How’s your Nonfiction November so far? I’m falling so behind – I think I’ll spend most of December still catching up on all the posts from this month!
In any case, week 4 has arrived. Here’s our prompt from Rebekah @ She Seeks Nonfiction:
Worldview Changers: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book (or books) has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?
Another topic I struggled with. My issue is that I feel like a worldview doesn’t just “change”, it gets shaped. And it’s a long process. I haven’t had a struck-by-lightning, large-scale worldview changer in book form, although I suppose that’s possible.
That said, there are books that shed light on areas where I was mistaken, misinformed, or felt like I’d learned something deeply worthwhile.
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones – This was the first book that made me realize I didn’t completely understand addiction in general and the complexity of the US opioid epidemic specifically. It led to a mini reading project on other books in this genre (Katie @ Doing Dewey is doing one now, and she’s really found some excellent lesser known titles in this area, in case you’re interested!)
Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces that Make Us Who We Are, by Bill Sullivan – I feel like I mention this book every Nonfiction November. It’s a highly readable look at the science of epigenetics, and it’s what got me interested in reading more about brain function and neuroscience. Anytime someone talks about the possibility of an afterlife, I think about what I learned in this book about how and why our brains work the way they do. Although I do think there’s so much that science hasn’t explained yet, I also think there’s a lot that it has which we choose to ignore.
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc – Another that I’m sure I recommend every year. Not only one of the best narrative nonfictions I’ve ever read, but this book showed me, in immersive detail, so much about socioeconomic areas I was privileged enough not to understand well, including the effects of prison, poverty, communities with heavy drug use and gang violence, teen pregnancies, and so much else that can impact communities for generations and create hard-to-break cycles. It was so eye opening and led me to read a lot more on the topics it explores.
The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care, by Rina Raphael – I haven’t gotten around to reviewing this, and I’m cheating a bit because there wasn’t anything new to me in it, but I want to sneak it in anyway because I think it could be very meaningful for others. It’s a thorough look at many of the elements of our current ubiquitous “wellness” culture and why it’s damaging, unhelpful, scientifically unsound, and/or just plain incorrect. Another of my favorite recs, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre, is another fantastic exploration of similar topics, as is anything by Paul Offitt, but especially Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine and Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren’t Your Best Source of Health Information.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk – Although I felt like I’d read a lot on trauma, there was so much that was either new to me or better explained here. This can also help to understand others who have gone through trauma, and having empathy for an experience you don’t share is about as big of a way to change your worldview as I can think of.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Pérez – If anything could be a worldview changer for me, I guess it would be this one, which taught me things about how the world is designed for a prototype male standard in every possible way, which now pop into my head all the time when I notice them, from awkward phone sizes and seatbelts to street layouts that are disadvantageous if you’re trying to navigate them with a baby carriage.
Thick, by Tressie McMillan Cottom – These essays around sociologist Cottom’s experiences in work, academia, healthcare, and just existing were sometimes angry and always angering, for many reasons. Although I was statistically aware of what she writes about, seeing this individual perspective was so eye opening, if horrifying.
Humankind: A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman, translated from Dutch by Erica Moore – Another I keep recommending, but this is an outstanding exercise in mythbusting a lot of long-held beliefs, some of which are entrenched on a very big scale. It’s basically a dismantling of a Hobbesian worldview. It’s another that taught me things I think of all the time, and I immediately recommend it anytime someone mentions the Stanford Prison Experience or the broken windows theory of policing.
Now about this: “Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?”
No, no, a thousand times no. I’m bothered by these kind of questions, because there’s something so reductive in the idea that everyone will be affected by something in the same way as everyone else, or that everyone needs to develop their understanding similarly, or that we all should be gearing towards the same viewpoint. I don’t like to presume that others need learning on the same topics that I do. Lived experience is an incredible and valuable thing, and it’s why we should all read and explore as widely as we can, and I think that includes asking other people about their worldviews or seeing out various perspectives, rather than assuming everyone could benefit from the same thing you did.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this kind of simplification is why we end up bombarded with lists like 100 books everyone should, or worst, must, read and then they’re all just Jane Austen and The Great Gatsby, with some implied guilt thrown in if you don’t like or want to read them. No thank ya!
What nonfiction has helped you learn about new and different perspectives?