Nonfiction Recommendations

A Short History of Nearly Everything

The title of this engaging book says it all. Bill Bryson takes us on a whirlwind tour of the history of human knowledge, illuminating not only the science of... well, nearly everything, but particularly the human stories behind the discoveries that shape our world. All the drama, bickering, cheating, stealing, and vindication is on display in these untold stories of the men and women who often risked everything for the advancement of science.

Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally

For a year, this husband-wife team lived the “hundred-mile-diet," eating only food grown in that radius of home. They were alarmed at the 1500-mile average journey of a food item to their grocery store, with its emissions, pollution, and loss of nutrients.  Besides being helpful to the environment, their locavore diet would help the local farmers and the communities where they live. Living in British Columbia, Canada, though, isn’t as produce-prolific as, say, Salinas, California, and so their search for local sources took on some serious urgency.

The Foxfire Book

Originally published in 1966, this first of many subsequent Foxfire Books set the standard for the series. The subtitle: hog dressing, log cabin building, mountain crafts and foods; planting by the signs , snake lore, hunting tales, faith healing, moonshining, and other affairs of plain living is a giveaway to the deep mountain folkways captured within.

Vegan With a Vengeance

Isa Chandra Moskowitz, co-creator of the website and cable access show Post Punk Kitchen, brings us a cookbook that you can page through for both inspiration and amusement. Moskowitz's inventive recipes are interspersed with fun tidbits and anecdotes. This is a wonderful resource for vegans, aspiring punks, and others who want a dose of  innovation in their cooking. My favorite recipes are the Brooklyn Pad Thai and the Mexican Chocolate Rice Pudding!

Your Money or Your Life

This is probably the benchmark book in the Voluntary Simplicity movement, the book which takes us through the steps necessary to get a grip on our finances, our values, and our life's dreams. What is our time worth? What is our money worth? Do we control our possessions or do we work extra hours to sustain a life filled with possessions that ultimately control us? What constitutes satisfaction, and will more stuff make us more satisfied or less so?

Small Wonder

Barbara Kingsolver is an author I love.  After reading all of her fictional works, I began to read her nonfiction.  These essays are wonderfully entertaining.  Although she always has much to say in her novels, hearing her clear, direct voice in these short essays about anything from a lost child in Iran to nature's cycles and human kind's hubris, I fell in love with her writing all over again.  Some people don't want to hear about ways to change the world--others like me, look for directions that will lead us away from the wrongs we are doing to the earth.&n

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

This cross-genre listing of musical recordings is a great resource for music recommendations and commentary. I love that it jumps from Chicago to the Chieftans, Queen to Rachmaninoff. Each album writeup also includes listings of key tracks and more suggested listening. The author, Tom Moon, is a frequent contributor to NPR's All Things Considered.

The Simple Living Guide

The subtitle says it all: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living.

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village

Author Erdman spent two years in the Peace Corps, in a village in the Ivory Coast. Remote, primitive by U.S. living standards, the village was a rich source of characters and hospitality.  Erdman taught English, nutrition and birth control, and she learned and respected the traditions important to that place and those people.  This book takes you to a different world, and cheers with the uplifting story of how one person can make a difference. If you believe that we are, all of us across the globe, alike in more ways than we are different, then this book will resonate with you

A Plain Life

Subtitled Walking My Beliefs, Savage and his wife decide to adopt a simpler life as observant Quakers, (much like the Amish among whom they live in Ohio.)  They were seeking a religious-based, deliberate existence which eschewed the frantic pace and overconsumption of the average American lifestyle.

Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer

Carpenter and her boyfriend rent an apartment in a gritty area of Oakland, CA.  where both birds and gunshots can be heard. Who knew it could be a great place to grow vegetables, raise chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and pigs?

Looking for a Ship

McPhee writes about a merchant marine who is looking for a spot on a ship, and in this journey he explains what it means to be a merchant marine, the complicated rules governing how much a merchant marine can work in any given year, the history of shipping in the United States, current-day piracy at sea, the decline of U.S.-owned merchant ships, the development of container shipping, and the importance of shipping to the economy of the U.S. and the world.

Woman: an Intimate Geography

I really loved this book.  It was funny, witty and informative.  This writer brought up ideas I had never thought of before concerning my body (or any woman's body for that matter).  You will laugh at her metaphors and informal discourses and smile at how true her perceptions are.  Occasionally I love reading nonfiction instead of fiction; this book is as fast-paced as any novel I've encountered.  It's not like any other book I've read on the subject, but being a woman isn't like being anything else, especially in this culture.  Amaze yourse

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Columnist Thomas Friedman looks into the future to talk about the factors that will control our future from climate change (HOT), new technologies (FLAT), and population growth (CROWDED). 


This book encourages the reader to give new life to old objects - turn an old t-shirt into a shaggy rug, bottle-caps into necklace charms, and alter your clothing beyond recognition. The instructions are clear and include illustrations. You'll find many of the required materials for these projects around your home, and you'll be just a short time away from fun and funky crafts!

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond gives us a panoramic look at societies today and throughout history's breadth and depth, how they flourished and why they failed. For some, it was because of abuse of the natural resources; for others, war with neighbors; still others because of climate change beyond the society's ability to adjust.

The Lobster Chronicles

She proved her sea-mettle when her swordfish boat rode out the perfect storm (The Hungry Ocean) and now Greenlaw, home on her Maine island, chronicles the changing life of the fisher. As a woman skipper she is an anomaly, and she is also something of an outsider on her island; so she writes of the characters on her boat and on her island with wit and compassion.  Do you enjoy strong women narrators and reading of the seafaring life? Pick this one.

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

If you have dreams of living off the grid, or vicariously enjoy the journeys of those who do, you’ll love this book, and admire the pluck of the author and his wife as they deal with their joys and challenges. The couple lived among the Amish and Mennonites for a year and a half without electricity and technology.  As they manage their livestock, their buggy, their crops, and their daily chores, they learn what a rich and full life it can be.

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife

Peggy Vincent spent 15 years as a nurse-midwife, delivering babies in hospitals, birth centers, homes, and sometimes in elevators and boats.  This heart-warming and empowering book is a well-written adventure that lets readers experience the wonder of birth, the love of babies, and the power of women.  A strong advocate for the healthy-until-proven-otherwise approach to pregnancy and childbirth, Peggy tirelessly advocated for affordable insurance, midwife privileges at hospitals, and fought years of ostracism and unprofessionalism from the obstetricians on hospital staffs.  <


Abdulrahman Zeitoun decided to ride it out as Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-born building contractor wanted to protect his home and his properties, so he stayed while his family fled the city. After the levees broke he grabbed his garage sale canoe and paddled through the city, rescuing neighbors trapped in their homes and feeding the trapped neighborhood dogs. He thought that it was God’s plan to stay and help those in need. And then he disappeared.

The Big Year: A tale of man, nature, and fowl obsession

This book won me over with its quirky characters, real-life bird information, and its ability to turn get me interested in a subject I had never considered before. The Big Year follows three competitive birders in their race to see the most bird species in North America in 1998. It's a nonfiction book that reads more like a novel. Fiction readers and non-fiction fans alike will love it!