{Fireside Fridays} Summer Snapshots (Non-Fiction)

School is fast approaching (and for some of you, it’s already started), so it feels like the right time to do a reading recap and list some of the best books I’ve read this summer. I read nowhere near the fifty I did last year, but I did read some tougher, longer, better quality books.  This week I’ll focus on the best three non-fiction books I read this summer, and next week, I’ll talk about the top three fiction.

My Favorite Non-Fiction Books

  1. Seabiscuit ~ Laura Hillenbrand

seabiscuit

Summary: The story of a little racehorse with an unpromising future in the mid-1900s, the innumerable obstacles that faced him, and the men who believe in him.

What I liked about it: Who doesn’t love the story of an underdog winning? Plus, there were fascinating horse facts, a colorful picture of America during the Great Depression and World War II, and masterful storytelling (for those who don’t know, Laura Hillenbrand also wrote Unbroken). This book reminds me of Tolkien’s word “eucatastrophe,” or the point in a story where it suddenly and surprisingly turns around for the better.

What I didn’t like: It left me a little empty, because, although winning is wonderful, in the end, it’s nothing if that’s all your living for. Never does it offer any kind of meaning in life beyond the thrill of success and dreams coming true. Those are all well and good, but not by themselves.

Quote: This is his story in a nutshell, and if it doesn’t entice you, well, something must be wrong. 😉

From 1936 to 1940, Seabiscuit endured a remarkable run of bad fortune, conspiracy, and injury to establish himself as one of history’s most extraordinary athletes. Graced with blistering speed, tactical versatility, and indomitable will, he shipped more than fifty thousand exhausting miles, carried staggering weight to victory against the best horses in the country, and shattered more than a dozen track records. His controversial rivalry with Triple Crown winner War Admiral culminated in a spectacular match that is still widely regarded as the greatest horse race ever run. His epic, trouble-plauged four-year quest to conquer the world’s richest race became one of the most celebrated and widely followed struggles in sports. And in 1940 after suffering severe injuries that were thought to have ended their careers, the aging horse and his jockey returned to the track together in an attempt to claim the one prize that had escaped them.

Along the way, the little horse and the men who rehabilitated him captured the American imagination. It wasn’t just greatness that drew the people to them. It was their story.

2. Making of the Atomic Bomb ~ Richard Rhodes

the-making-of-the-atomic-bomb

Summary: The history, politics, and science behind the making of the first atomic bomb.

What I liked about it: It was just plain fascinating. This book took me through a thousand different worlds—chemistry, physics, American politics, European politics, war, science history, biographies of numerous geniuses, the ethics of war and bombs—and wove them together into a comprehensive picture of one of the greatest scientific feats of our time—and also one of the most controversial. However, it did it in a way that most people can understand, and it certainly was never boring.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t much not to like about it. The scope was awe-inspiring, the story well-paced and enthralling, the research meticulous. At times, I had to stop and try to figure out the scientific concepts, which was hard but rewarding.

Quote: By Arthur Compton, one of the scientists who worked on the bomb, as he explained why he was abandoning his old pacifism to work on the bomb:

As long as I am convinced, as I am, that there are values worth more to me than my own life, I cannot in sincerity argue that it is wrong to run the risk of death or to inflict death if necessary in the defense of those values.

3. John Adams ~ David McCullough

john-adams

Summary: The biography of John Adams, America’s second president.

What I liked about it: John Adams is often overlooked when we study the Revolutionary War or American history in general. However, as this book showed in rich and intriguing detail, he was instrumental in defeating Britain and establishing a strong country. Not only did I come away with a renewed appreciation for his part in creating this country, but I found a role model as I read about his personal life. He and his wife, Abigail, had a beautiful, rich relationship that I can only hope to emulate someday, and his passion for books, quality education, and family were inspiring.

What I didn’t like: Again, there wasn’t much to not like. It was slightly hard to get into, but once I braved the first chapter, I was swept away by his fascinating life.

Quote: This quote embodies his vibrant spirit and love of life.

“Griefs upon griefs! Disappointments upon disappointments! What then? This is a gay, merry world notwithstanding.”

As always, I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the best non-fiction books you read this summer—or ever?

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10 thoughts on “{Fireside Fridays} Summer Snapshots (Non-Fiction)

  1. Thank you, Aberdeen, for sharing these books! I already have McCollough’s John Adams on my to-read list, but I’m more excited to read it now. Earlier this year I read a booked called simply The Manhattan Project, which was a collection of quotes, stories and interviews chronicling the creation of the atomic bomb. It includes some quotes from the Richard Rhodes book you read as well. I, like you, was completely blown away by the breadth and magnitude of this whole undertaking- as you mentioned, the political, scientific, logistical, ideological and geopolitical challenges. I think I’ll tackle Rhodes’ book when I’m ready to delve more into the topic.

    I’ve heard of Seabiscuit before, but never have learned about the details. It sounds like Hillenbrand’s book would be a great read!

    An interesting nonfiction book I read recently is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. He tells the story of a Muslim man who chose to stay in his home in New Orleans during Katrina, and how he was subsequently mistreated and jailed by the police in the chaotic days following the storm. It’s not only an insightful look at how people react when under pressure in general – and how this played out on the streets of New Orleans specifically- but it also challenges the way we can make assumptions about people. One element that was particularly fascinating was how this man’s wife, raised in a Christian environment, converted to Islam after experiencing disillusionment and hurt by a specific church. Eggers does a great job showing her search for meaning and fulfillment in her life, which is really just a sub-sub-plot of the book, but fascinating to me. Sadly, the story has a terrible epilogue (which played out after the book was written) as the family fell apart and each of their lives seems to have been damaged. A compelling story nonetheless, and a reminder to me of how much people need true love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome! I think you’ll really enjoy John Adams—and The Making of the Atomic Bomb, if you ever choose to read it. The Manhattan Project sounds like a wonderful, combining two of my favorite things—quotes and the history of the atomic bomb. I may have to check it out!

      Wow, that sounds like a fascinating book! New Orleans has always interested me, and the themes that books explores sound really good. Thanks for the recommendation and for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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