5 Books You MUST Read Before You Die (Non-Fiction)

Okay, so I couldn’t wait anymore to share with you one of the gifts that I got for my birthday: it’s a Kindle!

Which means, I’ll be needing a lot more book recommendations once I get this baby in the mail.

Since I got some really great recommendations from you guys in my post 5 Books You MUST Read Before You Die I decided I’d make sequel. This time, the books we will be talking about are going to be exclusively non-fiction. I am very excited to hear about what 5 NON-FICTION books you think everyone MUST read before they leave this earth.

But first, here are mine:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Self-Help/Spiritual)

I find myself recommending this all the time to my readers and to fellow bloggers. Turns out 1 out of 3 posts written by writers that I read in the blogosphere are posts about writer’s block. I’m not kidding. Writer’s block is an increasingly pervasive affliction–a terrible pandemic that is spreading more and more among writers and other artists, and I can’t help but feel that it is my duty as a fellow artist to do something about it. But of course I don’t want to ram this book down your throat if you already heard about it a million times and honestly are not interested, so this will be the last time I will be mentioning this book on this blog or on any other blog (I mentioned it once before in my post about writing and spirituality.) What is this book about? That’s hard to explain, because it encompasses so many things. It’s basically a workshop in getting your life back together. I could have said it is about removing that writer’s block, or to help those creative juices flowing, but the truth is you will find that this is the most life-changing book you will ever read. This isn’t a self-help book–this a cure, a giant step in the right direction, a revelation, a bold way to look at the world and creativity, the answer to all of your prayers of despair and frustration as a lonely and lowly artist. Well, what are you still doing reading this? Go out, buy this book and start the first week of exercises today. You will never regret embarking on the first step toward a new, fulfilling life.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (Spiritual/Psychology)

If you do only have one year left to live ,and you have only 5 non-fiction books you can read before the end, what better book is there than the one that will teach you how to savor every last moment on this earth? This book is more than just the prequel to Oprah’s Book Club pick, it may very well be the defining book of the 21st Century.  I may be exaggerating, but it also may be pointing towards the next stage of human evolution. After all, won’t world peace and love reign once we all stop being so obsessed with past and future worries, and just live right here, in this very moment? If this book can help us become more present in our lives, then humanity may be on the road to paradise.

The Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s by Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez (History)

Did you know that during the 1930’s and 40’s it was U.S. policy to exile hundreds of Mexican immigrants and their American-born children out of the United States, and send them back to Mexico? Neither did I, until I read this book. A very in-depth and fascinating read, Decade of Betrayal illustrates how a great nation can resort to shameful actions of dehumanization when under great fear and uncertainty. During the The Great Depression, much of the countries financial woes were blamed on Mexican immigrants who supposedly were taking American jobs. (Sounds eerily familiar, uh?) The immigrants were thrown into trains, ships, and some had to take the long drive south of the border by themselves. The conditions using all three methods of transportation were awful. Many of those who traveled in trains had to stand for hours on end, without food or a bathroom to use, and you can imagine how that was like. At the end, they were often thrown out of the train in the middle of the night, in a random town in Mexico they were unfamiliar with and had no relatives they could contact for help. The story doesn’t end there. Repatriated Mexicans had a very difficult time adjusting to their new home, because it was evident that they were in fact Americans who had already adjusted to an American way of living. This book is an important reminder for us to never let our fear and ignorance lead us to abuse and demoralize our fellow human beings.

One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future by Paul and Anne Ehrlich (Science)

I use a canvas bag at Target; when I use a plastic bottle I guard it with my life until I reach a recycling bin; I am aware of how long I take in the shower; I try to use hand wash and detergent that is good for the environment. This is all thanks to–not Al Gore but–this book. I read this book a year before Al Gore’s documentary came out and was fortunate enough to take a class with one of its authors in college. Let’s just say that Al Gore’s movie only scratches the surface of a very very very urgent issue. Forget everything else, CLIMATE CHANGE IS the issue of our times. The great thing is that the authors aren’t pessimistic about solving the problem, they offer very practical and doable solutions (such as a high-speed railway, a solution that is already being made real-which shows the influence of this book since high-speed trains were one of the book’s big recommendations.) You will UNDERSTAND climate change after you read this book. I mean, like, every little detail of it.  It will automatically make the person who reads it totally conscious of their effect on the planet. If after ALL the talk, you still don’t think climate change is a big deal, then all I have to say is this: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. After you’re done, I won’t be surprised if you rush to turn off any light that isn’t in use from then on.

Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoraeu (Philosophy)

It is often said that the greatest thinkers and philosophers came from Europe. Well, lucky for Americans, they are wrong.  We got Thoreau, so there. Thoraeu was way ahead of the game. You might even say he was a precursor to many of the future leaders and thinkers of the 20th and 21st Century, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Eckhart Tolle, Barack Obama, gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, and hippies. Yes, hippies. He may very well be the missing link between early American settlers and Cheech and Chong–except without all the psychedelics. No, but seriously, his message of “power to the people” is something that should be read over and over again. His way of life during that year in Walden–simplicity, respect of nature, quiet meditation, just being not striving— should be replicated in our everyday lives. If you haven’t read HDT, you should. If you read him in college or in high school, you should read it again, because I guarantee you missed something. That’s the thing with HDT, he needs all your focus and attention, so if you got other things going on,  you’re likely to miss his point. But if you give him all your focus, I guarantee that happiness and peace will bloom.

much “I love sharing!”


What 5 Non-Fiction books do you think everyone should read before they die? Why?

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22 comments on “5 Books You MUST Read Before You Die (Non-Fiction)

  1. I have read the first book–it is totally amazing and intensely spiritual.

    And, I have Power of Now lying next to me on the couch with several other books. It is really enlightening–my kind of read.

    Great list, and I will look into others you’ve recommended 🙂


  2. Barb says:

    “how to write science-fiction and fantasy” + “characters & viewpoints” by Orson Scott Card.
    A non-fiction historical book, such as “the French under Louis XVI” (pick up your time in history and find a good book on that period, so you’ll know almost everything about it. Of course you should add more research, but any “compendium” might help).
    A biography of someone you admire – some creative preson, probably, who did amazing things during his/her life, and you’d love to know more about him/her.
    Any non-fiction research book on a topic of your choice. Do you see a pattern here? 😉 Yes, I’m loving my historical research (and I wasn’t so fond of History back in school), and think you can never learn enough.
    Happy reading!

    • Ollin says:

      autobiographies are always inspiring reads, especially about people who you are inspired by. I’ve read one on Ghandi and I was floored by how much I learned from his life. He was truly a saint walking on earth. Thanks for the recs!

  3. Damn! Now I’m probably the last person on earth without an e-book reader 😦

  4. Scary to hear about the treatment of Mexican immigrants in our nation!!!

    You Were Born for This by Bruce Wilkinson is a non-fiction book. The message is defined on the cover as 7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles. It’s a book for Christians wishing to be used on this Earth to help others. It’s a great book.

    Thank you for your list of books. I am especially captivated by The Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930’s. Thank you for sharing.

  5. aloysa says:

    Unfortunately I cannot recommend any non-fiction books because I don’t read non-fiction. Oh well… maybe French Women Don’t Get Fat. Just kidding. How are you liking your Kindle? I got it a month ago myself and I am loving it. I love books, and feeling of them, holding them in my hands. But now… I cannot imagine my life without Kindle.

    • Ollin says:

      It was ordered for me, I should be getting it any time this week. I will let you know what I think, but I know already that I will love it! 🙂

  6. Lua says:

    Ah what a great list Ollin ( I may not be a blogger anymore- but I still follow some of my favorite bloggers 😉
    I’ll have to add Ted Kooser’s Local Wonders- one of my favorite non-fiction books 🙂

    • Ollin says:

      Lua! You haven’t disappeared! 🙂 We’ll we’re sad to see you leave. 😦 But I understand. I recently deleted my twitter and facebook without much warning because I needed to focus more on my novel. So, sacrifices must be made! But there will always be a big hole in the blogger universe and you will always be welcome back with open arms. 🙂 Hope your masters program is treating you well. 🙂

  7. Congratulations on your Kindle! I’ve often wanted one if for no other reason than to ditch the weight of books that I carry around…
    I would suggest My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor which is mind-blowing on so many levels. If you have 18 minutes to hear her story about how she lost the left hemisphere of her brain due to a stroke and her amazing recovery as well as what she learned about finding peace, here is the link.
    I also recommend Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocast by Immaculee Ilibagiza which is the most inspiring story of survival and forgiveness I have ever read. It made me not only want to be a better more loving and forgiving person, but realize that I have that power.
    Of course I’m all over The Power of Now as you know Ollin. 🙂
    I can’t wait to check out some of the books on your list. Wow! You do have great taste!

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks! Interesting recs. I love that video of Jill Bolte Taylor. It’s fascinating. I haven’t read her book though.

      I would have to say you have great taste, too! I am falling IN LOVE with Les Miserable. I just finished the first book, or part {whatever you call it} Fantine. I am so surprised that I feel like I can’t put this book down and yet it’s 1,000 + pages! Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to be patient. Seriously though, I thought it was going to be like other classics that take FOR-EVER to get juicy. {Although they usually do once you get to it, and it’s pretty fun, but not as fun as this book!} Thanks for that rec. It may end up being on my future list of 5 books to read. 🙂

  8. jessieshires says:

    Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales, is an enduring favorite. He writes about differentiates those who survive from those who don’t, and he’s not just talking about situations of physical danger. I love how he identifies the Zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind as one attribute shared by survivors.

    I also love Stiff, by Mary Roach. Utterly fascinating, and it made me want to donate my body to science when I die.

    For biographies, read Rick Bragg’s books about his family: Ava’s Man, about his grandfather, All Over But the Shoutin’, about his mother, and The Prince of Frogtown, about his father. Pitch-perfect in their recreation of a time and a place, these books hit my very core every time I read them.

    1 Dead in Attic is a must. It’s a collection of Chris Rose’s newspaper columns in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Written by a local who watched his city destroyed and abandoned, it’s vivid, heartbreaking, compelling.

    And it’s almost cliche by now, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma is every bit as worthwhile as you’ve heard.

    • Ollin says:

      I’ve never heard of any of these except for The Omnivore’s Dilemma. That’s why this kind of post is great, I get to read stuff that all the other critics lists might of missed. Thanks for the recs, Jessie and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  9. Liza Kane says:

    Real quick (as I’m taking from my constructive writing time):

    There are so many, but like the Fiction list, I will offer the ones that have made the most impact on me throughout my reading-life:

    The Tao of Pooh
    In Defense of Food
    Mere Christianity
    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

    • Ollin says:

      I was always interested in reading Outliers. Seven habits is definitely a must read, and almost made the top 5. It’s actually one of those self-help books that really do provide a solid philosophy you can follow. Thanks for the recs!

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