Nonfiction Addiction, Or How to Take a Class Without Actually Taking a Class

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Bwog the gleefully awkward librarian

As classes really get rolling, we can only pound through our problem sets (damn you, science requirement!) and bitterly remember that awesome history of witchcraft underwater basket weaving class we had to drop. Because Bwog understands your never-ending thirst for knowledge, we’ve put together a list of nonfiction books that replace entirely match up with some of Columbia’s best classes.

African Studies:

  • King Leopold’s Ghost — Adam Hochschild

American History:

  • The Worst Hard Time — Timothy Egan
  • No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the Home Front in World War II — Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right — Ray Raphael
  • The New Jim Crow — Michelle Alexander
  • When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America — Ira Katznelson


  • Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization — Paul Kriwaczek


  • The Great Bridge: the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge — David McCullough

Books by Columbia Profs:

  • Privilege — Shamus Khan
  • Racecraft: the Soul of Inequality in American Life — Barbara Fields
  • College: What it Is, Was, and Should Be — Andrew Delbanco


  • Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: a Life of David Foster Wallace — D.T Max
  • Joe Gould’s Secret — Joseph Mitchell
  • The New Kings of Nonfiction — edited by Ira Glass

European History:

  • Double Cross: the True Story of the D-Day Spies — Ben Macintyre
  • Absolute Monarchs: a History of the Papacy — John Julius Norwich

General History:

  • The World is Flat — Thomas Friedman
  • The Discoverers — Daniel J. Boostin

History of the Middle East:

  • A History of Modern Iran — Ervand Abrahamian
  • The Modern Middle East: A History, 3rd ed. — James Gelvin
  • Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Saudi Arabia — Toby Jones
  • The Body & the Blood: the Middle East’s Vanishing Christians and the Possibility for Peace — Charles Sennott
  • Sowing Crisis: The Cold War & American Dominance in the Middle East — Rashid Khalidi
  • Hezbollah: A Short History — R. Augustus Norton
  • Manhunt: the Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad — Peter Bergen
  • The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 — Donald Quataert
  • The Arabs: A History — Eugene Rogan

Human Rights:

  • The International Human Rights Movement: A History — Aryeh Neier
  • The Price of Inequality — Joseph E. Stiglitz


  • Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy — Toril Moi
  • Landscape and Gender in Italian Opera: the Alpine Virgin From Bellini to Puccini — Emanuele Senici
  • Puccini Opera Handbooks — Artur Groos
  • “Storied Bodies” or “Nana at Last Unveil’d” Critical Inquiry — Peter Brooks
  • The “Opera Quarterly” Archives

Political Science:

  • Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics — Joseph Nye


  • Man’s Search for Meaning — Victor Frankl


  • Random Family — Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • The Journalist and The Murderer, Janet Malcolm


  • Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age  — Kay S. Hymowitz
  • What’s Wrong with Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment — David Stove
  • Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto — Chuck Klosterman

Books that Will Probably Never Be Useful for Any Class But are Super Great:

  • Stiff — Mary Roach
  • Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded — Simon Winchester
  • Into Thin Air — Jon Krakauer
  • The Emperor of Scent — Chandler Burr
  • Moby Duck — Donovan Hohn
  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight — Alexandra Fuller (technically a memoir)
  • Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, And Make-Believe Violence — Gerard Jones
  • Supergods: what Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous mutants, and a Sun God from Samllville Can Teach Us About Being Human — Grant Morrison

Enthusiastic bibliophile via Shutterstock

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  1. Jesus Christ  

    Terrible list, Bwog. If only to point out one of the most flagrant errors, why the hell is Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat" under "General History" (rather than a trash can)? That is just offensive.

  2. more awesome

    i'd actually be interested in seeing a list of awesome classes and the books used in those classes

  3. ballerinadalek  

    List is seriously aching for some Marcuse. One Dimensional Man. Your welcome.

  4. Anonymous  

    1491 should be under American/General History. Also a bit mind-blowing for those of us with an environmental slant.

  5. anonymous

    Christine Philliou really should be more popular at Columbia; she's teaching a class on the Ottoman Empire this year and is really really good, plus she has published a book on the subject, one which got pretty great reviews.

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