Face masks are required in all City of Los Angeles facilities, including libraries.


ABC (Arroyo Book Club) Non-Fiction Books Updated 06/25/2022

Updated: June 25, 2022

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.


1491 : new revelations of the Americas before Columbus
Mann, Charles C.
Call Number: 970.1 M281

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.

Alive : the story of the Andes survivors
Read, Piers Paul, 1941-
Call Number: 910.4 R284 2002

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.

All creatures great and small.
Herriot, James.
Call Number: 619.092 H567
These memoirs of a country vet are heartwarming, amusing, and ultimately speak of fitting perfectly in your life’s space.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Kingsolver, Barbara
Call Number: 641.09754 K55

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.

Assassination vacation
Vowell, Sarah, 1969-
Call Number: 973 V974
This is a travel book with a difference. The author explores sites linked to the assassinations of U.S. presidents, in the process providing you with a ton of information about those events.

Behind the beautiful forevers
Boo, Katherine.
Call Number: 362.50954 B724

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.

Being mortal : medicine and what matters in the end
Gawande, Atul,
Call Number: 610.696 G284

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.

Benjamin Franklin : an American life
Isaacson, Walter.
Call Number: 92 F831Is

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.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Bui, Thi
Call Number: 740.9999 B932
Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family's daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. She also writes about the impact that colonialism and war in Vietnam had on one family, her own.

Between the World and Me
Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Call Number: 301.45096 C652-1

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.

The center cannot hold : my journey through madness
Saks, Elyn R., 1955-
Call Number: 616.898 S158
In this book Elyn Saks recounts her journey from student to law professor.  A journey that took place while she struggled with the effects of schizophrenia.  This is a book that helps the reader empathize with those suffering from one form of mental illness, dispelling some myths in the process.

Civil disobedience, and other essays
Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862.
Call Number: 814 T488-40
Which should take precedence, your own moral beliefs or governmental law? What remedy is there when the two disagree? Thoreau provides his answer in this thought-provoking essay.

Common sense
Paine, Thomas, 1737-1809.
Call Number: 320.1 P147-7 1986
Imagine yourself as an 18th century American and read this excellent example of persuasive writing. Decide for yourself if you find his argument convincing. See his ideas in the roots of today’s government.

Days of destruction, days of revolt
Hedges, Chris.
Call Number: 362.50973 H453
This book mixes text and graphic formats to paint a picture of the downside of unfettered capitalism.  It is a book that will make you angry or at least make you think.

Death by black hole : and other cosmic quandaries
Tyson, Neil deGrasse.
Call Number: 523 T994

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 disappearing spoon : and other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements
Kean, Sam.
Call Number: 546 K24
This book is filled with anecdotes about each and every element of the periodic table. It brings life and excitement to the world of chemistry - even for those whose knowledge of chemistry is slight.

The emperor of all maladies : a biography of cancer
Mukherjee, Siddhartha.
Call Number: 616.99409 M953

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.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Desmond, Matthew
Call Number: 331.883 D464

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.

The forger's spell : a true story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the greatest art hoax of the twentieth century
Dolnick, Edward, 1952-
Call Number: 759 D665
This book follows a forgery plot undertaken during World War II. Along the way, you will learn about Vermeer, the Nazi looting of Europe, the forger Han van Meegeren, and a host of other topics.

Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Levitt, Steven D.
Call Number: 330.1915 L666
This book provides a light, breezy look at the impact an economic analysis can have on topics that have nothing, at first glance, to do with economics.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America
Dumas, Firoozeh
Call Number: 92 D8857 2006

Firoozeh Dumas uses humor to leaven this memoir of her family’s immigrant experience in America.

The future is history : how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia
Gessen, Masha
Call Number: 320.947 G392

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.

Galileo's daughter : a historical memoir of science, faith, and love
Sobel, Dava.
Call Number: 520.92 G158So 2000
This is a fascinating biography of Galileo's daughter, Suor Maria Celeste that exposes you to both the life of a 17th century nun and the father of modern science.

Ghettoside : a true story of murder in America
Leovy, Jill.
Call Number: 364.973 L588

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.


Ghost map : the story of London's deadliest epidemic--and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world
Johnson, Steven, 1968-
Call Number: 614.514 J69
When an outbreak of cholera swept through a London neighborhood in 1854, it was widely believed that disease spread through foul odors and "miasmas." Dr. John Snow used a radical new approach to trace the outbreak to its source, saving countless lives and ushering in a new era of urban planning and public health policies.

The girls of Atomic City : the untold story of the women who helped win World War II
Kiernan, Denise.
Call Number: 976.82 K47
This book explores the development of the atom bomb through the lens of the working women, from all walks of life, who contributed to its development.

The glass universe : how the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars
Sobel, Dava
Call Number: 520.9 S677
Sobel provides a fascinating exploration of the photo-astronomy work done at Harvard, focusing on the cadre of exceptional women who were instrumental in the successful measuring and cataloging of the universe and following the entire span of that project.

The great derangement : climate change and the unthinkable
Ghosh, Amitav, 1956-
Call Number: 809 G427

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.

Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies
Diamond, Jared M.
Call Number: 301 D537 2005
This book explores why some societies succeed and some do not.

H is for Hawk
Macdonald, Helen
Call Number: 598.91 M135-1

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.

Hidden figures : the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race
Lee Shetterly, Margot.
Call Number: 510.973 L481

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.



The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate
Wohlleben, Peter
Call Number: 582.16 W846

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

The hot zone
Preston, Richard, 1954-
Call Number: 614.57 P939 1995
This book explores the discovery and spread of the Ebola and Marburg viruses while highlighting an incident that occurred in Virginia. It leaves you maybe too informed about the dangers of these diseases breaking out of their isolated environments.

The illustrated West with the night
Markham, Beryl.
Call Number: 92 M3448-1
In this memoir Markham regales you with vignettes from her life. These engaging tales range from her girlhood in colonial Africa to her experiences as a horse trainer and aviatrix.

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
Skloot, Rebecca, 1972-
Call Number: 610.71 S628
Explore issues of bioethics, racism, poverty, science, and faith in this investigation into the origins of a line of cells that has and continues to be instrumental to biological and medical research.

In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
Capote, Truman, 1924-1984.
Call Number: 364.92 H629Ca 2013

Capote explores a horrific crime in graphic detail in this book that follows the victims, the perpetrators, the investigators, and the community involved.  

In defense of food : an eater's manifesto
Pollan, Michael.
Call Number: 641 P771-1
This exploration of modern food production provides you with a picture of all that is wrong with it and some suggestions about what you might do to make things rosier for yourself. As Pollan says, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

In the garden of beasts : love, terror, and an American family in Hitler's Berlin
Larson, Erik.
Call Number: 92 D639La
This book provides a close-up exploration of Hitler’s rise to power through the eyes of the American Ambassador to Germany and his daughter.

Indian summer : the secret history of the end of an empire
Von Tunzelmann, Alex, 1977-
Call Number: 954.04 V948
Learn about the origins of modern India and Pakistan in this book that looks at the withdrawal of the British from India and the politics of its partition.

The innocents abroad
Twain, Mark, 1835-1910.
Call Number: 817 T969 1990
This is the original travelogue. Twain explores Europe & the Holy Land, bringing his trademark sarcasm and quick wit to the task. A very long, but nevertheless enjoyable, read.

Into thin air : a personal account of the Mount Everest disaster
Krakauer, Jon.
Call Number: 796.012 K89-1
This book details the calamitous 1996 climbing season on Mt. Everest.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Stevenson, Bryan
Call Number: 347.092 S847

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.

Killers of the Flower Moon : the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI
Grann, David,
Call Number: 364.9766 G759

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.

Lab girl
Jahren, Hope,
Call Number: 570.92 J25

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.


Land of smoke and mirrors : a cultural history of Los Angeles
Brook, Vincent, 1946-
Call Number: 979.41 L881Bro
This book takes a look at local Los Angeles history through the lens of the movies. It provides a plethora of interesting details about LA in days gone by.

The library book
Orlean, Susan,
Call Number: LT 027.47949 L881Or

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.

Life on the Mississippi
Twain, Mark, 1835-1910.
Call Number: 977 T969 2001
Join Mark Twain on what turns out to be an anthropological exploration of the Mississippi River in this memoir of the time he spent on that river

The Lucifer effect : understanding how good people turn evil
Zimbardo, Philip G.
Call Number: 157.3 Z71-1
This book explores the concept of evil by examining forces that pressure people psychologically and socially. Read it as a sort of vaccination against succumbing to evil yourself.

The man who loved China : the fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom
Winchester, Simon.
Call Number: 509.2 N374Wi
This biography of Joseph Needham is a vehicle for you to learn all about the thing Needham loved - the history of science in China.

Man's search for meaning : an introduction to logotherapy
Frankl, Viktor E. 1905-1997.
Call Number: 150.1925 F831 1992a
This book combines a memoir of Frankl's experience in concentration camps with an introduction to the field of psychology that he founded.

The master switch : the rise and fall of information empires
Wu, Tim.
Call Number: 384.509 W959

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.

Mountains beyond mountains
Kidder, Tracy.
Call Number: 610.92 F235Ki
This biography of humanitarian and doctor Paul Farmer explores his work in Haiti (and elsewhere), in the process exposing you to some of the horrors to be found in the world, as well as to people who do astoundingly good work.

My beloved world
Sotomayor, Sonia, 1954-
Call Number: 347.092 S718

In this engaging memoir, explore one woman’s life and learn how she overcame barriers of poverty, race, and illness to achieve great success.

My life in France
Child, Julia.
Call Number: 641.092 C536
Explore France and French cooking with Julia Child in this memoir. It will leave you hungry for food and for interesting life experiences of your own.

My stroke of insight : a brain scientist's personal journey
Taylor, Jill Bolte, 1959-
Call Number: 616.81 T243

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.

Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave
Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895,
Call Number: 92 D737-3 2014
This narrative, first published in 1845, remains a compelling account of the evils of slavery and offers thoughts still important today about the value of self-reliance, education, and freedom.

Outliers : the story of success
Gladwell, Malcolm, 1963-
Call Number: 174 G543
This breezy book explores the qualities that successful people have that help to make them successful.

Pacific : silicon chips and surfboards, coral reefs and atom bombs, brutal dictators, fading empires, and the coming collision of the world's superpowers
Winchester, Simon,
Call Number: 910.4 W759-1
Winchester tells the sweeping story of the Pacific Ocean by looking closely at ten events that have happened since 1950, and using the details of those events to collectively paint a fascinating picture of the ocean as a whole.

A paradise built in hell : the extraordinary communities that arise in disasters
Solnit, Rebecca.
Call Number: 361.5 S688
This book explores a number of disasters to look at how the common individual really responds and challenges the belief that we are all savage beneath a thin veneer of civilization. It is long on anecdotes and the author's philosophy but does raise interesting points to ponder.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Winchester, Simon
Call Number: 423 O985-2Win

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.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
Moore, Kate (Writer and editor),
Call Number: 613.6 M822

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.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Nafisi, Azar
Call Number: 370.92 N146
This book follows a female professor and her students as they are forced to take their class out of the university and into their homes. Despite the social pressures they experience during this time of revolution, they continue to study classics of English literature.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Kolbert, Elizabeth
Call Number: 575.7 K81

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.

The soloist : a lost dream, an unlikely friendship, and the redemptive power of music
Lopez, Steve.
Call Number: 789.14 A977Lo

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.

The spirit catches you and you fall down : a Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures
Fadiman, Anne, 1953-
Call Number: 610.696 F145
Explore the collision of cultures in this medical history of one Hmong family's experience with their daughter's epilepsy and the American doctors who treat her. Altogether a fascinating read.

Stiff : the curious lives of human cadavers
Roach, Mary.
Call Number: 610.71 R628
Have you ever wondered what will happen to your body when you're no longer here? This informative book looks at some of the possibilities in, at times, unnerving detail.

Strength in what remains
Kidder, Tracy.
Call Number: 301.45096757 K46

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.

The swerve : how the world became modern
Greenblatt, Stephen, 1943-
Call Number: 901 G798

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.

Team of rivals : the political genius of Abraham Lincoln
Goodwin, Doris Kearns.
Call Number: 92 L736Goo

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.

They Called Us Enemy: A Graphic Novel Memoir
Takei, George
Call Number: 812.092 T136-1

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.

Travels with Charley : in search of America
Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968.
Call Number: 973.91 S819 2012
Looking for a road trip novel with all the trimmings (and an excellent dog as a bonus)? Give this classic memoir a try.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Wilkerson, Isabel.
Call Number: 301.45096 W681

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.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Strayed, Cheryl, 1968-
Call Number: 813 S913S

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.

The woman warrior : memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts
Kingston, Maxine Hong.
Call Number: 92 K553 1989

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.  

The year of magical thinking
Didion, Joan.
Call Number: 810.92 D556
Joan Didion writes about her life in the year following her husband's death, a year that saw her daughter suffer from a serious illness. It is a moving memoir of loss.

The zookeeper's wife : a war story
Ackerman, Diane, 1948-
Call Number: 940.53438 A182
This book tells the tale of the Director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife during World War II as they managed to shelter hundreds of Jews from the Nazis.