Book Reviews by Genre: Nonfiction

The Elements book jacket
Gray, Theodore
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I truly have nothing bad to say about Theodore Gray’s book, The Elements. It is is both informational and entertaining, making it a super engaging read. It is chock full of facts about the periodic table and every element in it. Gray combines firsthand experience, intelligence and insight with wit and dry humor to make his element explanation stand out in the world of nonfiction. Along with the superior style in which is written, The Elements also uses stunning photographs of the author’s actual collection of items representing the periodic table’s vast content. In short, The Elements is an absolutely astonishing piece of work. Putting it down is impossible!

Reviewer's Name: Dominic
Awards:
Black Klansman book jacket
Stallworth, Ron
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Who knew history could be so ironic? It’s 1978, and the Ku Klux Klan is on the rise in the community of Colorado Springs. Ron Stallsworth, the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, launches an undercover investigation with the mission to thwart the Ku Klux Klan’s infiltration into Colorado Springs. Ron Stallsworth can only communicate via the telephone, so he recruits the “white” Ron Stallsworth, Chuck, to conduct all face-to-face meetings. This creates the perfect breeding ground for irony, insanity, and idiocy.

Out of the pure insanity of the circumstances and the idiocy of the Colorado Ku Klux Klan, this book had me uncontrollably laughing. While the writing style leaves much to be desired, the narrative more than bridges the gap. The BlackKlansmen is a wonderful memoir about standing up to terrorism and hate.

Reviewer's Name: Lucia
Geek Girl Rising book jacket
Cabot, Heather
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

'Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech' is a nonfiction book focusing on the women who have taken their place in the tech industry, placing special focus on the women who help empower other women. Each woman is given a snapshot of her successes and story.

The highlight of this books is learning about these impressive women. I can imagine this would be especially empowering for girls who are looking to get into this industry. Over one hundred women are mentioned, and a list of them are included at the end of the book for reference. Furthermore, with this book at the ready, it would be impossible to claim that there aren't sucessful women in tech.

The writing style is quick and snappy, not lingering on any point for too long. It focuses on telling as many stories as possible. However, none of the stories feel empty. Lots of information is fit into small spaces.

My only complaint is that I wished the book had gone more into detail about the challenges women in the industry face. There were brief mentions of sexism in the workplace, but it wasn't discussed much. Though I understand that the point of the book is to inspire, I would have liked a better understanding of why empowerment is so needed in the tech world.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the tech industry or feminism. I would especially recommend it to anyone looking for female role models.

Reviewer's Name: Rose
Legion
Morris, Jon
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

With the success of comic book movies in the last decade, it's sometimes hard to forget that these films don't explore all of what the pulpy medium offered. The rise in popularity of comics in a few different "eras" inevitably led to saturation in the medium. When something becomes saturated, creators don't care as much about what they're putting out, since everything sells. This is how a book like The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains can collect quite a few foes that were better left forgotten.

If there's anything this book does well, it's showing how simple and bland the early years of comics were. Perhaps I'm just used to the modern era that's had decades to figure out which superheroes and supervillains work best. Many of the early comic villains are forgettable, indicating a lack of imagination on the part of their creators. Unfortunately, since this book collects a lot of these villains in one place, it is boring to get through. After a few pages of supervillain puns, I got the "joke" this book was trying to make. And it just kept going.

While I understand organizing this book chronologically showed how these regrettable supervillains evolved over the years, I think it might have had more variety if it just stuck to being exclusively alphabetical. After all, it would have kept my attention a little better if I learned about a villain like Lepus before being reminded that M.O.D.O.K. exists. Perhaps my surface-level interest in comic books (especially the classics) is why it took me a while to get through this book. Still, if you want to be a super-fan of this medium, you might already know about Doctor Voodoo, which might make this humorous commentary on him a moot point.

A slightly amusing gimmick that highlights the lack of early comic book creativity, I give The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Crying in H Mart
Zauner, Michelle
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Ever read a book that made you physically hungry? For me, that book is Crying in H Mart, a beautifully written memoir of loss and cultural identity mended together with the power of food and memory: the author, Michelle Zauner, a half-American half-Korean, struggles to navigate her cultural identity. Throughout the memoir, Zauner delves into her childhood memories, the times spent in Korea with her family, and the lasting influence of her mother's teachings. Her descriptions of traditional Korean dishes, their preparation, and the emotions tied to them are not only mouthwatering but also serve as a metaphor for the soul-stirring nostalgia she seeks to preserve. It is a book that stays with you long after the last page, reminding us of the preciousness of family, culture, and love.

Reviewer's Name: Lucia
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations book jacket
Smith, Adam
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Wealth of Nations, written by Adam Smith, is the precursor to modern economics as we know it. Smith delves into seemingly everything, from why taxes on gold are less than silver (the answer: because gold, unlike silver, is easily refineable and is far more valuable per ounce. if a high tax on gold were to occur people would have an incentive simply to hide the gold which would be easy because it is smaller to hide/can be hid in a purer form) to how specialization gives way to most profit (for example, 10 men each creating their own pins would be far less efficient that 10 men creating the same pin. Creating the same pin could be divided into smaller tasks, with one person primary repeating one task. This would allow for far more efficiency than individuals doing all the parts of pin making - cutting the wire, flattening the head, attaching the head, sharpening the head, etc - by themselves. The only reason I gave it a four was because of the difficulty I had reading it. When reading, I needed to stop and use the dictionary almost every page because I did not know words. I would definitely not recommend this for a reader looking for a leisurely read. It was anything but.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
The Wild Truth book jacket
McCandless, Carine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

"The Wild Truth" is Carine McCandless' follow-up to Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild". Carine McCandless wrote this novel after being pained by the reactions to "Into the Wild", especially the general opinion on Chris McCandless' self-inflicted exile from common society. This book succeeds in explaining more of Chris' life before his hitchhiking escapade. These sections were my favorite part of the book: unfortunately, they were mostly only present in the beginning. I struggled to pull through the longer sections where Carine explained her own life. Parts felt unnecessary, other section dragged on too long, and even more just felt completely unrelated to Chris or "Into the Wild". I wanted to read this book to understand Chris. I enjoyed learning about Carine, but I was reading for Chris. I'm quite lucky that I can't relate to large parts of this book. "The Wild Truth" really drags the reader along to help them understand the terrible abuse in the McCandless family. I can understand the difficult parents; I can relate to the family drama, constant switching between divorce and being back together, etc. that Carine had to live through. Regardless, this book stepped too far away from "Into the Wild" in a way that I did not enjoy. However, this book was still informative about the general McCandless family. There are absolutey readers in the world who can take more from this book than I could, but I will never consider this one of my favorite books.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Ryder
Into Africa book jacket
Dugard, Martin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Into Africa, written by Martin Dugard, details the epic adventures of Stanley Livingstone and his trek across Africa to find the source of the Nile River. Livingstone battles disease, unfriendly tribes, and stubborn porters (the people who help carry supplies) in his journey. The brutal, but beautiful march encompasses Africa from it sweltering hot savannahs to it thick rainforests. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure because this book is about the exploration of Africa. I enjoyed this book because it taught me a lot more about Africa and it's people.

Reviewer's Name: Finn G.
Into the Wild book jacket
Krakauer, John
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild" might be the greatest nonfiction book I have read this year. I was assigned this book to read over my summer break for my English class. I am extremely grateful for this because it was very likely that I would not have discovered this masterpiece on my own. My favorite part about the book was the exact thing that Krakauer wared about in his forward; the author's similar personal experience. In a more general term, I savored every moment where Krakauer connected McCandless' story to other lesser-known examples in history, like John M. Waterman or Gene Rosellini. My least favorite part about the book wasn't explicitly in the book: the lack of definitive information outside of Into the Wild about McCandless makes me doubt some of the credibility of the information that Krakauer provided. Even if the factual information was true, I am still confronted with the author's admission that some of the details in the book were opinionated by Krakauer. The book was full of surprises. I will not spoil any, but the father's reaction when seeing "the scene" shocked me. I personally could not relate to any of the characters in this book. I lack the all-consuming drive to
reach a mostly independent state from society, and I have never fretted over a lost child. Regardless of my lack of a personal connection, this book was an extremely powerful book about those in society that wish to be outside society.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Ryder L.
The Last Lecture book jacket
Pausch, Randy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"The Last Lecture" is a non-fiction book based on a lecture delivered by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor diagnosed with terminal cancer. Pausch's lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," was delivered at Carnegie Mellon University and became a sensation, garnering millions of views online. The lecture was eventually turned into a book by Jeffery Zaslow. In the book, Pausch expands on the themes from his lecture, sharing his wisdom, insights, and life lessons as he confronts his mortality. He encourages readers to pursue their passions, live fully in the present, and embrace the power of perseverance and resilience. Pausch's poignant and inspiring message serves as a reminder of the importance of cherishing every moment and making the most of the time we have. I believe his heart-wrenching story should be shared with everyone. We are all mortal in the end, but most of us choose to act as if we are not; Pausch encourages us to not waste the valuable time that we have.

Reviewer's Name: Finn G.
The Omnivore's Dilemma book jacket
Pollan, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Omnivore's Dilemma, written by Micheal Pollan, provides the reader with an analytical view of what we, as humans, should eat. He dives into the industrialization of corn production. Because the government of the United States subsidizes corn, more farmers produce corn than in a free market society, thus there is a surplus of corn. With this surplus, industries evolved to consume the cheap, plentiful corn. One example is the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO, commonly referred to as a "feedlot"). People feed cows (that are packed in fences) the cheap corn, which decreases the price of the cows, which then leads to the creation of more business selling far more affordable cow meat, such as McDonalds. Although the food is far more accesible and less of a budget burden, Pollan raises questions about the health externality of eating corn fed cows. Because the cows are packed together, disease tends to run rampant, so the cows' food (chopped up corn) is mixed with a variety of antibiotics and hormones to control disease. When we eat the cow, what is fed to the cow is now fed to us. I enjoyed the book because it made me more cognizant about the food I put in my body, and I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the logistics of how and where we get our food.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Freakonomics book jacket
Levitt, Steven D.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Freakonomics" written by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, explores unconventional connections between economics and various aspects of society, challenging conventional wisdom. Levitt's research delves into topics such as the economics of drug dealing, the impact of parenting on a child's success, and the hidden motivations behind seemingly irrational behaviors. The authors highlight the power of data analysis and critical thinking to uncover surprising insights. The book ultimately encourages readers to question assumptions, think outside the box, and view the world through an economic lens to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys economics, as well as questions conventional ideas of society.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Diary of a Young Girl book jacket
Frank, Anne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Diary of a Young Girl" is the poignant and haunting diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Anne chronicles her life in hiding in Amsterdam, where her family sought refuge in a secret annex. Through her diary entries, she shares her hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations, providing an intimate account of the daily struggles and emotional turmoil endured by Jews in hiding. I enjoyed the book; having experience the Covid-19 shutdown, the atrocity that she had to go through put my life into perspective. Sometimes what individuals go through is difficult, but is nothing compared to horrors experienced by others. I recommend everyone to read this book because it fosters a sense of humility in all that read it.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
The Millionaire Next Door
Stanley, Thomas J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Millionaire Next Door is a collection of studies about the secretive habits of millionaires done throughout the course of Thomas J. Stanley's career. He juxtaposes making a lot of money with being wealthy: you can make an incredible salary, but to be wealthy you have to save that earned money. For example, in the book there are two examples: One is a man who has been living in the same small house for 20 years, drives a 10 year old truck, and uses a Casio Duro (an affordable watch). The other is a doctor who earns $700,000 dollars a year. The doctor has an enormous house, fancy new cars, and embezzles his wife with divine jewelry. Obviously, the doctor is rich, right? Incredibly, the doctor's net worth is less than "the regular joe's". The doctor's obsession with having consumer goods limits his net worth. His need to "fit in" necessitates him spending almost all of his net worth on tangible goods. From the outside, he appears rich, but on the inside he has little retirement savings and no mental bandwith to focus on the far future. Meanwhile, the man who has been living in the same house for 20 years has seen the value of his house triple. His affordable lifestyle allows him to not only live below his means, but to invest his time (not spent shopping) and money wisely so that he builds a fortune. The Millionaire Next Door teaches us that the typical millionaire as seen by society (fancy clothing, the "newest iPhone", etc) is not actually a millionaire, but rather an
under-accumulator of wealth with nonexistent sapience in regard to the future. I would recommend this book to those who want to be wealthy in the future because becoming wealthy does not occur overnight: it takes years of discipline, sacrifice, and integrity. And the best time to start on your financial journey to freedom is now.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Genres:
What if? 2
Munroe, Randall
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

As a fan of XKCD, I've loved the What If? spinoff series despite how irregularly Randall has updated it. Considering there have only been five new posts in the last five years, and they were all in the months leading up to the release of this book, I needed a good dose of What If? Partly because it had been so long since I had read any What If? posts, all the chapters in this book felt fresh and hilarious. Now that I read through it, I'm sad that I'll have to wait another eight years for a third book in the series.

Randall always has a down-to-earth style of describing incredibly complicated scientific concepts. This means What If? 2 is quite educational once you get past the ridiculous premises that readers have sent in. It's also nice how each chapter is easily readable in a few minutes so that I could just pick it up and get a good laugh before moving on to something else. After all, this book is straight-up funny. This should come as no surprise—again—given the absurd questions readers asked Randall.

It felt like this book had more new content than the previous book in the series. This might not be true, but it felt that way because I hadn't read any of the posts that made it into this book in several years. This was my main qualm with the first book: that it was just a printed-out part of the internet. In this sequel, there weren't just new questions answered but also quick little sections that covered easily answerable questions (as compared to its predecessor's highlights of disturbing questions with no answers). Overall, I found it to be a fun read and I'm counting the days until What If? 3 comes out.

Hilarious and scientifically accurate answers to oddball questions, I give What If? 2 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Travelers in the Third Reich
Boyd, Julia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Travelers In The Third Reich tells the stories of some people who lived in Germany during the second world war. The book shows the horrors of life in Germany at the time by describing the hangings and executions through the eyes of the people that were there. It also talks about the politics and economy during the war and how it changed the lives of the German civilians.

Reviewer's Name: Dave
Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixities
O'Neill, Tom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

O'Neill's 20-year investigation succeeds at systematically breaking down an impressive amount of the infamous case's centrifugal details and characters, many previously unknown, untold or cast as insignificant. The guy's manic fixation is contagious. The only thing I found unnecessary was the frequency and extent to which O'Neill expressed self-doubt in the 'coda' sections of many chapters, second guessing "where it all goes." It doesn’t matter that there aren’t neat ends; his scrutiny has produced more than enough evidence not only to explode the popular understanding of the details surrounding the Manson story, but also suggest far-reaching implications for all of us in the process.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
Story Engineering
Brooks, Larry
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Every successful author eventually concludes that they have something to provide for the neophytes of the craft. The problem is that the most insight any individual author might provide for someone who wants to get into writing stories has probably been said before. In Story Engineering, I was hoping for some useful tips on structure but instead was accosted with incredibly biased opinions from the author (and his obsession with a handful of books). He seems to think there is only one singular way to be successful and his book is the only way to understand it. I’m used to biased non-fiction, but not nearly this much of it.

I think that all writing methods have their benefits and downsides, but if you were to corner the author and ask him about pantsers (i.e., people who write by the seat of their pants via “exploratory writing”), he’d probably admit that they murdered his mother. In describing his successful publishing endeavors, I got the sense that the author didn’t realize that he was incredibly lucky to have achieved the successes he did, cementing in his mind that it was the only way to be successful. The irony is how he includes several examples of successful authors who follow the pantsing method and how their books still abide by this stringent Story Engineering structure.

When I see the idiom “burying the lede,” I often think of clickbait articles or newspaper columns that take forever to get to the point. This is the first time I’ve encountered burying the lede for an entire book. It takes forever for the author to get to the point, and by then it’s difficult to remember what we were even supposed to glean from it. There might be some useful information here, but it’s so bogged down in obvious things that every other author who has written a book on writing has already said.

No new writing tips in extremely biased non-fiction, I give Story Engineering 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
Genres:
The Heroine's Journey
Carriger, Gail
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When I started writing over a decade ago, I subconsciously modeled my story structures off the stories that I enjoyed. I didn't go into my first novel with the plan to make it the typical "Hero's Journey," and the result was far from it. The stories I was writing seemed to work, even if they didn't abide by the known structure many authors had used before me. The problem was, I didn't have a name for the style of story I was writing. After reading Gail Carriger's book, The Heroine's Journey, I can finally label the stories I write.

Carriger makes it clear that stories that follow the Heroine's Journey don't always have females in the lead role. Instead, the Heroine's Journey is the antithesis of the Hero's Journey. Where the Hero's Journey is about individual achievement and sacrifice, the Heroine's Journey is more about building community to tackle a problem larger than any one individual. There are a lot of YA works out there that hold to the Heroine's Journey much more than the Hero's Journey, which is probably why it can hold its own in today's society.

As with most books on writing, there are plenty of examples provided in The Heroine's Journey. This helped me identify where I was using this structure in my writing, since these comp titles correlated with what I had already written. My only qualm with this book is in some of the formatting. There were quite a few moments where I couldn't tell if the author was trying to emphasize a point, use a quote from one of the books she had written, or just break up the pages of normal text with something different. Still, if you can get past these odd moments, there is a lot of truth within these pages.

A non-traditional story structure with a proven track record, I give The Heroine's Journey 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
Pity The Reader
Vonnegut, Kurt
2 stars = Meh
Review:

People will always ask successful writers how they do what they do. What tricks do they have? What techniques make their writing timeless? Kurt Vonnegut is definitely a successful writer, so we'd want to know how he writes so we can apply his lessons to our own work. I picked up this book thinking it was like Stephen King's On Writing , not initially realizing that this book was released over a decade after his death. Consequently, this book was a disappointment.

I would say that Vonnegut did not actually write any of this book. If he had, I'm sure it would have been much shorter. Instead, we get a pseudo-biography of the man who wrote such classics as Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle. This is a book written by Suzanne McConnell. And while she may have been close enough to Vonnegut to glean a few extra writing tips, his writing already contained most of these portions of advice. It's nice to have them collected here in one place, but they are so diluted by anecdotes from his life as to almost be hidden in this book about how to write.

It's almost ironic that they titled this book Pity the Reader. I pity any neophyte writers who are looking to one of the greats of American literature for any sage advice. Over a decade after Vonnegut died, this book feels like a cash grab. A flashy bit of literature with his name on it, meant to sell copies to the unwitting weekend novelist or stay-at-home mom who writes on the side. He probably would have hated it, if for no other reason than him not seeing any profits from it.

A misleading book that takes advantage of Vonnegut's name, I give Pity the Reader 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres: