CHB Nonfiction Staff Picks

Check out these fiction recommendations from the CHB Staff! 

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book summarizes Kahneman's lifelong research and presents a dichotomous view of the brain wherein two systems of thought work with and against each other to produce everything that we think of as our human intelligence. System 1 is fast and instinctive and system 2 is slow and deliberative. Kahneman demonstrates each system's strengths and weakness and also shows how the two systems serve to both help and hinder each other. The studies, surveys and experiments throughout are fascinating and by the end of the book I was feeling like an ape. Not in a bad way, Kahneman shows the thought processes we use minute to minute are much more instinctive and biased rather than the brilliant, logical maxims that we give them credit for.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

As a poli-sci major in college, everything in every class (American politics at least) is rooted in the debate of Hamilton vs. Jefferson. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the words Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian I would have enough money to buy Monticello! Their personal philosophies, for obvious reasons, are very important to American history and politics but often when learning about political theory various ideas are put into context of their times but rarely are they put into the context of the entire summation of a life's experience. Theories and ideas are often taught as absolute or as a logical conclusion to a finite set of problems but in Chernow's book Hamilton's ideas are presented as Hamilton's reaction to all of his life's experience. They are laid bare to see that while they are impassioned, they are imperfect and that all personal philosophy whether it be moral, political or metaphysical is an intensely personal thing that is never a logical conclusion but instead is an earned disposition.

The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist by Mary H. Manhein

I'm not necessarily interested in forensics, but I am very interested in anthropology and this book is less death and hard science (though it is those things too) than it is individual human history. The stories and objects of the dead can epitomize the life lived and I always find that there is a deep connection to be found in the study of a life that has been ended. Manhein works her way through these connections in order to reveal the true stories of the remains that make their way into her lab.

Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans

This book is big and dense and really really interesting. It is the history of an art form that has navigated its way through history, politics, and fashion - touching all elements of culture in many ways. Homans is a former dancer and current dance critic; she is just the person ballet needed to tell its story. Apollo's Angels is bookended by an introduction and epilogue in which Homans inserts herself into the history of ballet - where it came from and where it is going. Between those two moving personal stories is a complete cultural history. Every kingdom in the west seems to have been touched by dance and left its own mark on the form. You don't have to love ballet to enjoy this book, but you will probably love it once you finish.

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Tyson's science writing (and I guess his overall persona) hits the perfect pitch between academic and popular that suits lay people so well. These essays are informative and entertaining. Tyson can sometimes be a bit bombastic, but overall his tone is jovial and inclusive. This is a collection of essays from a man who has fun while learning and wants to share that joy.

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking expounds on Amanda's famous TedTalk. It is a book length rumination on asking, giving, and sharing. It is also a memoir of sorts about a very unique artist. Ultimately what The Art of Asking aims to do is connect people, and it taught me a lot about being more fearless and letting people in. This is a book to read and share and talk about - and if Amanda Palmer is good at anything she is good at making people feel...all the feelings are here.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

This is a book I want to hold tightly to my chest and cry to. I could feel Smith's words unlocking my fears and inspiring me throughout. Beautiful prose. An amazing story of art, love, and friendship. You've probably already read this, but let's all just read it again while we wait for M Train to come out this fall.

Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

This book is a must-read for fans of Harry Potter, especially those who, like me, grew up alongside the books. Melissa Anelli, journalist and webmistress of the famous Leaky Cauldron HP fansite, recounts the history of the Harry Potter phenomenon as well as her own personal experience as a fan of the series. This book speaks to me, because Anelli shows the joy, passion, and magic of what it was like to be a Potter fan in the heyday of midnight book releases, wizard rock, fan theories, fanfiction, and so much more that made the decade of Potter so magical and unforgettable.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Books about popularity and cliques and trying to make people like you don't really appeal to me, but this book is a lot more than that. Maya writes about her experiences with changing her clothes, hair, makeup, attitude, and the way she thinks about and treats other people, and her results, though not entirely surprising, led me to a "faith in humanity restored" kind of moment. Popular is funny and honest, and I enjoyed going along with Maya on her adventure to change her life and style with advice from the 1950's.

On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

This was actually the first Stephen King book I ever read, and it made me love him without ever having read a word of his fiction. King's part-memoir, part-guide to writing is hilarious and instructive. King reminices on his life and offers advice for those who would like to try their own hand at writing. The book covers grammar basics, plotting, finding a place to write, practicing, rejection, and all manner of topics, all with King's witty humor. It's a fun read and one of the best books on writing that I've ever read.

The Elements of Style  by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

This book is a must-have for anyone who regularly writes the English language. Strunk and White have compiled a fairly thorough guidebook on the use of proper English, particularly in writing. Have you ever wondered where to put a comma? Do you know what the difference between active and passive voice is and how to avoid the latter? Have you ever accidentally found yourself misusing apostrophes? This book can help solve all of those problems and many more. It's an excellent reference for any and everyone, and it covers all the things you never quite picked up in school but still need to use. Best of all, it's devoid of that dryness of tone which occurs so often in textbooks, and it's quite entertaining in addition to being instructive.