselves. I found it helpful in recognizing some of the nonsense my monkey-brain puts me up to. It's interesting as hell.

There's a sequel called "You Are Now Less Dumb." Both books source from the blog I linked, which I now see has a short podcast to it as well.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:42 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Cartoon History of the Universe (series).
Guns, Germs, and Steel
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2014

Best answer: "To learn about something" is super broad - does he mean a specific skill, or just generally to educate himself? If it's the latter, I'm gonna go a different direction than the history and literature others have proposed and suggest Godel, Escher, Bach which will (if he's sufficiently motivated) teach him a whole bunch of philosophy, abstract math, and theoretical computer science, along with some music and art - even if he has no experience in any of these fields.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2014

Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London; Chatwin's In Patagonia; Feinman's memoirs; that adventures in business book Bill Gates is telling everyone to read; Lewis' Liars Poker; and, all the account planning books of Stephen King.
posted by parmanparman at 1:27 PM on December 19, 2014

Seconding LobsterMitten on John McPhee. One of my favorites was Looking for a Ship.
posted by Bruce H. at 1:50 PM on December 19, 2014

John Hodgman's books are informative and funny.

Randall Monroe's What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is also quite informative while remaining engaging.

And you have a hard time going wrong with Bill Bryson, as noted above.
posted by China Grover at 1:52 PM on December 19, 2014

Nothing like it in the world, Ambrose wrote the history of the intercontinental railroad. The business practices by those bidding it were particularly interesting.
posted by dstopps at 2:56 PM on December 19, 2014

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:49 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It looks and sounds a little edgier than some of the suggestions you're getting - which is part of the reason why I'm still suggesting it, since you said you're open to anything - but the author was a fiction editor for the New Yorker and was an editor for Granta so I assure you it's meaningful writing and research - Bill Buford's "Among The Thugs: The Experience, and the Seduction, of Crowd Violence". Its literal subject matter are the UK football "hooligans", so it suits his interest in sports, but is ultimately less about soccer and much more about the striking and bizarre sociology of crowds. It is a powerful, dark, funny and very readable, beautifully written non-fiction work that I think would appeal to a younger college guy.

Buford also wrote the non-fiction "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany" which is a bit less edgy/stressful but is a hell of a fun and informational read on the subjects of food's strange history and the zaniness of restaurant kitchen culture. He apprentices with Mario Batali and manages to make Batali fascinating. To my shock, anyway.

What really defines Buford's non-fiction writing is his playful and humble role as a narrative "outsider". In both books, he's walking into situations as an utter alien. He's writing not just about what he learns, but what it's like for him to make a fool out of himself at times in the name of trying to learn and to understand. I consider him the perfect author for anyone who is highly driven to just learn - because Buford is one of those folks, too, and passionate learners can really empathize with all of the stepping-outside-his-comfort-zone he speaks of so openly.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:40 PM on December 19, 2014

He's probably in the perfect demographic audience for's The De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn't Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew. If he might be the sort to enjoy their articles, he would probably love the book. (Disclaimer: I have not read the book, just wanted to note its existence.)
posted by spelunkingplato at 6:53 PM on December 19, 2014

Response by poster: So many great answers - thank you!
posted by wearyaswater at 7:51 AM on December 23, 2014

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