Daniel’s Favorite Non-Fiction Reads of 2012


Last year was a great year for good books, and with Britt’s example (check her favorites last year here), here are a few of my favorite non-fiction reads. I tend to prefer history over other topics, but this year’s non-fiction picks included sociology, economics, and literature…but all, still, with a link to history.

In no particular order, then, my favorite non-fiction reads of 2012 are…


Civilization: The West and the Rest

Civilization: The West and the Rest

Where many histories today focus on specific “modules” of history, drilling down to look closely at specific persons or events (think Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” on Abraham Lincoln’s political management or Horowitz’s “Midnight Rising” on the John Brown raid at Harper’s Ferry), Ferguson looks at the broad strokes of history to find grand “narratives” of history.

It was just one of several books I read this year that sifted through world history from a certain perspective, and it was one of the best.



1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

1493 tells the story of the world changing after and as a result of Columbus’ discovery of the America’s, what Mann calls the “Columbian exchange.” Tomatoes and peppers hit the world markets, while potatoes ended endemic famine in Europe.  Tobacco and sugar cane together brought plantation slavery to the Americas.

It’s a fascinating book, and a valuable companion to Mann’s 1491.




Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

There are a lot of ways to look at Steve Jobs. However you view him, though, it’s hard to dispute his success in technology, design, and animation.  Issacson writes Steve Jobs’ story well, and his research feels thorough. I recommend the read.






Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Displaying a dizzying array of statistics, studies, and research, Charles Murray shows an America that is watching the rise of a new ruling class, a group of elites. Their self-segregation is not malicious, but, largely a result of people being attracted to others like them.

It’s a fascinating read, and relevant, and I think it should be on your reading list if you haven’t read it, yet.





The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Michael Lewis can tell a story like no other.  In fact, even before I finished reading his “The Big Short,” I wanted to work the book into every conversation I had. The story was that interesting and compelling.  Anyone who can take the financial crisis of the last few years, find a story in it that centers around subprime mortgages and shorting the market, and then make it interesting to the lay reader deserves to be read.





Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order

In Hill’s eye, fiction is more than just a story. In literature, we see the great ideas and forces that move history worked out, argued, and recorded. The “international world of states and their modern system is a literary realm,” he argues. “[I]t is where the greatest issues of the human condition are played out.”

Thought provoking, insightful, Hill’s “Grand Strategies” is a worthy addition to your bed-stand stack. Just make sure you put it on top.


About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.


  1. This is a fantastic list! I enjoyed The Big Short a lot — I was also surprised he could make finance so interesting. I think I heard about Coming Apart sometime this year, but it never made it to my pile. It sounds great, and like you sad, very relevant.