Nonfiction Books for Fathers

For the history buff, the businessman, the nature-lover, the memoir-lover, the runner—whatever kind of father you need a book for, you'll find something on this list!

How Did We Get Here?: From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062872999
Published: Harper - May 26th, 2020

Author of more than a dozen books on American political history, Dallek takes a look at  ten  presidents of the past century (ending with Ronald Reagan) and how their actions appear to be preludes to those of Donald Trump. Taking one brief chapter per president, he recounts the great legislative triumphs, foreign policy blunders, lies to the American people (and those of other countries), failed promises and promises kept, how each worked with Congress and their own administrations, how they campaigned, and which of their achievements remain to secure world peace and order. He covers a wealth of material infectiously, and even an avid reader of presidential history will have new anecdotes to share. In the last chapter on Trump, Dallek leaves little doubt that in the author's expert opinion, Trump has accomplished little to nothing, and his lack of intellect, education, and morality puts him outside the norms of presidential behavior. Dallek opens with a quote from John Dos Passos, which surely gave instigation to writing "How Did We Get here":  "In easy times history is more or less of an ornamental art, but in times of danger we are driven to the written record." —Carla

Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062796646
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Published: Ecco - February 18th, 2020

Ida Tarbel  ("The History of the Standard Oil Company") was one of the most famous journalists of the Gilded Age. Her publisher, S.S. McClure, less well known today, could count among his friends  Arthur Conan Doyle, R.L. Stevenson, Twain, Kipling, and Willa Cather (who was also one of his editors). Other reporters who worked for "McClure's" magazine included Ray Stannard Baker, a pioneer of civil rights journalism (he studied under famed MSU botanist William Beal, and married his daughter) and Lincoln Steffens ("The Shame of the Cities").  With Tarbel, they were repeatedly denounced by president Theodore Roosevelt as "muckrakers," when they reported against his own political interests. Gorton's book is an absorbing look at the birth of investigative journalism in our country, the influence of mega business in politics, and at a period in US history with many ironic parallels to our own. —Carla

Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History Cover Image
ISBN: 9781640092129
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Published: Counterpoint - June 11th, 2019

On May 9, 1980, what usually only happens in action-thriller movies came to life in Orange County, California. I don’t usually read true-crime, but Houlahan’s writing pulled me in. While reading this meticulous researched account, I could almost smell the gun powder, hear the cacophony of gunfire making my ears ring and see the dust clear as the largest crime scene in American history came into view. Documented here is how an attempted bank robbery and its subsequent trial would forever change a town, its people and law enforcement nation-wide. The crime and court case may have been an unbelievable catastrophe, but this book is pitch-perfect. —Shannon

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The Shortest History of Germany: From Julius Caesar to Angela Merkel—A Retelling for Our Times (Shortest History Series) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781615195695
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Published: The Experiment - March 19th, 2019

In less than 250 pages--many with sidebars, maps, and illustrations--author Hawes covers over 2,000 years of a Germany more divided than united. This is geography as destiny, as the borders of regions that are part of today's Germany are redrawn again and again. Readers will find disturbing political parallels everywhere, but at least can be reassured that Central Europe has always been a messy place, particularly east of the Elbe River. This is a must read if you will be traveling there, and get most of your information from old History Channel documentaries. The book is a good argument that the study of geography is still relevant in a world of GPS devices. —Carla

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Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465062881
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Published: Basic Books - April 28th, 2015

If you want a good time, look no further. This truly is an incredible adventure! Twenty-eight explorers bound for Antarctica in 1915 get trapped on an ice floe without a ship or any hope of rescue. Based on interviews and crew members' diaries, Lansing presents this story of survival with fully fleshed characters (like the stowaway with his cat) and details (like the raw skin they all had at the ends of their noses from icicles forming and breaking off) that feels like fiction but is amazingly real. After reading this book I wanted to immediately start over at the beginning--it's that good. —Kaitlyn

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Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316423328
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Published: Little, Brown Spark - April 7th, 2020

"forget about the small decisions, sort and organize the medium decisions, and reserve your mental energy for the high-stakes ones."


I have read and learned from the  books of both the authors of "Joy at Work." Combining the Martha Stewart of home organization, with the best-selling author of the management book "Stretch" may  not seem like a natural, but they had me wanting to stop part way through "Joy" to commence my own "festival of tidying!" Organizing clothes and gadgets is not that removed from organizing tasks, meetings, emails, and teams. Kondo contributes the overarching KonMari philosophy of creating work-life balance, by the reduction of unnecessary things--whether physical or psychological. Sonenshein adds what he's learned from a career as a consultant and business professor.  Most readers will get at least one or two suggestions from this synthesis of methods, that will make their work-life, and thus their home-life, more joyful. —Carla

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads Cover Image
By Tim Wu
ISBN: 9780804170048
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Published: Vintage - September 19th, 2017

I spent a lot of 2018 thinking about my attention: how sporadically I felt absorbed by writing or reading, how often I lost time scrolling away on my phone or plummeting down a YouTube hole. For help reassessing and refocusing, I turned to Wu’s remarkable history, which traces the ways our most influential media (newspapers, radio, television, the Internet) have consistently sold our attention to advertisers. Equal parts fascinating and infuriating (if you’re like me you’ll need a much happier book to read in tandem with this one), Wu’s account is a rousing reminder that our lives consist of “what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.” I’m very grateful I chose The Attention Merchants as part of mine. —Sam

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735214484
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Published: Riverhead Books - May 28th, 2019

Are habits of experience (Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hours") really more important than habits of mind? Epstein makes the case that failure and experimentation, and the ability to make analogies across often unrelated disciplines, lead to more creativity and scientific breakthroughs than our current love of head starts, specialization, and data collection: "We have been using the wrong stories." He shares what he thinks are some of the right ones about how we learn and how we should teach, including chapters about Johannes Kepler, the Girl Scouts' Frances Hesselbein, Venetian Ospedali, and Andy Ouderkirk. Most chilling is a chapter on the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster--the mistakes made will remind readers of the Boeing 737 Max debacle. —Carla

Failure to Launch: Why Your Twentysomething Hasn't Grown Up...and What to Do About It Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780525542186
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - January 7th, 2020

It's a rare book on developmental child psychology and parenting, that can capture the interest of a reader not actively involved in childcare. Yet, this book caught mine. McConville explores, using examples from his private practice, three types of transitions that adolescents must navigate on their way to adulthood: becoming responsible administrators for their own lives (e.g. paying bills and keeping appointments); making supportive new relationships with friends and mentors, while moving their parents from a supervisor to a counselor role; finding direction and commitment, i.e. relevancy, in their new adult world. Reading Failure to Launch, you may start looking in a new light at the behaviors of other family members--not just your child, but also your partner, parent, sibling, and of course, yourself! The author also addresses the complications of anxiety, guilt, shame, depression, catastrophizing (particularly in parents), and risk avoidance. This is a motivational master class in family dynamics. —Carla

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A Cloud a Day: (Cloud Appreciation Society book, Uplifting Positive Gift, Cloud Art book, Daydreamers book) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781452180960
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Published: Chronicle Books - November 5th, 2019

Ahhhhhh, this book is a beautiful, deep breath of appreciation for the wonder of clouds! Collected by the Cloud Appreciation Society (yes! A thing!), these photos were taken all over the world, and (labeled with the member number who submitted) each photo is a reminder to look up and notice, that we are always in the presence of nature. For anyone seeking a simple way to widen their perspective or calm their mind.  —Kelsey

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Children of the Land Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062825599
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Published: Harper - January 28th, 2020

I made it about 30 pages into this memoir before urgently recommending it to everyone I know. Marcelo Herandez Castillo writes of the everyday feeling of being undocumented in this country with such depth, of the ways in which safety and family and both figurative and literal homes are complicated and destroyed by borders and often arbitrary judgments and rules, by the insidiousness of being deprived a sense of belonging. This book will be called “timely” and “important,” and these things are undeniably true, but reading this book was not just an act of political posturing for me, it was a reckoning. A reckoning of what I thought were my correct, compassionate views on immigration (undocumented or otherwise) with the unassailable fact that, as a natural born American citizen, I can never fully understand this experience, I can only hold space for it. Hernandez Castillo’s writing is generous and so so beautiful, and I am both stunned and grateful.  —Kelsey

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The Yellow House: A Memoir (2019 National Book Award Winner) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802125088
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Published: Grove Press - August 13th, 2019

“When you come from a mythologized place, as I do, who are you in that story?” 

I knew two narratives of New Orleans before reading this thoughtful memoir: the party life in the French Quarter and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In The Yellow House, Sarah Broom writes of what it means to be from New Orleans East, an area ignored in the first narrative and damned in the second. Broom centers her story around the yellow shotgun house where she grew up, a house that was both a home to her large family and ultimately lost in the hurricane. In telling the story of her family and her return to a complicated city, Broom has much to say about the mythology of place--both the richnesses and the distortions-- and how where we’re from affects how we view ourselves and others.  —Kelsey

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Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451673227
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Published: Scribner - October 13th, 2015

For a fellow “sprocket fiend”—someone who loves not only movies but the movies (the popcorn, the kitsch, the dark)—there is no better company than Patton Oswalt. I expected to love this book for his encyclopedic film knowledge and grim wit, but what I appreciated most was the self-deprecating, self-forgiving way Oswalt writes about overcoming the bitterness and laziness of his 20s to become a (relatively) confident artist and (relatively) happier person. —Sam

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Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307279187
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Published: Vintage - March 29th, 2011

"Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry." -Mark Twain

The history of human evolution presented here is uplifting and very unlike what I learned in school. The stories of humanity and running are somehow hopeful, pure, and wistful. You'll find plenty of sports jargon but also wisdom and hopefully an itch in your legs to go outside to run with joy and abandon. —Kaitlyn

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The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna Cover Image
ISBN: 9781631493812
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Published: Liveright - October 29th, 2019

If the only things you know about Spiritualism are the (Parker Brothers™) Ouija boards your cousin had when you were a kid and those scammy celebrity mediums on TV, you are in for a treat. Ptacin explores the history of Spiritualism from its inception in the 1840s, to its appeal in the aftermath of the devastating losses of the Civil War, to its relationship with the suffrage movement, to its current role as a potential salve for Americans’ fraught relationship with death. The book centers around Ptacin’s time at Camp Etna, a community of Spiritualists living and practicing in Maine. Ptacin herself is no stranger to grief, and it is her personal moments with the modern Spiritualists that make this an especially engaging read. Ptacin never quite takes a stand on Spiritualism; she presents her experiences with the Spiritualists with an utmost respect for their beliefs, but with a journalist’s healthy skepticism. But Ptacin doesn’t distance herself from the Spiritualists either; she allows herself to be seen by them as well, and she has enough stories to keep my mind open to possibilities. This is a fascinating book about a rarely explored thread of American history and a misunderstood religion, woven with Ptacin’s beautiful writing of her own experiences with loss and healing.  —Kelsey

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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307279286
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Published: Anchor - February 25th, 2020

How much do you know about the history of Northern Ireland and the IRA? Before reading this my knowledge was slight, but I came away with much more knowledge and understanding, and an immense sense of awe at the amount of work Keefe and others have poured into this book over the years, and an even greater sense of disbelief, sadness and frustration for the vast number of people affected by the Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement.  Keefe threads numerous narratives throughout that focus on key players of the IRA, families of The Disappeared, and Gerry Adams, the radical turned major politician who vehemently denies ever having been a part of the radical movement. Keefe chronicles a history that is just a few generations removed from now, and with Brexit nigh, Say Nothing provides more context and weight for the future of Northern Ireland, while also illuminating just how tangled the history of an occupied place can be. —Charlotte