Favorite Nonfiction Books
This includes books I find excellent reference, and ones I enjoyed reading.
The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
A study of science versus pseudoscience, covering a number of topics. Includes extensive chapters on debunking alien abductions, psychic mediums, the vilification of scientists in popular media, and discusses how scientifically ignorant most people are. An atheist, Sagan also discusses some religious and theological issues.
The Ecology of Fear by Mike Davis
book by Macarthur (sp?) Genius grant award-winner, this is about the
landscapes of Los Angeles; natural, racial and economic. The basic premise of the
book is that the landscape and climate of the area is not meant to hold
a city of
Visions of Caliban by Dale Peterson and Jane Goodall
is a very interesting, readable book about humanity’s various ways of
interacting with its closest relative, the chimpanzee.
Includes chapters on how native Africans treat them, both
as pets and a food source, about the business of selling them (the
least interesting chapter, IMHO), about people who keep them as pets in
Western countries (the most interesting chapter), about chimps in lab
research, about chimps in language studies, and attempts to rescue and
rehabilitate them. This
is not an easy book to read; the horrific treatment some of the chimps
receive is shocking. The
only thing I wish for is an updated version where the fate of some of
the young pet chimps we read about is discussed.
The author points out that although people with infant
chimps say they’re going to keep them forever (which can be 50+ years),
most of the post-adolescent ones seem to vanish.
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
admittedly sensationalistic account of various Ebola virus outbreaks in
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
famous book by the LA lawyer who prosecuted the Charles Manson case. A new version has an
afterward that describes at length the fates of various people talked
about in the book, and solves some other mysteries that the original
book couldn’t answer when it was written (such as where the body of
murdered Spahn ranch
hand “Shorty” Shea was buried.) One
thing that quickly becomes clear is that the (in)competency of the LAPD
hasn’t appreciably changed in the 30-odd years between the Manson
killings and the OJ Simpson case.
Helter Skelter includes
one of the best opening lines to a book ever written:
“It was so quiet, one of the
killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice
rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.”
Animal editors: Don E. Wilson and David Burnie
the best overall photographic reference for animals.
This covers everything, from mammals to sponges. If you need to know what a
degu, treecreeper or peanut worm looks like, this is the book to go to. Expensive and bulky, but
if you can only get one reference book for animals, this is it.
DK Eyewitness handbooks
excellent series. Both
interesting to read, and invaluable for reference.
Very high production values, great photography and
books furry or animal artists will find most useful would be Mammals, Birds of the World, Reptiles and
Amphibians, Insects, Dogs, Horses
Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
book not unlike Demon Haunted World,
covering some of the same ground, and exploring things that Sagan only
touched on, like Holocaust denial and Scientific Creationism. Also includes an
entertaining account of the author’s own ‘alien abduction.’
The Doomsday Book of Animals by David Day
is the book that started my long-time interest in extinct animals. Interesting and sad
accounts of vertebrates extinct from the early 1600s on to the present
day. Most of the
book is taken up by bird and mammal extinctions (including a number of
wolf subspecies.) The
book is enhanced by excellent art by several different artists.
Extinct Birds (2nd edition) by Errol Fuller
book that takes up and expands where Doomsday
Book left off. Illustrated
with contemporary lithographs, photographs where available, and some
excellent reconstruction paintings, this is a beautiful book. It treats species more
in-depth than Doomsday Book, and is
highly recommended for anyone who wants to read more about the subject
of extinct birds.
Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of the World by Leslie Brown and Dean Amadon
book is only available as a very expensive collector’s item, and hasn’t
been in print for years. I
lucked out getting a copy from a natural history book dealer, and I’ve
never seen it for sale on EBay. However,
any serious artist of raptors should try to get a copy.
While the text is somewhat dated, but book is invaluable
for its illustrations. Featuring
stunning paintings by wildlife art giants such as Guy Coheleach, Albert
Gilbert, Don Eckelberry and Roger Tory Peterson, among others, this
book has illustration of every single raptor
in the world, plus range maps and illustrations of each species in
flight. If you ever
wanted to find a picture of a Gurney’s Hawk or a black-chested
hawk-eagle, this is the book.
The Best of Dear Abby by Abigail Van Buren
A self-explanatory title. How can you not like a book with gems like this:
I have met a woman who is perfect for me in every way.
With her I can find the happiness I’ve always dreamed of. However, I still feel an
obligation to the woman I’m married to…”
…I joined the navy to see the world.
I’ve seen it. Now
how do I get out?”
book probably has the best photos of hummingbirds that I’ve ever seen. Beautiful just to look at,
and invaluable if you’re ever planning to draw or paint a hummingbird. It also has a listing and
photos of various plants that hummingbirds visit in the
100 Greatest Disasters of All Time by Stephen J. Spignesi
title says it all! It covers well-know catastrophes such as
the sinking of the Titanic, 9-11 and the Xenia tornado, but also far
more obscure events such as "The English Sweating Sickness" (which
killed 3 million people between 1485 and 1551) and the 1903 Iroquois
Theater Fire in Chicago, which killed over 600 people. The
one thing I learned from this book is that God must really hate the
Chinese, because they've been hit with more horrible disasters that
have killed more people than any other place on the planet. Also,
Stalin's farming policies in the 1920's and 30's killed far more people
from starvation than died at the Nazi camps during WWII. A
fascinating book, if the subject matter interests you.
most comprehensive volume available about mammals.
The black and white photos, sometimes of museum specimens,
could be improved, but the book covers EVERY mammal known. The text is fairly
technical, but it also gives measurements of all mammals, and has
pictures of most of them. A
must-have book for the serious animal artist or writer.
it may be specialized, if you live in the Southern California area and
are interested in what those bugs are that get stuck to wet paint, or
turn up in your bathroom, or buzz annoyingly around your face while
you’re out hiking, then this is the right book.
I haven’t yet found a bug in this area that I can’t
identify with this book. This
book is the career culmination for the author, who was entomologist at
the LA County Museum of Natural History.
I wanted to write him and let him know how much I enjoyed
the book, but it was published posthumously.
Wild Cats of the World by Barbara Sleeper
The title pretty much says it all. Beautiful photos by Art Wolfe of nearly every species of
wild cat are worth the price of admission alone. The text is nothing to get excited over, but offers a good overview of the subject for the layman. Anyone who enjoys or draws wild cats should have a copy of this.
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Pulitzer Prize winning book about the evolution and shaping of human
societies, and what enabled certain groups of people to dominate (and
in some cases completely destroy) other groups. In answers
the question of how Europeans were able to take over the New World so
quickly and thoroughly. Of course the book is far more
complex than that brief summary can convey. A brilliant and
highly readable work.
The Book of Lists by Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky
loved this book as a teen. Very
trashy, but difficult to put down.
I think they’ve done more recent versions, but I haven’t
seen them. Something
I’ll need to look into…
Man and The New Dinosaurs by
are worth getting for the excellent artwork of fantastic creatures. The first book is a
speculation on what current wildlife would evolve into when/if humanity
becomes extinct. Some
of the creatures are kind of far-fetched, but the book is entertaining
to read and the animals are fun to look at.
The second book, which for some reason is much more
difficult to come by than the first one, speculates on what dinosaurs,
pterosaurs and birds would have evolved into if they had not become
extinct and mammals did not evolve to world dominance.
More polished than After Man,
and with wonderful artwork, this is worth getting by anyone who’s
interested in dinosaurs or alien creatures.
Contacting Aliens: an illustrated guide to David Brin's Uplift Universe by David Brin & Kevin Lenaugh
book won't be of much interest if you haven't read any of the Uplift
books, but if you have, it's a fascinating and informative
read. The illustrations, while not on the level of Wayne
Barlow or Michael Whelan, are certainly competent and nicely fit the
text. A great book to look through if you're interested in
creating alien-looking aliens.
The Big Cats and their Fossil Relatives by Alan Turner
A must-have book for anyone who wants to draw or write about sabertooth cats. The text may be a little too scientific for the lay reader, but there’s dozens of excellent illustrations by European artist Mauricio Anton, both in color and black and white. Definitely worth ordering from Amazon if you can’t find it in a bookstore.