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ABC (Arroyo Book Club) Non-Fiction Books Updated 10-28-19

Updated: October 28, 2019

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dumas, Firoozeh.
Call Number: 92 D8857 2006

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

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.

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.


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.

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.

Diamond, Jared M.
Call Number: 301 D537 2005
This book explores why some societies succeed and some do not.

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.



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.

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.

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.

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.  

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."

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.

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.

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.

Krakauer, Jon.
Call Number: 796.012 K89-1
This book details the calamitous 1996 climbing season on Mt. Everest.

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 in this book making the case, in the process, for a reformation of our country’s way of dealing justice.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.