12 Books That Will Teach You Something New
Some say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but we like to think there’s always time to learn more — in fact, we aspire to be lifelong learners! No matter your age, situation, or interests, there are still mysteries to solve and secrets to uncover, new skills to master and implement. Whether you’re interested in learning more about history, art, finance or food, here are 12 nonfiction books that will teach you something new.
Fuzz – Mary Roach
Here’s a question you’ve probably never asked: What happens when wild animals break human laws? Most of us live in a settled, paved-over world where nature and wildlife have been pushed back for our safety and convenience. But civilization and nature still collide at the edges, whether it’s dealing with curious bears in a suburban development or an infestation of vermin in your house. Roach brings her insatiable curiosity and clear writing style as she examines what happens when nature and civilization meet. Along the way, you learn that the world is not nearly as civilized as you might believe — and you’ll discover a range of animal-related career options you probably didn’t know existed.
The Ground Breaking – Scott Ellsworth
Ellsworth’s book offers a necessary — and gripping — history lesson about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. Over the course of 24 hours, an entire neighborhood in Tulsa, known as the Black Wall Street, was violently destroyed. Tulsa authorities worked to cover it up, and succeeded for decades. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly says, “Interviews with survivors and reflections on the debate over reparations and the social, economic, and racial divisions of modern-day Tulsa add depth to Ellsworth’s portrait of a community attempting to heal from an unimaginable injustice.”
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Betty Edwards
If you’ve ever wanted to learn to draw, either for your own amusement or in service of a creative goal, this classic book is a must-read. Edwards argues that our own brains get in the way of drawing, inserting prior knowledge and assumptions between you and your subject. She then offers a series of “tricks” to get your brain out of your own way, allowing a more instinctive and natural drawing approach to emerge. Edwards also offers clear technical instruction so you can master the basic skills of drawing at the same time. There’s a reason this book has been in print for so long, as the many testimonials of its effectiveness show!
Foodology – Saliha Mahmood Ahmed
If you’ve always wanted to learn more about the science behind food, this is the book for you. Dr. Saliha Mahmood Ahmed is a gastroenterologist, a chef, and a food writer. She combines those three areas of expertise into a book that explores the relationship between what you eat and how you feel. But unlike most books delving into the science of food and digestion, Ahmed’s offers practical ways to apply the new knowledge: Drawing on her work as a chef, she includes dozens of recipes and anecdotes from her own experiences eating, studying, and cooking food. You’ll learn everything from how a food’s texture impacts your experience to the way different ingredients impact your digestive system.
Shape – Jordan Ellenberg
Slept your way through math in school and now regret it? Here’s your chance to get back in the game. Ellenberg writes clearly and humorously about geometry and how it can be applied to almost every aspect of life. The science of shapes and spatial relationships overlaps with many unexpected aspects of our lives, from politics (congressional districts are just geometry writ large) to video games to concepts like herd immunity. A clear, casual style combined with plenty of real-world examples makes absorbing these concepts easy, leaving you smarter for having read this excellent book.
The Magic of Math – Arthur Benjamin
With all the panache of a stage performer, Benjamin combines the wonder of math with easy-to-follow explanations of how it works. The book begins with numbers as a concept, moving through the fundamentals of algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, and then delves into more complex ideas. You’ll be entertained throughout, but you’ll also close this book with real math skills and a deeper understanding of how numbers work all around you.
Caste – Isabel Wilkerson
Life moves fast, which makes it difficult to slow down and try to understand the why of everything. Wilkerson’s brilliant book explores the concept of caste in human society — and if you think it only applies to certain cultures, you’re in for an eye-opening experience. Understanding how caste has influenced history, operates in the present, and guides the future is essential to making that future a better one.
The Joy of Sweat – Sarah Everts
If you’re looking to read about an unusual and unexpectedly fascinating topic, Everts’s deep dive into our sweat is just the ticket. Sweat is fundamental to our health, yet we work very hard to ignore it. Its sole purpose is to cool our overheated bodies, but it has become wrapped up in concepts of hygiene and decorum that vary wildly across cultures. After reading this entertaining and informative book you’ll have a much better understanding of the thermodynamics of your own body and a wider perspective on a substance that we all produce — not to mention a firm grasp on the history of deodorant and antiperspirant.
Never Say You Can’t Survive – Charlie Jane Anders
The therapeutic power of storytelling is often overlooked. Anders offers lessons on both the power of writing to help you deal with stress and trauma and the practical steps of crafting a story. Where most writing books focus on techniques and rules, Anders focuses on emotion and healing. By the end, you’ll be ready to start creating your own fictional universe — and enjoying the mental and emotional benefits that affords.
The Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel
If you’re one of the many people who find money and finances mysterious, Housel’s book is going to be the education you need. The way we interact with money is emotional, personal, and often irrational. Housel organizes the book into a series of short stories that illustrate the unexpected ways we all think and feel about money and how those feelings affect our budget mastery. He then offers advice on understanding our emotional reaction to money, allowing us to make better financial decisions.
African Europeans – Olivette Otele
Otele, a professor and historian, offers a fascinating history that looks at African Europeans from ancient times to the present. She explores famous personages with African ancestry and how these populations have influenced European culture. The Wall Street Journal notes: “People of African heritage have contributed greatly to Europe’s music, literature, and more. But their achievements have long been overlooked… African Europeans works to bring more of this past to public attention.”
Helgoland – Carlo Rovelli
Rovelli has a reputation for making incredibly difficult science easy to digest and understand, and this book on quantum theory is no exception. As Rovelli admits, quantum physics simply doesn’t seem to make logical sense — and yet it works to explain much of the universe. Beginning with a concise history of its development and refinement before moving on to heavier concepts, Rovelli teaches that every single bit of the universe is connected. If you want to improve your understanding of the world you exist in, this is a terrific place to start.