November is the “Non-Fiction Reading” month, and I have compiled this list of non-fiction titles I am looking forward to reading in a near future.
Going to Chruch in Medieval England  by Nicholas Orme
I am interested in the history of religion and knowing how prominent the Church was in the lives of people in the Middle Ages, this book will undoubtedly be a very insightful read. It aims to show how churches in England “came into existence, who staffed them, and how their buildings were used, [explaining] who went to church, who did not attend, [and] how people behaved there.” The book explains how the calendar and Church activities existed in unison, and demystifies the English Reformation of the sixteenth century.
The Facemaker: One Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I  by Lindsey Fitzharris
Fitzharris’s debut book The Butchering Art  was an unputdownable history non-fiction that told of British surgeon Joseph Lister and the transformation of Victorian medicine. In this new non-fiction, the author presents the story of one visionary surgeon who rebuilt the faces of the First World War’s injured soldiers, making first contributions to the field plastic surgery. The focus of this account is otolaryngologist Harold Gillies from New Zealand, who is considered to be the father of modern plastic surgery.
A comprehensive biography of Chopin, though also a tad over-written and insensitive.
This book on Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin is the culmination of a ten years’ research project. Fryderyk or Frédéric Chopin is considered to be the greatest composer of the Romantic period, and this biography details his life from his early education and success in native Poland to his move and conquest of Paris through salon appearances, concerts and published works. Much in this book is about Chopin’s long-term relationship with female French novelist George Sand, but Chopin’s musical masterpieces, technique and piano theories are also dissected. Walker employs an engaging story-format to tell us about Chopin, a composer who was also largely self-taught and perpetually ill, providing invaluable insights into Chopin’s relationships with others. And, this well-researched book would have been a “must-read” biography if not for the fact that it is also over-written, with the author making some insensitive faux pas as he proceeds with his over-zealous narration.
Shamans, Healers, and Medicine Men [1987/92] – ★★★★★
A comprehensive, endlessly perceptive, & inspiring book on shamanism.
“Shamanism…is not a somehow obscure or incomprehensible or mysterious magical path, but a simple heightening of the emotional experience of the world; “the goal of the shamanic path of initiation is to broaden and deepen the normal emotionality that we all know” [Kalweit, Shambhala Publications, 1987/92: 219].
This book, translated from the German, is by Holger Kalweit, a German ethnologist and psychologist who studied shamans and shamanism in different corners of the world, including Hawaii, the American Southwest, Mexico and Tibet.With concrete examples drawn from the Ainu, Siberian, Yahgan and other shamanic traditions, Kalweit delves into the very heart of shamanism and explains detailly the nature of being a shaman, “a possessor of profound knowledge that cannot be grasped in words”. From shamanic training, testing and rituals inducing trance to shamanic healing powers, and duels and competitions, Kalweit touches on many topics and hardly stops there, elucidating further on such concepts as consciousness, reality, dreaming and on a variety of parapsychological phenomena, including “magic”, visions and near-death experience.
November is a “Non-Fiction” month, so I am trying to read more non-fiction books. Nature books are something I have been neglecting for some years now, so I have picked up Ackerman’s 2016 bestseller The Genius of Birds. Birds are some of the most remarkable animals on earth, but they have also been very misunderstood and it was only in the second half of the previous century that the scientific community had finally started realising their full complexity and intelligence. Now, in lists (for example, see list 1 and list 2) of the most intelligent animals in the world, birds (parrots, crows and pigeons) take their places alongside such animals as chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins and octopuses. Some birds are capable of inventing new solutions to problems, making and using tools, leading active social lives, recognising themselves in a mirror, remembering people or places they have not seen in months or years, and reproducing up to sixty different songs which they have heard only a few times. Ackerman’s book explores the technical, inventive, musical, artistic, spatial and social abilities of birds, opening up a side of birds and their intelligence you never knew existed.
Monarchs of the Sea: The Extraordinary 500-Million-Year History of Cephalopods [2017/20] – ★★★★
This book is about the magnificent, enigmatic and elusive cephalopods (a class of molluscs to which octopuses and squid belong), their origin and 500-million-year history. Danna Staaf, a marine biologist, traces their evolution from the very origins of life on Earth in the sea, to the demise of some cephalopods in the Cretaceous period and our modern age. From the causes of the “Great Dying” that happened in the Permian period (when up to ninety-six percent of all marine species perished) to our present day threat of global warming and dangers that face nautiluses, Dr Staaf explains clearly the many issues that concern cephalopods, as well as introduces a whole variety of weird and fascinating sea creatures: from the first sponges and worms, to now extinct ammonoids and a variety of curious present-day octopuses and squid (for example, the pygmy squid and the mimic octopus). This well-illustrated book, which is written with surprising humour and succinctness, will completely delight all those who are interested in marine evolution and curious about the history of present-day cephalopods.
I am continuing my contribution to the Non-Fiction November Initiative with the list below of seven most fascinating “history of medicine” non-fiction books.
I. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
Lindsey Fitzharris’s book on British surgeon Joseph Lister and the transformation of the Victorian medicine is an unputdownable book that introduces the reader to the astonishing medical practices that people expected in the 19th century. In times when the “germ” theory was deemed “implausible” and when hospitals were places with unsanitary conditions, one man challenged the traditional way of looking at operations and diseases that follow open wounds. I cannot praise this book highly enough.
If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens…Where is Everybody?: Seventy-Five Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life  – ★★★★1/2
I am continuing with my Non-Fiction November Reading Challenge with this curious book on the Fermi paradox. This paradox states that, if there are billions of stars out there in galaxies, and they are similar to and much older than our Sun, there is a high probability that those distant systems have planets that resemble our planet Earth. In turn, the typical nature of our planet means life must have developed and accelerated on other planets too, and, if beings there developed interstellar travel, they should have visited Earth already (or at least sent their probes). The paradox is that we do not see/perceive any extraterrestrial activity. Dr Stephen Webb is a theoretical physicist who proposes and discusses seventy-five solutions to the Fermi paradox in this book, solutions which he divides into three sections: (i) Alien Are (or Were) Here; (ii) Aliens Exist, but We Have Yet to See or Hear from Them; and (iii) Aliens Do Not Exist. This is an enjoyable, mentally-stimulating book that impresses with the number and diversity of different solutions and theories that may explain the Fermi Paradox.Continue reading “Review: If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens…Where is Everybody? by Stephen Webb”→
Since it is Non-Fiction November, I thought I would make a list of non-fiction book recommendations on some of my favourite subjects to explore – the human mind, mental illness and psychiatry. Even though some of the books below border academic and are dated, they still reman very insightful. Some of them were also initially seminal works that opened a new way of thinking about the topic. This list is in no particular order.
I. Asylums  by Erving Goffman
Erving Goffman (1922 – 1982) is considered to be “the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century”. His work Asylums is a compelling study on mental institutions, in particular, which he terms “total institutions” since, in his view, they insist on certain patterns of behaviour making people inside to conform to certain roles, such as “guards” or “captors”. This is a thought-provoking book which gave way to the whole new theory behind the confinement of mentally ill.
II. History of Melancholy [2009/2011] by Karin Johannisson
History of Melancholy talks about melancholic feelings throughout history – how people viewed melancholy and what forms it took through the ages. It has always been my favourite book on the subject, because it dips into history, literature, psychology and modern psychiatry. It also talks about fugue states, amnesia, anxiety, loneliness and fatigue, emphasising how people were diagnosed with that or this illness depending which one of them was also “in vogue” at that time. I read this book translated (from Swedish) to Russian, and I am not sure whether it is available in the English translation. Continue reading “7 Fascinating Books on Human Mind & Mental Illness”→