2012 in Review: 20 of the Year’s Best Nonfiction Books for Geeks


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All books may be created equal, but some are more equal than others. In case you weren’t obsessively perusing the nonfiction racks in 2012, here is an alphabetically-ordered round-up of the year’s best titles for geeks of all flavors.

1. Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day by Stephan Talty

A quirky bit of history that few people know: the story of a farmer who decided to be a secret agent and inexplicably ended up saving the world.

[Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day]

2. The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O’Rourke

Forty years’ worth of beloved and iconic game graphics, curated by Smithsonian American Art Museum as a companion book to their exhibit of the same name.

[The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect]

3. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

An examination of chaos in real-life situations — and how disorder and stress create strength in everything from biology to society — from the author of The Black Swan.

[Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder]

4. The Comedy Film Nerds Guide to Movies by Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini

A serious-but-funny discussion of un-serious movies, from the creators of comedyfilmnerds.com.

[The Comedy Film Nerds Guide to Movies]

5. Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are by Sebastian Seung

A bold quest to discover the biological mechanism of creating personal identity, personality and intelligence, with a look at future developments that may help us map the processes. Super-geeky, totally worth it.

[Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are]

6. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

A biographical tour of the tools we use to eat and cook, from prehistory to 2012. Exponentially more fascinating than you’d expect.

[Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat]

7. Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image by Toby Lester

Vitruvian Manis one of history’s most famous images, and yet little is known about it. Lester examines the impact of da Vinci’s iconic image from 1420 into modern times.

[Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image]

8. Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning by Gary Marcus

Think you’re too old to learn to play? 38-year-old research psychologist Gary Marcus took on the task; he learned to play, and quite a bit about the cognitive processes of becoming musical.

[Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning]

9. The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth

Word nerds: You need to read this book. That is all.

[The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language]

10. How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought by Ray Kurzweil

Futurist and probably-crazy person Ray Kurzweil takes a look at reverse engineering the human brain. Mind=blown.

[How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought]

11. Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

From Gutenberg to Garamond, the story of how we all became typeface-obsessed Comic Sans-haters.

[Just My Type: A Book About Fonts]

12. The Life of Super-Earths: How the Hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells Will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet by Dimitar D. Sasselov

Astronomer Dimitar Sasselov’s speculative look at life elsewhere, how we might find it, and some examples of the weird biochemistry that might support it. (Crazy-good. Swearsies.)

[The Life of Super-Earths: How the Hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells Will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet]

13. The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee

Well over a hundred illustrations from the LotR trilogy’s conceptual designer, with info about and inspiration for his Oscar-winning work on the films.

[The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook]

14. Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games by Jon Peterson

Who says games are a waste of time? A history of gaming and how we have used it to practice strategy and critical thinking for real life.

[Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games]

15. The Science Magpie by Simon Flynn

A seemingly-random but addictive collection of fascinating info, at-home experiments (test the speed of light in your own kitchen!) and novels ways of explaining complicated scientific concepts. (Loved this so much — try it out.)

[The Science Magpie]

16. Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal

“Getting a taste for the Bard” is this book’s subtitle, which kind of explains it all: Shakespeare demystified and made accessible.

[Shakespeare on Toast]

17. The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don’t by Nate Silver

Ignore the fact that this book gets crazy hype — thanks to Silver’s weirdly accurate election predictions — and appreciate the science and math at play here. It’s a thing of beauty.

[The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don’t]

18. Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang

There’s a lot to say about this book, but I’ll stick with the obvious: NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON.

[Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier]

19. The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean

This was one of the best books I read all year. Here’s the first chapter. Do yourselves a favor and read the rest, too.

[The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code]

20. What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz

Maybe don’t read this if you’re vegan: once you have some idea of how a plant’s sensory system works, there’ll be no food left for you. The rest of us will just try to keep off the grass a little more often.

[What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses]

 

There’s no way to list the entire catalog of nonfiction books that came out this year. I loved these, but you’ve probably read stuff that I didn’t. So what was your favorite new nonfic title? Let us know in the comments so we can check those out, too!







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