My favorite non-sports books …

Was recently asked by someone to list my all-time favorite non-sports books. This is completely off the top of my head, because it’s impossible to remember all this stuff from 30-plus years of reading. But …

1. The Autobiography of Malcom X: I’m currently reading Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which is fantastic and calls much of Autobiography’s content into question. But I read the original when I was 18, young, naive, sheltered. It blew my mind—and still does.

2. The Things They Carried: Tom O’Brien’s classic Nam text. Just beautiful, 1,000 times over.

3. Confederates in the Attic: Tony Horwitz’s look at Civil War reenactors is so engrossing, so well-written, so … everything. Bliss.

4. Sons of Mississippi: I discovered this one while researching Sweetness, and I couldn’t put it down. Paul Hendrickson takes a photo of a bunch of racist law enforcement officials, tracks them down four decades later, finds out who they were, what makes them tick, etc.

5. In Cold Blood: I mean, what’s to say? Perfect in all ways. Reporting. Writing. Voice. Timing. Perfect.

9 thoughts on “My favorite non-sports books …”

  1. Obviously with the many millions of books out there, there would be much variety in such list, but off the top of my head, I’d include these on my list of favorite non-fiction, non-sports books:

    1. The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer – brilliant portrait of Gary Gilmore and the people affected by his murders and a first rate look at capital punishment.

    2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – for the reasons you gave.

    3. And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts – well-researched, well-written book about the early days of AIDS (Shilts book about gays in the military, Conduct Unbecoming, is also fantastic).

    4. Black Boy by Richard Wright – moving account of his growing up in the South dealing with racism and family.

    5. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman – excellent account of the beginning of World War I.

  2. A few more recommendations:

    1) Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein – Probably my 2nd favorite non-fiction book, after Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball. About a zamboni driver/janitor/pen salesman/pelt smuggler/bank robber in post-Soviet Hungary. Amazing.
    2) Charlie Wilson’s War – Remarkable story that got a shoddy movie version.
    3) Prayer for the City – Buzz Bissinger’s best book. It follows Ed Rendell and a host of other Philadelphians in the early 90s.

  3. Pleasantly surprised to see Sons of Mississippi on your list. I just happened across that book at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, the cover caught my eye. I had never really heard much about it before then or since, but read it and was absolutely blown away. Great book.

  4. If there is a better book than The Things They Carried, I haven’t read it. No piece of literature has influenced me more than that book. Hyperbolic as it may seem, I’m pretty sure that the final paragraph of “How To Tell A True War Story” is my favorite thing that’s ever been written.

    Jeff, if you’ve never read O’Brien’s essay about his trip back to Vietnam for the New York Times Magazine, where he weaves in stuff from the Mi Lai trial, a lost love, and a time in his life when he contemplated suicide, it’s something you should definitely check out. Heartbreaking and beautiful in ways I could never do justice.

  5. In the same vein as Bobby Fetter’s comment I suggest The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

    If you ever want to understand what makes a person an outstanding individual, a promoter of decency and someone who raises the level of the human condition read this book that was written about 1900 years ago…and is still relevant

  6. I’m going to pick up Sons of Mississippi today.

    Have you read “The Last Campaign” by Thurston Clarke? It’s about the 82 days of Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

  7. since I’m a musician here’s a few I’ve read that were great reads and my personal faves:

    1) Take it Like A Man – Boy George: trust me, a great look into fame, addiction and being a gay man in the 80’s. I bought all of his solo records after reading just because I wanted to hear them because of the mindset he was in.

    2) Crazy From The Heat: David Lee Roth: It reads just like he speaks, which is not only hysterical and all over the place it is a first hand look into one of the biggest bands ever. There was definitely no ghost writer there.

    3) Get in The Van: Henry Rollins: he’s written many amazing books, but this tells about his time touring with Black Flag and all of the crazy shit you do on a DIY tour. Read it while on a cross country tour with my band and was like a survival guide.

    4) Kiss and Sell: Watson Guptill: this was NOT written by any members of KIss, but by one of their financial guys and tells a true account of the band. Not like the hype fluff pieces that Gene puts out. Tells the REAL reason why they did certain things.

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