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True Stories

Two Eyes Are Never Enough

Two Eyes Are Never Enough book cover. A young woman sitting in a bare room, with her hands over her face.

This is a combination of reporting and personal memoir about the direct care industry. The author worked in the industry for several years, and saw both its limitations and its promise first hand. In this book, she describes her experiences as well as the experiences of a woman injured working in a care home, and then reports on the facts about the industry. I wish she had gone a bit deeper in her reporting, perhaps interviewing former residents of these homes and executives in the companies that run them.

Author: 

Sonya Huber

Opium Eater: The New Confessions

Opium Eater book cover: a black and white image of opium poppies

This book intertwines the author's own experiences taking opioids to control the pain from ankylosing spondylitis with a discussion of our current problems with opioid addiction and a look at the role of opioids in the Romantic period. The title is a reference to a book by Thomas De Quincey, a Romantic-period writer who wrote about his experiences with laudanum. Zwarenstein compares De Quincey's experiences with comments from online forums for present day opioid users and her own observations.

Author: 

Carlyn Zwarenstein

All of Us, We All Are Arameans

All of Us, We All Are Arameans book cover

This book is a travelogue, the story of the trip one American Jewish woman took to Israel. She is somewhat ambivalent in her feelings about Israel, and is upfront about that, and one of the things we see in the book is her attempt to form solid opinions about the region and its conflicts. The tone stays one of a slightly introspective travelogue, not a weighty investigation of a difficult conflict, but one of the strengths of this book is how it shows the complexity inherent in any conflict that has centuries of history behind it.

Author: 

Eileen Pollack

The Shoe Boy: A Trapline Memoir

The Shoe Boy book cover

This is a memoir of the author's season living in the deep Canadian bush, hunting and trapping. The story is well-written and engaging, and it alone would make this book worth your time. But this book is something more, too. The author is Anishinaabe, a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario, and his time in the bush is spent with a James Bay Cree family.

Author: 

Duncan McCue

Rattlesnake Stories

Rattlesnake Stories book cover

On the surface, this is a light-hearted story about a woman who moves to a ranch in rural Texas and has to overcome her fear of rattlesnakes. There is something a little deeper in it, too, though, because rattlesnakes are just the most obvious manifestation of her fears. There aren't necessarily any new insights about overcoming fear in the book, but it is an enjoyable read, and sometimes a slightly humorous reminder of how to handle fear is just what you need.

Author: 

Anna Mitchael

When Lions Roared

When Lions Roared

This book is a well-executed blend of history and personal reflection about the end of apartheid. It covers the rise of the student movements that helped end it, and does not flinch from showing the cost paid by the participants in these movements. It is an engrossing read, and a reminder that while determined citizens can fight oppression, some of them will pay a terrible price for doing so.

Author: 

Manju Soni

When the Devil Enters

When the Devil Enters book cover

This is book tells the story of a series of mysterious house fires in a small town in Sicily, and the various explanations that were advanced for them. It does a good job of setting the scene, and a slightly less good job of fleshing out the characters, but it is an interesting story that I enjoyed reading.

Author: 

Ariel Ramchandani

In the Greece of the East

In the Greece of the East book cover

The author of this fascinating book is a German who travels to Lviv, in Ukraine, to try to understand its history, and specifically how World War II changed it and by extension the rest of the region. He makes his trip with a copy of the writing of an earlier German visitor to the city, then called Lemberg. The result is part travelogue, part history, and part personal meditation. It is well-written and an enjoyable read.

Author: 

Stefan Weidner

Charlotte Collins (translator)

Crossroads

This is a collection of essays by Ugandan women, writing about their lives and finding their way in their changing country. The essays are presented directly, with no context or clarification for the reader unfamiliar with Uganda. This may lead you to do the occasional web search in search of context, but that is more than compensated for by the chance to read about these women's lives in their own words, without a mediator trying to tell you what it all means. The essays are wide-ranging and reflect a diverse set of experiences. Some are harrowing and some are light-hearted.

Author/Editor: 

Christopher Conte

Decatur's Wake

Decatur's Wake book cover

This is a well-executed example of a genre I have come to love: the short history. This book covers a bit of US history that I suspect most Americans have forgotten (if they ever learned it): the Barbary Wars of the early 1800s. It frames this history within the context of the rise of the US Navy and a rivalry between two of the leading naval officers of the day, Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge. It is a fast-paced and well-written book, which cites historical evidence to back its points. My only quibble is that it is very much an American history.

Author: 

Daniel Wattenberg

Ghosts in the Forest

Ghosts in the Forest book cover

This is a remarkable story about a group of people who hid in the forest from the Cambodian war for 25 years after it ended. The story itself is amazing, and it is extremely well told. Putrill both captures the extreme circumstances that pushed the group to decide to disappear into the forest for so long and makes the story speak to what is common in us all. It is a page turner that will stay with you for a long time.

Author: 

Corinne Purtill

Don't Call It Bollywood

Don't Call It Bollywood book cover

This book introduces you to the world of Hindi films, commonly called "Bollywood" films. The historical and artistic information is interspersed with stories from the author's own journey to Hindi film fandom. The conversational tone and the personal stories make this a fun, engaging read. If you, like me, have never really considered Hindi films, this book will show you that they are more than flashy dance sequences and sappy love stories.

Author: 

Margaret E. Redlich

Expecting

Expecting book cover

This short look at pregnancy advice through the ages is an adapted excerpt from a longer work, but it is an exceptionally well done one. It stands on its own as a great, brief look at the topic. If you've ever been on the receiving end of pregnancy advice, or if you're just curious about what society tells pregnant women to do and why, this book is for you.

Author: 

Marika Seigel

Headstrong

This book consists of short histories of accomplished and influential women scientists. All the ones you know are in the book, but what makes it special is that a lot of women scientists you've never heard of are in the book, too. Reading about the amazing, important things women you've never heard of have done is both eye-opening and inspiring (and a little infuriating). I found the essays to be perfect short reads for evenings when I wanted to read something to wind down at the end of the day, but didn't have much time.

Author/Editor: 

Rachel Swaby

Along the Bosphorus

Along the Bosphorus book cover

This book gives the reader a peak into life in Istanbul in the first half of the 20th century, and specifically into the role of the Bosphorus in that life. It is an excerpt from a longer book, and suffers a bit from lack of context, but it is still a great read.

Author: 

Orhan Pamuk

Almost Her

Almost Her book cover

This entertaining book about what it is like to be the twin of a famous person is actually a sneakily profound look at identity. It raises more questions than it answers, but it also provides some keen insights from a woman with a rather unique vantage point. It is a quick read, and definitely worth your time.

Author: 

Caroline Paul

So Lonesome

The cover of the short ebook So Lonesome

This is the perfect length book about Hank Williams for someone (like me) who is curious about Williams and his life, but not to the extent of reading a full length biography. Williams played a pivotal role in the development of country music, and this book explores and explains that along with providing the basic story of Williams' life. Fans of country music will probably enjoy this book, but don't skip it just because you aren't a country music fan.

Author: 

Richard A. Peterson

The Divorce Colony

The Divorce Colony book cover

This interesting short ebook looks at the period in US history when divorce was just starting to become acceptable. The laws were still against it, so people in search of divorce would move to the state with the most lenient laws in order to get a divorce. They would need to establish residency before they could file their case, which led to the create of a community of divorce-seekers, waiting for residency. This book focuses on the "divorce colony" in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the early 1890s, using the case of the Baroness Margaret Laura De Stuers as an example.

Author: 

April White

Science That Changed the World

Science that Changed the World book cover

This book looks at four scientific breakthroughs of the 1960s- telecommunications satellites, plate tectonics, experimental evidence of The Big Bang, and the eradication of smallpox- and traces their transformative impact through to modern times. It is an interesting premise, well-executed, and even people who know the basic outlines of these discoveries are likely to pick up some new information.

Author: 

Tim Radford

Island of Secrets

Island of Secrets book cover

This story is ostensibly about a man journeying into the jungle of New Britain island in search of a tree kangaroo... but that is just the pretext that sets the story in motion. It is really a look at one of the last places that can be said to be "off the map" and what drives people to explore it. The description of the island and its history is interesting in its own right, but it is the characters that really make this book a great read.

Author: 

Matthew Power

Excellent Things in Women

Excellent Things in Women book cover

This book is probably an excerpt from a longer memoir- it feels a bit out of context. Despite the disoriented feeling at the start, I really enjoyed this book. It is a memoir of postcolonial Pakistan, from the point of view of a woman who was at the time a child in a fairly well off household. The writing is beautiful, and one side effect of the way the book just starts without providing any background and then follows a narrative arc that is based more on the author's stream of consciousness than a linear timeline is that you are completely transported into its world.

Author: 

Sara Suleri Goodyear

The Arc of the Sun

The Arc of the Sun

This book takes you inside the world of pigeon racing, and the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race in particular. It does a wonderful job of showing the appeal as well as the quirks of this world, and I found it fascinating. It also occasionally attempts to connect to a larger theme of "finding home," and in that regard it is less successful. This is only a minor distraction, though, and on the whole the book is enjoyable and well worth the time to read.

Author: 

David Samuels

Unspotted

Unspotted book cover

This is several stories in one: the story of the endangered Cape Mountain Leopard, the story of the scientist (Quenton Martins) who is trying to save them, and the story of the author's attempt to see one of these rare and beautiful creatures.

Author: 

Justin Fox

The Day Democracy Died

The Day Democracy Died book cover

If you've always wished you knew more about ancient history, this book is for you. It is a fast-paced and well-executed telling of the story of the waning days of the Ancient Greek democracy. The story opens with the Battle of Aginusae, and then traces the tragic aftermath that led Athens to the brink of destruction. The story will grab your attention, but the book also includes enough exposition and analysis to allow you to think about what went wrong, and to perhaps draw some lessons from the story.

Author: 

Anselm Audley

The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks

The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks book cover

This is a hard book to summarize. It is a detective story about tracking down stolen moon rocks, but it is more than that, too. It looks at the lure of the moon rocks, the motivations of the people involved in selling them, and the surprising way in which the value of the rocks got set. It is also a character study of the detective who is perhaps a little obsessed with finding lost moon rocks, and a cautionary tale of what can happen if you try to take an opportunity that sounds a little bit too good to be true.

Author: 

Joe Kloc

Desert Blues

Desert Blues book cover

This is the amazing story of the birth of a huge music festival in the deserts of Mali, the two men at the center of its creation, and what happens when radical Islam comes to Mali. If you've never heard Malian music, this book will probably make you want to listen to some. If you have, this book will probably make you appreciate it all the more. It may also make you rethink what one "ordinary" man can accomplish.

Author: 

Joshua Hammer

Death Keeps His Court

Death Keeps His Court book cover

This well-written and fast-paced book takes the reader through the reign of King Richard II, which was filled with intrigue and conflict. It showcases the strength of the short ebook history- it is long enough to leave you feeling like you really learned something about this period of history, but short enough to avoid bogging down in the deep details.

Author: 

Anselm Audley

Come See the Mountain

Come See the Mountain book cover

This book is not easy to categorize, but in a way, that is part of its strength. It is about Cerro Rico, a silver mining mountain in Potosi, Bolivia, which has been mined since the time of the Conquistadors. The book looks at the mining operations and also at the tourism industry that has been developed to allow tourists to visit the mines and get a taste of the conditions under which the miners work. Zoellner weaves in a discussion of the larger phenomenon of "dark tourism" (visiting sites associated with death and/or suffering), as well. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book.

Author: 

Tom Zoellner

Mr. Dodge, Mr. Hitchcock, and the French Riviera

Mr. Dodge, Mr. Hitchcock, and the French Riviera book cover

This is a quirky little history, focusing on the back story of the classic Cary Grant movie, "To Catch a Thief." It starts with the story of David Dodge, the man who wrote the book on which the movie was based. He was an interesting man who lived the sort of life that many people wish they could live, so this portion is perhaps the most interesting section of the book for the general reader. Fans of the movie are likely to enjoy the behind the scenes look at its filming, too.

Author: 

Jean Buchanan

The Good Mother Myth

This is a collection of essays about motherhood, in all of its less than perfect, real glory. I read it well after the intense days of early motherhood and enjoyed it, but I suspect that it would really speak to a new mom who is struggling to reconcile the sunny, too-perfect image of motherhood with the reality she is actually facing. Although it is not a book of advice, even more established parents are likely to find some new pieces of wisdom in these essays.

Author/Editor: 

Avital Norman Nathman

The Vanishing

The Vanishing book cover

This well-written book is part personal essay about dealing with a relative's Alzheimer's disease, part summary of recent research about how Alzheimer's patients experience the world, and part reporting on a new type of care home in the Netherlands. These parts combine to produce a thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of how we can best help Alzheimer's patients.

Author: 

Anu Silfverberg

David Hackston (translator)

Company Eight

Company Eight

I had never really thought about how we ended up with the professional fire departments we have today before I read this book. If you're like me in that regard, do yourself a favor and read this! It is a fascinating look at the period of time during which Boston switched from rough, rowdy volunteer fire companies to the modern professional system. It is a well-told story full of interesting characters, so it is a fun as well as educational read.

Author: 

Matthew Pearl

Gut Instincts

Gut Instinct book cover

If you've ever wondered about celiac disease, the serious disease behind the current gluten free craze, this book is for you. But it is more than just an introduction to celiac disease and what life with this difficult condition is like. It is also a well-written and at times funny look at life at the boundaries of modern medical knowledge, and how to remain a happy person even when you cannot become a perfectly healthy patient.

Author: 

Heather Abel

The Fort of Young Saplings

The Fort of Young Saplings

This story is a masterful blend of memoir, history, and a contemplation about how we interpret and understand history. The author's father was adopted into the Tlingit people when she was a child. Years later, she follows that tenuous link and ends up exploring the history of a battle that the European-centric historical narrative remembers as an epic defeat of the Tlingit and Tlingit remember quite differently.

Author: 

Vanessa Veselka

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma

This is a concise and well-written biography of Alan Turing, perfect for someone who is interested in knowing a bit about Turing and his work, but doesn't want to do the deep dive into the topic that a longer biography would entail

Author: 

David Boyle

The Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide to Lady Problems

A Nigerian-Nordic Girl's Guide to Lady Problems

This is a beautifully-written and at times funny story about the unlikely topic of fibroids. The author uses her condition to explore her place in the two cultures of her heritage, and the result is a thought-provoking a wonderful story.

Author: 

Faith Adiele

Battle at the End of Eden

This book is a heart-warming tale of death and destruction- really. It explores the methods required to eradicate invasive species (that's the death and destruction part) and also the motivations for doing so (that's the heart-warming part). It is a well-written and interesting look at what it takes to reverse the damage we do when we bring invasive species to new locations to serve our short term needs.

Author: 

Amanda R. Martinez

Of Mice and Me

Of Mice and Me

Mishka Shubaly doesn't think he can be trusted to care for any other living thing. But then he inexplicably decides to rescue a little mouse orphaned by a dog on his sister's property. This book is partly a sweet story of how he cares for the mouse, and partly a story of how the mouse helps him change how he views himself.

Author: 

Mishka Shubaly

The Rescuer

The Rescuers

Starting with the story of Varian Fry and his often overlooked work rescuing European intellectuals from the Nazis, this book leads the reader through a fascinating meditation on the motivations of rescuers, the morality of their decisions, and the limits of gratitude.

Author: 

Dara Horn

52 Blue

This book starts as the story of the discovery of an unusual whale song using technology originally intended for tracking Russian submarines. It morphs into a beautiful and thought-provoking meditation on loneliness, our human tendency to project our emotional needs onto the natural world, and how scientific discoveries can touch people's lives even when they are extrapolating far beyond what the science actually shows.

Author: 

Leslie Jamison

Murder on the Mekong

Murder on the Mekong

This is a gripping and well-told story about an incident in the Golden Triangle area of Thailand that turned out not to be what it seemed and sparked an international confrontation. It takes the reader to a part of Thailand that most tourists avoid, and shows us not just the mystery that unfolded there but also a little bit abou the people who live in the area, and what this incident did to their lives.

Author: 

Jeff Howe

The Electric Mind: One Woman's Battle Against Paralysis at the Frontiers of Science

The Electric Mind

This book intertwines the story of Cathy Hutchinson, a stroke patient who can only communicate by moving her eyes, and the story of research underway to try to allow her and other patients like her to control robotic limbs directly with their minds. The story is thoughtfully told, and left me impressed with both the research and the strength of the human spirit.

Author: 

Jessica Benko

Jamaica Dreams

Jamaica Dreams

This book beautifully and evocatively describes a series of episodes from the author's childhood in Jamaica. Each episode stands alone, and yet informs the others, as chapters in a single, if loosely bound, story.

Author: 

Rosemarie Robotham

Art's Cello

Art's Cello

This book provides a fascinating view into the world of instrument making, intertwined with an exploration of friendship and what really matters in life.

Author: 

James N. McKean

The Man with the Electrified Brain

The Man with the Electrified Brain

This is a fascinating first person account of the onset of a debilitating mental illness, life in the shadow of that illness, and the now-controversial treatment that seems to have cured it (ECT). The title focuses on the ECT, but to me, the strength of the book is really its ability to give the reader a glimpse at what it is like to develop such a severe mental illness.

Author: 

Simon Winchester

An Unexpected Twist

An Unexpected Twist

This is a surprisingly funny book about a near-death experience, which will almost certainly make you appreciate the normal operations of your digestive tract a bit more. Borowitz developed a blockage in his colon which rather quickly became life-threatening. The book he has written about the experience is also about how little control we really have over life, and how delightful life is, nonetheless.

Author: 

Andy Borowitz

The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin

The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin

An engrossing and informative story about the NYC police in the early 1900s, and a woman who made a name for herself in that world against the odds and became NYC's first female detective.

Author: 

Elizabeth Mitchell

The Battle of $9.99

Battle for 9.99

An interesting and informative look at the battle over ebook pricing that took place in 2010, and culminated in the price-fixing case against Apple and the big publishers. This is a fast-paced and very readable book that will also make you think about how the price you pay for books is determined, and what that means for the future of book publishing.

Author: 

Andrew Richard Albanese

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

The Getaway Car

Part memoir and part advice for writers, this book was an interesting and inspiring read. Even people who are not aiming to be professional authors are likely to find some useful ideas and advice.

Author: 

Ann Patchett

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

These essays are smart, funny, heart-breaking, and wonderful. They cover a wide range of topics, but race and what it means to be a young Black man in America are at the heart of most of the essays.

Author/Editor: 

Kiese Laymon

American Hippopotamus

American Hippopotamus

Yes, there are hippopotamuses, but the real allure of this book is the history a fascinating man who embodies so many of our American myths (Frederick Russell Burnham), and the glimpse into the mindset of a time in American history when the idea of importing hippopotamuses as feed stock to live in the Mississippi Delta seemed not only possible, but like the solution to an urgent problem.

Author: 

Jon Mooallem

Uprising: Understanding Attica, Revolution, and the Incarceration State

Uprising

This eBook has two parts. The first is a history of the Attica prison riot of 1971 and its immediate aftermath, told from the viewpoint of one of the men who was brought in to try to negotiate a peaceful ending to the standoff. It is a personal history, but will give the reader an overview of the broader events. The second is an essay discussing what we can learn from that history, and an argument that we should apply what we learn to reform our current prison system.

Author: 

Clarence B. Jones

Stuart Connelly

The Heart of Haiku

The Heart of Haiku

An engaging history of the haiku form of poetry and the life of Basho, the poet who developed it.

Author: 

Jane Hirshfield

The Pioneer Detectives: Did a distant spacecraft prove Einstein and Newton wrong?

Pioneer Detectives

An engrossing look at the discovery of the Pioneer Anomaly and the effort to understand what caused it: was it something mundane or was it a sign of new physics.

Author: 

Konstantin Kakaes

Gutenberg the Geek

Gutenberg the Geek

An interesting look at Gutenberg's life and invention, drawing parallels to modern technology innovators.

Author: 

Jeff Jarvis

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