Nonfiction favorites

August 4, 2010 at 12:00 am 17 comments

I just finished reading The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh by Linda Colley who is probably my favorite historian out there today. Her Britons honestly changed my life and propelled me towards becoming a British historian myself. Happily, her latest, Elizabeth Marsh, did not disappoint: in good form, Colley did some impressive historical digging, pieced together this obscure woman’s life story, and tied Marsh’s experiences into movements within the British empire to lend broader significance to an interesting individual life. And all throughout, Colley maintains her perspective on her subject, not succumbing to any of the foibles of biography and recognizing any weaknesses in her argument and the holes in the source material. In short, an excellent read.

I’ve been spending most of my time lately reading novels, but revisiting Colley and discovering Elizabeth Marsh reminded me that there are some awesome nonfiction writers out there who I often ignore in favor of a fictional yarn. If I had to pick, Anne Fadiman, Simon Winchester, Linda Colley, Alison Weir, and Nicholas Basbanes would probably comprise my top five (in no particular order!) nonfiction authors. Who are yours and which of their books do you recommend?



Entry filed under: Biography, Non-fiction. Tags: , , .

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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  August 4, 2010 at 7:13 am

    I really enjoy Michael Pollan and Maria Tatar, but I agree on the Allison Weir and Anne Fadiman fronts! There are a few others, but they are more academic and I cannot remember their full names for the life of me right now…

    • 2. Corey  |  August 4, 2010 at 8:28 pm

      Ha, nice. I’m surprised you didn’t bring Ms. Reichl into the ring!

      • 3. Kate  |  August 5, 2010 at 8:52 pm

        I thought I might be harping on her a little too much :P

      • 4. Corey  |  August 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm

        That’s how I feel about Anne Fadiman pretty much all the time. :)

      • 5. Kate  |  August 8, 2010 at 9:18 pm

        We’re such fangirls!

  • 6. Eva  |  August 4, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I enjoyed Ordeal of Emily Marsh as well!

    I read a lot of nonfiction, so it’s difficult for me to play favourites. But off the top of my head: Oliver Sacks (Uncle Tungsten is probably my favourite so far), Nick Hornby (the collections of his book column are my fave; there are three and the first is The Polysyllabic Spree), Alain de Botton (loved Architecture of Happines), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Age of Homespun), and Carl Safina (Voyage of the Turtle). There: that’s five! But I could have kept going. ;)

    • 7. Corey  |  August 4, 2010 at 8:29 pm

      Interesting! I’ve only read Hornby’s fiction, so I’ll have to see how I like his nonfiction stuff.

      • 8. Eva  |  August 5, 2010 at 11:54 pm

        I’ve only read one of Hornby’s novels (High Fidelity) and wasn’t a huge fan, but I really love his nonfic. :)

      • 9. Corey  |  August 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm

        Indeed, “High Fidelity” is the only novel of his I’ve read, but I didn’t dislike it (although I didn’t love it either…). Do you have any recommendations for a Hornsby nonfiction starting point?

  • 10. Britney  |  August 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I don’t have favorite nonfiction authors (I haven’t read enough books by one person in this genre!), but I do have favorite topics: polygamy memoirs, weight loss memoirs, and memoirs in general. I’ve only read Stiff by Mary Roach, but I saw her on Book TV not too long ago and I think she could be a favorite. I have Bonk to read and I really want to read her new book about the space program.

    • 11. Corey  |  August 4, 2010 at 8:30 pm

      Yeah, topics-wise I’m game for most anything about the War of the Roses, travel narratives, and well-written books about books. The polygamy memoirs thing does sound quite interesting!

      • 12. Britney  |  August 5, 2010 at 5:00 pm

        Once you start reading polygamy memoirs you can’t stop. I just read Triumph, Carolyn Jessop’s follow-up to her bestseller Escape. Escape is about how Carolyn leaves her life in the FLDS with all of her kids and she wins the custody case against her husband (both are unheard of as the FLDS can afford very expensive lawyers). She’s since sued successfully for back child support. And one of her daughters wants to transfer to Mount Holyoke (revealed in Triumph).

      • 13. Corey  |  August 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm

        7 Sisters pride! :D And what is the “FLDS”? Mormons of some stripe?

      • 14. Kate  |  August 8, 2010 at 9:18 pm

        I believe it stands for Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Kind of like Mormons, but not really. Have either of you read Under the Banner of Heaven? That’s the last non-fiction I read, and it was all about the FLDS and such.

  • 15. Iris  |  August 5, 2010 at 5:41 am

    Oh, I should deifinitely read something by Linda Colley, you make her writing sound really good.

    • 16. Corey  |  August 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm

      Yes you should! Britons was phenomenal and both it and Elizabeth Marsh are highly readable as an added bonus.

  • 17. An embarrassment of fictions « Literary Transgressions  |  March 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    […] history strongly preferred!) would be much appreciated. I’ve already written about some of my favorite nonfiction authors (apparently this nonfiction slump is a recurring theme in my reading life!), so chime in below with […]


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