Life-changing Stories Populated Our List of the Best-selling Non-fiction Books of 2008

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Sure, sometimes reading non-fiction can make you feel self-righteous and if you’re in the mood for that then the 2008 bestseller lists have gotten you covered. But if that’s not for you, read on for some good gossip and black comedy.

5 When You Are Engulfed In Flames

If you had to guess what an essay collection with this title was about, you would probably guess war or natural disaster. Until you hear it is by David Sedaris. If you guessed that the title comes from his essay about quitting smoking, you would be right although it’s actually a phrase that he found in a book left in a Japanese hotel room. His works seems to get darker as he gets older, but don’t worry he’s still treading familiar ground and we are allowed a better acquaintances with the wonderful and quirky characters that populate Sedaris’ world, including his partner Hugh and his sister Amy, a hysterical comedian in her own right.

4 The Audacity of Hope

When this book was first released, nobody could be sure how far then-Senator Barack Obama was going to go. And now that we know he was to become president of the United States, the book takes on an even more fascinating edge. It is well written and modest and Senator Obama reveals many of the same motivating philosophies that we would later espouse as presidential candidate and president. He devotes a lot of time to discussing what he sees as the weaknesses in the U.S. government, particularly partisanship. There is a tendency to seek conflict instead of compromise as well as a lack of appreciation for the good that members of the other party are capable of. However he doesn’t get into too much detail about policy ideas, so you can’t actually check to see how his presidency compares to what he planned to do back when he was just a member of the U.S. Senate.

3 In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Michael Pollan’s earlier book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, explores the truth about where our food comes from. He investigates fast-food, organic groceries, home-grown and even a meal that he forages for himself. They all seem to be at least somewhat problematic and so in this new book he finally explains what exactly he thinks we should be eating. He points out that our most natural way of finding food had very little to do with checking how many calories or vitamins were in the nuts and berries we’d just gathered or the bison we’d just killed. Instead, he says to worry less about science and just eat food that has been recognized as such for hundreds and thousands of years and then eat less of it. Simple.Pollan points out that the fact that the reader is even reading his book suggests an unhealthy concern with what is healthy. And he’s managed to market three books thanks to that phenomenon.

2 Audition: A Memoir

Barbara Walters didn’t have to hide her womanhood to break through the many glass ceilings that she did. In fact, her memoir details a number of her romantic liaisons over the years. Some of which are fun to read about and some of which are just a bit too much information. When you’ve achieved what Walters did you deserve to brag a bit, and that’s how the narrative comes off. But it’s worth it to hear her tell all about celebrities and world leaders from the early 1970s and well into the 90s. She is funny and entertaining and we get to find out that Alan Greenspan is a good date.

1 The Last Lecture

Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, gave a class entitled “The Last Lecture” that quickly went viral. Although each year a different professor is asked to speak to students as if it was their last chance, Pausch’s lecture had a different tone because he actually had just been diagnosed with cancer and had been given only six months to live. Fortunately for us, he made it a bit longer and had time to collaborate with Wall Street Journal writer Jeffrey Zaslow on an expanded version of his lecture. In it he is able to touch on things that he couldn’t manage in a one hour lecture in front of hundreds of people, including more personal things about his wife, children, colleagues and friends. Although a lot of the advice he gives are aphorisms we’ve heard over and over, they have more impact because of the new packaging. It is easy to trust Pausch because he tells stories that both entertain and let the reader get to know him as a person and it quickly becomes clear that whatever advice he gives was advice he lived by.

Think you’ve got something better? Let’s hear it!

Chava Forman-Horovitz is a newlywed History nerd but she’ll actually read anything. Her movie expertise is at the other end of the intellectual spectrum though focusing on romcoms and kids movies. She may sound like the girly geek type but she has a green belt in Kenpo karate and can kick ass.

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