Non-fiction book recommendations

The recommendations below have been divided into two sections. The first one, Greatly recommended, covers books that I think are excellent and definitely worth reading. The second one, Recommended, covers books that have very interesting ideas in them, but have some flaws.

Greatly recommended

Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. A very interesting analysis of human history from a biologist's perspective.

William C. Dement: The Promise of Sleep : A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night's Sleep. The title explains all. Most people could benefit from sleeping more.

Jeffrey Steingarten: The Man Who Ate Everything. The best book about food that I know. The author is a lawyer who became a food critic. It contains chapters like "Why aren't the French dropping like flies?" and "Salad the Silent Killer". It also contains some recipes.

Robert V. Levine: A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently. This title also explains all. Read this book before you scream at someone from Mauritius for being half an hour late.

Charles Tanford, Jacqueline Reynolds: Nature's Robots : A History of Proteins. Two trash-talking scientists explain about proteins. The first half of the book contains an introduction to how proteins were discovered, the second half has a few case studies on interesting kinds of proteins, for example those involved in vision or those in muscles.

Bjorn Lomborg: The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. The idea of this book that the world has a lot of problems, and there are not enough resources to solve them all immediately. Therefore, an idea must be formed about which problems are most pressing. This book argues extensively that environmental degradation is probably less important than global poverty. This is a controversial book: here is a pro-Lomborg web site, and an anti-Lomborg one.

William H. McNeill: Plagues and Peoples. A great book on the effects of diseases on human history. Listed as one of the inspirations of the Jared Diamond book above.


Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza: Genes, Peoples, and Languages. A summary of what genetic analysis tells us about peoples and languages. The most interesting part is the application of principal component analysis to populations of Europe (and the whole world). This might be less interesting to people who aren't mathematically inclined enough to grasp P.C. analysis (which is vaguely described in the book).

Dennis Burton: Nature Walks of Central Park. This book describes some walks in New York City's Central Park. It provides fascinating information about individual trees and features and about the park in general. The author is the Chief Woodsman of the park. This book will be of more limited interest to those who never visit Central Park.

Daniel L. Schacter: The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. A very good book about memory. Sometimes pretty dry.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. In this pair of books the author says some very interesting things about what makes people happy and creative (respectively). These books would benefit from being edited to be much shorter though.

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