This eclectic collection of non-fiction titles have been read and discussed by members of the Arroyo Book Club. Once a month they meet at the Arroyo Seco Branch Library, and faithfully submit an annotation about the most recently read book.
What was America like before Columbus? In this book Mann explores that question surveying the current state of archeology to paint a picture different from the one you read in your school history book. A slow but rewarding read.
A true tale that is, on the one hand, a harrowing story of survival in the face of death, and on the other, a story of the faith that loved ones have not perished, and the quest to find them.
Kingsolver and her family take a year to live solely on food they grow themselves or find locally produced. This book follows their experience and speaks strongly to the slow food and locavore philosophies.
Bren uses the Barbizon, a historic women only hotel in NYC, to take a highly focused tour of the lives and expectations of young, mostly white, women in the 20th century, providing us with a fascinating snapshot of a place in a changing time.
Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for nonfiction, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a deftly written, creatively composed, and painstakingly researched work of narrative nonfiction that provides insight into the lives of a group of residents of Annawadi, a large, fast-growing Mumbai slum. Boo’s deference to and respect for her subjects and their stories is evident and ensures that the narrative, while often heartbreaking, is never mawkish or patronizing.
This book provides a look at the way aging and death is handled in our society, with the goal of ferreting out the practices that keep people happier and make dying more in line with what the dying person wants.
Isaacson gives us an in depth look at the many achievements of one of America’s founding fathers. This fascinating portrait reveals Franklin to be quintessentially American, a well-rounded and civically engaged man who was always pragmatic.
Considered by none other than Toni Morrison to be “required reading,” Coates' collection of essays delves into what it means to be black in American society. Intimate and personal, yet far-reaching in its criticisms, this book’s unflinching honesty takes the status quo to task. Coates examines race and racism in America, both past and present, through the lens of his own full-life experience, in this open letter to his son.
Kipen explores Los Angeles as it appears in the letters and diaries of people living in, or at least visiting, the city. This is a fascinating compilation that spans centuries while stepping day by day through a year.
The essays in this book explore concepts from astronomy and astrophysics in an entertaining and informative style which make the subjects understandable for everyone. Pick it up to recapture some of the childhood awe you experienced when seeing the night sky, or at least to learn the science behind the awe.
The emperor of all maladies is cancer. This book presents a biography of the disease, exploring it and our relationship to it from the days when it was first described up into the near future. In this excellent book you will learn all about our persistent fight against cancer, our wins and our losses.
Desmond presents a detailed and well-written ethnography of some people facing eviction in Milwaukee. It provides a heartbreakingly detailed and very specific look at poverty in America.
Firoozeh Dumas uses humor to leaven this memoir of her family’s immigrant experience in America.
Gessen takes a deep dive into the post-Soviet society of Russia following the experience of four individuals born at the dawn of that change. A disheartening picture of a society embracing the certainty provided by totalitarianism emerges.
Leovoy outlines a “ghettoside” killing (slaying of a young black man by another) in South Los Angeles, and the dedicated detective who pursues the assailant. This book follows the case and uses it to explore larger sociological questions about crime and policing.
Lee’s memoir is the story of her life growing up in North Korea: how she wound up in China; and how she worked to make a legitimate place for herself. It provides an interesting and eye-opening look at a very closed society the world as a whole doesn’t know much about.
Ghosh dives into the mysterious absence of climate change in today’s fiction writing exploring stories, history, and politics, and in the process he raises important questions that expand well outside the literary world. A though-provoking book that is well worth reading.
A woman seeks refuge from her grief at the death of her father in her lifelong love of birds of prey and shares that fascination with her audience in this book.
De Waal explores his family history through the vehicle of a collection of his great uncle’s precious netsuke collection. Following the path of these small Japanese sculptures takes us through Europe, two world wars, Japan, and points outward raising questions about the power of objects, what they tell us, and our relations with them.
During and after World War II among the female human computers, who were subsumed within aeronautics, there was another group of female human computers who were submerged because they were African Americans. This book recounts the lives of some of those African American women who worked as calculators, and then as mathematicians and engineers for NASA and its precursors. This is their story, at long last revealed, as the author shines a light on the stellar work of a group of African American women, whose contributions were not fully known by enough people.
Wohlleben takes us on an exploration of the titular hidden life of trees infecting us with his love for them and providing startling insight into these vastly different life forms that share our world
Capote explores a horrific crime in graphic detail in this book that follows the victims, the perpetrators, the investigators, and the community involved.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, recounts one of his first cases, Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The author straightforwardly tells of his experience as a lawyer defending, among others, those on death row, those too harshly punished for crimes committed when they were children, and those victimized by a system that rewards wealth. This book, makes the case in the process, for a reformation of our country’s way of dealing justice.
Grann reports on the early 20th century murders of a large number of oil wealthy Osage and the impact of the murder investigation on the newly formed FBI. Interestingly, the book expands its focus beyond what was investigated by the FBI to expose larger, society wide crimes.
Geobiologist Jahren has created a memoir of a life in “big science” that started with a life as the daughter of a community college science professor in Minnesota. She worked her way up through academia in a world that is not often welcoming to women, but persevered and got her own lab. Her life story is woven between stories about the lives of trees, the plants that are Jahren’s specialty and her passion.
Orlean tells the story of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire, interspersing it with chapters about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, the future of libraries generally, and her own personal experiences with libraries. Read it for the interesting details.
Land recounts her lived experience as a single mother; a woman who survived domestic abuse; a minimum wage earner; someone who had to navigate our society’s complicated and punitively administered aid programs; and a woman who had dreams of a different future. She recounts this in a personal and personable memoir.
Wu lays out the history of the development of the radio, movie, and telephone industries to identify a cycle found in communications businesses before analyzing how (and if) these cycles will impact the Internet. A fascinating, timely read.
In this engaging memoir, explore one woman’s life and learn how she overcame barriers of poverty, race, and illness to achieve great success.
In this book Jill Bolte Taylor tells us the tale of the stroke she suffered when she was thirty-seven-years old, and what she learned from the stroke and the recovery process. The author presents an interesting reflection on our relation to and with our brains.
From Babe Ruth to Charles Lindbergh, the summer of 1927 was full of adventure and portent. Aviators were desperate to push the boundaries of flight, movies were changing forever, and Babe Ruth was trying for a record. Bill Bryson has talent for taking the known and the unknown, the familiar and the forgotten, and weaving them together into something exciting and new.
Winchester brings us a tale of the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary that includes both learned men and mad men, and gives us an interesting take on what was (and remains today) an enormous undertaking.
Explore a little known episode in the history of worker relations. Be prepared to be outraged at the actions of an industry’s companies and management. Be prepared to sympathize with the suffering of a group of women and admire their fortitude and fight for justice.
This very interesting, highly readable book paints a picture of the 5 major extinction events in the Earth's history and uses that as a springboard to discuss the 6th one, which is an event that we are currently both in the middle of, and the cause of.
This book, which became a movie, began as a series of newspaper articles about a Juilliard-trained, mentally ill homeless man in downtown Los Angeles. It touches on many issues prevalent in modern society from mental illness to homelessness to the power of music, and friendship to the (potential) fate of newspapers in our Internet world.
Here you will find the life story of a man who was born in Burundi, survived the genocide that occurred there, came to America where he went from homelessness in NYC to medical school, and eventually returned to Burundi to work on building health clinics. It is a book full of despair that still manages to leave you with some hope at the end.
Greenblatt tells the tale of the rediscovery in the 1400s of Lucretius’ epic On the Nature of Things and makes the argument that Lucretius’ text made an impact on the direction of modern thought. An ambitious book that has a lot of good things to say about libraries.
Officially, the screenplay for Lincoln is adapted from this very popular work. While it does not deal very much with the battle to adopt the 13th Amendment, you can learn about how Lincoln dealt with his contentious Cabinet. Lincoln needed a strong group to help him through the crisis that awaited him.
George Takei, of Star Trek fame, recounts his childhood memories of his family's imprisonment in Japanese internment camps across the United States. Moving between the past and present, it features stark black and white illustrations, and is a heartbreaking, stunning look at familial love, strength and the events that shaped Takei's life as an actor, artist, and activist. The book effortlessly presents the larger societal implications of those in the camp, as well as the aftermath this country still hasn't fully processed. This book joins the likes of Maus and March.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson examines the migration of nearly 6 million African Americans from the South for the North and the West between World War I and the 1970s through the stories of three individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who left rural Mississippi for Chicago in the 1930s; George Swanson Starling, who set out for Harlem in the 1940s; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, who became a Los Angeles physician after leaving Louisiana in the 1950s.
Shattered at age 26 by her mother's death and the end of her marriage, Strayed did something way out of the realm of her experience--she took a solo 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Kingston uses folk tales, myth and the dimly remembered events of her life to tell a story of girlhood, and to reflect on what being a girl means in Chinese culture and, obliquely, in American culture.
In this thought experiment Weisman investigates just what changes the world would undergo if humankind suddenly vanished while illuminating, in the process, many of the ways we collectively do harm. He leaves the reader with much to ponder.