Non-fiction books with bite-sized chapters?
January 4, 2022 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I have found that having either physical or Kindle books with short, bite-sized chapters that can be finished in the span of a couple subway stops or while waiting in line is the best way to help prevent endless doomscrolling. Do you have any recommendations?

I'm open to (and would love!) suggestions in a wide range of non-fiction topics, provided that they are interesting and well-written. Some examples of ones I've read in the past that fit this mold:

The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt
What If? by Randall Munroe
Ethics in the Real World by Peter Singer
Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Hartford

Sometimes these books of 2-5ish page chapters are collections of columns/blogs, and sometimes they are expressly just written this way. What have been your favorites?
posted by guttmann to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I can't recall exactly how short the sections are, but The Body: A Guide for Occupants is very easy to pick up and put down as Bill Bryson goes through all the different parts of the human body. (Much more interesting than it sounds.)

Oh, also Mary Roach's Stiff is written as a bunch of shorter blurbs, all about what/when/how we deal with dead bodies. It's not really for the squeamish, but fascinating nonetheless.

If you're ok with memoirs, this was one of my favorites from the past year: Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig. The book is a series of short essays from and about her life.
posted by hydra77 at 9:10 AM on January 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Marion Winik's Glen Rock Book of the Dead and Baltimore Book of the Dead have been combined into The Big Book of the Dead (along with some new material, apparently). All of the books contain portraits of people that Winik knew who have passed.
posted by jabes at 9:11 AM on January 4, 2022

Maybe essay compilations? I know there's a Best American Sports Writing/Science Writing/Essays/Traveling Writing/Nonrequired Reading series and there's also a Year's Best ___________ series.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2022

I enjoyed Daily Life in Victorian London for this, it’s an anthology of excerpts from original sources (diaries, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, guidebooks). I kept reading bits of it out to people.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:42 AM on January 4, 2022

I really like Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:51 AM on January 4, 2022

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair.
posted by misteraitch at 10:33 AM on January 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Compilations of the New Scientist's The Last Word columns. I have Does Anything Eat Wasps? and Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?. Bite-size reads that are fun to go back to, which also makes the books perfect for bathroom reading.
posted by pendrift at 10:44 AM on January 4, 2022

The Crow's Dinner by Jonathan Carroll. Get the eBook - it's 560 pages in HB.
posted by Grok Lobster at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2022

In case you didn't see it - there was an earlier similar post, though it includes fiction. Books With Short Unrelated Chapters?.
posted by paduasoy at 11:22 AM on January 4, 2022

And my own recommendation is The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth. It has short entries rather than chapters.
posted by paduasoy at 11:28 AM on January 4, 2022

I'm reading The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli right now, and in it Dobelli breaks down a different fallacy in each chapter, making the chapters 2-3 pages long.
posted by orange swan at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2022

"The Hidden Life of Trees" by Peter Wohlleben fits this well, and is a fascinating read if you are fond of trees.
posted by heatherlogan at 11:33 AM on January 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Letters of Note series is great for this; Ross Gay's The Book of Delights is the exact opposite of doomscrolling. Teju Cole's Blind Spot might be good for this too.
posted by carrienation at 12:06 PM on January 4, 2022

Maybe Ask a Historian by Greg Jenner. In it he answers 50 questions from the public like "Which people from history would best pull off a casino heist? Who was the richest person of all time? When was the first Monday?".
posted by scorbet at 1:24 PM on January 4, 2022

John Lewis' last book. Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation, is a series of 1-3 page chapters.
posted by COD at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2022

How to Travel With a Salmon, Umberto Eco. Hilarious book.
posted by mrgoat at 3:57 PM on January 4, 2022

Nick Flynn's memoirs
posted by brujita at 4:01 PM on January 4, 2022

I think you would love Hello Goodbye Hello, by Craig Brown. It's 101 chapters, each 1001 words long, in which two famous people meet, then in the next chapter one of them meets another famous person, then in the next chapter that new famous person meets another famous person...on and on til it loops back around. It's delightful and surprising.
posted by airplant at 9:03 PM on January 4, 2022

Atlas Obscura has short entries about interesting things around the world.
posted by belladonna at 3:35 AM on January 5, 2022

The Medusa and the Snail and "Lives of a Cell" come immediately to mind.

These are essay collections focused on biology written with tight, insightful prose that I find energizing and engaging. They aren't going to be over your head or drenched in jargon, and they can be set down and picked up as needed without feeling lost.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:42 AM on January 5, 2022

Response by poster: So many wonderful suggestions here, thank you all! One more to throw in the list that I haven't read yet but does fit if anybody else is interested: Numbers Don't Lie by Vaclav Smil
posted by guttmann at 7:57 AM on January 8, 2022

Studs Terkel's books are themed collections of interviews. Working is one of my favorites.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:36 PM on January 9, 2022

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