Next week, I will be writing my 50th nonfiction book review on this blog. Learning brings me great joy, and when I learn fascinating things in my books, I can’t help but share them with you!
With Nonfiction November coming up, I know that many fiction book bloggers will try their hand at reading and reviewing nonfiction, and that many people aren’t used to it. There is often no character development, plot, setting, or allegory to critique, so what is left? Well, there is actually a lot to talk about, and I think reviewing nonfiction books is a lot of fun! I hope that through this post, my passion for writing nonfiction book reviews can inspire the unsure to give it a try.
At long last, this week I completed the final book of my first “15-book reading challenge“. Ibram X. Kendi’s 2019 bestseller How to Be an Antiracist seemed like a great end to the series, as it is one of the most popular books in the antiracist movement right now.
On the surface, Dick Teresi’s Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science—from the Babylonians to the Maya is an eye-opening and thought-provoking book on the history of non-Western science. It is a book I would recommend to anyone who believes in the “Greek miracle,” who takes Carl Sagan’s words about the Ionian birth of science at face value, and generally anyone who wants to take a less white, less Western perspective on both science and history as wholes. However, anyone who reads this must also be able to question what they are reading, ask for the author’s sources and motivation, and be ready to think for themselves despite the author’s biases.
In my quest for both truth and empathy, I discovered geneticist Adam Rutherford’s book How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (And Don’t) Say About Human Difference. I find combating racism to be very important, and I find great joy in reading about science. This book was a perfect mixture of both of these, which is great regardless of my preferences, because it turns out (unsurprisingly) that science is the best way to debunk racist claims anyways.
I first encountered Jesse Wegman’s Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College on display at a Half Price Books store soon after the book was published in 2020. My first impression was feeling like the book was unnecessary. I had never heard anyone arguing in favor of the Electoral College, and honestly I didn’t know of anyone who really supported it. I certainly agreed with the title, that the College ought to be abolished, so I felt like reading a book to explain why would be a waste of time. I later changed my mind (granted, after the 2020 election had taken place) and decided that I wanted all the information to make sure my opinion on this debate was an informed one.
If you’ve read Cosmos by Sasha’s father, and you’re wondering what the universe’s immensity and grandeur mean for humanity, then you will love this book. The title comes from a quote (from Carl’s novel Contact) written by Ann Druyan, Sasha’s mother and Carl’s wife. The quote says in its entirety, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” Cosmos explores the vastness. Sasha’s book explores the rest: how we, the small creatures, can use love to make it bearable. The subtitle, Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, gives us a hint on how to do that.
If you’re reading this blog, then chances are that you have a pretty good grasp on what Christianity is. But did you know that Christianity as we know it almost didn’t succeed in early centuries? You may have heard whispers of various ancient sects of barely recognizable Christian beliefs, and it turns out that the rumors are true. The ancient Christians that we know—whether we love them or hate them—had to struggle against their competitors known as the gnostics, better known to history as heretics.
For centuries, historians have known about the gnostic Christians and their texts only through the writings of their enemies, the orthodox or catholic Christians (which gave rise to the many denominations of Christianity existing today). You can imagine how hard it was to understand the gnostic point of view with their only documentation being from those who despised them. So it was immensely exciting for historians when the gnostic gospels themselves were discovered near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1946. The discovery was an exercise in patience, though; it would be thirty years until an English translation of the full library would be published in 1977. Elaine Pagels must have gotten to work quickly, then, as her book The Gnostic Gospels was published in 1979.
This is the first time that I have ever reviewed a memoir. I’ve joked with my husband about it: how do you critique a book recounting someone’s life story? “Good job having a life, it was really interesting”? However, there is a lot to reflect on in On Her Knees. Before I get into it, as a graphic designer, I have to applaud this book’s incredible cover art. I love to pick apart designs and think of how they could be improved, but as for On Her Knees‘ final cover, I came up empty. It’s perfect.
Only one week ago from today, I wrote of The Disordered Cosmos, “This book is particularly intriguing because my perception is that it is about physics, astronomy, Star Trek, and how science needs to be a more accepting space for women and people of color. I just bought it yesterday as my reward for making it through the week, and I am so eager to get started!” I had a decently correct idea of what the book actually is, but in no way was I prepared for what I would learn.
If a book can be “hot” in the world of paleoanthropology, then Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art is that book. Published in the fall of 2020, Kindred is the latest in a long line of books about Neanderthals, but anyone who has read Kindred knows that it is not like the others.