Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spotlight on Non-Fiction

Most of what I read is fiction, of all sorts of genres. So, when I do go for non-fiction, I'm pretty choosy. I don’t want to be one of those people, though, who (for example) has only ever gone to one musical and then tries to convince theater-loving friends that one was the best thing ever. I don’t read a ton of non-fiction (I’ve only ever read one book about painting and it made the list), so if you take this list with a grain of salt, I won’t be offended! And if you have recommendations, feel free to share in the comments!

Here's some non-fiction I've enjoyed in the last year:

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. Complex science, explained in easy-to-understand terms, all springing from science fiction concepts. What's not to love? We see how far science has come in recreating the sort of stuff we see in the movies (yes, there are people out there today working on teleportation), and how science fiction has been the inspiration behind some of the research. Plus, we get a history of humanity's fascination with the Sci-Fi concept (force fields, time travel, invisibility). It does get pretty complicated, going into topics like string theory and Schrödinger’s cat, but even when I didn’t completely understand it (how can the cat be dead and not dead at the same time!?!), it was still fascinating.

Untended side effect of reading this book: I understood the characters of Big Bang Theory even more ... and I was already a little frightened of how much I related to them (Sheldon: "Windows 7 is much more user friendly. I don't like that." ha!)

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman. I know Eat, Pray, Love has been in the news lately, with the Julia Roberts movie, but I really enjoyed the style of this travel memoir, and had heard from a friend that it was better (can’t compare myself as I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love). A woman facing a huge life change (separating from her husband), decides to leave her world behind and immerse herself in the culture of another country … and another country after that … and then a few more. In each place, she lives as the local people live, leaving behind (as much as possible) her own Western viewpoints. The writing style was relatable, and the adventures compelling. I wish I had this author’s courage.

Color and Light by James Gurney. A painting book brought to you by the artist who did Dinotopia (warm fuzzies to Dinotopia). Some fascinating stuff about how colors interact, how light and shadows behave in various settings. Everything from scientific explanation of cones and rods in your eyes to easy ways to set up your palette for painting en plein air to tips on photography (that is, taking pics to be painted later or pics of your paintings). Some eye-opening stuff, and some cool artwork throughout.

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian. A look at what artificial intelligence means for humanity & how we view ourselves. A surprisingly wide array of topics (philosophy, science, history, technology) spring from this topic of how our author might convince the judges of his humanity and earn the "most human human" prize in the Turing test. (The Turing test is a challenge to programmers to fool at least 30% of human judges that computer software is a human in a text-based 5 minute conversation).

What non-fiction books do you enjoy?

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