Nerdy nonfiction for readers who love to learn

This is the book I can't stop talking about. Speck is a bit of a contrarian: at its heart, the book isn't about walking at all. Instead, Speck aims to show how we can deliberately plan urban spaces to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. At a deeper level, Speck reveals how our spaces shape our behavior, whether or not we're aware of it. Pragmatic, relevant, and completely fascinating.
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From Library Journal: "Deftly leading readers around the world and across cultures and centuries, [Kurlansky] takes an inexpensive, mundane item and shows how it has influenced and affected wars, cultures, governments, religions, societies, economies, cooking (there are a few recipes), and foods. The cast of characters includes fishermen, kings, Native Americans, and even Gandhi."
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My husband read this in the fall, and when I was recently debating what to read next he put this in my hands and said, "read this so we can talk about it." The author quit her job as a journalist and dove headlong into the wine industry, giving herself a year to become a master sommelier. I appreciated the nice mix of science, story, and humor here, and understand the comparisons to Mary Roach and Anthony Bourdain. Fun and funny, plus it's inspiring us to step out of our comfort zone at the local wine shop.
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It seems simple: a long, deep breath makes you feel better when you're stressed. But what if we're not breathing correctly from moment to moment? Journalist James Nestor argues that going back to the essentials of active, intentional breathing can help us feel and move better through our day to day lives. Nestor travelled the world to collect stories and practices to help us reconnect to our breath, from ancient yoga breath work to local choir school exercises. Combining these stories with scientific research from pulmonology, biochemistry, and physiology, Nestor crafts a compelling case for paying closer attention to our breath and adding corrective measures. I've already noticed better posture at my desk and better timing on my runs from putting some of these tips into practice.
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Our Book Club community manager and nonfiction lover Ginger found this title among James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. In this slim volume, McPhee shares everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about oranges. The seemingly ubiquitous fruit is rich with history and its importance in the realms of climate, geography, economics, and nutrition will surprise you. McPhee’s engaging voice will make you feel like you took an exciting class field trip to the Florida orchards, and you’ll never look at an orange the same way again.
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What Should I Read Next producer Brenna described this as “compulsively readable” and finished it in 24 hours because she kept wanting more. Montell is both a linguist and a passionate nerd about words and language. Here she investigates why people join and stay in cults—not through mind control but through the power of language. In addition to shaping dangerous cults worthy of documentaries, “cultish” language has infiltrated our everyday lives in start-up culture, exercise programs, and modern marketing. Montell narrates the audiobook, creating a podcast-like experience perfect for fans of The Allusionist.
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Lucy Knisley described this as “a wonderful stress read” on What Should I Read Next Episode 270. Kassia St. Clair presents colors we encounter in our clothing, in our floral arrangements, and in famous paintings and uncovers information I wouldn’t even think to inquire about. Part essay collection, part detailed history, each chapter features a vivid picture of a color, then explains where and how it originated: when people started using it, how they were using it, and how they created it in the first place. A mesmerizing read that will have you seeing the world a little differently.
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This recommendation comes from devoted White Sox fan Leigh Kramer. Without her endorsement of this book, I never would have known just how many major league pitchers came this close to a perfect game—or that a perfect game is even possible! Cox profiles the pitchers who missed a perfect game by mere inches and technicalities. Sports fans will fall in love with their stories of the heart, hard work, and twists of fate—and nerdy readers will delight in these human stories full of little known facts and statistics.
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German forester Peter Wohlleben writes with such adoration for his topic. Plants are living things—I know this because many of them live in my house and thrive in the same conditions I enjoy with plenty of food, water, and sunlight—but Wohlleben reveals how trees are like real, living families. They grow in families, communicate their needs to one another, and lead long, healthy lives because of their support systems. I’m a reader who loves metaphors, and I can sense this book is full of lessons to be applied to my own family life. If you’re a lover of long walks through the forest, fresh air, and ecological literature, this informative book is for you.
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Well-known for her popular science nonfiction and unique storytelling voice, Mary Roach somehow manages to make the mundane—and the outrageous—feel accessible and fascinating. In this 2010 release, she explores how humans survive in space. To decide how to handle basic bodily functions and wild what-ifs, space engineers and scientists devise all sorts of detailed tests to bring intergalactic conditions to earth. Roach takes us behind the scenes of these bizarre experiments to answer questions about gravity, bodies, and daily life in space. If you’ve read The Martian by Andy Weir and wondered just how much of it is based on facts, this book holds the answers.
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