Are there non-fiction pocket paperbacks out there?
May 16, 2020 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I love big, coffee-table books like what DK produces. But I'm running out of room in my apartment and looking ahead to summer (even with social distancing), so I'm trying to find non-fiction books that literally fit in my pocket.

Many years ago, I had a book on the world of Shakespeare that was a pocket paperback, even though it easily could have a been a big book with illustrations. I've searched online but mostly I find things like the Federalist Papers in pocket paper form, not "true" non-fiction.

So, do people know of a series or a publisher that produces small non-fiction works on history, science, mythology, occult, etc.? I'm reminded of the Abrams Discoveries Series, but those seem too nice and glossy for taking out into the city.

Any ideas?
posted by Flying Saucer to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe Oxford's Very Short Introduction series? I've mostly read a couple of the military ones, but there's a huge range of topics, and they're pleasingly concise. IIRC they've been all text, though, so if you're looking for lavishly illustrated books, maybe look elsewhere.
posted by yhlee at 8:10 AM on May 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

The answer to just about every "which nonfiction should I read?" question is: the works of John McPhee. Fortunately, it's easy to find older, pocket-sized editions of his many books. He's a national treasure who has written extensively about history, science, and natural history.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:27 AM on May 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Dorling Kindersley also does pocket-sized books under the 'Eyewitness Guides' brand. Lots of travel guides, but also tons of history, science, nature etc.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:28 AM on May 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Seconding John McPhee. Here are some of my favorites:

- "Oranges" about Florida orange farming
- "Uncommon Carriers", about freight and transport
- "The Control of Nature", a couple different case studies including people trying to prevent an erupting volcano from filling an important Icelandic port with lava, and the Army Corps of Engineers' management of the Atchafalaya River (with some analysis that proved prescient during Hurricane Katrina)
- "Looking for a Ship", about a guy working in the merchant marine
- "The Survival of the Bark Canoe"
- "Coming into the Country", about a trip by kayak down an arctic river in Alaska, as well as Alaskan towns, politicians, pioneers, and bush communities

Another non-fiction writer I really love is Rebecca Solnit. Her books can be more... circituous or ethereal, with many layers coming together to in a complex/unexpected way to form the whole. Some good ones:
"A Field Guide to Getting Lost"
"The Faraway Nearby"
"A Paradise Built In Hell" -- silly title, but it's about communities that arise after major disasters
"Wanderlust: A History of Walking". - what's on the tin. Biomechanics, sociology, etc.

Her books are often quite small, but pocket-sized is maybe a bit of a stretch? They fit easily in my jacket or windbreaker pocket, but depending on where you spend summer you might not wear a jacket.
posted by cnidaria at 9:29 AM on May 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you carry a smartphone anyway and you haven't yet tried reading ebooks on your phone, I suggest you give it a try. You can have multiple books available on a device that does literally fit into your pocket. The reading experience is fine. Really. I resisted the whole concept of reading on my phone for a long time and still much prefer paper books, but there is a lot to be said for having something to read that's so portable and that's always with you (assuming you pretty much always have your phone when you're away from home.)

Apologies if this is annoying. I know I'm not exactly answering the question you asked and there are many very good reasons you might not want to read on your phone. But if you want books that literally fit into your pocket, ebooks are an obvious solution.
posted by Redstart at 10:03 AM on May 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not quite pocket size, but the paperback version of Home Ground by Barry Lopez that I have is only 4 1/2" wide by 8" high by 1 1/4" deep, and I highly recommend it.
posted by gudrun at 10:45 AM on May 16, 2020

Redstart No offense taken. I do have a smartphone, and even a Kindle, but I think most of us book-lovers agree that there's no substitute the real thing.
posted by Flying Saucer at 10:58 AM on May 16, 2020

I know Phaidon does gorgeous small-ish illustrated books now. Also there was the Phaidon Pocket books after WWII, nicely bound but not so much with the color photos.
posted by clew at 11:18 AM on May 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Happy Dave I see the Pocket Eyewitness books are marked as "Kids" but do only kids want to read about space, dinosaurs, and the Roman Empire???
posted by Flying Saucer at 2:58 PM on May 16, 2020

If you're interested in older, used books, until the past 25 years or so it was much more common for nonfiction to be published in a pocket size. One way to find these is to search on for the notation for the most typical size. Include "12mo" or, less usefully, "duodecimo" as a keyword in the advanced search feature.
posted by wombat praxis at 3:51 PM on May 16, 2020

Another series to look out for: Thames and Hudson's small paperback "New Horizons" volumes. They're nicely produced glossy art books that fit in your pocket. I really like the Chaplin one and the one about the history of scripts.
posted by cgc373 at 3:54 PM on May 16, 2020

Seconding the New Horizons series - they are exactly what you're looking for - adult-oriented, beautifully written, lavishly illustrated and small enough to be considered pocketbook size.
You can pick them up up super cheap second hand on ebay and Amazon marketplace and there are many, many titles in the series, including The Reign of the Dinosaurs and The Search for Ancient Rome.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:52 PM on May 16, 2020

Thanks cgc373 and freya_lamb -- amazingly, those New Horizons books are the same as the Abrams Discoveries series I named above :-)
posted by Flying Saucer at 7:19 PM on May 16, 2020

They totally are the same, Flying Saucer! That'll teach me not to click the links in an AskMe!
posted by cgc373 at 8:09 PM on May 16, 2020

Yikes, me too!
posted by freya_lamb at 1:59 AM on May 17, 2020

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