Nonfiction November Week 2: Book Pairings

Katie at Doing Dewey is our Nonfiction November host this week, and here’s our prompt:

Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book Pairing with Katie at Doing Dewey: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

As usual, since I don’t read fiction, I’m pairing nonfiction books with podcasts. It’s the best I can do! Here’s what I’ve been listening to, with some recommended reading.

The Dream: I recommend this investigative podcast, from award-winning journalist Jane Marie, with some hesitation. The first season, which was about multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes, was excellent — informative but snarky, and highly entertaining. I was so excited for the second season, which explored the wellness industry in many of its ridiculous incarnations.

But something went weird here. Jane Marie’s boyfriend is a producer too, and the dynamic between them is odd — there’s joking and flirting of a kind that was like, should we be hearing this? Do I want to be hearing this? (not in the slightest). There were also some emotional moments as she makes her own connections to various aspects of wellness and I think it could’ve used outside research that was lacking (namely, she sobs about hitting her head and not being able to remember kindergarten to tell her daughter about it, but I barely remember kindergarten without any head injuries, so I don’t think it’s so dramatic).

All to say it’s generally not as thoroughly researched or serious as I’d hoped it would be, it’s more experiential, including her own experience with a wellness treatment that she kind of buys into.

Criticisms aside, there is some good information here, especially if you just like hearing about this topic of wellness scammery in general. And it gives me a reason to recommend some all-time favorite reading in this genre:

The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con, and the Darkness at the Heart of the Wellness Industry, by Beau Donelly & Nick Toscano – Belle Gibson, a young Australian, faked brain cancer and a miraculous recovery thanks to her diet plan, which she turned into cookbooks and other products and a lucrative wellness empire. These journalists exposed her con, which fell apart with a very light scratching of the surface that not even her publishers bothered to do. It also looks at similar ‘wellness’ influencers. Spoiler alert: they really do a lot of damage!

The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina — Separating the Myth from the Medicine, by Dr. Jen Gunter – This exasperated OBGYN does amazing work in debunking so many long-held beliefs around women’s health that are unhelpful at best and incredibly damaging, sexist, and dangerous at worst.

Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre – NHS doctor Ben Goldacre thoroughly debunks a ton of ridiculous wellness beliefs and healthcare myths by fastidiously breaking down research and data, usually concluding with “It’s a bit more complicated than that.” This is so well written and clearly explained and often hilarious.

Clean: The New Science of Skin, by James Hamblin – MD and Atlantic contributor Hamblin explores the expensive and not scientifically sound world of beauty treatments and skincare products, looking at why what a product promises to do isn’t something within the realm of the possible.

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, by Barbara Ehrenreich – When Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer, she learned of the cultlike obsession around positive thinking, “manifesting” your way to health. And if you don’t think positively, well, no wonder you’re still sick. This is maddening and insane, and her look through the history of these movements was so illuminating in terms of why this toxic culture of positivity has become so pervasive.

The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating, by Anthony Warner – Ideas around “clean eating” and similar “natural” food diet plans have demonized many food groups and especially the evil of “processed” foods, but as chef Anthony Warner explains, yet again, it’s always more complicated than that.

I also have the podcast Maintenance Phase on my list, which debunks similar junk science, “wellness industrial complex” scams, and misinformation purveyors, but have yet to listen to it. Have you?

Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen – The first season brilliantly covers the story of a con artist preying on Hollywood hopefuls, scamming them into traveling to Indonesia and spending a ton of money in the hopes of getting work. It’s a confusing scam, but hosts Josh Dean and Vanessa Grigoriadis break it down very well, and structure it so that you get to discover the twists and turns in this bizarre, horrifying story along with them.

Two good looks at a number of con artists, some vintage and some quite recent, are The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For it Every Time, by Maria Konnikova, which examines psychology around our susceptibility to con artists and how they exploit it, and Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer, an entertaining, humorous look at a bunch of female con artists, historical to present day.

I’m Not a Monster: Far and away my favorite of the past year, this Frontline PBS and BBC Panorama podcast looks at the mysterious story of Samantha Sally, a midwestern US mom who took her kids to Syria to join the Islamic State, and then returned. Sam’s story is that she was following her then husband, but not everyone, including the US government, buys it.

This was so well done, and strangely touching. Her older child speaks for himself about his experience in Raqqa in one of the final episodes, and his maturity and attitude after what he’d been through was so humbling. The entire show is a remarkable work of journalism.

An excellent, in-depth work of narrative nonfiction focused on the women of ISIS, including some who joined their husbands, is Azadeh Moaveni’s Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS, which deftly shows a lot of the reasons and nuance around why anyone would align themselves with a terrorist group.

Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State was a thorough, accessible look at Islam itself and how its tenets have been manipulated by the group, as well as portraits of some IS leaders and their families. It’s an education in and of itself, and was surprisingly humorous too.

The Lazarus Heist – This BBC News World Service podcast begins with the infamous Sony hack and explores the other cyber crimes perpetrated by North Korean hackers. I didn’t know the half of these; it is jaw-droppingly INSANE. Every episode of this felt more shocking than the last.

I find any story out of North Korea irresistible, and two books I loved which also facilitate a greater understanding of what’s going on in the hermit kingdom today are Anna Fifield’s The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un, Sun of the 21st Century, a brilliant biography of the enigmatic dictator, and Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, a masterful work of narrative nonfiction following several figures and families within the country, set against the backdrop of its national history.

If you love a financial crime thriller that seriously reads as grippingly as your average thriller novel, Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction, by David Enrich, about the bad behavior of Deutsche Bank, is outstanding. However bad you thought Deutsche Bank may be, they’re worse. And then comes their dealings with Donald Trump.

If you’re intrigued by the element of a highly unlikely but true financial hack, Flash Crash: A Trading Savant, a Global Manhunt, and the Most Mysterious Market Crash in History is a fast-paced read telling the story of Navinder Singh Sarao, a trader who hacked the trillion dollar stock market crash from his bedroom at his parents’ house.

Day X – This one from the New York Times investigates the possibility of a secret faction within the German military that’s planning a January 6-style coup on their “Day X”. This came to light after a military officer identified as Franco A. stashed a gun in a bathroom at the Vienna Airport with plans to carry out an attack under the fake identity of a Syrian refugee. That’s horrifying enough, but becomes next-level when combined with the thought of a faction of conspiracy-theory believing, racist rebels within the GERMAN military. I cannot.

For some additional reading on the history of conspiracy-theory beliefs in Germany, there’s Monica Black’s exploration of the bizarre proliferation of supernatural beliefs in West Germany, A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany.

For more on contemporary German politics in an incredibly readable and surprisingly entertaining narrative, allow me to again point you towards The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton, one of my favorites this year.

Those Who Forget: My Family’s Story in Nazi Europe – A Memoir, A History, A Warning, by Geraldine Schwarz and translated by Laura Marris has a section looking at the rise of the far right in both German and Austrian politics in recent years, as a wave of populism has swept Europe. It’s one of the best looks available in English at both countries’ current political problems, including the renewed presence in parliament of the populist Alternative for Germany and Freedom Parties in Germany and Austria, respectively.

Beloved German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck’s Not a Novel: A Memoir in Pieces includes essays describing her strong feelings about the controversial acceptance of Syrian refugees in Germany in 2014/2015, a decision on Merkel’s part considered to have inspired much of the increase in far-right sentiment in its aftermath.

What nonfiction podcasts have you been listening to? Any reading in these topics you can recommend? Don’t forget to link up with Katie!


28 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 2: Book Pairings

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  1. I only listen to nonfiction podcasts – I really have enjoyed the episodes of Maintenance Phase I’ve listened to. I also like Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens podcast, the Reading Glasses podcast, We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, Code Switch, and Short Wave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh thanks for so many suggestions!!! Aside from Maintenance Phase the only one I’ve heard of is Glennon Doyle’s, but I just can’t get into her stuff…I tried one of her books and I think we just have a very different way of thinking. Short Wave especially sounds great!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jonetta!! I’m thrilled I could give you lots of ideas and suggestions. And I don’t think you’re alone, it’s very tough to find the right nonfiction to provide some escapism when that’s what you need. It’s been a challenge for me these last nearly two years as well! I hope you can find the right reading to help you get back into it 🤗


  2. Wow – it must have taken you ages to put this together, well done! As you probably know, I do read fiction but not historical fiction, which is how most people manage to do this week’s challenge – well, I read two historical fiction books recently and managed to work up a post around them!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay!! It’s so great when you manage reading outside of your comfort zone and pleasantly surprise yourself with it!

      And thank you – I keep a draft of this one and add to it throughout the year so it’s not too much work all at once at the end 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoy them! I was actually just thinking about if it would be worth tweaking the prompt, as Liz mentioned in a comment above that she struggles with this one without reading historical fiction, which made me realize that does seem to be part of a lot of the pairings I see. Maybe we can tweak it a bit 🙂


  3. Oh my gosh, I love this post! Though I am reeling from the fact that you don’t read *any* fiction.

    I want to read every one of these books. My TBR weeps.

    I have tried Maintenance Phase, and I found it annoying for a similiar-ish reason as you cited for The Dream, I find it a bit too casual and chatty, and the hosts seems to presume we know (and want to know) a lot about their lives. And I find it aggressively millennial (something about the slang, the tone, I don’t know! I’m practically a millennial myself but I find it grating).

    I fell down a rabbit hole with two podcasts about Gerry Cotten, a crypto entrepreneur who died under very mysterious circumstances, just as his empire was about to crumble. A Death in Cryptoland is the more journalistic (produced by our public broadcaster CBC) and Exit Scam is a little more sensational, but I devoured both. His widow has a book coming out next year and I definitely be reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh nooooo this is not good news for me. I’ve been unable to listen to so many podcasts that have that “aggressively millennial” (perfect description!) tone. If it’s like that then it’s over for me. Technically I *am* a millennial, just on the older end of the range, but like you I find something about that specific style completely grating to the point of being unlistenable. And I really don’t like when it’s ostensibly about another topic and becomes about the hosts’ lives, blergh. I’ll give it a try but thanks for tempering my expectations.

      Thank you for that suggestion, I actually did listen to Exit Scam and LOVED it!! Even at the end I still feel really unsure about what happened! I also liked that they included so much information that wasn’t usually in the news about it, didn’t you think? Maybe there was more coverage in Canada but I hadn’t heard a lot of it about his suspicious background. A Death in Cryptoland is immediately going on my list, thank you!!!


  4. Great idea to pair with podcasts, particularly The Dream and Chameleon, both of which I loved. There is a novel that ‘borrows’ from the Belle Gibson story – The Truth About Her by Jacqueline Maley.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this post because of the great podcast recommendations. Am going to see if I can master the dark art of downloading one of them (millennials at the back kindly stop sniggering) to listen to during dog walks. Entirely your fault if I mislay the dog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Downloading I can’t help you with, I always just hit play on Apple or Spotify, I’m not capable in anything more complex than that! But good luck to Monty, let’s hope he can be as captivating as whatever you’re listening to!


    1. I used to do more work that allowed me kind of mindless time for listening to them, but now that I do less of that they’re only for my cooking/cleaning time, basically. So I don’t get around to as many of them as I used to. I still haven’t gotten into audiobooks yet!


  6. You mentioned some great books there, especially about my home country. I will have to get some of those, the one about Angela Merkel would be top. I’ve been looking for a good book about her.

    My book pairing is about Afghanistan


  7. Every year, I look forward to you making this post. Seriously, you always come up with the best pairings.

    Even with the caveats, I think I’ll end up checking out The Dream. I’m a total sucker for anything related to deceptions or scams … which, now that I’ve written it out …

    And The Woman Who Fooled the World looks amazing. What a wild, wild story. I’m always amazed when individuals attempt such high profile cons. It’s like, do you really think no one will notice? It always amazes me how very little digging it usually takes to uncover the scam, too. Y’all weren’t even trying!

    But seriously, all of these look good … I’m strongly tempted to add 90% of these to my TBR pile because I’ve somehow missed out on most of them.


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