Nonfiction for the curious-minded
It’s human nature to be drawn to stories of the unusual and unexpected. These days there’s no shortage of marathon-worthy media to quench our thirst: true crime podcasts, nearly unbelievable nature shows, and docuseries taking us behind the scenes of cults and corruption. Something about the combination of being stunned and learning something new keeps us coming back for more. If you're a curious-minded reader, check out these page-turners.
Discover an overlooked and unbelievable tale from World War I in The Confidence Men by Margalit Fox. This is the larger-than-life story of two British officers and their outlandish escape from a Turkish prisoner of war camp, an escape that involved a Ouija board, seances, and buried treasure. Fox draws on the memoirs of the officers to create a fascinating, fast-paced read that goes beyond the prison break to examine the era’s zeal for spiritualism and the powers of persuasion. [e-book | print]
Deep in the mountains, there’s a community with no cell phones or Wi-Fi, where even the use of a microwave can put a person on the government’s radar. Though it sounds ripped from the pages of a dystopian novel, Stephen Kurczy's The Quiet Zone uncovers the realities of life in Green Bank, West Virginia. The town is situated in the National Radio Quiet Zone, where radio transmissions are legally restricted to facilitate scientific research and military intelligence. Award-winning journalist Kurczy separates fact from fiction, giving readers a peek into the impact of the restrictions and other unusual influences on local culture. [e-book | print]
The Organ Thieves by Chip Jones mixes true crime, science writing, and social history to shed light on the medical injustices inflicted on Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. Jones tells the moving and tragic story of Bruce Tucker, a Black laborer who entered a hospital with a head injury in 1968 and had his heart transplanted into a local businessman. Tucker's family was never notified and the case led to a major lawsuit and legal questions about the concept of brain-death. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is a look at the intersection of ethics, consent, and racism, shining light on one more name in a long history of unethical medical treatment. [e-book | print]
In The Woman They Could Not Silence, bestselling author Kate Moore (The Radium Girls) delves into the 19th-century practice of sending unwanted wives to asylums. In the summer of 1860, when Elizabeth Packard's controlling husband could no longer tolerate her intelligent and independent nature, he had her committed to the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville. Packard witnessed the institution's horrors, including that she was not the only sane woman confined there. Moore meticulously details Packard's fight for freedom and her campaigns to expand for women’s rights and asylum conditions. Narrated by the author, the award-winning audiobook conveys Moore's and Packard's passion for equal rights. [e-book | print | audiobook]
In Secondhand, Adam Minter pulls back the curtain on the curiously lucrative secondhand industry. From the local Goodwill to flea markets across the globe, Minter offers an engaging look at the people who profit from our unwanted items and the consequences of a consumer market built around fast-fashion and disposable goods. Try the energetic audiobook to keep you company during your next closet cleanout and you might walk away with some sustainable shopping strategies. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Brandy Schillace’s Mr. Humble & Dr. Butcher is possibly the most curious of the titles on this list, introducing readers to the controversial and ambitious Dr. Robert White. After transplanting a monkey’s head to the body of another in 1970, White was adamant that head and brain transplants for humans would be the next medical breakthrough. Grappling with the ethics of his research and his own deep Catholic faith, and despite his run-ins with animal rights activists and skeptics, the eccentric White continued his quest and even hoped to find a way to prolong the life of the soul beyond death. This is an eye-opening look at the scientific fervor of the Cold War period and the costs of medical innovation. [e-book | print]
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