what non-fiction book or books surprised you with how exciting or interesting they were?
Posted on 29th of July, 2019


There is one non-fiction book that I could absolutely not put down once I started reading it, and it is called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuvan Noah Harari. It is a book that explores why exactly it is that humans became the dominant species on our planet and how our evolution has contributed to this. It is truly fascinating stuff and the author wrote it in such a manner that you never feel like you are reading some dry scientific paper, but instead exploring a complex mystery. Another one that shocked me was The Radium girls by Kate Moore. I actually saw the story about women who were paid to paint glow in the dark dials on watches on television and how they began to die due to their jobs. It was on one of those believe it or not shows, but after reading the book I found that it was even more horrifying than what I suspected. Obviously, it is also impossible to mention compelling non fiction without mentioning Stephen Hawking, who never ceased to blow my mind. My favorite book of his is Brief Answers To The Big Questions, which is filled with some awesome insights by him.
The only thing that surprises me about non-fiction books is how many people there are who genuinely believe that anything that isn't fiction is dry and boring. Let me tell you, I've red non-fiction books that had me on the edge of my seat, non-fiction books that had me looking over my shoulder and double checking my door locks at night, non-fiction books that made me look at the world around me with new eyes, non fiction books that taught me what a miracle the existence of some of the most mundane things can be. There are way too many of these books to list here, but do yourself a favor and visit the non fiction section of your local library and just take a book at random. Chances are you will find yourself hooked in no time.
I actually love horror books and rarely stray outside of this genre, especially not to read non fiction books. Well, imagine my surprise when a well meaning relative who knows about my reading tastes got me a nonfiction book that they thought was a fictional horror story. I haven't seen or heard a lot of people talk about this book, so I have no idea if it is actually popular or not, but it is called "Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men" by an author named Harold Schechter. Initially I also thought that it is fiction, I mean come on, a female psychopath serial killer who ran a murder farm? Well, turns out that not only was Belle a real person, but she also probably killed as many as 40 people who she lured to her farm under the pretense of seeking male companionship. Even more evil, when she suspected that she might be caught, Belle faked her own death and had her farm burned down with her own children still inside. Belle had a fondness for poisoning her victims before butchering them and this book made my blood run cold on a number of occasions! It is also the book that made me broaden my horizons from only reading horror novels to include some non fiction true crime stories as well and at this point I think the non fiction stuff scares me way more!
Seeing as I am an animal lover I read a lot of non-fiction books about wild animals. I know that these books will be exciting or interesting, so I suppose it would be a stretch to say that any of them really surprised me in this regard. Typically, I'm more often than not surprised when an interesting sounding non-fiction book turns out to be a dud. I can tell you what one of my favorites is, though, it's a book by a South African conservationist called Lawrence Anthony titled The Elephant Whisperer. It came out in 2009 I believe, only a few years before the untimely death of the author. His book is about a herd of wild African elephants that was supposed to be shot because they were seen as a danger, but then Anthony intervened to save them. He has his hands full with the animals when he tries to keep them on his conservationist game sanctuary as they are very adept at escaping. What touched my heart is that Anthony knew the elephants would be put down if he didn't care for them, so he never gave up on them. It is a brilliant book that describes perfectly how much hard work goes into conservation, but also the amount of passion and dedication some people has for it.
I must confess that I'm one of those people who tend to avoid non fiction books where I can because most of them tend to feel too much like homework. Now imagine my surprise (and that of all my closest friends) when I got caught up in a boo, that deals with neurological disorders of all things. It all started out as a joke when a friend of mine pointed out the book to me in the library and we both laughed at the title; The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. After the jokes about what could happen if someone were to mistake their partner for a hat died down, I found myself strangely drawn to finding out more. Well, I ended up taking the book and couldn't put it down until I have read the entire thing. Some of the cases described in the book just completely blew my mind and there were situations so strange and bizarre that if they were to appear in a movie I think most people would dismiss it as far fetched. Apart from the man who had visual agnosia, there is also a woman who completely lost the sense of her own body, a man who was convinced that his own leg (that was still attached to him) was not in fact his own, and even a woman who was unable to comprehend anything happening to her left! It's been a few years since I have read the book, so I've begun to question some of the things that I have read in it, but it definitely was quite a wild ride I can tell you that much!
Ok, so I'm probably going to get a few sceptical comments about my answers, but these are the non-fiction books that surprised me the most with how they captivated me.

1. The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King (Rich Cohen) - This book has got nothing to do with fish or whales and everything to do with Samuel Zemurray. He was an ordinary guy who was so broke that he had to try and sell bannanas by the side of the road in order to try and make ends meet. It is what happens between that point and 69 years later when Samuel died as one of the most wealthiest men in the world that makes this book so interesting and it's not just all about bananas!

2. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World (Mark Kurlanksy) - I know, I know, "How can a biography of a single species of fish be in any way exciting?" you are probably asking. Well, as insignificant as the humble cod may seem, it has had an enormous effect on history and culture. This is such an improbable book that nobody wants to read it when I recommend it to them, but trust me on this one, it is way more exciting and interesting than you can ever imagine.

3. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (John Carreyrou) - This is another book that I just couldn't put down and the plot is so gripping that if it wasn't non-fiction everyone would probably have called it far-fetched. It's about Elizabeth Holmes, and the collapse of the multibillion-dollar biotech startup that she founded. This is a women who people called the female Steve Jobs and who managed to sell enough shares in her company, Theranos, to value it at more than nine billion. Her claim to fame was the machine that the company was going to make in order to streamline the process of blood testing. It all sounded amazing in theory, but all fell apart when it became clear that the technology Holmes was hyping up didn't actually work.

4. The Demon in the Freezer (Richard Preston) - Everyone knows Preston from his book, The Hot Zone, but to me The Demon in the Freezer was way more frightening. Instead of dealing with the Ebola virus like in The Hot Zone, this book is about smallpox and anthrax. The "Demon in the Freezer" that the title refers to is the smallpox virus samples that are kept in Atlanta and Moscow. Yes, it's a story about science and medicine, but it is also one of the most exciting non-fiction titles that I have ever read.

5. The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (D.T. Max) - I don't know if it is just me, but medical mysteries can be as terrifying as they are fascinating. The title of this book refers to a Venetian family with a disturbing inherited disease that caused members to become unable to sleep once they reached middle age. The result was usually death within a few months. It's not the only story in this book either as there are accounts of people dying from uncontrollable laughter, deer starving to death in fields of grass and much more. Believe it or not, all of these cases have something in common.

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