Top Five – Non-fiction books

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As Dave55 has pointed out, I promised a top five thread on non-fiction books.

My top five:

  1. The Big Bang – Simon Singh
  2. The Great War for Civilisation – Robert Fisk
  3. The Minds Eye – Hofstadter and Dennet
  4. Voltaire’s Bastards – John Raulston Saul
  5. The Pythons – The Pythons

Some that did not make my top five: all of Bill Bryson, Godel, Escher, Bach (Hofstadter), The Code Book (Singh)

Over to you blogocrats.



36 Responses

  1. joni, why are there only 4 books in your top 5?

    As for my list:
    1. A Fortunate Life – A.B. Facey
    2. Slaves of the Son of Heaven – Roy Whitecross
    3. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
    4. A Sand Country Almanac – Aldo Leopold
    5. The Bar Tenders Bible – Gary Regan

  2. D55,

    Forgot the last one. D’oh!

  3. 1. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy – General Editor: Robert Audi
    2. How To Stop Worrrying and Start Living – Dale Carnegie.
    3. Crimes Against Logic – Jamie Whyte
    4. The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham.
    5. The Story of English – Robert McCrum, William Cran, Robert MacNeil.

    (Others: Murdoch: A Biography – Jerome Tuccille, The Dictionary of Racing Slang – Ned Wallish, The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli, Winning Triathlon – Scott Tinley, Cookery The Australian Way – Shirley Cameron & Suzanne Russell.)

  4. 1. A beginner’s guide to making cocktails
    2. How to make cocktails from everyday household items
    3. How to throw the perfect party
    4. Detox now. A beginner’s guide to rehab
    4. Is it just me, or is everything shit?

  5. Reb

    You seem to have omitted the mandatory alcohol denunciation disclaimer.

  6. Poor reb, I think he is struggling with his detox.

  7. Or: MAD

  8. ToSY

    Quite probably. hehe

  9. @ 5, 6, 7 & 8.

    Correct on all accounts…


    It’s back to the chamomile tea for me….

  10. Reb, lucky this week’s Top 5 wasn’t favourite cocktails. Oh and sorry if my number 5 hit a raw note – it wasn’t intended to, I just saw it on the shelf an realised I probably refer to that bible more often than most other non-fiction works.

    I’d like to put Jeremy Olivers – Wine Annuals on the list of ‘just missed the Top 5 cut’ – one of the best wine books IMO.

  11. Poor joni..we’re nothing but nag, nag, nag.

    And so here are my top 5 non-fiction. Impossible to sort through them, but here are the ones that come immediately to mind.

    1. A wee tiny book (2 1/2 inches by 3 inches) Irish Myths and Legends by Lady Gregory. [now don’t tell me that Irish myths and legends are but mere fiction].
    2. Memoirs of Gold-Digging in Australia translated by Stanley Robe from the original Polish.
    3. The Squishiness of Things by Marc Kompaneyets
    4. At present Color Charts from Dulux
    5. Emails from my kids

    However No. 5 might be classed as semi-fiction.

  12. Here be mine …

    1. “United States: Essays 1952-1992” Gore Vidal
    2. “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” Peter Biskind
    3. “Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care” Lee Server
    4. “On Directing Film” David Mamet
    5. “The New Journalism” Edited by Tom Wolfe

    Honorable mentions … “Born Standing Up” by Steve Martin; “Killing for Company” by Brian Masters; “Buried Dreams” by Tim Cahill; “Brando” by Peter Manso; “Olivier” by Anthony Holden; “Dino – Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams” by Nick Tosches; “The Glass Teat” by Harlan Ellison; “Please Kill Me: The Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil.

  13. Not in any particular order:

    Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzeer
    The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth by Sister Dianna Ortiz (one of the most harrowing real life dramas I’ve read)
    101 Things To Do ‘Til The Revolution by Claire Wolfe (only because I recently read)
    The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson

    An honourable mention (it just came to mind as it was ages ago when I read it. I had to look up the author,I forgot who it was)
    The God of the Machine by Isabel Patterson

    I don’t know if it counts but I read lots of scientific stuff, subscribing to a couple of science mags but also have a small collection of scientific books.

    Also I have a lot of stuff on Navies, especially the historic stuff on the RAN, and a few good books on the Australian Army.

  14. What is non-fiction?? 🙂

    Actually, I don’t have any real favourites in this genre, but I do enjoy reading about ancient civilizations and space. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos probably stood out more than most. I also enjoyed the biography ‘No one here gets out alive’ about the life of Jim Morrisson. Not much else spring to mind.

    I get enough reality from reality.

  15. That is where most of my reading also lies Tom R. I just can’t get enough of ancient history and cosmology (which is also history).

  16. If you are into history, try Stephen Dando-Collins – Nero’s Killing Machine: The True Story of Rome’s Remarkable 14th Legion. it’s really a very good read. A taste:

    “The 14th Gemina Martia Victrix Legion was the most celebrated unit of the early Roman Empire – a force that had been wiped out under Julius Caesar, reformed, and almost wiped out again. After participating in the a.d. 43 invasion of Britain, the 14th Legion achieved its greatest glory when it put down the famous rebellion of the Britons under Boudicca. Numbering less than 10,000 men, the disciplined Roman killing machine defeated 230,000 rampaging rebels, slaughtering 80,000 with only 400 Roman losses – an accomplishment that led the emperor Nero to honor the legion with the title “Conqueror of Britain”. In this gripping book, second in the author’s definitive histories of the legions of ancient Rome, Stephen Dando-Collins brings the 14th Legion to life, offering military history aficionados a unique soldier’s-eye view of their tactics, campaigns, and battles.”

    On the local front, try John Bailey’s The White Divers of Broome. A taste:

    “In 1912 Broome was as much Asian as Australian, filled with the smell of unfamiliar spices and a babel of competing languages. The town thrived on the hugely profitable and extremely dangerous pearl shell industry. Asian labour was cheap to hire, and easy to replace. It was a frontier town where racial tensions simmered uneasily between whites, Asians and Aborigines.

    In that year, twelve British Royal Navy-trained divers and their tenders were sent to Broome, urged by a Federal Government deep in the grip of the ‘White Australia Policy’ and anxious to rid the country of the last remaining Asian ‘taint’. Their task was to master the perilous art of pearl shell diving, and overcome the Asian stranglehold on the pearling industry, proving once and for all the supremacy of the white man over the coloured.”

    BTW joni, I though Saul’s – The Unconscious Civilization a better work than Voltaire’s Bastards but then again I would recommend any of Saul’s work.

    “If economists were doctors, they would today be mired in malpractice suits.

    And we should not forget:

    “People become so obsessed by hating government that they forget it is meant to be their government and is the only powerful public force that have purchase on.”


    “The virtue of uncertainty is not a comfortable idea, but then a citizen-based democracy is built upon participation, which is the very expression of permanent discomfort. The corporatist system depends upon the citizen’s desire for inner comfort.

    Equilibrium is dependent upon our recognition of reality, which is the acceptance of permanent psychic discomfort. And the acceptance of psychic discomfort is the acceptance of consciousness.”

  17. Thanks Nature5, I will look that book up.

    I did watch a documentary about the (9th)? Legion that got wiped out by the Goths, but that excerpt you put up (how concise was that?) looked fascinating. I must admit, I am a lazy reader, and find it much easier watching a documentary, but I get much more out of a book if I bother to make the effort.

    And yes, Adrian, I guess cosmology is history, lol, it makes me fascinate sometimes that the star I am looking at might have disappeared from existence before man had even emerged from whatever swamp he did. It staggers the mind.

  18. Surprise, surprise Lol

    1. Warren Buffett Essays – Arranged by L. Cunningham
    2. Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits – P.Fisher
    3. The New Paradigm for Financial Markets (The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means) – George Soros
    4. Stabilising an Unstable Economy – Hyman Minsky
    5. The Economics of Innocent Fraud – J.K. Galbraith

  19. Tony

    A brilliant choice and it only just missed my cut

    4. The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham.

  20. Non-fiction. ‘There Are Weapons of Mass Destruction’ by Geo Wubbly You Bush.

  21. Hmmmm, again very hard to narrow down…

    “Stalingrad” or “Berlin: The Downfall” are both books by Antony Beevor that are epic in scope.

    “Hegemony or Survival” & “Failed States” are both classic Chomsky, but I’d strongly recommend anything by him.

    “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” is a favourite of mine from 20 years ago.

    “The Rise & Fall of The Third Reich” by William L. Shirer is a worthy account.

    Honourary mentions to “A Brief History of Time”, all of Kinzer’s books, Robert Fisk & the 3 books I’m reading currently (Atheist Universe, God Is Not Great, The God Delusion). Plenty I’ve forgotten over the years no doubt.

    N5, “Nero’s Killing Machine” strikes all of the right cords with me & is now on my to-read list.

  22. Can’t leave out “Manufacturing Consent” or “The Good News Bible”.

  23. 22. Toiletboss

    Haven’t really contributed to this post because I find it would be impossible to limit to five .. or even 500. While I think Chomsky has much to offer, can I also put in a plug for Jurgen Habermas, John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, AS Neill, EH Carr, Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, Anton Makarenko, Karl Marx, Adam Smith etc.

    The list of authors is almost endless. BTW, I have not listed same in any heirarchial order

  24. N5

    That is the fun part, trying to limit your favourites to five.

    Go on, try… hehe.

  25. I will check out the others N5.
    I’ve found that the books I’ve followed up from leads here have all been good reads. Many names there but I’ll get to ’em given time on Earth.

    It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I started reading non-fiction. I always loved sci’fi & horror & had a vivid imagination. I gotta say though, reality is ammunition for the brain & the real world is brutal/beautiful enough by half to amuse, confound & entertain. I don’t think that you can ever encompass the nuances without living them, but it is satisfying to digest the wisdom of others through words.

  26. Here’s 5 that I have enjoyed

    1. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
    2. Fear & Loathing in the 1972 campaign – Hunter S Thomposon
    3. The Penguin History of Latin America, can’t recall author right now.
    4. From Curtin to Kerr – Fred Daly
    5. Give War a Chance – PJ O’Rourke

  27. Though I should have put in one or 2 by JK Galbraith, eg A View From the Stands

  28. In no particular order:

    A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

    The Great Shark Hunt, by Hunter S Thompson

    On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin

    The Feynman Lectures on Physics, by Richard Feynman

    On Growth and Form, by D’Arcy Wenthworth Thompson

    And I’ll sneak a sixth in, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

  29. That should be

    D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson

  30. 28

    JimJim…. re your #6…. that’s cheating on two counts! 😛

    1. Isn’t an anthology like multiple books?
    2. Isn’t that a work of fiction?

    But I like your (and Tom’s) first book. I never fail to belly laugh with Bryson – even in his serious books.

    Have you read his one on language?

  31. Joni – I read Bryson’s Mother Tongue, and Made in America. His “non humorous” books are really well researched. Even funny.

  32. Robbery Under Arms, by Rolf Boldrewood
    For the Term of His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke
    The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
    The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer
    Unreliable Memoirs, by Clive James

    I like the Bill Bryson books too. Am looking forward to As It Happened, by
    John Button, my next read.

  33. Hi Kittylitter – I enjoy all Clive James books. His description of Arnold Schwartznegger seems to have stuck. His TV reviews in the 80s were hilarious.

    I’ve never been fond of his poetry. He’s wasting his talent even bothering.

    John Button – a huge talent. Luckily for us, he chose to become a politician.

  34. I’m impressed. Nay, I’m in awe. Never have I been in the company of so many intellectuals.

    In my opinion Blogocrats have nominated some of the greatest, and in some cases, most influential books ever written. This truly is the site for the upper echelon of Australian thinkers.

    And drinkers.

    I would like to nominate one book only among the many I could nominate. I nominate this particular book as it will definitely appeal to Blogocrats. It is called Poll Dancing by Mungo MacCallum. One of the most entertaing books I’ve read in years. It looks at the events of the election campaign, from the time Rudd was elected leader of the Opposition to his ultimate victory over Howard.

    One spot refers to the Howard mud attack on Rudd for once having a heart scare. Mungo comments that Howard would never have a heart attack as he lacked a heart. He continued, that in the same token, Downer would never suffer from brain cancer and Costello would never suffer from testicular cancer.

    For anyone who wants to relive the fun and excitement of the long-term version of the election campaign I highly recommend this wonderful book.

    But it’s not a book for RWDBs or Howard huggers.

  35. I’m going to have to get that one Miglo – sounds great.

  36. 34. Miglo
    Thanks miglo, i’ll be on the look out for that one too.

    33. ToM
    John Button – a huge talent. Luckily for us, he chose to become a politician.

    You’re right there Tom, a great legacy.
    You know a good humorist when reading the book has you laughing out loud, as Clive James does. Another author who has the same talent is Nick Earls, ZigZag Street was very funny.

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