Some Great Non-Fiction Books, Part 2

I’ve been continuing my reading binge with books from our town library. It has been fun going through some of the best 2020 and 2021 non-fiction books, per the NYT, Amazon, word of mouth, and general searches. Here are some others that I’ve really enjoyed:

A Short History of Progress. One of my students recommended this one, and I’m so glad I read it. The author writes in stark terms about how human behavior, if left unchecked, creates both progress and depletion of resources at the same time. It’s similar to Jared Diamond’s Collapse but a great read nonetheless.

The ChancellorThis is a biography of Angela Merkel, the former head of Germany. It chronicles her amazing childhood in East Germany behind the Iron Curtain; her parents were Lutheran missionaries who decided to leave West Germany for the east. Merkel comes across as crazy-smart, self-aware, and humble. An amazing person who had such a tremendous impact. Also, Putin comes across as an irrepressible liar.

The Dead Are ArisingThis is a biography of Malcolm X, whom I consider to be one of the best orators in modern U.S. history. I saw Spike Lee’s movie about him and watched the Netflix series, “Who killed Malcom X?” So, when I read that a Pulitzer-winning author spent 30 years doing research to write this book, I was intrigued. It’s an amazing read. But, sad as well, as it chronicles how Malcolm had little opportunity as an incredibly strong student and leader (he was elected class president at an all-white school).

The Road to Unfreedom. After reading Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands (my thoughts here), I decided to read another one of his books. Synder is a Yale Professor who reads 10 languages and speaks six of them. He focuses on Eastern Europe. If you want to understand what Putin is thinking, Synder is one of the world’s experts.

In this recent book, he writes about Ivan Ilyin, a Russian mystic and philosopher, whom Putin has quoted extensively in his speeches. Here’s the skinny: the war in Ukraine is a war of ideology between democracy and Russian fascism. Ilyin believed this: Russia is close to God, good for the world, deserves to be an empire, and “The West” is corrupt and immoral. Moreover, he wrote that democracy doesn’t work, and that a supreme leader needs to head Russia. Lying, repression, and violence are OK because the goal is to protect and grow a nation that is constantly under attack from evil forces.

It’s a sobering book, and it reminded me of the last time Europe faced an authoritarian regime that believed it was superior and special: Nazi Germany.

What are you reading these days?

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