Readers, I didn’t know I wanted to know about the history of indigo dye or the science behind a perfect wine pairing—until a few fellow readers recommended the right books. After a few pages of captivating research and pithy prose, I couldn’t stop reading!
Many of you share my love of learning and embrace unlikely topics in your quest for knowledge. No matter your niche interest (in my case: urban planning), reading is the perfect way to nourish an investigative mind with new and fascinating information.
In today’s collection of delightfully nerdy nonfiction, you’ll find expert writing, engaging stories, and easy-to-absorb details about topics you never thought you wanted to learn about.
You don’t need to be an avid nonfiction reader to enjoy the titles on today’s list. Many readers suggest listening to these selections in their audiobook format, making the listening experience as podcast-like as possible. Or, if you’re feeling especially nerdy, go ahead and pretend you’ve been assigned reading for class; the author becomes your instructor. (For better or worse, you’ll have to assign your own homework.)
No matter how you approach nonfiction in your reading life, I hope you find your next nerdy read on this list—and we can’t wait to hear your favorite topics to learn about in the comments!
Find a new niche interest in these 10 nerdy nonfiction books
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Well-known for her popular science nonfiction and unique storytelling voice, Mary Roach somehow manages to make the mundane—and the outrageous—feel accessible and fascinating. In this 2010 release, she explores how humans survive in space. To decide how to handle basic bodily functions and wild what-ifs, space engineers and scientists devise all sorts of detailed tests to bring intergalactic conditions to earth. Roach takes us behind the scenes of these bizarre experiments to answer questions about gravity, bodies, and daily life in space. If you’ve read The Martian
by Andy Weir and wondered just how much of it is based on facts, this book holds the answers. More info →
If you’ve been a blog reader for a while, you may know that my particular nerdy niche is urban planning. I love reading about how seemingly simple infrastructure like sidewalks, city parks, and even intersections affect our daily lives in big ways. This is one of my go-to urban planning recommendations. Speck is a bit of a contrarian: at its heart, the book isn’t about walking at all. Instead, Speck aims to show how we can deliberately plan urban spaces to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. At a deeper level, Speck reveals how our spaces shape our behavior, whether or not we’re aware of it. Pragmatic, relevant, and completely fascinating. More info →
How does one take a look at their dining room table, find the most common item on it and think “I’d like to write a book about that?” I marvel at the inquisitive minds and research capabilities of authors like Mark Kurlanksy, who’s written about oysters, paper, milk, and salt—common items that have shaped history. Salt seems basic and downright cheap today, but it once served as a valuable item in trades, inadvertently launched entire cities, funded wars, and shaped society as we know it. From world history to culinary techniques to cultural traditions, salt’s influence is surprising and vast—and Kurlansky shapes it into an enjoyable read with incredible storytelling and journalism. More info →
You don’t need to be a wine drinker or an aspiring sommelier to enjoy this book. After my husband read it, he put this in my hands and said, “read this so we can talk about it.” (A surefire way to hook me into picking up a book!) The author quit her job as a journalist and dove headlong into the wine industry, giving herself a year to become a master sommelier. I appreciated the nice mix of science, story, and humor here, and understand the comparisons to Mary Roach and Anthony Bourdain. Fun and funny, plus it inspired us to step out of our comfort zone at the local wine shop. More info →
What could we possibly learn about the body’s most intuitive, essential function? A lot, as I was surprised to find out. Journalist James Nestor argues that going back to the essentials of active, intentional breathing can help us feel and move better through our day to day lives. Nestor traveled the world to collect stories and practices to help us reconnect to our breath, from ancient yoga breath work to local choir school exercises. Combining these stories with scientific research from pulmonology, biochemistry, and physiology, Nestor crafts a compelling case for paying closer attention to our breath and adding corrective measures. I’ve already noticed better posture at my desk and better timing on my runs from putting some of these tips into practice. More info →
Our Book Club
community manager and nonfiction lover Ginger found this title among James Mustich’s
1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. In this slim volume, McPhee shares everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about oranges. The seemingly ubiquitous fruit is rich with history and its importance in the realms of climate, geography, economics, and nutrition will surprise you. McPhee’s engaging voice will make you feel like you took an exciting class field trip to the Florida orchards. You’ll never look at an orange the same way again. More info →
What Should I Read Next
producer Brenna described this as “compulsively readable” and finished it in 24 hours because she kept wanting more. Montell is both a linguist and a passionate nerd about words and language. Here she investigates why people join and stay in cults—not through mind control but through the power of language. In addition to shaping dangerous cults worthy of documentaries, “cultish” language has infiltrated our everyday lives in start-up culture, exercise programs, and modern marketing. Montell narrates the audiobook, creating a podcast-like experience perfect for fans of The Allusionist
. More info →
Lucy Knisley described this as “a wonderful stress read” on What Should I Read Next Episode 270
. Kassia St. Clair presents colors we encounter in our clothing, in our floral arrangements, and in famous paintings and uncovers information I wouldn’t even think to inquire about. Part essay collection, part detailed history, each chapter features a vivid picture of a color, then explains where and how it originated: when people started using it, how they were using it, and how they created it in the first place. A mesmerizing read that will have you seeing the world a little differently. More info →
This recommendation comes from devoted White Sox fan Leigh Kramer. Without her endorsement of this book, I never would have known just how many major league pitchers came close to throwing a perfect game—or that a perfect game is even possible! Cox profiles the pitchers who missed a perfect game by mere inches and technicalities. Sports fans will fall in love with their stories of the heart, hard work, and twists of fate—and nerdy readers will delight in these human stories full of little known facts and statistics. More info →
German forester Peter Wohlleben writes with such adoration for his topic. Plants are living things—I know this because many of them live in my house and thrive in the same conditions I enjoy with plenty of food, water, and sunlight—but Wohlleben reveals how trees are like real, living families. They grow in families, communicate their needs to one another, and lead long, healthy lives because of their support systems. I’m a reader who loves metaphors, and I can sense this book is full of lessons to be applied to my own family life. If you’re a lover of long walks through the forest, fresh air, and ecological literature, this informative book is for you. More info →
What nerdy nonfiction topic do you love to read about? Please share it along with your book recommendations in the comments!
P.S. Learn something new with 12 narrative nonfiction books to satisfy your sense of adventure or 15 absorbing nonfiction books to inspire your inner scientist.
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