The Best Non-Fiction Books of 2005

by PopMatters Staff

3 January 2006


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell

>(Little, Brown)

Certainly neuroscientists and psychologists must resent Malcolm Gladwell’s work for the breezy tone and inter-disciplinary methodology with which it explores complex scientific concepts like rapid cognition. But for the general reader, Gladwell’s ability to bring together interesting tidbits from all fields, from marriage to art authenticity to race and gender bias, in order to study the decision making processes in which each of us are engaged, is a delight. Written in the same casual, thought-provoking manner as The Tipping Point, his previous book, Blink asks questions about the roles spontaneity and intuition play in decision-making. Using examples from a broad range of disciplines, Gladwell explains how the unconscious can be a powerful, but also fallible, force.
Megan Milks Amazon

Lolly Scramble
by Tony Martin

>(Pan Macmillan Australia)

Everyone who reads it agrees — it should never have ended. Tony Martin’s book is brilliant and funny. I can’t get enough of it. So much so that it’s taken up residence on my special shelf next to Woody Allen’s Without Feathers, another therapeutic piece of writing able to lift spirits with a single paragraph. Martin, like Allen, is a master of language. He manages to be funny without being funny, and is heartbreakingly affecting when he is being funny. Even though he’s never actually being funny. It’ll make sense when you read it. So, if you only spend a fortune tracking down one obscure Aussie title this year, make it Lolly Scramble. It’s delicious.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel
by Jane Smiley


A hulking look into the functional form of literature, Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel can be picked through like a holiday candy sampler, which makes it all the more enticing. Built upon the foundations of being a writer and a reader, Smiley unlocks her scholarly closets to both personalities, first giving us a well-dressed conversation of partial memoir, writing advice, and literary theory, then in the second half, study of 100 novels ranging from Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of the Genji to Ian McEwan’s Atonement. The latter portion of the book will thrill bookworms who are spellbound by a sharp writer’s thoughts on other authors and their work. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel is the kind of book to go to bed with.
Shandy Casteel Amazon

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood
by Koren Zailckas


In a world of absolutes, Koren Zailckas reminds us that there is a grey area around addiction. Not an alcoholic, but far from a teetotaler, her destructive relationship with alcohol — from furtive teen romps, to sloppy collegiate benders, and ending with despondent after-work binges — drove her to write Smashed. She records her travails with booze from an emotional distance that belies the gravity of her message: alcohol can trap us into a permanent childhood by allowing us an out to every emotional tough spot, and you don’t have to be a 6am bar rat to suffer the effects.
Jodie Janella Horn Amazon

Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems
by David Rakoff


Don’t Get to Comfortable explores the many luxuries afforded to the urbanite of means through a collection of barbed essays. The absurdities of “pampering” are explored in his polar experiences serving as a pool “ambassador” at an upscale Miami Beach hotel and his repulsion at being served while observing a Playboy video shoot at a Belize resort. At no point during the essay collection is Rakoff not coyly detached and lamentably hilarious as he waxes sardonic on the foibles of wealth.
Jodie Janella Horn PopMatters review Amazon

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

>(William Morrow)

How ironic is it that a man who strips everything of its context, essentially reducing our textured world to raw data, can reveal more than yards of op-ed columns with the broad stroke of an economist’s brush? Steven D. Levitt, by treating human issues as ones and zeros, reveals a probable link between legalized abortion and crime, outs cheating teachers for the test-botchers they are, and debunks a few ideas about child-rearing. It’s his distance that allows him to tackle prickly matters like African-American baby names, and it’s his refrain of “let’s look at the numbers” that lends the book its crisp take on the intricacies of modern life.
Jodie Janella Horn Amazon

Goldie: A Lotus Grows in the Mud
by Goldie Hawn


Goldie’s memoir is a fun read; deeply spiritual, and filled with so much shiny-happy love that it, as the saying goes, drips from the pages. It’s hard not to want what she’s got — self-esteem, humor, and some of the sweetest real-world perceptions based on her successes as an actress, a charity worker, and a woman. Goldie writes candidly about parenthood and marriage, her family, her road to fame, and some of her biggest career blunders. Smart and funny, she does this as though conversing with friends around an incense flame. She’s theatrical in her writing, but she’s also acutely aware of her place in the world, real and make-believe. This is one that’ll leave you smiling.
Nikki Tranter Amazon

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