I find myself in a bit of a reading slump, and the only thing that manages to keep my attention at the moment is nonfiction. But even with that, I’ve become picky. It drives me nuts that I seem unable to finish most books I pick up, but they are simply not for me at this point in time. However, you might enjoy them. Judge for yourself…
This was quite an interesting book about cannibalism in the natural world. It is well-written and entertaining. I learned that the female praying mantis does not deserve her reputation as a gruesome, mate-eating insect. While the cautious approach of the male at the beginning of the mating ritual hints at possible aggressive behavior by the female, the actual consumption of the male has only ever been observed in praying mantis that lived in captivity and were starved before the male was let loose. Is it any wonder she ate him? Now the Australian Redback Spider on the other hand… There is not much that phases me when it comes to animal behavior in the wild, but the graphic description of the effort the male spider goes through to mate—size difference makes it hard for him to go where he needs to be, and he is being eaten while mating—was too much for my poor stomach to handle. I returned the book without reading any further. I suspect that that’s my loss.
This book was mentioned several times during last year’s Nonfiction November, which put it on my radar. Drug use in the years before and during World War II, particularly by Hitler, is not a topic I’ve come across before, so I was really interested to pick this up. My problem was that the narrator of the audio edition has an irritatingly deep voice that made me constantly want to clear my throat. It was so bad that I couldn’t even really concentrate on the words I was hearing. Before I could get the printed edition from the library, I saw a documentary about this topic on TV, which left me rather unsatisfied. Was it really possible for mind-altering drugs to be so widely available in Germany during the war, when everything else had to be drastically rationed? Also, I suppose that it is possible that Hitler was a highly addicted, yet highly functional psychopath, but the documentary was unable to convince me. Based on the reviews I’ve read about this book, I don’t think it can make this argument any better than the film.
I seem to be fascinated by everything bad at the moment, and so this book seemed like a good choice: a discussion of all the plagues that have wreaked havoc on mankind. It’s an interesting perspective of history, if you ask me. Trouble is that I already knew much of what is discussed, at least in the first half of the book. Overall, the book was much less scientific than I had hoped for. The author spends an enormous amount of time trying to convince readers NOT to want to time-travel to the Dark Ages. I have never met anyone with an overwhelming desire to time-travel to a plague-ridden place, so Wright’s effort was unnecessary, in my opinion. Also, her flippant tone started to annoy me after a while. I’m sure I would have stuck with it, if I had learned anything new, but it only succeeded in convincing me that we really need more Stoics in the world. So, instead of forcing myself to finish this book, I’ll be moving on to Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider: all about the Spanish Flu of 1918. Obviously, my theory is that if I read enough about the miseries of the past, the present won’t seem so bad anymore.
If you have any recommendations for devastating historical nonfiction, let me know!