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Book recommendations
pungent elephant with sidecar
rho
Yes, it's entry r out of a series of n in the "help rho figure out what to do over the summer" series!

I'm looking for book recommendations. Specificly, I'm looking for recommendations for books that I wouldn't normally read; the sort of books that are outside of my field and outside of my genre of choice. I already know plenty of good books about physics, and plenty of SF&F type books. What I don't know is what the best books to read for 18th century history are. Or what the world's best detective novels are. Or anything like that.

Since I'm looking to read outside of my normal range, what I'm really looking for are the very best books of their type. The really best examples of a genre, the books that best explain a certain subject, if possible, the books that you never tire of reading and the books that change your whole perspective on life. The sort of thing that's likely to get me enthused about a subject or genre and make me want to go and read more, and generally branch out.

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World's best detective novels: pretty much anything by Dorothy L Sayers. I'd recommend Nine Taylors for a starting place.

Jared Diamond is fantastic for non-fiction, on vaguely social biology related topics but he's a total polymath and covers all kinds of things. I second the rec of Guns, germs and steel from the comments.

For modern biology and genetics, Steve Jones or Matt Ridley. Don't bother with Dawkins unless you really feel you must.

Best book on religion: Karen Armstrong: A history of God. Any of her stuff is worth reading though.

Best contemporary mainstream highbrow novels: Salman Rushdie: The ground beneath her feet and AS Byatt: Babel Tower. And when I say highbrow, they will really make you think, they cover all kinds of philosophical and scientific issues better than the great majority of non-fiction. And the kind of thing I recommend to people who mainly read SF/F but want to try out mainstream.

Best contemporary mainstream popular novels: Zadie Smith: White Teeth; Mark Haddon: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time; Louis de Bernières: Captain Corelli's mandolin. They're all very light reads but leave an impression.

Best 20th century novel that isn't Lord of the Rings: Chaim Potok: The book of lights. It's extremely Jewish, but I think you'll find the way Judaism is presented interesting even if you start from not knowing much about it. And it's also about the physicists who worked on the atom bomb, so will tie in to stuff you are familiar with. Life-changing, yes.

If not that, and if you can get hold of it, GB Edwards: The book of Ebenezer le Page. It's about this guy who's a bit misanthropic and reclusive, and his observations on human nature and society.

Best classic novel: Jane Austen: Sense and sensibility. I think you'll like Austen, she has a very acerbic sense of humour. You probably won't like Pride and Prejudice just because it's been cliched and parodied to death, and it's slighter than a lot of other Austen stuff anyway.

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