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Help pick non-fiction for schools

It wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I realized how restricted my high school reading lists had been, and how little they had changed for my three children. They were enthusiastic readers, as my wife and I were. But all, or almost all, of the required books for either generation were fiction.

I am not dismissing the delights of Twain, Crane, Buck, Saroyan and Wilder, all of which I read in high school. But I think I would also have enjoyed Theodore H. White, John Hersey, Barbara Tuchman and Bruce Catton if they had been assigned.

Maybe that’s changing. Maybe rebellious teens these days are fleeing Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen, and Baldwin, or whoever is on the 12th grade English list, and furtively reading Malcolm Gladwell, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other non-fiction stars.

Sadly, no.

The Renaissance Learning company released a list of what 4.6 million students read in the 2008-2009 school year, based on its Accelerated Reader program that encourages children to choose their own books. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has given way to the hormonal allure of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire books, but both school and non-school books are still almost all fiction.

When I ask local school districts why this is, some get defensive and insist they do require non-fiction. But the only title that comes up with any frequency is “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s story of his boyhood in the Holocaust. It is one of only two nonfiction works to appear in the top 20 of Accelerated Reader’s list of books read by high schoolers. The other is “A Child Called ‘It,’” Dave Pelzer’s account of his alleged abuse as a child by his alcoholic mother.

Will Fitzhugh, whose Concord Review quarterly publishes research papers by high school students, has been fighting for more non-fiction for years. I agree with him that high school English departments’ allegiance to novels leads impressionable students to think, incorrectly, that non-fiction is a bore. That in turn makes them prefer fiction writing assignments to anything that could be described by that dreaded word “research.”

A relatively new trend in student writing is called “creative nonfiction.” It makes Fitzhugh shudder. “It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in ‘essay contests’ by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as ‘How do I look?’ and ‘What should I wear to school?’” he said in a 2008 essay for EducationNews.org.

Educators say non-fiction is more difficult than fiction for students to comprehend. It requires more factual knowledge, beyond fiction’s simple truths of love, hate, passion and remorse. So we have a pathetic cycle. Students don’t know enough about the real world because they don’t read non-fiction and they can’t read non-fiction because they don’t know enough about the real world.

Educational theorist E.D. Hirsch Jr. insists this is what keeps many students from acquiring the communication skills they need for successful lives. “Language mastery is not some abstract skill,” he said in his latest book, “The Making of Americans.” “It depends on possessing broad general knowledge shared by other competent people within the language community.”

I think we can help. Post comments here, or send an email to mathewsj@washpost.com, with non-fiction titles that would appeal to teens. I will discuss your choices in a future column. I can see why students hate writing research papers when their history and science reading has been confined to the flaccid prose of their textbooks. But what if they first read “Longitude” by Dava Sobel or “A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar? What magical exploration of reality would you add to your favorite teenager’s reading list?

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page, http://washingtonpost.com/education.

By Jay Mathews  | February 21, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  E.D. Hirsch Jr., Will Fitzhugh, high school pro-fiction bias, high schools lack non-fiction, your favorite non-fiction  
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Comments

Good post, Jay. The charter school where I taught did both a nonfiction and a fiction class for ninth-graders. The nonfiction all dealt with oppression and genocide: Roots, Night as you mentioned, First They Killed My Father. I think nonfiction is more likely to be taught in high school history classes than English (hopefully they are reading at least some primary sources!). But here's a few contemporary titles I think high schoolers would both enjoy and learn a lot from:

Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee (wowed me as a first-semester college freshman - and easier for teenagers than Guns, Germs and Steel)
Ron Suskind's A Hope in the Unseen
Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma
Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation
Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works - or other titles on evolutionary biology
Freakonomics
Any Malcolm Gladwell

Posted by: cecilia_le | February 21, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Some of the popular science books would probably make kinds a lot more interested in science.

Hyperspace by Michio Kaku made a big difference for me.
Freakonomics and The Tipping Point are great.

Reading newspapers is the easiest and best way to learn more about the world, read some easy non-fiction and is great because kids get to pick their interest. (Guys can read sports!)

Posted by: steve10c | February 21, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

I agree completely, and am grateful for your promotion of high-quality non-fiction. I tell kids not only in class but also in my SAT tutoring sessions that reading high-quality, challenging non-fiction, of the sort one finds in the Post and the New York Times and The Atlantic and The New Yorker, may provide the biggest boost from being a good reader to being a great reader.

Every year I am more interested in adding non-fiction. My school's juniors currently get to hit modern things like the memoir "This Boy's Life" (Tobias Wolff) and "Friday Night Lights" (Buzz Bissinger) and some also get articles by Gladwell and Michael Lewis. These come along with standards like Frederick Douglass's speech "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" and Booker T. Washington's Atlanta speech (and DuBois's reply from "Souls of Black Folk") along with Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to be Colored Me", and selections from Emerson and Thoreau and my personal favorite Annie Dillard (although I think mine are the only sections that use her!), plus a variety of critical essays that the kids tend to find less thrilling but which they seem to be able to handle on an intellectual level. This latter set tends to include essays on the suitability of teaching "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and such standards as Miller's "Tragedy and the Common Man". That's all American Lit stuff; we do also use "Night" and a few other things in sophomore classes but don't do nearly as much non-fiction for freshmen and seniors. The curriculum is currently quite full on those levels, but we should consider re-examining it!

The following file lists some of the recommended "outside reading" titles for one of my courses (an interdisciplinary American studies course): http://www.rtsd.org/599926298254/lib/599926298254/outside_reading_vp.pdf; "Q3", which starts at the bottom of page 2, is all non-fiction. I need to add "Omnivore's Dilemma", which I read recently and loved, and Dan Ariely's fascinating "Predictably Irrational", which figured into a conference call Professor Ariely had with our class just last week.

The students loved the Ariely book, which we haven't been able to buy in a class set but which we're steering kids toward as they realize how much they like to think about psychology, economics, and honesty -- that's a snapshot of being an American today!

Thanks also to the link to the Concord Review -- sounds like a terrific idea.

Posted by: carlrosin | February 21, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

A good post. I find that the students at my Title 1 middle school have an incredibly small schema, paired with an insatiable desire to know more about the world around them. We simply need to give them those opportunities and non-fiction text is a valuable tool.

My real concern, however, is that many students don't get substantial exposure to quality nonfiction text (read -- not textbooks) outside of their ELA courses. While trying to prepare for state tests, social studies and science classes cram as much information into students' heads as possible without ever striving for true understanding of the information.

And did I mention that any college-bound student has to have a solid non-fiction background? No matter how well you can analyze the theme and characterization of a novel, once you're in college (and beyond!) the vast majority of reading is informational nonfiction. These are vital real-world skills!

Posted by: elmo1 | February 21, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

How about some memoirs? They are often easier to read than many other non-fiction books, and are so interesting! Madeline Albright's autobiography was fantastic (even to a conservative), and explained a lot of recent history. Black Hawk Down would probably appeal to a lot of boys (but I enjoyed it as a female, as well). Red Horizons, by Ion Mihai Pacepa is a fantastic study of the Cold War and communism. I also read a couple of great books about the break-up of Yugoslavia, but can't think of the titles right now. Seriously, though, there are so many great non-fiction books out there, and if we pick them right, I think most high school kids would like them better than a lot of the tired and worn-out stuff we pass off as literature.

Posted by: LadybugLa | February 21, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

my recommendation would be the "Connections" related essay collections by BBC presenter James Burke. Kids have a natural instinct for following A knows B who did C to D - Connections can take that natural instinct for "gossip" and extend it to the real connections of history, and as a result give an alternative and perhaps more meaningful context to events other than the basic "in the year 1492, Columbus sailCed west" stereotype. Circles (which brings an event back to itself - a collection of his columns for Scientific American), Founding Fathers (which follows a path from a signer of the Declaration of Independence to a more contemporary person with the same name), and Twin Tracks (takes two paths from an event and shows how each led back to a common event later on).

Posted by: acroyear | February 21, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

I would suggest:

The Closing of the American Mind, by Alan Bloom

Witness, by Whittaker Chambers

Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson

Posted by: mark51 | February 22, 2010 12:41 AM | Report abuse

I'll endorse "I never had it made," Jackie Robinson's autobiography. Unlike you, I never wanted to read Bruce Catton or Barbara Tuchman. I *had* to. And I didn't particularly care for them at the time. But when I was finally able to choose, Jackie Robinson's book was the one that I still remember. It didn't have much to do about baseball, but told the more important story about a principled and tenacious man whose passions ran much deeper than sports.

Along with some of your other commenters, I also endorse "Friday Night Lights" and any books by Malcolm Gladwell. They're eminently readable. For similar reasons I nominate "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, "The Summer of '49" by David Halberstam, and "Band of Brothers" and "Citizen Soldiers" by the late Stephen Ambrose.

Posted by: quizzicalteacher | February 22, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

I recommend

* The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (or almost any book by Oliver Sacks)

* Some parts (not all, certainly not the complicated psychometric chapters) of The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Gould

* The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman

And then some selected essays from The Atlantic Monthly which are so often very well-researched and written pieces...

How fun to think of an expanded literature list!

Posted by: Magoo1 | February 22, 2010 1:39 AM | Report abuse

PS: Wanted to say that my reading list selected titles that I thought would introduce students to structuring arguments based on data. Data. Data.

To that list I might add

* Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, although I suspect that this book would be shot down from many reading lists as being too "lefty political." And probably I shouldn't put that phrase in attenuating quotation marks...

Posted by: Magoo1 | February 22, 2010 1:41 AM | Report abuse

Yes, yes, yes on Feynman -- high schoolers love him. Bryson is more hit-or-miss than I thought (I thought he'd be a hit).

Yes also on the memoirs, but they can be overdone: the whole "my life was terrible but then I found my way out"-type story seems to work once. We used memoirs for summer reading and I think they were good. Jeannette Walls's "Glass Castle" was recommended by a colleague and proved very successful, as did a collection of memoirs from Obama ("Dreams...") and McCain ("Faith..."). Walter Kirn (author of "Up in the Air") has a provocative but irritating "Lost in the Meritocracy", which is too over-the-top but some kids really liked it.

There are some great memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution -- Liang Heng's "Son of the Revolution", one of the earlier ones (mid '80s?) is my favorite.

Finally, another opinion on Tuchman: a selection from "Guns of August" is essential for critical study of WWI. Yes, she can be tough, but I think an honors history student has to read at least a small selection.

Posted by: carlrosin | February 22, 2010 2:36 AM | Report abuse

The Devil in the White City

The Perfect Storm

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Endurance - Shakleton's own account

sections of Radar, Hula Hoops & Playful Pigs

Posted by: cedge20 | February 22, 2010 6:07 AM | Report abuse

I agree with previous posters that Richard Feynman and Michael Pollan are fascinating writers. Add just about anything by:

Tracy Kidder
Lewis Thomas
Loren Eisley
Annie Dillard

Thanks for again presenting an issue I care about. As a community college English teacher, I see the results of high schools' lack of broad reading or writing experiences.

Posted by: Christina405 | February 22, 2010 6:13 AM | Report abuse

some classic essays:

James Baldwin, "The Fire Next Time"

George Orwell, "Such, Such Were the Joys"

Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

Posted by: smjames1 | February 22, 2010 6:15 AM | Report abuse

No one has mentioned biographies here. I was really into biographies as a kid, especially the famous Native Americans like Sitting Bull and Cochise, and women like Mary Queen of Scots. My kids like biographies too - my younger son dragged around a copy of a bio of Helen Keller endlessly when he was in first grade. My kids also like those big Usborne books about ancient history. Oh, and for younger kids, there are great books which are kind of a step between fiction and nonfiction - the Magic Schoolbus for the youngest set is one example.

Posted by: bkmny | February 22, 2010 6:17 AM | Report abuse

I recommend A MIGHTY LONG WAY: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, book by By Carlotta Walls LaNier, with
Lisa Frazier Page, your colleague at the Post. It is intense and riveting and connects students of all colors with (relatively) recent American history/

Posted by: sciteach7 | February 22, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

Harry Potter? More "Twilight" garbage?

One of the biggest problems in the schools is "Brain Rot." Books like, "The Federalist Papers," biographies of those which made this country great, even Mark Levin's book, "Liberty and Tyranny" is far more informative than the garbage pumped out by today's publishers.

When I was in fifth grade (1967), I read a book by Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain (1947).

The theory behind reading lists is to educate people and give them the ability to perform something novel called "critical thinking."

No wonder a lot of these youngsters are numbed to King Obummer's charismatic bunk. They don't know how to think, becuase instructors are more concerned with reading junk than reading to learn critical thinking skills.

Maybe that's the problem! Since the advent of diversity and "feel good" stories, has anybody also noticed the "dumbing down" of reading material, for young people?

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | February 22, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

In my 7th grade life science class here in the city, I have some of my advanced students read "The Double Helix" by James Watson. Older students that I have taught before have also really enjoyed "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston and "The Beak of the Finch" by Jonathan Weiner. I also make some of my advanced students tackle some of Gould's "The Lying Stones of Marrakech" as we learn about classification among the animal phyla.

Posted by: parish345 | February 22, 2010 7:30 AM | Report abuse

Fantastic (and overdue) idea!! I agree with the comments re Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell. To that I add:

James McBride - The Color of Water
Daniel Tammet - Born on a Blue Day
Alan Weisman - The World Without Us
Asne Seierstad - The Bookseller of Kabul
Alexandra Fuller - Don't Let's Go To the
Dogs Tonight

and because it'll probably grab even the most reluctant readers -

John Grogan - Marley & Me

Posted by: krishannah42 | February 22, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

I second Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, and would add Refuge by Terry Tempest William and Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand.

Posted by: paperball | February 22, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

P.S.: That's Terry Tempest WilliamS - I was typing too fast!

Also, The Devil in the White City, which someone else suggested, is fantastic.

Posted by: paperball | February 22, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Easy pics. McCort & Krakauer are already on some reading lists.

On Writing - Steven King (part bio, part how to write)
Into Thin Air - John Krakauer
Into the Wild - John Krakauer
The Perfect Storm - Sebastian Junger
PaPa - Robert Hotchner (Hemingway bio)
Eye of the Storm - Robert Knox Sneden's Civil War Diary
Games Criminal Play - Allen/Bosta (learn to be street savvy)
A Place Called Waco - David Thibodeau
Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt

From Pat

Posted by: Muireadach | February 22, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

From carlrosin: "Yes also on the memoirs, but they can be overdone: the whole "my life was terrible but then I found my way out"-type story seems to work once."

Absolutely agree. In fact, I'm not even sure I'd want to do it once, just because I think we already get enough of that. My point is, though, that lots and lots of people have written great memoirs about history and politics and major world events, and those books can be a real education about those topics, while still being at a readability level that many high schoolers can handle. Madeline Albright's memoir does not get anywhere into the "poor me" syndrome, and neither does "Red Horizons," which I would also classify as a memoir. And I'm sure that someone with a little bit more time could come up with many more.

Posted by: LadybugLa | February 22, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

I definitely use in high school
Man's Search for Meaning- Viktor Frankl
and
Black Like Me - J.H. Griffin
Both books students absolutely love...

Posted by: Finn4 | February 22, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Dan McMahon (of DeMatha) had us read The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan and Black Boy by Richard Wright. Two excellent non-fiction books.

But of course, Jay, you already knew that Dan was one of the best English teachers in the D.C. area.

Posted by: rlalumiere | February 22, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Great question, thanks for raising it. Without any scaffolding of ideas and facts, it's hard to develop cogent opinions, build vocabulary, make solid judgments.

These books could be good in various classes: some English history, government, biology,current political problems, psychology, theory of knowledge etc.

Anything by Oliver Saks or Lewis Thomas, perhaps Lives of A Cell
Studs Terkel -- e.g., Hard Times
Into Thin Air or Into the Wild -- Jon Krakauer
John Hershey, Hiroshima
Joan Didion, the White Album
Founding Brothers, Joseph Ellis
Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Illegal Migrants, Ted Convover
Mark Salzman, Iron & Silk


Bill Bryson -- Shakespeare, A Walk in the Woods
On Photography by Susan Sontag
Ways of Seeing -- John Berger
On Democracy -- Robert Dahl
Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabene and Kaffir Boy in America
Fast Food Nation or Omnivore's Dilemma
Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman

Historical fiction: The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff (controversial-- deals with Mormons)
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, set in Philadelphia
Killer Angels, Michael Shaara
Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (research on nuclear weapons in WWII, culture of Los Alamos)
Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop (child labor)
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Interpretation of a Murder, Jay Rubenfeld
Miracle Worker

Posted by: WDCMom | February 22, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

I would like to see kids read a "Book Per Year" (nonfiction), and some older people tell me they read good short biographies
of all sorts of people when they were in elementary school.

But, for at least high school, I would like to suggest that for each year, the following history books be required,and that another solid history book of their own choice
be required, too.


Freshman Year: Mornings on Horseback, by David McCullough
Sophomore Year: Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer
Junior Year: Battle Cry of Freedom, by James M. McPherson
Senior Year: Path Between the Seas, by David McCullough


Sadly, there would be so much argument over specific books,that some Educators will continue to be more comfortable requiring
no nonfiction books at all...

Will Fitzhugh: fitzhugh@tcr.org
www.tcr.org/blog

Posted by: fitzhugh1 | February 22, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

As a parent I have tried to get not only highschool teachers to think about the kids reading non-fiction but also middle school. Both books you mentioned were on my list. 2 other books that i think all highschool and middle school kids should read are THE PACT and THE GLASS CASTLE. Aside from learning about people and our history kids need to have an appreciation for struggles, poverty,triumph, and real hard work in the modern world. I hope teachers read your article and try to incorporate more non-fiction books into the curiculum. Loved the article. Carole D'Achille

Posted by: cadachille | February 22, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

My absolute favorite Book is “Undaunted Courage” by Steven Ambrose

On a different track: "Surely You must be Joking, Mr. Feynman" and "What Do You Care What other People Think" also by Dr. Richard Feynman.

"The Curve of Time" by Canadian Author, M. Wylie Blanchet. Describes her exploration of the BC Coast in a small boat in the 1920s. but also has some metaphysical aspects to it.

Posted by: generousmp | February 22, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Perfect timing for your wonderful article and request for recommendations as I just finished reading "Brave Companions" by David McCullough. This book is a collection of essays he has written over the years on scientists, artists, history-makers, writers, architects, and more. The beauty of selecting this book for use in classrooms is that one would not necessarily have to read it in its entirety (although I found it tough to put down), but could choose those chapters most relevant to a particular course of study. And don't miss the fabulous piece on Washington, D.C. included near the end of the book. Excellent writing. Excellent reading. (Thanks, Mom.)

Posted by: dgilstrap | February 22, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

As many have already said, biographies are great. If a kid is interested in some person (other than a current actor/pop star) and they read one book about them, that may lead them to more books about them. I continue to be annoyed by the tendency to pick all books that feature abused protagonists, whether fiction or non-fiction. My husband calls them "kids-with-problems books" and they made school reading assignments for each of us a big chore -- even though we both loved reading outside of school.

Posted by: bellabone | February 22, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I would recommend these works for their impact as well as cross-curricular focus:

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
Ann Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow

I think the first two would especially help young people get inside the experience of black people during our segregated history, and get some insight into the tensions of race that remain.

I would second the Richard Feynman recommendation. Also, the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell makes a good basis for reflection on what it takes to be successful. Freakonomics would also be an interesting nonfiction text for high school.

Posted by: WanlaceYates | February 22, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I should have added...
"My Early Life, A Roving Commission" by Winston churchill

Posted by: generousmp | February 22, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
The Soloist by Steve Lopez
Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, An American Town by Warren St. John

Posted by: Hoya79 | February 22, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I luckily stumbled upon _Picture This: Perception and Composition_ by illustrator Molly Bang when I was young and it has been one of the secrets to my success in the visual arts. Sometimes kids in art don't feel they are good at accademics, but this book will appeal to them. It is an easy read. Moreover, this book might help anyone who doesn't "get" abstract art or see any value or logic in the arts.

Posted by: 1morereader | February 22, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Good article, Jay. As an adult, my reading is 95% non-fiction to 5% fiction. Also, I remember that when I was a child I was very disappointed with fiction. I liked biography and autobiography better.

Some wonderful books:

Mayflower - Nathaniel Philback
Before the Dawn - Nicholas Wade
Wild Swans - Jung Chang
The River of Doubt - Candice Millard
Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
The Island at the Center of the World - Russell Shorto
The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki
Salt - Mark Kurlansky
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Whale Warriors - Peter Hellar
Jon Krakauer's books - Into the Wild; Into Thin Air; Under the Banner of Heaven

Thanks, Bern Duval

Posted by: bernduval | February 22, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Anything by Tony Horwitz would be perfectly appropriate for a high school reader. His work blends historical narrative and personal travelogue style writing. Particularly apt for this area would be Confederates in the Attic in which he explores the curious Southern Civil War fervor. Also apt would be A Voyage Long and Strange in which he searches through the period of colonial history falling between Colombus and the Pilgrims that somehow fall from the general American consciousness.
John McWhorter's Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of "Pure" Standard English is a book I would have loved in high school. Formatted as a series of essays, one chapter in particular addresses why Shakespeare is so difficult for modern English speaking audiences. It involves a hilarious example from Hamlet.

Posted by: kkbear1129 | February 22, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Adolescents and non-fiction? First, biography is best. From Boy and Going Solo, by the master storyteller Roald Dahl to Nicholas and Alexandra in which students love reading about the teenagers while learning the lesson teens find hardest: multiple cause. Next, journal articles. Everything students read in their texts has been adapted (in most cases very poorly) from a secondary or primary source. So read the exciting originals from Smithsonian, Sky & Telescope, Natural History, The Numismatist or Science News. Sample articles: “How Did Adam and Eve Make a Living?” is a discussion on hunting and gathering.“The Case of the Dyslexic Mint Worker” reveals backward coin stamping. And “Poe’s Greatest Hit” was not fiction but a text on seashells. In “How Carthage Lost the Sea” we learn that the Carthaginians gave their sailors a certain mind-numbing drug to relieve the stress of sailing, similar to the British rationing of rum. Petrunkevich’s absorbing tale of ritual murder in “The Spider and the Wasp” is always a winner. Or “Juvenile Delinquency in the Graeco-Roman World” shows us that some things rarely change. And finally there is the fascinating “Disney Dissonance” in which the writer examines the effect of Disney’s edited European fairy tales on European kids at Euro Disney. In these articles students learn the language of the discipline. History, science and art all have their specialized vocabulary, and reading journal articles reveals this hidden world they will rarely find in their non-scientific texts.

Posted by: thomasturk | February 22, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Michael Pollan, "In Defense of Food"

Posted by: trace1 | February 22, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Two more:

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Annie Dillard,Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Posted by: trace1 | February 22, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I recommend Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" and "Into the Wild".

I actually did manage to get "Into the Wild" read in my daughter's class a few years ago. The students had to come up with and vote on two books for the class as a whole to read and I suggested she recommend it. Advantages being it's fairly short and easy to read, it's about a young man from Fairfax County, plus it was about to be released as a movie. They did choose it and from what my daughter said there was a pretty good difference of opinion in the discussions about the book. I don't know how anyone could read "Into Thin Air" and not be moved by the tragic situations in that story.

Also there's a book about the battle of Stalingrad that is really interesting, and not just as history type book, but about the conditions the Germans soldiers and the Russian soldiers and civilians dealt with during the duration of that battle. I can't think of the name of the book, though, maybe someone else can.

Posted by: lmcrae24 | February 22, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Another reason teens aren't reading non-fiction is that elementary students aren't reading non-fiction. While I realize that the biographies and history series (like Johnny Tremain) that I devoured as a kid were largely invented, isn't there something to replace them? Is history so unpalatable that it can't be attractively packaged for children of various ages?

Posted by: ZZZ000 | February 22, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"Rising Tide," John Barry
"The Ascent of Man," Jacob Bronowski
"Civilization," Kenneth Clark
"FDR," Conrad Black
"Dawn to Decadence," Jacques Barzun
"The Glory and the Dream," Wm. Manchester
"The Civil War," Shelby Foote, Vol. II, "The Beleagured City," "Stars in their Courses, "Unvexed to the Sea"
"The Civil War," Shelby Foote, Vol. III, "Lucifer in Starlight"

Posted by: ABCoyle | February 22, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

These are wonderful suggestions. Please keep them coming. I plan to write my March 8 Monday column about them. They provide further proof of something I learned a long ago--the remarkable erudition of people who comment on this blog.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 22, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

A few science books (some of which were already suggested):

-Into The Jungle by Sean B. Carroll
-Selections of Joe Schwarcz's essay collections (not limited to Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs)
-The Hot Zone
-Selections of Stephen J. Gould's essay collections (especially the one that examines the evolution of the candy bar)
-Double Helix
-Life in the Treetops
-Beak of the Finch

I would also recommend a variety of essays written for Natural History and Scientific American, as well as articles from the New York Times Tuesday science section.

Posted by: Thinking123 | February 22, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

When I was in 6th grade I read Carl Sagan's "Comsos", which made a huge impact on me. I read everything of his the library had.

I do remember being assigned a few good non-fiction books in school, mostly philosophy. Ayn Rand, Locke, and Plato. A book like Alain de Botton's "Consolations of Philosophy" would probably be a great survey type book to read. His "Status Anxiety" would also be good for creating a more in depth understanding of the all important social world many students find themselves obsessing about.

Looking back I would like to have seen more readings in logic, fallacies, and bias. Books like "Sway", "Fooled by Randomness", "Predictably Irrational" and "Thank You for Arguing" are entertaining for people to read because they help them understand themselves. Since the average high school student is rather self-obsessed, it might be a good thing to work from that angle.

Posted by: staticvars | February 22, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I think it's true that kids are reading more fiction than nonfiction, but I don't think there's as big of a gap as the original post concludes. The Accelerated Reader program only tracks books that (a) children take the Accelerated Reader test for and (b) are assigned a grade and point level for the Accelerated Reader program. Fiction books are more likely to be assigned points for the program than nonfiction ones (the program doesn't have point values for a lot of kids' science books, for example), so a good bit of nonfiction reading isn't being tracked in the statistics.

Posted by: dfbdfb | February 22, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I think high school is a bit late to start on non-fiction. You need to start much earlier, in elementary school, when children's imaginations are still eager to be caught by interesting facts about the outside world. By high school, or even junior high, conventional social/sexual aspirations tend to have taken over and dulled down all that potential interest.

I agree that biographies are a good place to start. But the sorts of hagiographies that are written for kids, about George Washington or Abe Lincoln or Eleanor Roosevelt, are pretty rebarbative to any half-way sensible child. The reader struggling through -- cue the sort of portentous music that TV stations play for golf tournaments -- cannot fail to prickle at the perpetual intrusion of the writer's moral guidance stifling the life out of the subject.

I can remember, as a child, learning about Hammurabi and the beginning of writing, and becoming fascinated by alphabets and collecting alphabets including Morse Code and Braille. I loved "Dickon Among the Indians" because it described in great detail how the Delaware Indians lived, and made what they needed. Any out-of-the-way fact can work a bit of magic, spark a bit of interest. Look at a picture of Versailles. BORing! But then think about the fact that 6,000 people lived there without a single bathroom, and your mind starts formulating questions. What...? How...? Where...?

In short, I think you have to learn to welcome and enjoy facts -- non-fiction -- when you're young. Harun-al-Rashid or Charlemagne, rice-farming or building a cathedral: whatever gets your mind working. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "The world is so full of a number of things / I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." And never bored.

Posted by: penkuhn | February 22, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see more non-fiction books assigned outside English class. I know the curriculum is defined by the state but what about required summer reading or just dedicating one class per term to discussing a subject related book? Here are my suggestions:

Already mentioned but I'll second them:
Longitude - Dava Sobel
The Devil in the White City - Eric Larson
A Hope in the Unseen - Ron Suskind

Also:
Science/History:
Thunderstruck - Eric Larson
Isaac's Storm - Eric Larson
A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson (Okay, not so short)
The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft and Detection - Hoobler & Hoobler (Birth of Forensics story - not as strong a candidate but good enough)

Science:
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives - Christakis & Fowler
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior - Brafman & Brafman

Math:
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives - Leonard Mlodinow

History:
The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill

Now I'm going to go track down some Feynman or Gould for myself. And maybe pick up one of those Gladwell books I keep seeing.

Posted by: lauracarriere | February 22, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I agree that there are many books that can dispell the myth that nonfiction is boring.

I read John Hersey's Hiroshima in high school and it made a massive impact on me.

I would also suggest The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger -- it is fast paced and loaded with adventure and information about the fishing industry.

William Langewiesche writes excellent, compelling nonfiction. I recommend American Ground (about the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York) and The Outlaw Sea (about the current state of affairs in international shipping, including piracy).

Posted by: mdtay11 | February 22, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Following one of WDCmom's suggestions (Hard Times), I offer up Studs Terkel's Working.

Its format makes it easy to read in pieces, its oral histories are irreverent and compelling, and it offers glimpses (and thus opportunities for further research) into the social, political, and economic climate in American during the late 60s and early 70s.

Posted by: CecilV | February 22, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

The Human Brain processes conscious information is two modes: Fantasizing and Thinking.

Thinking requires deriving conclusions from a series of logical operations; storing information in short-term memory while processing other logical routines which eventually update the stored information in short-term memory.

On the other hand, Fantasizing is a process of drawing conclusions from a set of values obtained by free associating ideas mainly from daydreaming.

Kids need more practice at performing logical operations (critical reasoning) in the form of reading non-fictional material rather than daydreaming about fictional material.

Practicing critical reasoning skills will get them through life better than fantasizing will.

Posted by: unseenmirage | February 22, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The Good War, Studs Terkel

All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, Theodore Rosengarten

How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

Posted by: rmballo | February 22, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Great idea! I suggest anything by Joseph M. Marshall, III. Also, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown; "Trail of Tears" by John Ehle; "God is Red" and "Spirit and Reason" by Vine Deloria, Jr. as well as all those recommended by others. We should not ask whether the material is "too tough" or "too hard to understand" but rather is it worth reading, even if you have to struggle, if you disagree, if you don't understand. Sometimes the understanding comes years later, but the thinking skills serve us well throughout our life.

Posted by: EJDubya | February 22, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Non fiction is not difficult if the writers are good. I've been on this crusade since my kids were in school in the 1980s (in the City of Falls Church, whose schools are much overrated).

Start with biography of history's great characters. The history itself is absorbed painlessly. Here are a few:

Edmund Morris - Theodore Rex
Stacy Cordery - Alice (Teddy's daughter)
David McCullough - Mornings on Horseback (Teddy Roosevelt), Truman (a surprisingly interesting character)
Stephen Ambrose - Undaunted Courage
William Manchester - The Last Lion - both volumes (Winston Churchill - covering the late 1870s - the 1950s - alot of modern history)
Robert Caro - Means of Ascent, The Path To Power, Master of the Senate (the latter being an excellent description of how our legislature works)

For something a little different:
Wole Soyinka - Ake: The Years of Childhood

Other good reads:

Shirer - The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich
Rick Atkinson - An Army At Dawn, The Day of Battle
Waldemar Hansen - The Peacock Throne (mogul India)
Barbara Tuchman - A Distant Mirror
William Manchester - A World Lit Only By Fire

More difficult, but very rewarding:

Jared Diamond - Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse ( important for anyone concerned about climate change)

The history and science curricula need to be overhauled for elementary and high school students. Both disciplines depend on each year building on the year before. In my experience, there's too much skipping around and not enough emphasis on the Western world before moving on to Asia, Africa, Latin America.

Both disciplines have been politicized and are today pretty limited in scope as a result. Plus, you have the teacher problem. Many teachers, even high school teachers do not have a good foundation in either subject and are therefore not prepared to present it to their students.

Posted by: Clio2 | February 22, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I'll second some choices I've used in my lower-division college writing classes:

Into the Wild (Students love it and argue over Chris McCandless)
The Spirit Catches You (Engrossing glimpse into Hmong culture, but needs a lot of scaffolding)
River Town (Peter Hessler--about teaching in China; again, fascinating vignettes about Chinese education circa late 1990's; needs some scaffolding)
This Boy's Life (students LOVE it; they totally identify with Tobias Wolff and write excellent essays)
Gang Leader for a Day (my very diverse students are fascinated that an Indian-American Ph.D.sociologist--Sudhir Venkatesh--would hang out with a black gang leader in Chicago.)

Posted by: nanprof | February 22, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

This is a great question. It would save my daughter "extra" reading when she gets to high school in a few years if her teachers would recommend the following:

Savage Inequalities (J. Kozol)
Life on the Color Line (G.H. Williams)
Lies My Teacher Told Me (J. Loewen)
Fast Food Nation (mentioned earlier is great reading)

Posted by: flabbergast | February 22, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

When I was teaching my students read Black Boy by Richard Wright, Hiroshima and numeroous excerpts from memoirs and other non-fiction or short essays. They did research papers on non-fiction topics. I don't think I was atypical. The short peices were especially helpful inj getting students ready to write their own personal essays, a necessary and often neglected prep for the college application essay.

But I do have a concern about insisting that the English curriculum bear the brunt of introducing students to literate non-fiction. In American Lit classes, the preponderance of the material is non-fiction. Fiction, especially short stories and poetry, are often squeezed out by required novels and book length non-fiction. Surely history and science teachers should be able to incorporate one title a year or a semester. Over a six to four year period (depending on when you start - 7th or 9th grade - that's potentially a huge addition to student non-fiction.

We talk a lot about writing across the curriculum. We should consider the same for reading. I don't expect my hardworking colleagues in history and science to bear the burden of designing assignments. Those they should be able to get in a striking diversity from the English department. But I would like to help my fellow English teachers hold on to the time they need to teach students how to read literature critically and become familiar with the cultures and values it represents. This certainly entails teaching extensive historical, scientific and other background.

Posted by: sfbraaten47 | February 22, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Some of these have already been posted but need repeating for emphasis:

Soul on Ice, Cleaver
Black Like Me, Griffin
Into Thin Air, Krakauer
Ecology of A Cracker Childhood, Ray
Setting the Desert on Fire, Barr
Wait Till Next Year, Goodwin
The Orangeburg Massacre, Nelson
The Rights of Free Men, Barth

Fiction, but worth including:
Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton

Posted by: jdmca | February 22, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if anyone's said this yet, but I would really advocate "Random Family" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Also, I'd second anything by Malcolm Gladwell, since he's really readable and interesting.

Posted by: pottsmonica | February 22, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I would second "Random Family." An amazing book and hard to put down.

Posted by: trace1 | February 22, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa - E.B. Sledge
In the Heart of the Sea - Nathaniel Philbrick

Posted by: achachi | February 22, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Jay, An excellent and thought provoking column, as shown by the many wonderful suggestions your readers have already made.

Two nonfiction books I remember from high school circa 1950 are:

Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis's Nobel Prize winning novel about medicine as a field of work, medical research ethics, scientific fraud--as topical today as when the book was published in 1925.

Hiroshima, by John Hersey, whom you mentioned in your column. This very readable but frightening account of the first nuclear weapon used against a civilian population can serve as a basis for hours of discussion.

Posted by: PhillyLew | February 22, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Great comments and ideas!Some things struck me:
Several posters mentioned how they found that one book that matched their interests and hooked them. Why can't we just let students loose in the library and let them choose a non-fiction book about their own interests?
You've used information from Renaissance Learning, the Accelerated Reader company. I have always felt that this program drained the fun out of reading for so many students. By using a point system (a system that supposedly motivates boys especially) it is easy for the children to compare their reading levels with others and to decide that one is not "a good reader" during the early reading years. I know there are many factors at work in the decline of reading for many young people (screen time, gadget time) but this decline correlates with the years of AR's presence in schools.
As someone who makes dozens of reading suggestions a day (I work in a public library) the number one nonfiction book for reluctant readers and especially boys-who-don't-like-to-read is How Angel Peterson Got His Name by Gary Paulsen.
Thanks, Jay, keep up the good work.

Posted by: Sky22 | February 22, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Anyone ever read Hellen Keller's Biography? How about Amelia Earhart's last journal before setting off on her flight;
and one of my favorites, "The Diary of Ann Frank?"

Posted by: unseenmirage | February 22, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

When I was in high school just 10 years ago I strongly disliked reading, mostly becuase I was not a fan of a lot of the non-fiction we had to read. Since then, I have discovered how much I love reading, almost completely due to the fact that I "discovered" non-fiction.

Another issue I had with academic reading is the time frame that was placed on it. I can finish a 400 page book in 3 days sometimes and othertimes it will take 3 weeks. But I always finish it and get just as much out of it.

As so many on this site I will also recommend Malcolm Gladwell. Biographies I have found are another great way to relate topics, such as "A Team of Rivals" regarding leadership and Lincoln.

Posted by: djhoffma | February 22, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

When I was in junior high back in the 60's we had to do a couple of book reports each year and one had to be non-fiction, which I basically never read. But we got to pick our own and I borrowed Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl from my brother and loved it. It's got action and adventure and pictures of guys in swimsuits. Something for everyone. I really think the idea of book reports on books of the students choosing should be required every semester from middle school through high school. We progressed from book reports to comparative analysis of 2 books to term papers.

Posted by: melissayorks | February 22, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I have to say I'm amused by the suggestion of "Farewell to Manzanar" as that was the book the your predecessor's education column complained about as too depressing and upsetting for young teenagers. Most of the books people are suggesting would have bored me stiff as an adolescent or even now as an adult. For example I couldn't finish Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (although I did read Farewell to Manzanar when my daughter read it in school and liked it). I really think a list of suggestions and letting the student pick what interests them is the only way they will get any joy out of reading.

Posted by: melissayorks | February 22, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Surprisingly, no one has mentioned Three Cups of Tea, or Stones to Schools, by and about Greg Mortenson. Another obvious, unmentioned choice: Anne Frank's Diary. Less obvious, but readable, worthy and not too long: Affluent Society (or other books) by J.K. Galbraith; 1968, by Mark Kurlansky; Dispatches, by Michael Herr; and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Also, probably the two most influential books I read in college, but accessible I think to intelligent high schoolers, were The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by T.S. Kuhn; and The Great Transformation, by Karl Polyani.

Posted by: NSNCC | February 22, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

May I suggest the following:

The Year 1000 : what life was like at the turn of the first millennium : an Englishman's world, by Robert Lacey and Danny Danzinger; and 1215: The Year of Magna Carta, by Danny Danzinger and John Gillingham. Two short histories that are spritely and accessible.

The Last Duel : a true story of crime, scandal, and trial by combat in medieval France, by Eric Jager. Riveting story of a rivalry in which the stakes could not be higher.

Bloody Falls of the Coppermine, by McKay Jenkins. Talk about a clash of civilizations! This one involves a Stone Age tribe of Eskimos dwelling up near the Arctic Circle and the French priests who attempt to Christianize them, with disastrous results. It's also a tale of great courage and resourceful on the part of RCMP officers.

The Radioactive Boy Scout, by Ken Silverstein. It's subtitled "The true story of a boy and his backyard nuclear reactor." A tale of a scouting project run amok!

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. Teens, always sensitive to injustice, will be outraged by this story of the summary arrest and appalling treatment meted out to a man who was trying to help people during the Katrina crisis in 2005.

One further comment:
Often public libraries and school systems feature nonfiction titles on book lists created for students.

Posted by: robertarood | February 22, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Jay - a great list so far. Please, could you put this in condensed, list format after all comments are in? I'd love a copy. I'll add a few of my own recommendations.

Thomas Sowell: Basic Economics. This should be on every HS list. His other books are good, too.

Hernando de Sota: Mystery of Capital

David Macaulay: How Things Work, Castle etc.

Bruce Catton's books on Civil War

Sulzberger: Fall of Eagles (WWI royal dynasties fell)

Is Paris Burning - also All Quiet on the Western Front

Rosemary Sutcliff has excellent versions of the Odyssey, Iliad, the Golden Fleece, 3-vol King Arthur series, Tristan and Isolde etc. Also excellent historical novels set in Roman Britain. All at late ES to HS level, dep on reading ability.

Usborne histories - various- for ES-MS kids

Bauer and Wise: Well-Trained Mind - a grade 1-12 plan for classical education. Intended as guide for homeschoolers, but each section has excellent resources listed for literature, composition, sciences and history

more Barbara Tuchmann: Proud Tower, A Distant Mirror, Bible and Sword

Posted by: momof4md | February 22, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Some great suggestions here. I'd add:

The Hot Zone.

Apollo.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
The Path Between the Seas.

Innumeracy, to teach that there is a POINT to learning math. A high school student of virtually any level of mathematical sophistication could profit from this book.

The Selfish Gene, to learn what evolution is really about.

Voodoo Science : The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, Bob Parks wonderful book on cold fusion and other nonsense.

The Curve of Binding Energy, or other John McPhee.

Life Everywhere and "Rare Earth" to hear both sides of the debate on exobiology.

The Last Place on Earth, a comparison of the Scott and Amundsen Antarctic expeditions. A classic study in leadership, preparation and a thrilling read.

Endurance. The classic work on Shackelton's "failed" Antarctic expedition in which he saves every man from what looked like certain death.

Guns, Germs and Steel.
Collapse.

Posted by: skeptic9 | February 22, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Simply, I agree.

Posted by: jckdoors | February 22, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Not previously mentioned, I think:

Simon Winchester: The Man Who Loved China; The Professor and the Madman; The Map that Changed the World
Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Paul Theroux: Riding the Iron Rooster; Sir Vidya's Shadow
Temple Grandin: Thinking in Pictures; Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
Nathan McCall; Makes Me Wanna Holler

Posted by: linsee1 | February 22, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this great post, Jay. You're right that not nearly enough emphasis is placed on reading non-fiction at the high school level.

There's actually quite a bit of great, new non-fiction for teens out there now! A few that jump out in my mind:

--"Truce" by Jim Murphy
--"Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow" by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
--"The Great Fire" by Jim Murphy
--"Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference" by Joanne Oppenheim

One thing you said I think was particularly spot on: that many students who struggle with reading don't have the background knowledge they need to understand non-fiction. That's why it's important for non-fiction to be used from very early on, and all the way through high school.

What's interesting though is that many of the students who struggle with reading the most (very often boys) are drawn to non-fiction. Kids are naturally curious about the world, and interesting non-fiction titles written at the right reading level can be just the thing to get them excited about books -- and motivated to pursue subjects that interest them. I know that's how it was for me! When I was younger, all I really wanted to read about in my free time was sports. Books from series like "A Wicked History" and "24/7" are good examples of ones that can grab the attention of older students who struggle a bit more than others. Lots of kids love forensic science and evil characters from history.

Hope this helps!

--Tyler Reed
Scholastic Inc.

Posted by: tylerbreed | February 22, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps I missed it in earlier posts, but I'd suggest books by John McPhee, e.g. "Coming Into the Country", "The Control of Nature", or any of the shorter books that were packaged into "Annals of the Former World".

Posted by: JohnB10 | February 22, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Second (or third or fourth) on This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff and Hiroshima by John Hershey.

FYI, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is a novel...great choice, though...

To my previous suggestions, I'll add The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber. The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett and American Prometheus (about J. Robert Oppenheimer) by Kai Bird are also both fantastic, but the length is maybe too intimidating for high school students.

Posted by: paperball | February 22, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and how about Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi? and Flu 1918 by Gina Kolata? Malcolm Gladwell's collections of essays?

Posted by: paperball | February 22, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Correction: The Mystery of Capital is by Hernando de Soto

Also: Usborne also has ES-MS-level science-related books as well as histories. There is also a lot to be learned in the Dover coloring books (ES level), on a whole host of topics from sciences to history. My kids didn't even bother to color them. I can't remember the name of the series, but there's another batch of excellent historical bookds of the Dover type and another, more science-based one. All of the last 3 categories are likely to be found on turning racks in bookstores.

I would also say that the Greek, Roman and Norse myths, as well as other myths and legends should be included. Although not really non-fiction, they're foundational to understanding a lot of literary references, as are the classic fairy tales (Grimm, Andersen etc) and they don't seem to be included in ES any more, even though that age group can understand them orally even before they can read them independently.

Posted by: momof4md | February 22, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

The sparks would fly if you paired John Hersey's Hiroshima and Paul Fussell's Thank God for the Atom Bomb.

Posted by: Bloix | February 22, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I had a class my junior year of high school focusing on non-fiction writing and two of our required readings were In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Friday Night Lights by HG Bissinger. Both great books that the entire class enjoyed. We also had to write a paper analyzing a book of our own choosing which made non-fiction a more personal experience for each student. That class opened a whole new world of literature to me!

Posted by: a_falco67 | February 22, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

These posts are great! I'm getting great suggestions for my own reading list.

Enemy at the Gates, The Battle for Stalingrad by William Craig really is fascinating and not from the usual British/American WWII viewpoint.

Fatal Vision by Joe McGinnis is an unforgettable true crime story, plus it has the backdrop of life in the 60s and 70s.

I second Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee would have been too traumatic for me as a high school student. I could barely handle it in my 30s, it was that disturbing.

In my experience with my own kids who wouldn't read non-fiction and barely would read fiction, it was all about how long the book was. The only non-fiction book I ever got my younger daughter to read was Into the Wild. It being short was the big draw.

Posted by: lmcrae24 | February 22, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

For five years, I taught AP Language and Composition at St. Mary's Ryken High School in Leonardtown, MD. Before I began teaching that course, I was a dedicated fiction reader who rarely read nonfiction texts. Teaching the course changed my life and my taste in books.

The course was totally made up of nonfiction texts and the real favorites were All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg and
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. I changed the books around a little every year, and different groups of kids were drawn to different things. Some students loved In Cold Blood, especially if they had seen Capote. Last year, many students enjoyed Hope in the Unseen and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

The textbook we used was rich with political and issue-oriented essays, so these memoirs and other types of writing created a nice balance for the course. It was great fun to teach, and I think reading nonfiction (including the newspaper) provides students the tools for citizenship and participation in political discourse.

Posted by: devonbobrien | February 22, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Not to be overlooked: Lying, by Sissela Bok; You Just Don't Understand, by Deborah Tannen; A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr; Common Ground, by Anthony Lukas; George Orwell's nonfiction; and The God That Failed,by Koestler and others.

Posted by: NSNCC | February 22, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Many of the fine books mentioned here showed up on the summer reading lists that we got from MCPS in Middle/High school. I know because I read many of them myself.

I think summer reading is an excellent place for many of these books because they won't necessarily appeal to all.

My sports-nut son read right through sports biographies. It was hardly school work because he was interested.

I favor assignment of "a" non-fiction book, leaving the subject for the reader to choose. Assigning from a list is good because the instructor can set a base level and kids won't slide by with books that aren't at the level the teacher wants them to master.

I'll add that "Under the Banner of Heaven" is another good Jon Krauker book.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 22, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

James Watson's "The Double Helix" is a Real Classic on how science is actually done.

Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One’s Own"

Tom Miller, "Panama Hat Trail" - a good story with culture of Ecuador, the economics of trade, etc.

Temple Grandin's "Emergence: Labeled Autistic" or her "Thinking in Pictures" -- for insight into autism by a high-functioning autistic PhD

Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal"

Keith Bradsher's "High & Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV"

Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner, "Freakonomics"

anything by Malcolm Gladwell

Posted by: jsoukup | February 22, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

There are so many -- which is great, because there's something out there to satisfy every taste and interest.
It is wise to remember biography, which is sort of a back door to history, since many young people (especially) find human stories more interesting than those of events in remote times or places. Don't pick an author: pick a historical figure who sounds intriguing: conqueror, peacemaker, scientist, composer, artist, explorer, kings or queens, whatever. A good biography will transport the reader to another time and place, and impart a little (or a lot of) history along the way.

Posted by: RightWriter | February 22, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

When I taught AP Government my students were required to choose a book from a list of 20 that related to government. The list included a wide variety of government topics in an effort to appeal to various interests. My personal favorite was Katharine Graham's "Personal History".

I also love Sebastian Junger's "Perfect Storm".

Posted by: retlady | February 22, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Here is a Wonderful & Inspiring Multicultural Children’s book called “The Many Colors of Friendship”. Realizing how important it is to give our children tools and the right education about Diversity, Multiculturalism and Racism, I wanted to write something meaningful that children come away with a positive message. A great way for us to give children ‘wings’ for the future, and encouraging our children to make new and diverse friendships.

Rita Kaye Vetsch
http://www.eloquentbooks.com/TheManyColorsOfFriendship.html

Posted by: danritavetsch | February 22, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Most of the non-fiction reads of my scholastic years were in history classes, where Wiesel's Night was assigned as well others of a similar vein.

The only non-fiction book that I recall from my English classes was Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". I thought we had also read a non-fiction by Chinua Achebe, but I am none of his non-fiction titles align with my memory, so I must be mistaken.

There was no intentional bias against non-fiction that I noticed, and my teachers were constantly recommending outside reading that were biographies of authors, histories of the time in which the novels were set or other relevant non-fiction titles. In addition, many of our assignments throughout high school were assigned in in partnership with other classes. For example, the research paper for the Freshman science classes had components that were part of the English class.

Posted by: MLHVA1 | February 22, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

I have read many non-fiction books, most of which are interesting, non-"research paper" types. Of the many I have enjoyed that I think would be good for young adults, my favorites have been "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, "Candyfreak" by Steve Almond, "Chew on This" by Eric Schlosser, "Warriors Don't Cry" by Melba Patillo Beals, "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" by Lynne Truss, "A Little History of the World" by E.H. Gombrich, and finally "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" by Bill Bryson.

Posted by: turtleman25 | February 22, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick, February 2009)
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Freedom by Phillip Hoose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 2009)
Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl by Albert Marrin (Dutton, August 2009)
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt, 2008)
I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields (Henry Holt, 2008)
No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin (Henry Holt, 2008)
How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Being
Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi (Penguin, 2008
A Child Called It (students love this book!)

Also, it is important to note that while nonfiction is an important genre, it is equally important for students to learn to read other types of online and offline expository text such as technical manuals (could they find a replacement filter for their refrigerator in an online manual?), recreational trail maps, bus and transit system routes or college/work applications. While these types of "texts" may not require as sophisticated reading levels necessary to interpret Tolstoy, they are certainly important and engaging for struggling readers and functional literacy.

Posted by: kimkopfman | February 22, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Yes, yes, yes.
Non-fiction doesn't have to be boring for kids.
On the break-in edge of non-fiction is Historical Fiction, and in that vein, I'd suggest:
SHACKLETON'S STOWAWAY, by Victoria McKernan It's the story of Shackleton's famous escape from the perils of the Antarctic, but this time told from the imagined perspective of the youngest non-member of the crew.

For absolutely riveting non-fiction: INTO THIN AIR, by Jon Krakauer - a personal account of survival and surrender of a harrowing expedition challenging Mt. Everest in 1996...the book is thrillingly enhanced by the author's own experience as a technical climber coupled with the story-telling skill he obtained as a journalist.

For a more immediate subject, try "THE NEW EMPIRE OF DEBT," by Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin. Sounds dull, but the book is excellently written, dripping with a compelling mix of fact, cynicism, and sarcasm, and is so humorous in spots that it brings open guffaws as you turn the pages. The book chronicles the struggles and follies of previous empires that have run aground on the jagged rocks of debt...a situation the USA now finds itself in. If only every member of Congress would read it, we might yet find a way out our impending fiscal demise.

Posted by: cobysm3 | February 22, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I am a recent college graduate and have had my share of both good and bad reading lists. I was never a fan of non-fiction for the some of very reasons you suggest in your article; I thought they were boring.

However, I had a fantastic college history professor who introduced the class to a number of outstanding works of non-fiction. And because of him I have grown to love the genre. So, here is my top three list of great non-fiction:

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver and her family move from Arizona to Virginia to spend a year living off of the food they grow and raise on their farm, which creates a poinant story of the cycle of life and death. It is also a stark narrative about the "cost" our nation pays for the industrialization of agriculture.

"A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller" by Frances Mayes. I think many young people today have a passion for discovering and experiencing new places and cultures, which is why I love reading travel essays. Mayes has a particular talent for making every place she visits enchanting.

"The Complete Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi. I was hesitant to read this memoir because I didn't know much about the Iranian Revolution, but that is the great thing about the book, it is both memoir and history lesson. I think the best selling point is that it is written as a comic book, which can really make it accessible to high-school students. Satrapi is also very open and honest about what it was like growing up in a Muslim country, which I found fascinating.

Posted by: jkryan14 | February 22, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I graduated from a Fairfax County high school in 2003, and I took both AP English Language/Composition and AP English Literature/Composition. For my AP Language class, we were required to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee during the summer. (I didn't really care for it, but after visiting the American Indian Museum during the holidays, my father is now reading and enjoying it.) In that same course, I was also was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I loved. I was never required to read James Baldwin in high school, and the only other work by a black author that I read in high school was Invisible Man. We also read selections from Walden.

Some more suggestions (These were all mentioned already)
The Color of Water (It's a pretty short read.)
Freakanomics (All incoming VCU freshmen were required to read this a few years ago.)
Outliers (All of Gladwell's books are highly readable and enjoyable--even to those who don't do much pleasure reading often. This one is my favorite.)
The Bookseller of Kabul

Posted by: DCgalnSeattle | February 22, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

David Halberstam's The Best American Sportswriting of the Century. What's not to like: fabulous writing by Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Red Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Ring Lardner, Mike Royko, and a host of others. If you're talking about writing that is excellent and interesting even to somewhat reluctant readers, this is it.

Posted by: bk0512 | February 22, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Even before the earthquake in Haiti I would have suggested Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains." Others I second or suggest include Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time" about the survivors of our Dust Bowl years
"The Color of Water" by James McBride
"Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom
"Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
"Ishi - Last of his Tribe" by Theodora Kroeber
Finally I would add two of my son's favorite books, "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air" by John Krakauer, both mentioned many times above. There are at least a dozen more books listed by others which I could easily add to my list. Thank you for your thought-provoking article.

Posted by: snglxpkmom | February 23, 2010 1:17 AM | Report abuse

The best non-fiction for students to read would be the word of God, the Bible KJV. Not only would they get great prose, but a model for living life and a chance to know Jesus the saviour and King. Now many will say, we can't have Jesus in the schools, and of course we did take him out of public schools, but really how's that working out? Have things gotten better? Has the removing of God made this a better world? Look around and take a real good look and answer this question for yourself honestly..

Posted by: locotest1 | February 23, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Museums have many good childrens' books in the areas of history, art/architecture and the sciences, as does National Geographic. There used to be National Geographic stores in the DC area, but I don't know if those still exist. There are also many publications available from the National Archives, based on materials in their collection. I remember one on the presidents (short bios) and one on significant documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation etc.). There are some publications designed for school use, with teachers' guides. All of the above have websites.

Posted by: momof4md | February 23, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Renaissance Learning actually has a lot of lists they maintain. One of their more interesting are books recommended for the college bound available at: http://tinyurl.com/ybwc64j. They have quite a few Non-fiction titles:
-Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.
-An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962
-And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of 12 Gifted Inner-City High School Students
-Chinese Cinderella
-Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam
These are just a few through D.
I would also add Neil deGrasse Tyson books. I was never that interested in astronomy until I read him as an adult. One thing to think about with non-fiction is that it is a great opportunity to do read aloud with even older children. Part of the value and challenge of Non-fiction is that it is more demanding and it helps kids to have an adult co-reading these types of materials with them. I have found this to be the case with my 8 year old.

Posted by: Brooklander | February 23, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Most readers of this blog will start composing a list before reaching the end of the post. Likely, most suggested lists will contain worthy material (I doubt anyone suggested Mein Kampf or Calculus on Manifolds). That normal people leap to prescribe for other people's children illustrates one large problem with a State (government, generally) role in the education industry.

What size shoes should my neighbor's 12-year-old daughter wear? You have no idea. In a compassionate society, people would accept that other people's children are not their business, unless parents ask for help. Children should read what their parents want them to read.

Posted by: malcolmkirkpatrick | February 23, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I would recommend:
Nothing Like It in the World by Stephen E. Ambrose (building of the transcontinental railroad)
Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose
(what actual soldiers experienced in WWII)
The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
(opened my eyes to horrors of mass-production of food)
The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan
(people who survived The Dust Bowl)
Linda C. Howard
Frederick, MD

Posted by: lchjmh | February 23, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Great topic, Jay! I agree that students need to read more good non-fiction. During the last few years of my teaching American Studies Honors to Sophomores, all students read The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, The Devil In The White City, and Hiroshima. We also had a 'last reading project' where students chose from a list of ten books which deal with more recent American history. They completed reading journals, spent two class periods in small groups discussing the book they had read, and gave a group oral report to the class, which often took 3-4 class periods for all 10 groups. The following were the titles we used:
COLOR OF WATER, THE,
McBride
A black man’s memoir of his white mother covers race issues in an interesting way
FAITH OF MY FATHERS, McCain
Campaign autobiography of Arizona Senator, former Navy pilot and POW in Vietnam
FEMININE MYSTIQUE, Friedan A book seen by some as the genesis of the modern women’s movement.
FORTUNATE SON, Puller Son of a WWII Marine hero, a disabled Vietnam veteran tells his tragic story.
HOPE IN THE UNSEEN, A, Suskind Inspiring story of black, inner-city, DC boy who goes to Brown.
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, Bourdain Anecdote-filled view of what really goes on behind the scenes in famous restaurants
LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME, Loewen
How history textbooks shape\distort our view of America’s past.
SAVAGE INEQUALITIES, Kozol Focuses on 1988-1990, inner-city schools. Easy to read, difficult to acknowledge
SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN, THE Fadiman
Conflict between American medicine and Hmong [Vietnamese immigrants] with sick baby
WHEN HEAVEN AND EARTH CHANGED PLACES, Hayslip
Vietnamese woman’s riveting story of life during and after the Vietnam War.

For some students, this was their favorite book of the year, and always generated thoughtful journals and wonderful class discussions.

Art Pease, Lebanon, NH, high school, retired


Posted by: aspnh | February 23, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

As a high school English and US History teacher for 11th and 12th graders (Choices Charter School)in Sacramento, CA, Mr. Mathews affirmed for me the importance of students reading non-fiction novels in high school. In my experience true stories help struggling students find confidence in themselves and help them discover their own writing voice. Novels I have used include:
*The Color of Water by James Baldwin
*Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
*Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
*A Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
*The Soloist by David Lopez
*The Freedom Writer's Diary by Erin Gruell
I also encourage and use op/ed articles for journal writing and persuasive essay projects. Thank you and happy reading!

Posted by: komoore | February 23, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

A couple thoughts: You should check out the English Companion Ning to see teachers using and grappling with nonfiction.

Also, there are these other classes in school called science and history and math and so on where there is no poetry at all...Well, at least not much...

Finally, there is an entire AP course called AP Language and Comp which teaches only nonfiction. Here's my blog where you can see it in action (more or less). http:http://nstearns.edublogs.org/category/ap-english/

Oh, and I did want to suggest Dave Eggers' Zeitoun and William Styron's Darkness Visible as worthy memoir non-fiction.

Posted by: nstearns | February 23, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

I couldn't help but chuckle at one particular post here. Nobody is suggesting that we compose a list of mandatory reads that needs to be enforced in our schools. The most wonderful aspect of reading is that it can be shared! Lighten up!

Posted by: jkryan14 | February 23, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Anything by Tracy Kidder. His books are fabulous nonfiction.

Posted by: Jenny04 | February 23, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I heartily endorse the recommendation of anything by Richard Feynman. Feynman is one of my all-time favorites--smart, historically relevant, and thoroughly entertaining. I can vouch for Feynman's accessibility to young teens, as my 15-year-old son read his works years ago on his own initiative.

Here are my contributions:

The Gnostic Gospels - Elaine Pagels
Born to Buy - Juliet Schor
The Overspent American - Juliet Schor
The Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis
Democracy in America - Alexis de Tocqueville

Great article!

Posted by: JenPam2003 | February 24, 2010 5:12 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I wanted to add a recommendation for an excellent autobiography in graphic form. My Elizabeth Seton student was assigned it in class this year.

The book is Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman. This is a must-read, and it should prove appealing to students because of its unusual presentation.

Posted by: JenPam2003 | February 24, 2010 5:19 AM | Report abuse

Jay, at my high school, named posthumously after British essayist and art critic John Ruskin, our reading was mainly limited to modern classic literature and occasionally a biography or a social science article as part of homework as part of an anthology or sorts.
Later, in college classes: political science, African American Literature, and American History to the present one might find a variety of books by different authors on subjects as diverse as geography, intelligence and class structure, and the autobiography.
Jay, in college as well as high school, I found that most of my non-fiction reading of the meaningful sort was done on a rainy day in the library stacks or at home when playmates were otherwise busy and involved mostly the autobiography.
A couple of personalities who I am holding out hope to pen an autobiography sometime in my lifetime:
Debbie Allen Nixon, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Sam Donaldson and my 12th grade AP English teacher J G'singer.
Jay, I thank you for your observation and will reference Malcolm Gladwell.

Posted by: gfrizell2000 | February 24, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Here are some of our suggestions for engaging non-fiction:
Richard Preston's THE WILD TREES (college students free-climb the giant Sequoias and explore that ecological system 300 feet up!);
Samantha Weinberg's A FISH CAUGHT IN TIME (the evolutionary step from fish to reptile);
Robert Kurson's SHADOW DIVERS (Scuba divers find and identify a previously unknown U-boat 70 miles off the New Jersey coast); and, Anne Matthews' BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS (Inside the American College Campus Now--a look at what is ahead for many students).
We would also second the nominations for Bill Bryson's A WALK IN THE WOODS, Richard Preston's THE HOT ZONE, and books by Simon Winchester and Tony Horowitz - all entertaining as well as informative. We will look forward to a compilation of your readers' suggestions.

Posted by: ecwhite49 | February 24, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Jay, a wonderful piece. As a great lover of non-fiction I was delighted and pleasantly surprised when Oakton High assigned Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson to my daughter's sophomore class at Oakton High. I think it was a very timely book to read given the ongoing war in Afghanistan. So there are some interesting teachers there who are thinking beyond Elie Wiesel's "Night"!

In addition to the fine recommendations by other posters to read Oliver Sacks, Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond, I'd add wonderful non-fiction writers like John McPhee and Tom Wolfe.

Posted by: dcscribe | February 24, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I read through the list finally finding that NSNCC mentioned
Three Cups of Tea.
For all of you who wrote Into Thin Air (I liked it too) , you should read this. It is more relevent to high school students and our time in history. Ditto on
Stones Into Schools.
I add that
Post American World Farheed Zakaria
should be on the list for Government classes. It puts the past few years into context and gives some food for thought.

Salt a history of the world
1491
My Hidden Face

Posted by: liveyourmyth | February 25, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

My reading interests today are overwhelmingly in the non-fiction genre, especially American (especially colonial) history and politics. I've come a long way since 4th grade when I devoured the latest Nancy Drew book. However, I would like to say thank you to The Readers' Digest Condensed Books for my exposure as a pre-teen and teen to a broad selection of literature. I'm not talking about Condensed Books as they have devolved into today (I gave up on them decades ago), but those of the 50's and 60's that were well-done and contained excellent selections. I often went on to read the unabridged book. We were a military family and moved often and had to keep our possessions light. The Condensed Books followed us around the world, and opened up a world to me that I might not have experienced otherwise.

Present favorites:

A Mighty Long Way / Lanier (The Little Rock Nine)
The Island at the Center of the World / Shorto (history of Dutch Manhattan)
On Hallowed Ground / Poole (history of Arlington Cemetery)
The Bloody Shirt / Budiansky (post-Civil War South)
1421 : The Year China Discovered America / Menzies
1812 : the war that forged a nation / Borneman (get ready for the 200th anniversary)
Plain Honest Men : the writing of the Constitution / Beeman
Cod / Kurlansky

Posted by: keisha10591 | February 25, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Yeah! This would do much to improve our lagging scores in Science, History, and Mathematics. There are so many excellent nonfiction authors, titles, and journal, or scholarly magazine articles for them to devour. It teaches them how to understand research and apply what we know is true to what we do daily. Reading non-fiction helps all of us in deciphering the wheat from the chafe. These are skills too many HS grads have little or no knowledge of, and that's rather sad when we are compared to what nations with much less $$ are teaching their children. Those with the knowledge will always be those with the most power and where the US has been losing ground for decades.

Posted by: isellbookstou | February 26, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

locotest1: A lot of us consider the Bible fiction.

PhillyLew: ". . . nonfiction books I remember from high school circa 1950 are: Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis's Nobel Prize winning novel." Is it a novel or nonfiction?

Didn't the Post do an article about Jamestown back when the movie "Pocahantas" was popular? As I recall, a guide at Jamestown said kids were coming in because of the movie but when they left most of them said the real thing was a lot more interesting than the movie. I think most kids would agree, if they could read anything besides the committee-prepared, dumbed-down history texts we inflict on them.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 26, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it be an excellent opportunity to include non-fiction
in subject area classes, other than English? For years "Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum" has been given lip service, and, essentially the task of teaching these skills has remained the sole function of the English/Language Arts teacher. It would certainly be refreshing to expose students to genres other than fiction in other subject areas.

Posted by: springer2 | February 27, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

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