Looking for a new non-fiction read? The Minerva staff has got you covered. We have true reads covering subjects from serial killers to neuroscience to the exploration of the North Pole!
Chicago was the place to be in 1893. The World’s Fair was about to launch, and the whole world was watching. As the hype builds leading up to the opening, the architects struggle to meet deadlines, battling back against repeated disaster. At the same time, an influx of visitors provides the perfect cover for H.H. Holmes to attract unsuspecting women into his murder hotel, never to be seen again. The duality of chaos and tension make this a riveting read while the details and first-hand accounts make it a well-researched marvel. Larson is a master of creative nonfiction, and this National Book Award winner certainly won’t disappoint.
Do you like learning about why we do the things we do? Do you like shows like Brain Games or books by Oliver Sacks? If so, then Phantoms in the Brain is the book for you. Ramachandran discusses the brain mechanics behind fascinating case studies dealing with phantom limbs, hallucinations, and neurological disorders. There’s no need to be a neuroscientist to understand the book; Ramachandran makes his experiments sound so simple and explains neuroscience well in lay terms. Whether you’re a psychology expert or can’t tell an amygdala from a hippocampus, Phantoms in the Brain is an exciting read.
I can honestly say I haven’t touched a book of nonfiction in a very long time (unless you could analysis of Shakespeare/scholarly articles/class reading). So it was a no-brainer that I would pick this autobiographical memoir of the founder of Random House. Bennett Cerf is a funny, no-nonsense, engaging narrator, and it’s effortless to fall into his time and place of 1930s New York, when starting a publishing business was something young upstarts talked about at the soda fountain and after class. Cerf is ambitious, irreverent, and hilarious, detailing stories of smuggling James Joyce’s Ulysses into the U.S. so he could publish it, buying the Modern Library from Horace Liveright based on a lunchtime bet, and founding one of the biggest publishing houses in the business. Even if you know nothing about the publishing industry, Cerf’s narration will have you laughing at his anecdotes and wishing for a even half of the ambition and dedication he had.
I actually would recommend any nonfiction book you can get your hands on by the esteemed Fraser. I’ve loved every book of hers I’ve ever read, including her look into Louis XIV and the sexual politics of France and the six wives of Henry VIII. The reason I singled out this biography of Marie Antoinette is because I knew the broad strokes of her life but never really knew the details before. Fraser does a great job of establishing context for the people and why the princess acted the way she did, in addition to dispelling rumors — no, she really didn’t say “Let them eat cake” — while introducing surprising new suggestions — like the suggestion her last child was the product of an affair. This isn’t a book about a spoiled, bratty girl and her extravagant spending but neither is it a book that unequivocally praises Marie Antoinette either. The real tragedy, as it turns out, is that everyone eventually falls prey to the world around them.
This book is everything I love about historical fiction. It’s the story of the U.S.S. Jeannette‘s failed 1879 expedition to the North Pole. It’s a long book, but it’s got romance! Adventure! Dogs! This is the first non-fiction book I’ve read in a while that kept me up into the wee hours of the night. Sides uses the recovered journals of Captain George Washington De Long to illustrate every step of the harrowing journey, and it contains enough backstory to get a picture of the Arctic Fever of the time without any deep or tedious regressions.
Featured image via Amazon.