Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I always enjoy lists and I am a major fan of some of the books on the Guardian's "100 greatest non-fiction books" list -- Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Roland Barthes' Mythologies, Susan Sontag's On Camp. But like all non-bylined lists of this sort, it is also heavy on "important" doorstops like Critique of Pure Reason and Leviathan that are not really for actual reading by any actual human.
I prefer lists that don't pretend to take a view from nowhere. So just for fun and in no particular order here is a list of some of my own personal favorite nonfiction books. No claim that these are the best of all time or that this is comprehensive. But I liked them.
Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Nonfiction Books:
Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson
A true investigation into what aesthetic taste is and how taste gets made. So smart and so honest and so useful. If it doesn't change the way you think about music and art, read it again.
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century by Greil Marcus
Cultural history from French Situationism to punk rock.
Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
Terrific, rigorous hip-hop history. Pitch-perfect until he hits the '90s!
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The story of the financial collapse through the eyes of those who saw it coming.
Boss by Mike Royko
The greatest newspaper columnist of all time chronicles Richard J. Daley.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Working poor in practice.
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Children by Philip Gourevitch
Them by Jon Ronson
Travels with crazies. Hilarious, sympathetic portraits of some very unsympathetic souls.
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
Best memoir ever.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Does this count as nonfiction?
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Not every essay in here is a winner -- "E Unibus Pluram: Television and American Fiction" is completely insufferable -- but the title essay is terrific, lots of fun and smart. The first essay "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," which is set in central Illinois, still makes me nostalgic for home.
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Read this probably 15 years ago and I still remember its description of kitchen work and soup-kitchen hopping.
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel
Best oral history.
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cape Town to Cairo by Paul Theroux
Travels in Africa and some worthwhile thoughts on the aid industrial complex.
Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
This was the most moving, most deeply felt piece of philosophical writing I read in college. Really great as a literary work and really great and influential as a piece of philosophy.
Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" doesn't hold up well at all but the essays are terrific and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" is basically a masterpiece.
What are your picks? Please add in comments!