Readers and Librarians, Need Non-Fiction & Fiction Titles
December 16, 2018 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Spouse (63, fly-fisher fisherman, old car enthusiast, classical music lover, recently retired from computer programming career) has asked for short list of a few non-fiction and fiction titles similar to other books he's liked so he can get them from the library to read. He likes somewhat challenging books as well as non-fiction that reads like fiction if it's hefty enough.

He's liked the following: Charles Mann's 1491, 1492, and 1493; Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm, Devil in the White City, and Dead Wake; Young Men & Fire (I've recommended the book by Norman MacLean's son, Fire on the Mountain, as someone suggested in another thread). He's also enjoyed Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and all the Jo Nesbo crime series with Harry Hole; I'm recommending the Jussi Adler-Olsen Dept. Q series based on that.

I read a lot of crime fiction and feel I've got that covered, and I will be recommending a few books I have read and liked and think he'd like (The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Map & The Territory by Houellebecq, The Assault by Harry Mulisch). I think he'd like Prague by Arthur Phillips, too. I could use some other fiction and some non-fiction titles. He didn't especially like Geraldine Brook's books March or Year of Wonders -- not sure if that was because of the writing, the subjects, or because he felt they were too lightweight. He read The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery and liked it but wasn't wild about it.

He's read lots of books of essays over the years about fishing (too many titles to name here) and of course A River Runs Through It, but if you know of something that you think particularly fitting for him along those lines, please include it.

I don't read much history (fiction or non-fiction) and could really use ideas there, similar to Mann.

Thanks, hivemind.
posted by mmw to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm reading Indian Givers, which is similar to both 1491 and 1493 .
posted by twoplussix at 8:42 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love Young Men and Fire too, and the book I think most like it is Fussel's The Great War and Modern Memory. In both books the author is using a trained imagination to try to think himself into the minds of people now dead in a time now past. In Fussel's case, he is trying to think himself into the minds of people raised to think of war as a kind of deadly dangerous sport encountering fully industrialized mass slaughter. His basic insight is that letters home by ordinary soldiers share themes that occur in the works of the famous war poets Sassoon, Owen, Graves, et al. Like Maclean, he comes at the event again and again, from one angle after another. It is an extraordinary example of using literary analysis to think about social history.

He also writes about how WWI was so shocking that it colored descriptions and even memories of WWII by soldiers who had not experienced WWI.

This sticks in my head from the book. Some English schoolboy who remembered his Simonides wrote this on a plank and stuck it in the ground over a mass grave:

The Devonshires held this trench.
The Devonshires hold it still.
posted by ckridge at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Well, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a David Mitchell novel that fits a metric ton of history into a sweeping story of science, love and death. Can’t help but think it would suit him.
posted by minervous at 9:27 AM on December 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is a bit of a left-field suggestion, but after a few minutes’ thought, I wonder if he might like Annie Proulx? Close Range, in particular.
posted by minervous at 9:34 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Since he liked Devil In The White City, Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love is a great read. It spans 1967-1982 in San Francisco and is a (well-researched) page-turner by the founder of Salon.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Dog Stars jumped to my mind if he would be ok with dystopian.
posted by RoadScholar at 9:40 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m not sure I have a good reason for this, but Beryl Markham’s memoir West with the Night. Markham was a Bush pilot in Africa in the 1930s. Hemingway called it “a bloody wonderful book.”
posted by FencingGal at 9:55 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Feather Thief is non fiction with a fly fishing angle!

If he liked Isaac's Storm he would probably like The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. Actually, any of Sebastian Jungers books are worth reading.

The Disappearing Spoon reads like fiction and each chapter stands alone. If this book was required reading for High School students the chemistry departments wouldn't be able to meet demand!

Mark Kurlansky
is another writer of nonfiction that is hard to put down. Salt or Cod are both great books to begin with.
posted by cat_link at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich
Oxford, 368 pp, £20.00, March, ISBN 978 0 19 882125 0
is a deep and authoritative yet accessible look at developments in the human sciences that can only be belittled by calling them revolutionary.

The London Review of Books published an excellent review which is worth reading in and of itself.
posted by jamjam at 10:33 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The best reads-like-a-novel nonfiction that I've read is Robert A. Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee is also very well written.

If he wants to grapple with interesting-but-controversial ideas, Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond are both classic food for thought and argumentation.

If he wants to branch out a bit, he might like Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises by Charles P. Kindleberger, The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology by Tim Birkhead, or God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan by Jonathan D. Spence.

If he has a lot of time on his hands and wants to tackle a super-detailed history, he might start on The Hundred Years War series by Jonathan Sumption.

And if he likes to think about the combination of technical stuff and history, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History by Tonio Andrade is pretty good and incorporates lots of recent scholarship.
posted by clawsoon at 10:33 AM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

The River Why by David James Duncan. Coming of age novel, heavy on fly fishing, family and growing up. Swings between wildly funny and philosophically introspective. I have given many copies of this book as gifts.
posted by LaBellaStella at 10:34 AM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh, another one like Young Men and Fire: The Perfect Storm. It doesn't matter whether he has seen the movie. Junger sets the scene, gets into heads, and times his story-telling in ways you could not possibly do in a movie.
posted by ckridge at 11:17 AM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy is surely a shoo-in.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 11:18 AM on December 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

As a non-mathematician, I thoroughly enjoyed The Parrot's Theorem, a charmingly silly story with a mysterious parrot, which turns out to be a comprehensive history of math, even mostly intelligible to someone like me.

For good history, try Hild by Nicola Griffith, set in 7th century Britain. Got great reviews. It'll suck you into that dangerous world.
posted by MovableBookLady at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Might want to try the NYPL's personalized What Should I Read Next?. They'll give recommendations to anyone; you don't have to be a NYPL patron.
posted by WCityMike at 12:04 PM on December 16, 2018

David Grann's Lost City Of Z and his books of his new yorker articles would go down well.
posted by smoke at 12:11 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have to mention the authors John McPhee and Calvin Trillin just because they are the creme de la creme of non-fiction authors.

For a fisherman, and outdoorsman, I would especially suggest McPhee's The Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe.

A couple of the best non-fiction books I've read recently are by Ben Macintyre. Mostly these have WWII themes, but not about fighting so much as about intrigue. See Operation Mincemeat for a real life spy story.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester and all his books.
Anything by Oliver Sacks, anything by Bill Bryson.
posted by Enid Lareg at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely John McPhee, he might like the Annals of the Former World collection or some of its individual volumes (Basin and Range and Assembling California are my favorites). If he's interested in well-written stuff on disaster (since Young Men and Fire was a hit) I'd also recommend Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell and Richard Lloyd Parry's Ghosts of the Tsunami. For history, Eric Hobsbawm's "The Age of" (Revolution, Capital, Empire, Extremes) series are quite readable big-picture world histories covering the period from 1789 to 1991; they're rather Europe-centric and written from a Marxist analytical perspective, but not in an overbearing way.
posted by karayel at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

For a fisherman, and outdoorsman, I would especially suggest McPhee's The Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe.

Very much so. I really liked his stuff. My father also matched your spouse in reading habits, though he was older by about a decade and change. A few other suggestions...

- this is dumb but if he hasn't read Soul of a New Machine, he might like it. Pulitzer prize winning book about computers, written in 1979-1980 (NB, my dad is in it)
- A Voyage for Madmen (or the earlier and harder to find The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst) are both good examples of sailors trying to go it alone and sort of losing it which was one of my dad's favorite genres. The Worst Journey in the World is similar
- Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks is a great look at the brain and music. Sacks isn't everyone's thing but I always like him.
- I assume he's read Shackleton's Endurance
- other books that are hard to find but worth it include The Long Lonely Leap and The Last of the Bush Pilots

My dad was also nuts about Ondaatje (particularly In the Skin of a Lion) and while that may have been a very time and place mediated thing, it's worth checking out. The English Patient, in particular, is a much more complex book than it was a movie.
posted by jessamyn at 1:32 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan is Roman history with parallels to modern politics. It covers the late Republic which may be less familiar than the period of the emperors.
posted by Botanizer at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just finished City of Light, City of Poison, which is nonfiction about the affair of the poisons in Louis XIV's court and in Paris in the late 17th century.

Sometime during this holiday season, I'm intending to read White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg. It's come to me highly recommended by people who know American history much better than I do.

As for fiction, has he read Washington Black by Esi Edugyan? I just finished it and found it really pleasant to read, intellectually challenging, and emotionally insightful/challenging.
posted by platitudipus at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, he might like Danubia and Germania, which are about late medieval/early modern Germany and Austria, emphasis on the colorful.
posted by praemunire at 4:39 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

For non fiction that reads like fiction, how about Blood and Thunder or In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides.
posted by jeffch at 7:48 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ivan Doig
posted by BlueHorse at 8:39 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Guns, Germs, and Steel. and Your Inner Fish
posted by Elsie at 1:19 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If he likes the Charles Mann books and Cloud Atlas, he might also like Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:16 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thee are great. I love you people.

A few further notes for anyone who comes after this with ideas (bring 'em on): I have The Luminaries and never got very far into it but he may very well like it; thanks for that one! He's read The Perfect Storm already -- I should have mentioned that -- and he liked it, so more Sebastian Junger may be in the offing. Neither of us likes anything by Bill Bryson for some reason. Thanks for reminding me of McPhee! I'll be checking out the rest and am so grateful for a world of interesting readers. Thanks.
posted by mmw at 7:11 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hefty? If you are judging by content and not page count I would sugest the singular work H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. It's an autobiography, of sorts, written by someone who has recently lost a parent and confronting mortality, while raising/tending a goshawk. It's a book about wild, and what it is to be social and modernity. How she writes about her bird, about her self, it's just so very well done. Anyone who seeks comfort in the few remaining uncultivated areas and feels their mortality should read it.
posted by zenon at 8:08 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Trout Fishing in America (Braughtigan), The Emerald Mile (Fedarko), and The Habit of Rivers (Leeson). The last, in particular, would be a good fit.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I may be the only reader in the world who doesn't love John McPhee. If McPhee doesn't float his/your boat, a nature/open spaces writer who I love is Rick Bass - Why I Came West, his memoir about the Yaak Valley in Montana, is both gritty and ethereal.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:25 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If he likes Junger then William Langewiesche might work well. “The Outlaw Sea” is good though the final section was harrowing. The one about “unbuilding” the World trade Center afer 9/11 was good, too....heck, I love all his books!
posted by wenestvedt at 3:03 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older Pescatarian Keto... give me your best plans!   |   Automatic kitchen trash disposal solution? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments