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Favourite Nonfiction of 2020


Here are some of our favourites from the many books that we have read so far in 2020 - we loved them, and hope that you will too! Keep checking back for additions to this newest list of "must reads". All guaranteed to get you thinking.

Perrin, Benjamin.

Every two hours someone in Canada dies from a drug overdose. Even with the pandemic, Canada’s opioid crisis continues unabated and is its own public health emergency. Benjamin Perrin, a law and policy expert in Vancouver, knew that the crisis needed to be addressed and sought out solutions. Perrin approached his topic with an open mind and what he found changed the way he viewed Canada’s drug policies. Perrin interviewed police chiefs, chief medical officers, border officials, and doctors in an effort to find a way to overcome the opioid epidemic. What he found is both eye-opening and hopeful, as he documents solutions that have worked to stop overdoses in Vancouver. Each section of his book deals with questions you might have about the crisis such as, “Why do people start using?” and “Why can’t they stop?” to “Don’t supervised injection sites enable drug use?” The answers will leave you re-evaluating what you thought you knew about drugs and crime. This is one of the most important books I’ve read this year and I urge you all to open your own minds to Perrin’s argument. Jessica (Hespeler Library)

Schwarcz, Joe.
A grain of salt

Schwarcz explores the science, myths, and misconceptions around the food we eat, by looking at the scientific studies, as well as how the popular press (and the out-and-out charlatans) get things wrong. A good companion to Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?: when celebrity culture and science clash by Timothy A. Caulfield.

Sheldrake, Merlin.
Entangled life

Does for mushrooms what Peter Wohlleben did for trees in Hidden World of Trees. Sheldrake explores the inter-connectedness of the fungal world that exists in the ground around us, and does so with good storytelling, science and thoughtful prose. (Phil, QS)

Pattison, Kermit.
Fossil men

A real page turner. Focuses on the paleo-anthropology work of Tim White and his team who found the oldest human ancestor in Ethiopia. In-fighting, egos, civil war, warlords and more make this feel more like an adventure novel than an interesting non-fiction read. (Phil, QS)

May, Meredith.
The honey bus

Journalist and beekeeper May brings us a fascinating account of her childhood coming of age in California in the 70s. When her unstable mother's marriage imploded when she was five, they moved in with their grandmother and step-grandfather, who was a beekeeper. May was scared of bees at first but soon a whole new world opened up to the young, lonely, mostly parentless child. In learning incredible things about bees, May found a new life-long passion and the strength to save herself. Leah (Queen's Square)

Veitch, James

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you replied to a SPAM email? If you’ve seen James Veitch’s TED talk or any of his stand-up, you’ll recognize him as the man who found out the answer to that exact question. This book is a collection of Veitch’s hilarious exchanges with scammers around the world. Whether they’re asking him to send money for a business venture, pretending to be an old friend in trouble, or looking for love, these scammers have met their match with Veitch. Not only is every exchange comedy gold, these emails also take you into the mind of scammers and shine a light on some of the most common scams. Veitch’s philosophy is that the more he can waste a scammer’s time, the less time they’ll have to spend scamming vulnerable people. Don’t try this at home! (Or if you do, at least don’t respond with your personal email address.) Jessica (Hespeler)

Klein, Ezra
Why we're polarized

If you’ve been watching our neighbours to the south, you might think that Donald Trump came out of nowhere. Ezra Klein makes the case that the history of the United States, from how their political party system was set up, to how elections are run, made Trump inevitable. Klein argues, (I think successfully) that the increasing polarization we see was the logical outcome of decades of polices and practices. Don’t worry, this isn’t a dry, boring read, even though it is well-researched and well-argued. Each chapter takes you through a different aspect that has led to the intense polarization seen in the US. Klein also offers solutions moving forward which makes this book not as bleak as it could have been. A fascinating look at the causes of the current US political climate and a cautionary tale for us here in Canada. Jessica (Hespeler)

Trebek, Alex
The answer is...

Canadian treasure Alex Trebek tells the story of his life through a series of short, wholesome anecdotes. From growing up in Sudbury and his early broadcasting days with the CBC to getting his start in Hollywood and hosting the world's greatest quiz show, reading his warm recollections feels like chatting with an old friend. The real highlight is his insight into "Jeopardy," including his favourite contestants, his thoughts on a winning strategy, and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. Whether you're a die-hard "Jeopardy" fan or you just want to read about an interesting life well lived, "The Answer Is..." is a memoir not to be missed. (Jessica, Preston)

Criado-Perez, Caroline
Invisible women

Throughout the years, research has gone forward with the assumption that data on men alone is enough. This eye-opening, and at times infuriating book, lays out the case that we need to start accounting for women in data across all fields. For example, in the medical field, pharmaceutical trials tend not to include women as test subjects, claiming that their hormones get in the way of research. This has led to hospitalizations, and even deaths, as women have severe reactions to medications because researchers failed to test how these drugs would react with a woman’s physiological differences. It’s not just medicine that fails to account for women in their data set. This book is filled with examples. One example I found eye-opening is that safety ratings in cars are determined by only using crash test dummies built to the size and shape of the average male. Smaller people (men and women) tend to sit closer to the steering wheel, which can have devastating consequences in collisions as cars have not been built, or tested with these safety concerns in mind. Perez offers some solutions, but more importantly, she shines a light on a topic that has been invisible for too long. Recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it, and this book starts a much-needed conversation about women and data. Jessica (Hespeler)

Larson, Erik
The splendid and the vile

Larson has a great ability to dig into the individual and create a real sense of a living, breathing person. In this case, it's Winston Churchill, and we begin during the crushing Allied defeat on mainland Europe in May 1940. Larson really makes history come alive, and the assorted characters and family members in Churchill's circle are all well rendered. Phil (Queen's Square)

King, Thomas
77 fragments of a familiar ruin

In straight-forward prose, King takes the pulse of the nation, picks at some scabs, points out parts not easily seen, or so obvious and still missed. Meditative, exhilarating, maddening and yet honest and transformative. Psst. Don't be afraid that it's in the poetry section. Phil (Queen's Square)

Moorehead, Caroline.
A house in the mountains

Moorehead adds to her impressive resume of WWII histories, this time focusing on the partisan resistance centred around Turin in Italy and led by four remarkable women. Phil (Queen's Square)

McKay, Sinclair.
The fire and the darkness

McKay brings a wealth of new information, including those who survived the Dresden bombing into this excellent re-examination of the near obliteration of the German city in February 1945. Phil (Queen's Square)