Mind-blowing Nonfiction
September 2016

Since my last couple of posts have been about more light-hearted books, I thought I’d offer some more serious reads this month. Specifically, I’d like to recommend five nonfiction books that unequivocally changed my views on issues ranging from racism to capitalism. These are books that—as we used to say in the’60’s—“blew my mind.”

  • The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin:  A chilling, haunting account of the “perfect storm” that led to an acquittal in the face of overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence: (1) LAPD racism and how it was manipulated by the defense attorneys; (2) the prosecution’s unbelievable incompetence; and (3) ubiquitous celebrity worship surrounding the crime. (Toobin’s new book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, is a detailed and even-handed account of what is indeed as “wild saga.”) Mindblower: Realizing I knew virtually nothing about these events or these two trials.
  • Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes 
by Tamim Ansary:  An excellent history, easy to read, concluding that, as Ansary writes in his conclusion, ‘The conflict wracking the modern world is not, I think, best understood as a ‘clash of civilizations.’ … It’s better understood as the friction generated by two mismatched world histories intersecting.’” Mindblower: Rethinking and understanding the Islamic world from a completely different perspective.
  • Sapiens: A Brief Review of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari:  A “big history” (including biology, evolutionary anthropology and economics as well as historical trends) of homo sapiens through a series of “revolutions” over 70,000 years: cognitive, agricultural, industrial, information, and biotechnological. Along the way, he examines everything from language to cooperation to religion to capitalism to happiness. Mindblower: A completely new view of human development.
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt:  The exciting story of how one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and, via the Enlightenment, made possible the world as we know it—including our ideas about creation, death, religion, science, and reasons for living. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Mindblower: That so much of “modern thought” was actually thought of over 2000 years ago. 
  • Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert: Fascinating, thorough, and well-written history of capitalism and cotton—from slave labor to Chinese labor today. The author coined the phrases “war capitalism” to describe the violent, nation-backed capitalism/ colonialism of the Age of Discovery (15-18th centuries) and “industrial capitalism” for the continuing close relationship between government and capitalism in the 19th century. Winner of the Bancroft Prize and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  Mindblower: That “the global economy” and “offshore outsourcing” and “corporatocracy” have existed since the Age of Discovery. 

There are plenty more recommended nonfiction books listed at Delightful Reads.