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The Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos


people-history-united-states-zinnI love this post on The Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos, as the modern misfit’s answer to all the Modern library and BBC book lists floating around.

For the subculture, for the counter-culture, for your ordinary, average, modern-day weirdling, this list of 50 “essential cool/strange books” may just fit the bill better for you than others you’ve come across. This is non-fiction only; fiction is coming soon. Here are the top ten:

1. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn: Winston Churchill may want you to believe that history is written by the victors, but Howard Zinn defies that theory in this essential review of American history. Look at our past from the viewpoint of those without power, but with the guts to stand up in the face of all manner of adversity. Crucial reading.

2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace: I’ve never been on a cruise, but David Foster Wallace’s bewildered, exhaustively detailed retelling of a 7-night Caribbean cruise slayed me. If you ever find yourself in Big America and feel like you’re on another planet, this is for you. Also: state fairs, TV, David Lynch.

3. American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center by William Langewiesche: Years before September 11 became a jingoistic way to rile up “patriots,” it was a horrific crime scene and victim recovery effort that had to be handled with utmost care, item by item, by volunteers who agreed to commit themselves to the task. Langewiesche used his 24/7 access to make an ugly but necessary record of the truth.

4. Columbine by Dave Cullen: There’s a lot you “know” about Columbine — the “Trench Coat Mafia,” the girl who professed her love for God and was executed — but in reality, it’s nearly all incorrect. This exhaustive look at the 1999 attack covers a lot of individual issues (gun violence, troubled adolescence, mental illness), but on a macro level, it’s about the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle, the scramble for “if it bleeds it leads” information, and what the commercialization of news has done to public awareness.

5. Commodify Your Dissent by Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland, Editors: This collection of essays from lefty periodical The Baffler is an ideal intro to the modern-day echo chamber of questions around culture, marketing, selling out, being co-opted, and the increasingly impossible task of trying to figure out which is which.

6. Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Nick Tosches: I allowed myself several books by Tosches on this list because no one has shed more light on the incredible hidden grit and seedy underbelly of the history of music like he has. Or maybe he just writes about what I’m interested in. Here, you meet the wild and wooly hillbillies that predate Elvis’ polished Southern boy charm.

7. Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller: He was born at the end of the 19th century, but Buckminster Fuller was a futurist inventor of the highest order, bringing to life everything from geodesic domes to the totally dope looking Dymaxion car. In this sweeping 1981 book, Bucky covers the evolution of human civilization, his own economic ideology, and argues his conclusions about the “critical path” we should take to survive in a world of finite resources.

8. Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams by Nick Tosches: You could line millions of bird cages with all the books written about Sinatra, but this biography of Dean Martin will not only give you a closer look at the world of the Rat Pack, warts and all, but it will reveal that Dean was cooler and more detached from the whole fuss than image-obsessed Frank could ever hope to have been.

9. Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists by Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, Gabriel Alvarez and Brent Rollins: I haven’t found a book on hip-hop that, taken in total, is any more revealing, informative, or flat out brilliant than Ego Trip magazine’s book of lists.

10. England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond by Jon Savage: When considering this book, I asked a friend, “Essential read? Or head-in-sand version of the emergence of punk that considers the Ramones and the Dolls to be footnotes to the people standing around in a clothing store owned by Vivienne Westwood?” He answered, “Both.”

The Whole top 50

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

2 Responses to “The Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos”

  1. I really liked Columbine. It was obviously well researched. Like it says in the summary, it made me rethink what I thought I “knew” about what happened.

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