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September Top 5: Our Favorite Nonfiction Books

In Top 5 on September 24, 2010 at 12:13 am

This month we discuss our favorite nonfiction books.  We don’t only read romantic books, so we thought we’d do a Top 5 on books that are a bit more analytical.  It’s a little more serious than our previous Top 5, but we promise to get back to fun and frivolity next month with a Top 5 about why vampires are our favorite monsters (you know that will be fun).

Alexandria/Moira

1.  The Art of War/1776
2.  On Liberty/Reagan’s War
3.  The Art of Seduction/Londonistan
4.  Real Education/Holy War for the Promised Land
5.  Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England/Mere Christianity

What makes the top of your nonfiction list?

Alexandria:  My top nonfiction book is one called The Art of War by Sun Tzu.  Written in the sixth century B.C. by a Chinese military general, The Art of War is a relatively brief book that deals with military issues.  It’s interesting because Sun Tzu’s ideas on how to conduct war are applicable to everyday situations, from the boardroom to the classroom, because they’re about a very basic idea to all people:  the desire to succeed.  The thirteen chapters deal with topics such as how to wage war, how to use strategy to avoid war, how to use your opponent’s weaknesses to your advantage, and even such things as how terrain affects military planning and how weather can be a decisive factor in a campaign.

I have read The Art of War many times over the years, and it’s an immensely useful book in understanding military history, but it’s also great for understanding human nature because in the end, that’s what war is about–mankind’s desire to control.

Moira1776, by David McCullough ranks in the top five of my favorite non-fiction books. This wonderfully written book follows the Revolutionary War through the year 1776, which often looked very bleak for the colonies.  The strong character and sincere belief in the cause for which he acted combined with his unwavering faith compelled Washington to continue in the face of seemingly impossible odds.  George Washington and the other men who formed the Continental Congress risked their own wealth, the safety of their own families, and their very lives to procure the liberty that we enjoy.

This book should be required reading for all American high school students.

What books make it into the number 2 spot?

Alexandria:  My second favorite nonfiction book is entitled On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.  On Liberty is an example of what liberal thought was in the 19th century, as opposed to what monster it’s morphed into today.  Mill discusses the right of all people to do as they will, as long as their behavior doesn’t harm another.  How liberals of today, who seem to constantly be attempting to dictate to the rest of us how we should think, act, and be can claim that they come from the same school of thought as Mill is astounding.  In fact, Mill deals with just this kind of group in On Liberty when he discusses the tyranny of the majority, the power that a vocal majority will have over the minority, be it a minority of sex, race, religion, or any other kind, and how it stifles the rights of that minority.  Mill argues that the tyranny of the majority is worse than that of a government.  He sees government as a political animal, whereas the majority is an all-encompassing beast looking to dictate to each of us in every part of our lives.

Reading On Liberty is like having your eyes open to liberty for the first time.  If you haven’t read it, do so now.  It’s worth the time, particularly in the current political climate.

Moira:  Another of my favorites is Reagan’s War, by Peter Schweizer.  This book is another that I believe should be required reading for all high school students in this country.  In addition, it is not difficult to read and gives insight into the character of Ronald Reagan that no textbook can ever impart.  Reagan battled communism throughout his lifetime, and this battle led him from the big screen to the highest political office in our land.  The policies this president effected were at times highly controversial, and yet ultimately successful.  He was unwavering in his quest to end the Cold War, a firm believer in the supremacy of American ingenuity (because of the freedom we enjoy and our capitalistic economy which rewards high achievement), and a man who could not be cajoled, manipulated, or bribed.  He stood for something.  He believed in America.  He was truly a fascinating and interesting man.

Good stuff!  Now on to number three.

Alexandria:  My number three book on my list of top nonfiction books is The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene.  Greene’s book is often seen as controversial because it advocates what many see as extremely manipulative methods in achieving a goal.  The problem with the naysayers’ arguments is that human beings naturally do such things every day; it’s just that now it’s politically incorrect to admit it.  Look at all your great leaders, even those of groups who don’t like this book.  The people at the top didn’t get there not understanding human nature.  Greene’s The Art of Seduction is good because it explains just one part of human nature and how to know it to use it to your advantage.

I think the problem stems from the fact that the word seduction is in the title.  When people think of romantic relationships, many assume that power doesn’t come into play.  There’s no explaining to these people that power is a part of every human relationship.  All Greene argues is that it’s how you use power that differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful, in this case, with the opposite sex.  But read the book knowing that what he writes, as what Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, can be applied to any situation.  Those touchy-feely types who don’t like Greene’s book shouldn’t worry anyway. They’re so easily read, one doesn’t need a book like The Art of Seduction to figure out how to get around them.

Moira:  Another top recommendation of mine, Londonistan, explores the nature of radical Islam, causes and effects, spread into western nations, and  its foothold in Great Britain.  Melanie Phillips chronicles the passivity of the British government in confronting the jihadist faction operating boldly in its midst and recruiting in its cities.  Whether motivated by faulty logic or fear, Britain’s government refuses to act in its own best interest Philips warns.  One need only look to the growing areas in France where police no longer set foot, areas of Britain where the same is now occurring, court battles in the UK where fundamental Islamic groups are demanding their own separate family courts which will judge according to Shar’ia Law (yes, in Great Britain!), school systems changing curriculum, meals, and gym classes to accommodate Islamic students to understand the dangers posed to western society.

In our world today, we must understand the nature of Islam, its goals, its tenets, its mission, and its agenda ( including social, missionary, and geo-political agendas).  The information is plainly written and spoken by Islamic leaders around the world.  Phillips presents all these plainly.  I highly recommend this book to high school students and adults.

And the number four nonfiction books on the list?

Alexandria:  My fourth book on this list is entitled Real Education: Four Simple Truths For Bringing America’s Schools Back To Reality written by Charles Murray.  I reviewed this book in August (see the review here).  As an educator who sees everyday how high schools are truly failing our students, I think this book is important enough every parent should read it.  However, beware:  Murray doesn’t pull any punches, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of what the American education system has devolved into.  He also doesn’t worry about hurting feelings, and some readers who are parents of students who are low performing will probably have a hard time swallowing his prescription for improving America’s schools.  Murray doesn’t argue in favor of neglecting these students, but he does strongly argue against the “educational romanticism”, as he calls it, that drives our school system today and claims that everyone can succeed at the level of going to college.

Murray argues against what the inevitable outcome of so many low level students going to college will be:  a college degree meaning nothing but a huge bill and it being equal to a high school degree.  The problem is that what this means is that not everyone gets to be the engineer; some will have to be the laborers, and in our society today, this is seen as unacceptable.  So they continue to go off to college, not realizing that every student who forces colleges to lower the standards is another step toward a college degree being worth nothing except the paper it’s printed on.

Moira:  The Middle East continues to be at the center of the news, with peace seemingly no closer than it was hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  Understanding the history behind this conflict is imperative if we are to help bring about resolution in the area.  David Dolan, Jerusalem based journalist reporting for CBS (at the time of publication) has written, Holy War for the Promised Land. Dolan explains the history of the region, the religious struggle at the center of the conflict, the implications of the rebirth of Israel as a nation and its continuing struggle to survive in the Muslim Middle East.  This book was published in 1991, and much has happened in the 19 years since.  However, without the knowledge of the well documented history of the area, one cannot understand the significance of the ongoing conflicts of the present day.

Again, I highly recommend this book.  I must note that the beginning chapter and conclusion include a little of Dolan’s personal story, including his journey as a journalist and how he came to be in the Middle East as an American Christian.  However, the news and history reported in the book are from a purely journalistic approach.

And last, but not least, in at number 5?

Alexandria:  My number 5 is entitled The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. Written by Ian Mortimer, it deals with a favorite period in time for me, the 14th century, and one of my favorite places in history.  I also reviewed this book during the summer (see the review here).  Mortimer’s writing is easy and interesting, and he makes what can be a very dense topic come alive because he deals with the everyday things that one must know to live in any time:  what to wear, where and what to eat and drink, who’s in charge, and what to look out for, in addition to things such as money, telling time, and even the interesting and outlandish fashions of the day.

Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England is a fantastic way to study the 14th century. Read it and realize what a great history book is like.

Moira:  To finish off this very hard task of choosing only five non-fiction books to recommend, I have chosen, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.  This classic is a must read, regardless of one’s religious affiliation (or lack thereof).  Lewis, a self-proclaimed atheist at one time, became an unabashed Christian after examining the basis of his beliefs against nature, human nature, the human condition, and logic.  Extremely thought provoking, Lewis conveys the basics of Christian thought and logic in his wonderful style.  Uncomplicated and straight forward, Mere Christianity, would be enjoyed by anyone interested in the human condition.

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