Minus All the Weight Loss Books, These Were the Best-selling Non-fiction Books of 2009

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If you can see past the plethora of diet books on this year’s bestseller list, you actually manage to get to some great stuff. Whether you’re into history, sociology or just trying to figure out why your life is what it is, there was something for you in 2009 so here’s what made the top of our list:

5 The Glass Castle

The only good way to read about someone else’s suffering is without being asked to feel sorrow for them. And Jeannette Walls does the opposite in this memoir. Not only does she present some atrocities of her childhood without judgment or criticism, she actually makes you see the beauty in being raised by a pair of dysfunctional eccentrics. Don’t worry, even without her telling you what the bad parts are, you’ll figure it out because they’re pretty bad. But watching Walls and her siblings survive and become functional and happy adults will undoubtedly impress you, even if she doesn’t tell you when to be impressed. And if we’re really lucky, this could be the book that shames us all out of whining about almost anything.

4 Outliers: The Story of Success

In this book, Malcolm Gladwell proposes that while intelligence, talent and hard work can contribute to success, they are nowhere near being the only factors. So if you’re very successful, be prepared to be brought down a notch and if you’re not then you can rest easy with that thought that it isn’t your fault. He uses interesting and easily readable case studies to demonstrate how selection process, bureaucratic organization, social stigmas and just pure luck of opportunities can make all the difference. Don’t think you’ve filled your quota of Gladwell if you’ve read his last two books because this one presents a new side of him. Instead of pure interesting sociological research, this one seems more personal and passionate and even includes some of the author’s own family history. In fact, he writes “Outliers wasn’t intended as autobiography. But you could read it as an extended apology for my success.” That aspect makes us willing for overlook some of the more obvious statements and oversimplifications Outliers may be burdened with.

3 Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man

We’d like to start out by reminding everyone that Steve Harvey, the author of this book, is a professional comedian. And if you can keep that in mind while you’re reading, then you’ll be in great shape. Not that this is a book of comedy essays, but it’s also not a well-researched scientific treatise on typical behavior of American males. Instead, imagine that a very funny friend of yours, who has had a lot of varied experiences and opportunities to meet a lot of people, were to write down all their advice for you about dating. You might not accept everything he says, and you may roll your eyes at him over and over again but you would still read it and be very happy to do so.

2 First Family

Let’s face it; there is no more romantic couple in American history than John and Abigail Adams. In your usual fairy-tale, the prince and princess get swept off their feet and the story ends. Because we know nothing about their personalities we have no reason to believe that they will be particularly happy together or that they couldn’t have been happy with anyone else. For all we know, Snow White and Prince Charming had nothing in common and the marriage ended in a messy divorce. But to this day, the letters that John and Abigail Adams wrote to each other prove that they lived happily ever after, at least as much as you can when you spend half your life away from home on political duties. These were two strong-willed and unusual people, who couldn’t have been happy with just anyone. And they are a model for the modern idea of a beautiful couple: Supportive and yet intellectually challenging to each other and best friends first and foremost. Although there are probably better books out there on the Adams family, avid fans will be able to appreciate one more. Especially since one of its major flaws is a tendency to get swept up into the romance of such a great couple, kind of like we did here.

1 Three Cups of Tea

When Greg Mortenson went mountain climbing in Pakistan, he only thought he was taking another cool trip and maybe creating an unusual memorial for his sister (he was going to leave her necklace on the peak, so he’s already kind of cool). But then he got lost and history changed. He was taken in by a village on a remote ledge and in return promised to build them a school. The money for it came primarily from another mountain climber and Silicon Valley pioneer, Jean Hoerni. Hoerni then created an organization to build more schools in the region, appointed director, and left it all his money when he died. The book is written by David Relin, a journalist who was invited to interview and observe Mortenson as he worked building schools in Taliban territory.What results is some wonderful first-hand insights into a culture which many of us need to strive harder to understand. And if that doesn’t convince you: Mortenson is sent death threats, gets kidnapped, and conducts rescue missions of mountain climbers. So you don’t have to worry, it’s not ALL educational.

Think we shouldn’t have skipped over 2009’s abundance of diet books and political manifestos? State your claims!

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