Non-fiction Books

Favorite Books A - Z: Non-Fiction by Todd Henson

Some of my favorite books, from A to Z. Missing books were borrowed or read as ebooks.

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I recently shared a list of favorite fiction books from A to Z, trying to find a book for each letter of the alphabet. This time I tackled non-fiction books, and found it just as challenging to build the list, but also just as fun. Some of these books I read long ago, so it was great pulling them back out and flipping through them again.

A - The Arrow of Time by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield

Science, astronomy, and astrophysics have always interested me, so we begin the list with several science books, the first of which is about the nature of time and what we know about it.


B - Black Holes & Time Warps by Kip Thorne

Black holes, wormholes, time warps, all things seemingly possible because of the extreme warping of space. Kip Thorne has been one of the leading black hole researchers and this book is an in-depth coverage of them and other topics. It is an older book, as many of my science books are, but still worth reading.


C - Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Cosmos is a classic. It’s such a great introductory book to science and the universe around us. I do miss Carl Sagan.


D - The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav

This is one of my older physics books. I don’t know how well it has aged, but I remember it as a great introduction to what was then a newer topic: quantum physics.


E - The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

I’ve read several of Brian Greene’s books, all dealing in one way or another with string theories and the hope they would one day lead to a unified theory of everything. That day seems just as far away, if not further, now than it did when I read the books, but I still enjoyed them.


F - The Fugitive Game by Jonathan Littman

Another topic that has always interested me is the history of hackers, crackers and phreakers, the people who know how to navigate the world of computer and telecommunications networks, sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes with nefarious goals. The Fugitive Game is one of the books about the pursuit and capture of Kevin Mitnick, at the time one of the FBI’s most wanted hackers.


G - Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick

After Kevin Mitnick served his time he became a security consultant and has written a number of books. In Ghost in the Wires he tells his own story of hacking and being on the run. It’s interesting to compare Ghost in the Wires to The Fugitive Game.


H - The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

The Hot Zone was the first book I was aware of to tell the story of the early outbreaks of ebola, an incredibly infectious and deadly virus that we are finally beginning to come up with treatments against. Fascinating read.


I - Imagined Worlds by Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson is a theoretical physicist and professor who has written a number of fantastic books for non-scientists, one of which is Imagined Worlds. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his. If you’re into theoretical physics, or science fiction, you may have heard of Dyson spheres, the idea of an advanced civilization building an immense structure around a star to satisfy its energy needs. It gets its name from Freeman Dyson who wrote a paper about it in 1960.


J - A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison by James E. Seaver

And now finally a book that has nothing to do with science or technology. I didn’t have one that began with J, but there’s a J in Jemison, so there you go. This is an early American Indian captivity story. Mary Jemison and her family were captured in 1758. Her family was killed and she ended up being adopted by a Seneca family.


K - Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen

I listened to the audio version of Kingpin, the story of Max Butler and his criminal enterprises. This is another story of computer hackers, interestingly told by Kevin Poulsen, who in his day was also a well know hacker.


L - The Little Book of Trading by Michael Covel

The Little Book of Trading is an investment book about a number of professionals who use trend following strategies. I felt it was similar in some ways to Market Wizards (see below), but not written in a Q&A fashion. Interesting read if you’re into investing strategies.


M - Market Wizards by Jack Schwager

I really enjoyed this investing book. It is an older book so some ideas may be a bit dated, but I still feel it’s worth reading. Jack Schwager interviewed a number of successful investors and published these interviews as Q&A. Great insights from some very successful investors in their day.


N - Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

You may have seen the movie based on this book. This is Farley Mowat’s story of living among some wolves in the Arctic, studying them up close, trying to learn whether they were the killing machines some feared. This was a beautiful book.


O - On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing is almost two books in one. It could be thought of as Stephen King’s autobiography, telling how he got started (and how it almost didn’t work out). But it’s also a book about writing, providing any would be writer invaluable knowledge about King’s writing process.


P - Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

This is a fascinating book about how we all behave irrationally, and yet do so in very predictable ways. Ariely is a professor of economics who conducted a whole range of experiments to study these topics, and this book is the result.


Q - Never Quit by Jimmy Settle

I wasn’t able to find any non-fiction books I’d read that start with Q, but this one at least came close. Never Quit is the story of Jimmy Settle’s life, from growing up in Alaska to becoming a PJ (parajumper/pararescue), who flies into enemy territory to rescue downed personnel.


R - The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler

This book might be for you if you’re interested in how athletes are sometimes able to achieve such amazing feats, breaking through any resistance, sometimes doing things folks say are impossible until proven wrong.


S - Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks

Sometimes the Magic Works is another book about writing, and the lessons learned by one author over their lifetime. In this case the author is Terry Brooks, who’s The Elfstones of Shannara appeared as the letter E in my list of favorite fiction books A-Z.


T - The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate

The Tunnels of Cu Chi is about a lesser know part of the Vietnam War. It tells of the “Tunnel Rats,” the soldiers who entered the tunnel networks built by the Viet Cong. These were small, cramped, dirt tunnels occupied by enemy soldiers.


U - The Urban Monk by Pedram Shojai

The Urban Monk is a self-help sort of book trying to bring some Eastern philosophy to the Western world.


V - Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC by Joseph McCormick and Susan Fisher-Hoch

Similar in topic to The Hot Zone, but about more than ebola, this book is written by two of the medical professionals who have spent their lives studying and looking for ways to treat or prevent some of the most contagious and lethal viruses in the world.


W - A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A humorous and entertaining tale of Bill Bryson’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail. I really enjoyed Bryson’s writing style. Later I watched the movie, and though I enjoyed it, I would more highly recommend the book.


X - . . .

X may mark the spot, but I can’t find anything there!

Y - You Only Have to be Right Once by Randall Lane

A look at some of the recent tech billionaires and how it took just one great idea at the right time to make their fortune. Looks at some of the people behind companies like Facebook, Dropbox, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, GoPro, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and more.


Z - Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is a joy to read, and in this book we get to read about his take on writing. Similar to King’s On Writing, Zen in the Art of Writing has plenty of useful content if you are an aspiring writer, but also shares insights into the life and stories of Ray Bradbury.


Well, that’s it. What did you think? Have you read any of these? Do you have an A-Z list of your own? If not, give it a try. You might just enjoy looking back on all the books you’ve read.

Stay tuned for more, as I’ll soon be sharing my Favorite Books A-Z of Photography.

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America by Todd Henson

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America is one hefty birding resource. I’m not entirely sure what it weighs, but I wouldn’t want to drop it on my foot. It contains over 740 pages and measures approximately 7” x 10” and is about 1 3/4” thick.

You could think of this as a field guide on steroids, or perhaps a small birding encyclopedia. It has a layout and content very similar to most fields guides, but contains more information about each species. Some of the illustrations are smaller than in my Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, but with much more text about each species, providing descriptions, guides to identification, geographic ranges and variations, similar species, characteristics of voice, status & distribution, and breeding information. It contains maps, photographs, and illustrations.

Pages 200-201 of  National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 200-201 of National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 322-323 of  National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 322-323 of National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 354-355 of  National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 354-355 of National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Many folks these days might not need a resource such as this, what with all the information freely available online. But I’ve always been a bit of a book lover, and I think this book would appeal to those of you who love holding a resource in your hands and flipping through the pages reading about different species. I’ll look up a specific species and end up spending much longer than anticipated flipping through reading about other species.

I have far too many field guides and bird books, but I’m still pleased to have added National Geographic Complete Birds of North America to my library. It’s the sort of large resource you keep at home where you can study and learn at your leisure, then head into the field to seek out first hand what you’d just read about and studied in the book.


How to Know the Birds: The Art & Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd by Todd Henson

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

The cover of  How to Know the Birds  by Ted Floyd

The cover of How to Know the Birds by Ted Floyd

I received my copy of How to Know the Birds from the publisher, National Geographic Books, through a giveaway at goodreads.

How to Know the Birds: The Art & Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd is packed full of interesting and educational info on a range of different birds, and on many of the topics relevant to the birding world. I wasn’t sure at first how much I’d enjoy it, as it is broken into 200 one-page lessons, with each lesson largely focusing on a single topic and typically using a single bird as an example of that topic. I just doubted a lot of little sections would be all that interesting.

But the more I read the more I enjoyed it. Each lesson can to some extent stand on their own. But reading it straight through I also found lessons building on one another. Think of it as a fun primer on birding put together by a great group of local birders, getting together each week to continue learning. It felt like the sort of book that would be great for the beginning birder, which I would consider myself. But it delves deep enough in some topics I suspect more knowledgeable birders would also enjoy it.

How to Know the Birds is a storybook for bird lovers. It is not a field guide in the traditional sense. Many of the accounts go into some detail about the way birds look and, just as important, the way they sound; but many others barely scratch the surface in that regard. What you will find in the accounts—and I’ve endeavored to emphasize this in every single one of them—is a big idea, a method or technique or resource, about bird study in our age. A number of the accounts conclude with an open-ended question or, at least, some measure of ambiguity; that’s a reflection of the intellectual health and scientific rigor of modern birding. An even 200 accounts, or lessons, fill the pages of this book.
— How to Know the Birds, page 21

The book is broken into 6 parts, each corresponding to several months of the year, and to an over-arching theme that each lesson in that part will contribute to.

Spark Bird!

Part 1, titled “Spark Bird!” covers January and February and is composed of lessons 1-36. The title refers to the idea that many birders have a specific species of bird that first got them interested in birds and birding, their “spark bird.” I don’t know that I have a spark bird, myself. I came to birding largely through photography, and it has slowly grown from there.

This section starts us down the path of how we first start identifying birds. We see them, we recognize them, but what bird is it, what’s it called? How can we identify a bird? Slowly we learn more about physical characteristics of birds (color, patterns, size, shape), about bird song and sounds, behaviors, and habitat. We learn that sometimes females and males look very different, as can juveniles and adults, as can the same bird seen at different times of the year.

After the Spark

Part 2, titled “After the Spark” covers March to May and is composed of lessons 37-74. After we begin learning how to identify birds we begin to realize there are many birds we can hear but can’t identify. We learn about bird song, how to identify birds through their song, what their song is for, and many other topics. We also learn about bird migration, how some birds can only be seen in some areas for part of the year. Where do they go and why?

Now What?

Part 3, titled “Now What?” covers June and July and is composed of lessons 75-115. We love watching birds, but sometimes we feel like there must be more to do, right? Is there a way we can contribute to the birding community? We learn about citizen science projects, such as bird surveys. We learn about different groups, projects, and online resources. There are also lessons on many aspects of breeding and habitat.

Inflection Point

Part 4, titled “Inflection Point” covers August and September and is composed of lessons 116-141. Some birds change their appearance during the year, and some change their locations. They molt and they migration. This section provides many lessons on these two fascinating topics. The migration lessons even go into more modern issues affecting birds in migration, such as the confusing lights of cities at night and the problem of birds smashing into large buildings covered in reflective windows.

What We Know

Part 5, titled “What We Know” covers October and November and is composed of lessons 142-169. We’ve learned a lot so far. But where did this knowledge come from? We learn about many of the resources, old and new, available to birders, from books and CD’s, to online resources, apps, organizations and events. We also learn about many of the things some birders do, such as compiling lists, chasing after a specific species, looking for as many species as we can in one day or one year, traveling, bird banding, and many other activities.

What We Don’t Know

Part 6, titled “What We Don’t Know” covers December and is composed of sections 170-200. Despite all we’ve learned so far there is still so much more to learn, so much we don’t yet know. And isn’t that a wonderful and exciting thought? That we can still go out and learn more about these wonderful creatures we’ve spent so much time watching and studying.

I thoroughly enjoyed How to Know the Birds, by Ted Floyd, who also happens to be the editor of Birding magazine. This is one of those books that’s fun to read through the first time, but is also enough of a resource that you return to it again and again, rereading sections as you encounter a bird you remember reading about, or when you want to explore a new aspect of birding you recall being mentioned. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who already considers themselves a birder, and to those just getting started, who like watching and learning about birds, but don’t really know much else about them. This is a great step down the path of life-long learning.