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We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Thu Feb 11, 2010 1:43 am
by Chris OConnor
Please ONLY make non-fiction book suggestions in this thread if you have 25 or more posts on our forums. The purpose of this thread is to start the process of selecting our next non-fiction book for group discussion. It is not for general suggestions by authors and publishers just passing through the community. If you don't have 25+ posts your suggestions will be deleted. It doesn't take long to get the required 25 posts so show us you're serious about participating by making some quality posts in the various forums. :)

So what would you like to read and discuss next? Our next non-fiction book discussion might start in March if we get enough suggestions here. Otherwise, we'll probably hold off till April and May 2010. Please remember that the most important thing to do in these suggestion threads is read OTHER peoples suggestions and leave comments on those books. Would you read them? Why or why not?

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Sat Feb 13, 2010 3:35 pm
by JulianTheApostate
This excellent book is well written and convincing argues about a seldom-discussion aspect of the health care situation.

Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee ... 582345791/

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Contrary to Americans' common belief that in health care more is more—that more spending, drugs and technology means better care—this lucid report posits that less is actually better. Medical journalist Brownlee acknowledges that state-of-the-art medicine can improve care and save lives. But technology and drugs are misused and overused, she argues, citing a 2003 study of one million Medicare recipients, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which showed that patients in hospitals that spent the most were 2% to 6% more likely to die than patients in hospitals that spent the least. Additionally, she says, billions per year are spent on unnecessary tests and drugs and on specialists who are rewarded more for some procedures than for more appropriate ones. The solution, Brownlee writes, already exists: the Veterans Health Administration outperforms the rest of the American health care system on multiple measures of quality. The main obstacle to replicating this model nationwide, according to the author, is a powerful cartel of organizations, from hospitals to drug companies, that stand to lose in such a system. Many of Brownlee's points have been much covered, but her incisiveness and proposed solution can add to the health care debate heated up by the release of Michael Moore's Sicko.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Award-winning health and medicine writer Brownlee notes that Americans spend between one-fifth and one-third of health-care dollars on unnecessary treatments, medications, devices, and tests. What's worse, there are an estimated 30,000 deaths per annum caused by this unnecessary care. The reason for what amounts to a national delusion that more care is better care is rooted, she says, in a build-it-and-they-will-come paradigm that rewards doctors and hospitals for how much care they deliver rather than how effective it is. In a step-by-step deconstruction of America's improvident health-care system, Brownlee sheds light on events, attitudes, and legislation in the twentieth century's latter half that led to this economic nightmare. With the skill of a crack prosecuting attorney, she cites specific cases of physician and hospital fiscal abuse. Her aim is broad but not scattershot as she hits not just docs and hospitals but private insurers, Medicare, patients, medical device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies by, for instance, quoting a pharmaceutical salesperson who confesses financing a physician's swimming pool to get the doc to write more prescriptions. She is not all bad news, though, for she posits models that could be adapted to create a nationwide health-care system that conceivably could staunch the current fiscal hemorrhaging. If only.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:52 am
by Chris OConnor
I think people ignore or accidentally overlook sticky topics and announcement posts. If I unstick this thread it will start to get attention.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:34 pm
by oblivion
My suggestion would be Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. It is a very readable explanation of why we have religion, with Boyer plainly explaining theories and research in evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology. His short answer to the preceding question is because "that is how our minds were prepared by evolution". Of course, much like Columbo in the old series where we know who the murderer is from the very beginning but which does not detract at least in the enjoyment of seeing the famous detective piece together the clues and reach the conclusion, knowing Boyer's answer in advance detracts nothing from this book. Review
What's it all about? Though we might never answer the really big questions--with good reason--maybe we can understand why we ask them. Cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer tackles this topic in the unapologetically titled Religion Explained, and it is sure to polarize his readers. Some will think it's an impermissible invasion of mental territory beyond the reach of reason; others will see it as the first step toward a more complete understanding of human nature--and Boyer is acutely aware of the emotionally charged nature of his work. This knowledge informs his decision to proceed without caution, as he warns readers early on that most will risk being offended by some of his considerations. Readers who can lay aside their biases will find great rewards here; Boyer's wide scholarship and knack for elegant writing are reasons enough for reading his book.

That gods and spirits are construed very much like persons is probably one of the best-known traits of religion. Indeed, the Greeks had already noticed that people create gods in their own image.... All this is familiar, indeed so familiar that for a long time anthropologists forgot that this propensity requires an explanation. Why then are gods and spirits so much like humans?
Peppering his study with examples from all over the world, particularly the Fang people of Africa, Boyer offers plenty of evidence for his theory that religious institutions exist to maintain particular threads of social integrity. Though he uses the tools of evolutionary psychology, he is more careful than most EP proponents to avoid ad hoc and circular arguments. Best of all, at least to those unmortified at the idea of examining religion critically, his theories are potentially testable. Even if he turns out to be dead wrong, at least Religion Explained offers a new and powerful framework for thinking about our spiritual lives. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly
Cognitive anthropologist Boyer does not shrink from the task of explaining "the full history of all religion (ever)" in this engaging but somewhat oversold synopsis of anthropological findings, purporting to show how "the intractable mystery that was religion is now just another set of difficult but manageable problems." Boyer eloquently critiques mainstream academic treatments of religion that, in his view, distort the facts by imposing a single explanatory theory on a complex assortment of religious phenomena. At the same time, he argues that the variety of human religious concepts is not infinite, suggesting an underlying pattern in the way certain kinds of religious concepts engage the mind by "successful activation of a whole variety of mental systems." These patterns increase the probability that such concepts will be remembered and transmitted. Besides the religious concepts' appeal in stimulating individual minds, Boyer's account sees no deeper function or significance in them, a stance he realizes will leave most religious believers nonplussed. "People who think that we have religion because religion is true... will find little here to support their views and in fact no discussion of these views," he cautions. Boyer's strategy of explaining religion in terms of mundane, everyday thought processes puts him at odds with recent neuropsychological studies that identify "special" cognitive structures or events associated with religious experience. Ultimately, it may be Boyer's criticism of the mere concept of "religious experience" that makes this book such a fascinating exercise in devil's advocacy.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

I'm afraid I would not be interested in reading the book on the healthcare system as I'm struggling enough with our German one.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 7:45 pm
by Saffron
I'd like to give Pilgrim at Tinker Creek a second try. I think the last voting escaped a few people's notice. So, my suggestion is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. ... amp;sr=1-1

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is the story of a dramatic year in Virginia's Blue Ridge valley. Annie Dillard sets out to see what she can see. What she sees are astonishing incidents of "mystery, death, beauty, violence."

Another idea is to read a biography. I don't have one to suggest, but would be open to reading one.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:29 pm
by etudiant
Paul Krugman, economist and writer, has been active in presenting his views in the NY Times, and also in other venues. In his book “ Conscience of a Liberal”, I believe he makes a clear statement of how the US got to where it is today, and where the path ahead may lie. Some may disagree with his political viewpoint, but I think his book will spark some lively discussion among BT members. ... 279&sr=1-1

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:23 pm
by Chris OConnor
We need more suggestions and more feedback on suggestions.

Can we all agree to a book within the next 5 days? Let's try!

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:06 pm
by Saffron
Feedback: I like both suggestions by Oblivion (Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought) and Julian (Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer). I am more interested in the second.

And I have another title to toss out:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

NPR story and book review: ... =123232331

I think this could be an interesting book to read (the story is fascinating) and a bit of a departure from the topics on BT lately. I think it would surely generate a hopping discussion. The book hits on medical ethics, race, the ethics of investigative journalism, and well, I'm not sure what else!

Excerpt from NPR story:

In 1951, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor named George Gey snipped cells from her cervix without telling her. Gey discovered that Lacks' cells could not only be kept alive, but would also grow indefinitely.

For the past 60 years Lacks' cells have been cultured and used in experiments ranging from determining the long-term effects of radiation to testing the live polio vaccine. Her cells were commercialized and have generated millions of dollars in profit for the medical researchers who patented her tissue.

Lacks' family, however, didn't know the cell cultures existed until more than 20 years after her death. Medical writer Rebecca Skloot examines the legacy of Lacks' contribution to science — and effect that has had on her family

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:00 pm
by DWill
I've missed out on a number of science classics and would like to catch up. My suggestion is The Double Helix, by James Watson.

(A reader's review)
This is the daddy of them all. There have been attempts at popularising science for many a year, but James Watson's very personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA started the trend for popular science bestsellers, books on science that would be read by "ordinary people" not just science enthusiasts.

In some quarters it is popular to denigrate Watson's book - but this entirely misses the point. Yes it has sexist elements, yes it supports a particular version of history that puts a Watson and Crick's efforts in a good light - but that's hardly surprising given that it was written in the 1950s by one of the protagonists.

But if you can see past the inevitable fact that the book doesn't have a 21st century outlook, it's wonderful. Firstly, it really doesn't show its age, thanks to Watson's excellent, personal narrative style, featuring none of the stiffness of most of the writing of the period. Secondly, Watson may give us a biased picture, but it gives a feel for the reality of scientific endeavour, as opposed to the glossy Hollywood view. Thirdly, Watson is honest about his relative ignorance of much of science, and a certain laziness in not wanting to put too much effort into reading things up that will reassure and delight anyone who enjoys science but finds some of the detailed work boring. Scientists in Watson's world - including himself - aren't geniuses who immediately understand what other scientists are saying. Instead they have very limited understanding outside their own little sphere of knowledge. Finally, Watson doesn't stint from giving us some detail that a modern popularizer would shy away from. The information on molecular structures might be too much for some readers, but it's easy enough to skip over without losing the flow.

Perhaps the biggest potential criticism of the book is over Watson's treatment of the crystalographer Rosalind Franklin, whose case for being more prominent in the discovery of DNA has been well argued and is generally taken for granted today. (Franklin didn't share in the Nobel Prize, which some complain about, but to be fair it was awarded after her death, and the Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously.) It's certainly true that Watson is, for most of the book, patronising towards Franklin, and he plays down the rather dubious way the Cambridge team obtained her X-ray photographs that would inspire them to come up with the familiar double helix structure. Nonetheless, it would be revisionist not to accept that Franklin was a prickly character and difficult to work with - very probably because of the way women were treated at the time - and Watson's response to her was unfortunate but honest. He does at the end of the book, written a few years later after Franklin's death, reassess her contribution and paints a more positive picture of her work.

Overall, though this is a gem of a popular science book that has stayed in print for many years for a reason. It's a great read, plain and simple

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:35 pm
by Chris OConnor
Do any of you have suggestions for how we can get more people involved in our book discussions? What can we do right now to get more people suggesting book, providing feedback on suggestions, and ultimately participating in our book discussions?

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:46 pm
by Saffron
DWill wrote:I've missed out on a number of science classics and would like to catch up. My suggestion is The Double Helix, by James Watson.
It's a great read, plain and simple
I read this book in college and did think it was a great read. It is fairly short and a fast read -- which is saying a lot coming from one of the slowest readers on the planet.

In response to Chris' quarry:
I think maybe a little bit lighter of a topic for a change might pull people back in. Some of the recent non-fiction selections have been pretty heavy duty and I suspect to many intimidating. It also seems to me that many of the discussion get very polarized. I find discussions hard to break into. Personally, I l find it much more enjoyable if there is a bit more give and take.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:33 am
by oblivion
I have to agree with Saffron on this, Chris. Something lighter for non-fiction may attract more people. Someone made the comment of "being in the kiddie pool while the rest were swimming in the deep end". And a book on a popular topic such as environment, global warming, whatever, seems to attract people as those are topics one hears in the media all of the time. That said, even though the book on the healthcare system is not up my alley, being here in Germany, it may actually attract people as it is a pertinent topic.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 3:44 am
by Chris OConnor
I also agree that a lighter book might do us some good. This sort of suggestion is one I cannot implement all on my own. We need some book suggestions that might be more universally appealing. I'm hoping some of you might step up, after having read Saffron's suggestion, and present some book ideas that might help us attract more participants.

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 6:58 am
by Saffron
Here are just a few quick ideas:

1. The book DWill suggested The Double Helix is an easy and fun read.

2. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky (Amazon 4 1/2 stars)

3. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven R. Johnson (Amazon 4 stars)

4. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

Anybody interested in any of these????

Re: We need non-fiction book suggestions for our next discussion!

Posted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:27 am
by DWill
If we want fun nonfiction, which I agree is a good idea, how about The Tipping Point, Bliink, or Gladwell's new one, whose title I forget. Then there is Freakonomics or Leavitt and Bubner's recent Superfreakonomics.

I think one factor that helps with participation is easy access to the book. How many times have we heard a member say, "My book hasn't arrived yet," and then not hear from that person again? So, availability at the library or at least down at the Books-a-Million could be important. I'm not that inclined to buy every book I want to read (cheap and limited bookshelf space), so I really like ones I can easily borrow.

Back to the fun theme, a memoir might work. A couple of the many that could be considered:

The Music Room, by William Fiennes

"The Music Room is, at one level, a portrait of Fiennes’s broad-moated house, the source of his belonging, and his upbringing there until the age of 17 when he leaves to teach in north-east Brazil. “I had a castle to explore whenever I wanted.” His school friends are enthralled by the spiral staircases, battlements, secret rooms, “swords you could pick up and wield two-handed”, and suits of Spanish armour which his mother conditions with WD40. Fiennes’s father regards his family as stewards looking after the house “on behalf of everyone who might one day appreciate it”, and it is their youngest son’s gift to make the castle feel as much our inheritance as it is his. We fish with him for pike. We eavesdrop on guides taking the Women’s Institute along the Groined Passage. We peer down on to his parents judging the Yorkshire Dales Caravan Club knobbly-knees competition. We stand beside him, at the age of five, in the Great Hall watching the Christmas Morecambe and Wise Show being filmed, and Eric Morecambe walking over to greet him, adjusting his spectacles and barking, “Hello! Are you married?”

Left to his own devices, Fiennes often ends up in the music room from which, at night in bed, he hears his mother playing the viola, “each scale like someone coming up the stairs then going down them again on second thoughts”. He can’t keep his hands off the Wittner metronome that she uses to find a tempo. The metronome’s sliding weight transforms the music room into “a world that turned at whatever speed you judged appropriate”, veering from the “lugubrious” to the “berserk”. Increasingly, both weight and tempo are set by his brother Rich, 11 years older and epileptic. Around this figure and his mood swings, the family tread on tiptoe, holding their breath, waiting for an outburst of “unpredictable bolshiness” or “ingenuous warmth”.

Stalin's Children:, by Owen Matthews

"Owen Matthews has an extraordinary story to tell, spanning three generations of his own family, all caught up with the cataclysmic events of Russia in the 20th century. He came to know Russia well while working as a journalist in Moscow in the years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet system, but his Russian roots go much deeper and further back. Indeed, his most famous ancestor helped Catherine the Great to suppress the Pugachev rebellion.

Matthews's maternal grandfather, Boris Bibikov, was a Party man, a true believer in the great Bolshevik experiment which would bring about a new person, homo sovieticus. As one of the leaders at the giant Kharkov Tractor Factory, he would organise "storm nights" of labour, accompanied by brass bands, in an effort to fulfil the near-impossible targets. He further demonstrated his commitment to the cause by naming his elder daughter "Lenina". But by the time his second daughter, Owen's mother, was born, he was starting to have doubts about the methods employed by Stalin, particularly when they resulted in the terrible famine of 1931-2. Those doubts led him to back the more moderate Sergei Kirov at the All-Union Party Congress in 1934. Three years later, Stalin took his revenge.

Bibikov's arrest and summary execution wrecked the lives of his family, as was always the case for the relatives of "enemies of the people". His wife Martha was sent to the camps, and his two young daughters became virtual orphans. That Lyudmila, Owen's mother, survived at all is something of a miracle, her will to live triumphing over everything from measles to near-starvation. "Simple Soviet people are everywhere performing miracles". As Matthews points out, this phrase from a Russian popular 1930s song, though usually sung with irony by his mother when faced with some bureaucratic stupidity, actually had a profound influence on her attitudes and behaviour.

Having endured life in Soviet orphanages, she finally made it to Moscow University – which is where she encountered Mervyn, Owen's father, at that time a postgraduate student from Oxford. Their ensuing love affair and six-year separation were documented in their letters, at least one a day. Lyudmila and Mervyn – or Mila and Mervusya, as they called each other – had set out to perform yet another miracle, that of overcoming Cold War intransigence to attain their goal of marriage and an exit visa.

There are many moments of almost unbearable poignancy in Stalin's Children, but perhaps one of the saddest aspects is the way Mila and Mervusya's great romance seemed to fizzle out once their struggles were finally over. The journey had become more important than the destination. As Matthews writes: "though the letters are full of pain, I think that they also describe the happiest period of my parents' lives". Married life in a rather dreary England was a far cry from outwitting the KGB "goons" in Moscow, and Matthews has clearly been quite surprised himself by what he has learned of his parental history."