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1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions 
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Post 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
1st Quarter Nonfiction Book Suggestions

This thread is for nonfiction book suggestions, but please read everything that follows in this first post. We're breaking new wind, so to speak. :p

We'll be doing several nonfiction books and one fiction book concurrently in Q1, 2006. This thread is for the NONFICTION book selection and the thread below is for the FICTION book selection.

We've been discussing reading three different nonfiction books in 1st quarter. If we can get enough members to pledge that they'll read and participate in these books we'll be all set, but I am thinking three might be a bit much for our current level of activity. Two nonfiction books for first quarter would still be a dramatic improvement over our past single book discussion. I suppose we can wait and see how this thread develops. If there is enough interest we'll go for three books.

As you might have seen in the December fiction thread (above) we're going to be using a certain selection criterion for our fiction books. We'll be using the Amazon.com bestsellers list.

This is to insure that we're selecting books that will attract new members. Obscure fiction books by unknown authors aren't going to help us grow. We need quality books that have clearly been proven as popular.

But for our nonfiction books we don't have the criterion of only "bestsellers," but we do need some rules or "guidelines."

And here they are. These guidelines are only to help us pick quality nonfiction books that are sure to attract people from all walks of life. Reading strictly science is great if we're only trying to attract science nuts, but we need to broaden our membership base and this is how we can do it.

Take a look at the forums we have in our "General Forums" section. They are...

Religion, Philosophy & the Arts
Politics, Current Events & History
Science, Nature & Technology


We should try to select one book from each forum theme. This doesn't have to be a rule set in stone, but it is a good goal and clearly in the best interest of the community. In the past we've had primarily science books on our polls. We can still read science books, but it would be nice to also have a book about, oh, current events, and maybe one about philosophy. That way just about any nonfiction lover will find our selections inviting.




Please use this thread for making some suggestions, but put some thought and effort into your suggestion. You don't have to try to fit it into one of the above three forum themes. Just about every nonfiction book already fits into one of those three themes. I'm simply sharing a bit about how we'll select our books. It's fine if we have 20 science book suggestions, but we also need some suggestions from the other themes. Make sense?

How do I make my suggestion as good as possible? And how can I help this book selection process?

1. Provide the title, author, and a copied and pasted review. Also provide a link to Amazon where we can read more.

2. Do not just suggest books that are already on your shelf. We are looking for books that will help BookTalk pull in more members and result in incredible discussions. So think about what will help our community.

3. And PLEASE comment on other people's suggestions. This is probably the most important thing you can do. Don't make a suggestion and then vanish. We're looking for books that more than one person would like to read and discuss.

4. Would you read and discuss YOUR book suggestions even if it was just you and 1 other person discussing it? We're growing and trying the multiple book concept for the first time. With up to 4 books being read concurrently we need to know that all books are at least being read and discussed by 2 members each.

Would you read and discuss Book X if it was one of the 3 nonfiction selections for 2006? How about Book Y? And Z?

This is what we need to hear - feedback on other people's suggestions. ::80

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 12/5/05 11:30 pm



Sun Nov 06, 2005 9:36 pm
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Chris OConnor: If we can get enough members to pledge that they'll read and participate in these books we'll be all set, but I am thinking three might be a bit much for our current level of activity.

It may even be a good idea to only add fiction for the first quarter, and see how well BookTalk adapts to the change. We can phase in additional readings with each quarter, so that by Q3 we're reading a full four books. If you think we can pull off a direct transition for four books simultaneously, let's go for it, but I wouldn't want BookTalk to take on too much at once. If we get swamped on the first try, the backlash might be enough to topple the whole attempt.

We should try to select one book from each forum theme.

It might be helpful if everyone labelled their books with the category. That'll make it easier for Chris and company to sort them out later on. For example, if I were nominating "Freethinkers" again, I might begin my post with

Politics, Current Events & History suggestion: "Freethinkers"

Followed by links, reviews and my own reason for suggesting that book.

Some books may be a little problematic. "The Ethical Brain", for instance, could feasible fall under two categories, perhaps even all three. In that case, I think we the person suggesting such a book should list whatever categories seem to be most prominant...

Religion, Philosophy & the Arts
-or-
Science, Nature & Technology suggestion: "The Ethical Brain


From there, we can do a little digging, see if the book fits better into one category than another, and if not, apply that suggestion wherever it's needed. If, for example, we have more R/P/A suggestions for Q1 that we have S/N/T, then we could use "The Ethical Brain" as an S/N/T suggestion rather than an R/P/A suggestion. But we should always shoot for variety, since the whole point of having three non-fiction readings each quarter is that it gives newbies more options with which to get involved.




Mon Nov 07, 2005 1:01 am
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Politics, Current Events and History suggestion:
We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch

This is a book I've been meaning to read for a while now, and given our intention to broaden the range of topics that we cover in our quarterly readings, I think it would make a good pick. Of course, some may be hesitant to take on a book that deals with such macabre subject matter -- the book is, after all, about an act that has been described (not without controversy) as genocide. I hope that BookTalk won't shy away, but I won't really blame anyone who argues that we're better off exploring brighter territory.

The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Susie Linfield
Philip Gourevitch's account of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and its aftermath is the most important book I have read in many years. In fact, I am tempted to say it is the only important--or, to be more precise, necessary--book I have read in many years. Gourevitch's book poses the preeminent question of our time, beside which all others must, of necessity, pale: What--if anything--does it mean to be a human being at the end of the 20th century? The author cannot, of course, definitively answer this question, but he examines it with humility, anger, grief, and a remarkable level of both political and moral intelligence.




Mon Nov 07, 2005 1:57 am
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Another P/CE/H suggestion:

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, by Laurent Dubois

I had initially suggested an earlier book, considered a classic, but have decided to suggest this one instead, because it seems to be of near to the same calibre, and because it's author is still living, and will thus be available for an author chat. Most of us probably know little more about Haiti than that it produces refugees and was the birthplace of voodoo. I don't expect anyone else to share my interest in Haitian history, but suffice it to say that I've been growing more and more interested over the past year in the only successful slave revolt to take place in the New World.

Book Description
The first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas began in 1791 when thousands of brutally exploited slaves rose up against their masters on Saint-Domingue, the most profitable colony in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Within a few years, the slave insurgents forced the French administrators of the colony to emancipate them, a decision ratified by revolutionary Paris in 1794. This victory was a stunning challenge to the order of master/slave relations throughout the Americas, including the southern United States, reinforcing the most fervent hopes of slaves and the worst fears of masters.

But, peace eluded Saint-Domingue as British and Spanish forces attacked the colony. A charismatic ex-slave named Toussaint Louverture came to France's aid, raising armies of others like himself and defeating the invaders. Ultimately Napoleon, fearing the enormous political power of Toussaint, sent a massive mission to crush him and subjugate the ex-slaves. After many battles, a decisive victory over the French secured the birth of Haiti and the permanent abolition of slavery from the land. The independence of Haiti reshaped the Atlantic world by leading to the French sale of Louisiana to the United States and the expansion of the Cuban sugar economy.

Laurent Dubois weaves the stories of slaves, free people of African descent, wealthy whites, and French administrators into an unforgettable tale of insurrection, war, heroism, and victory. He establishes the Haitian Revolution as a foundational moment in the history of democracy and human rights.





Mon Nov 07, 2005 2:20 am
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Quote:
It may even be a good idea to only add fiction for the first quarter, and see how well BookTalk adapts to the change.
I'm trying to test the fiction concept by doing one fiction book in December. If we draw in some new members we'll be more confident as we move into Q1, 2006. You're right that we might want to start slower than jumping into a full 3 extra books. Let's try to get the Dec. fiction book discussion going and we'll see. I'm open to the idea of limiting Q1 to just one fiction and one nonfiction. No matter what, 4 books seems too many. In time this new multiple book concept will help us grow, but it won't happen overnight.

And now that I think of it we should be discussing this in the BookTalk Development forum. Members will be overwhelmed with this thread if it contains lengthy discussions about HOW we should do our discussions.

Quote:
We can phase in additional readings with each quarter, so that by Q3 we're reading a full four books.
Yes, very true.

Quote:
If you think we can pull off a direct transition for four books simultaneously, let's go for it, but I wouldn't want BookTalk to take on too much at once. If we get swamped on the first try, the backlash might be enough to topple the whole attempt.
I think 4 is a bit much and think doing either 2 or 3 total is a better strategy.

Asking people to label their books might be too much. I struggle to get members to simply copy and paste a review or to tell me WHY they suggest what they suggest. But it is a nice goal and one I wish members would attempt to achieve.

We're still trying to decide on the best method for picking our books. We should only discuss that in the BookTalk Development forum. For our Dec. fiction book, and probably for our Q1 selections, we might not have a precise book selection method. We might have the selection simply be an open discussion where we all do our best to think of the books that will stimulate discussion and draw in new members.




Now, back to the actual book suggestions...

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch is a book that I would definitely be interested in reading and discussing. Good pick, Mad. :)

Anyone else read the review and think it would make for a good discussion book? Would you read and discuss it if it were one of our selections?




Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, by Laurent Dubois is another one I'd enjoy reading and discussing. But it will take more than just us to make for a good discussion, so lets hear some more opinions.




Again, we do not need to pick one book from each of the main three forums in the "General Forums" category for Q1, 2006. That will be the goal once we get large enough to support 3 concurrent nonfiction book discussions. If we had one Politics, Current Events & History selection, plus a fiction, we'd be in good shape. But I need to hear YOUR comments people. ::80



Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 11/7/05 10:23 am



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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe - by Erik J. Wielenberg

Quote:
Suppose there is no God. This might imply that human life is meaningless, that there are no moral obligations and hence people can do whatever they want, and that the notions of virtue and vice and good and evil have no place. Erik J. Wielenberg believes this view to be mistaken and in this book he explains why. He argues that even if God does not exist, human life can have meaning, we do have moral obligations, and virtue is possible. Naturally, the author sees virtue in a Godless universe as different from virtue in a Christian universe, and he develops naturalistic accounts of humility, charity, and hope. The moral landscape in a Godless universe is different from the moral landscape in a Christian universe, but it does indeed exist. Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe is a tour of some of the central landmarks of this under-explored territory.


Well...this issue has come up here and in many other places. I feel that the moral systems based on religion are the weakest we have, yet there are those who feel that it is quite the opposite.

This book caught my eye while reading my current issue of "Skeptical Inquirer".

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

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Mon Nov 07, 2005 11:52 am
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Chris OConnor: And now that I think of it we should be discussing this in the BookTalk Development forum. Members will be overwhelmed with this thread if it contains lengthy discussions about HOW we should do our discussions.

True enough. This isn't the place for that. So I'll reserve further comment for the Development forum. Except...

Asking people to label their books might be too much.

Yeah, don't make it a requirement. Consider this a plea for courtesy. If you're making suggestions for the quarterly non-fiction reading, it would be nice if you could indicate what topic that selection belongs to. The guideline for topic categories is the division of the three topic discussion forums on the main page. Thanks!

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, by Laurent Dubois is another one I'd enjoy reading and discussing. But it will take more than just us to make for a good discussion, so lets hear some more opinions.

If push comes to shove, I'll put my weight behind "We Wish to Inform You..." simply because I realize that not everyone is as interested in Haiti as I am. While the Gourevich book is fairly specific in terms of the region it covers, the question of genocide is one with rather broad implications in the modern world, which will likely make it more appealing to newbies. That's just what I assume, though -- if more people are interested in "Avengers of the New World", then it would stand to reason that that book would have more potential appeal that "We Wish to Inform You".

If we had one Politics, Current Events & History selection, plus a fiction, we'd be in good shape.

If we're going to have one non-fiction book for this quarter (and I think that's a good idea), I think it would make sense to choose something in a different category from that of this quarter's reading. I wouldn't say that we should bar other suggestions, but surely there are some non-science, non-fiction works that people would be interested in reading for Q1, 2006.




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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
I've only found one offsite review of "Value and Virtue in a Godless World" -- here. It's from the Notre Dame Philosophical Review, and while it's not without qualification, it's a fairly approving review.

The book does not look to be without it's share of problems, but I don't think we should reject it for that alone. Even a flawed book can lead to strong discussion -- a flawed book may even be more likely to lead to discussion. There is one criticism that concerns me, though, listed at this blog.

The other caution is, that if we're trying to make BookTalk more welcoming to theists and non-theists alike, maybe it's best to hold this sort of suggestion on the back-burner until we have more simultaneous book discussions going. There's no reason why we shouldn't tackle a book like this eventually, but until we have multiple non-fiction reads going, I'd be worried that a book like this would simply perpetuate the assumption that BookTalk is hostile to freethinking theists.

So I'm a little on the fence about this one. If it gets chosen, there's a good chance that I'll read and participate. But given the suggestions we have so far, I'm not likely to vote for it yet.

As an alternative, I'll reiterate a suggestion that I've made in the past: Iris Murdoch's Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals.

One drawback to choosing the Murdoch book over the Wielenberg book is that Murdoch has been dead for some years now, which means we'd have to go to a secondary personage for our author chat. On the other hand, Murdoch's reputation is a good deal more secure than Wielenberg, and we'll have a large base of reviews to draw on in considering her work.

Here's some review material:
From Library Journal
This book is about the interplay of metaphysical images in art, religon, and especially morals. Morality is fundamental to human nature and is to be understood, according to distinguished novelist and philosophy professor Murdoch, not merely in piecemeal analysis but in the broad synthesis of metaphysical categories that set the order and pattern of our moral experience and our concepts thereof. Moral discernment comes from concentrated attention and appears ex nihilo , as by a kind of grace that leads us from contingent detail toward a perfection that we (allegedly) know intuitively. The work draws significant influence from Plato and Kant and also discusses aspects of Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, and Buber in detail. Far-ranging and rich with well-chosen examples, this insightful book challenges us to think more clearly about its subject.
- Robert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY




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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Quote:
If we're going to have one non-fiction book for this quarter (and I think that's a good idea), I think it would make sense to choose something in a different category from that of this quarter's reading. I wouldn't say that we should bar other suggestions, but surely there are some non-science, non-fiction works that people would be interested in reading for Q1, 2006.
I agree.




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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
The suggested book I am most interested in is Mr. P.'s, Value and Virtue....

My suggestion would most fit in Politics, Current Events, and History. It is Freakonomincs, by S. Levitt and S. Dubner. The book seems to hit on topics we have discussed at BookTalk in the past, including poverty, abortion, crime, and parenting. I also like that Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Blink, has good things to say about Levitt. The following are Amazon reviews. www.amazon.com

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com
Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there's a good economic reason for that too, and we're just not getting it yet. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Forget your image of an economist as a crusty professor worried about fluctuating interest rates: Levitt focuses his attention on more intimate real-world issues, like whether reading to your baby will make her a better student. Recognition by fellow economists as one of the best young minds in his field led to a profile in the New York Times, written by Dubner, and that original article serves as a broad outline for an expanded look at Levitt's search for the hidden incentives behind all sorts of behavior. There isn't really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it's wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt's controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective. Levitt has a knack for making that principle relevant to our daily lives, which could make this book a hit. Malcolm Gladwell blurbs that Levitt "has the most interesting mind in America," an invitation Gladwell's own substantial fan base will find hard to resist. 50-city radio campaign. (May 1)
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
Another suggestion, although I'm not terribly sure what category this would fall under. I'd say "cultural studies" is probably the best description of the book, at least from what I know of it.

Heirs of General Practice, by John McPhee

I have basically three reasons for recommending this book:
1) I was reminded of the book -- which I own, but haven't yet read -- while reading the article "A Doctor For the Future" from the New York Times Magazine (there's a link to the article in this thread.)
2) John McPhee is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, and I think you all owe it to yourselves to take a sample of his work. To briefly sing his praises, he is an expert at translating his own passion for a topic into language that makes that passion understandable -- and infectious -- to the reader. I would love the opportunity to engage McPhee in an author chat.
3) My grandfather was a General Practicioner, and I grew up in an atmosphere that constantly reminded me of his importance to the community, so I have some personal investment in the subject. I would bet that there are one or two other people in the forum with similar personal ties.

Review
"A sensitive portrayal of the heart of family medicine



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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
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I wouldn't go so far as to say I'd never read Franken, but I think the whole genre of humor-infused political commentary -- including writers like Michael Moore and Maureen Dowd -- is unlikely to spark any sort of productive discussion. It's more likely to cause a series of pointless little partisan squabbles, which I'd rather not see in BookTalk.
Well said.




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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
I've been mining the book suggestion archives. I remember seeing many great suggestions in the past, but we seem to have lost a lot in the hack.

Anyway, here are several suggestions from previous recommendations. You can read the full descriptions by reading the Book Suggestions Archives forum. Perhaps we could reconsider some of these prior recommendations that were not picked in the final voting.

Inventing the People, by Edmund S. Morgan

Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, by Howard Gardner

The World is Flat-- a Brief History of the Twenty First Century, by Thomas Friedman

A Brief History of Everything, by Ken Wilber

Full House by Stephen Jay Gould

Looking For Spinoza, by Antonio Damasio

These all have appeal to me, while really none of the current suggestions ring my chimes, no offense to Mad for his excellent suggestions.

Marti in Mexico




Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:34 pm


Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
I'm also reading Reinventing Capitalism by Howard Bloom. Well, the draft, anyway. And it's pretty interesting, and I think shoul provoke a lot of discussion.

I believe the actual published book is now available?

Marti in Mexico




Tue Nov 08, 2005 11:06 pm
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Post Re: 1st Quarter NONFICTION Book Suggestions
I think it's a good idea to look at past book suggestions, as Marti suggested. However, Looking for Spinoza was a past poll winner. It was an interesting read. Marti, if you're interested in that book, I suggest going into the archives and reading the threads. I also own a copy of that book and would be happy to discuss it with you through our inboxes if you choose to read it.




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