I’m apparently pretty tough on non-fiction writers. I read 112 books in 2018. Of those, I gave only 15 non-fiction books perfect grades, including two books about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Here are my reviews of those 15 books. They are in no particular order.
Serial Killers: The Methods and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky is a look at a historical timeline of serial killers, including the psychological, investigative and cultural aspects of their murders. Vronsky even provides readers with researched theories on what makes someone become a serial killer and how to survive an attack by one.
I’ve always been fascinated with serial killers. I was taken aback by how many of the noteworthy killers named in Vronsky’s book that I already had read individual books about, including Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and Gary Ridgway.
I was even more surprised to learn about a serial killer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the 1940s. I grew up just outside of Tulsa, and I can’t believe I never heard legends of Charles Floyd.
Floyd is known to have raped and murdered five women and an unborn child between 1942-48. The pattern beyond the criminal acts was that all of the women had red hair. Floyd was arrested in November 1949. His low IQ saved him from the state’s electric chair. He confessed to the crimes and was taken to a mental institution where he eventually died.
How on earth had I never heard of a serial killer from practically in my home town? Have I mentioned that my sister and my best friend are both red heads who live in that area? Kinda creepy, even though neither of them were were alive during Floyd’s crimes.
Vronsky’s book was well organized and well written. It included a lot of names, which I usually dislike in books because it’s too easy to get them confused, but the organization and storytelling made the structure of the book simple to follow. I’m also not normally that interested in history, but Serial Killers was a unique exception.
My Sister Milly by Gemma Dowler is the story of her family’s struggle after the kidnapping and murder of her younger sister, Milly Dowler.
It look Gemma 15 years to tell the story of serial killer Levi Bellfield kidnapping, raping and murdering her 13-year-old sister on March 21, 2002 as she was walking home from school.
Milly’s body was found months after her disappearance, but it took years for the police to have any real suspects.
Gemma tells the story of her family’s grief and survival during the most difficult period of their lives. She discusses the perceived failings of the police, including focusing almost solely on her father as a suspect, withholding critical information to her sister’s case and outing family secrets while protecting Milly’s murderer. And Gemma writes candidly about media coverage of her sister’s kidnapping and murder, including the falsehoods and the damage it all did to the family.
Kristen Hadeed made a ton of mistakes while she was building her cleaning company, Student Maid.
Kristen started the company almost by accident 10 years ago while she was still a college student. She had no idea how to manage a company or the people in it.
Sometimes I was amazed at how naive Kristen was as I was reading her story in Permission to Screw Up. But I also appreciated the vulnerability of using her mistakes to teach others about how to build a company with high retention and a culture of trust and accountability.
Kristen now is a sought-after business speaker, but it really does seem that she learned almost everything the hard way.
Jeff’s book told me what I knew all along—motivation is not a thing, and you certainly shouldn’t wait for it to appear so you can accomplish your goals.
Instead, motivation is the thrill of success when you’re actually accomplishing things. It’s the outcome, not the catalyst.
So, instead of waiting for motivation to appear or not working when it doesn’t, it’s more important to set goals and realistic steps to meeting those goals, then force yourself to do the work.
Let me make one thing clear—I am not going to start hopping out of bed at 5 a.m. That’s just not a thing that’s going to happen in my life. I love my bed and my sleep way too much for all of that.
The great news is that you don’t need to wake up at 5 a.m. to apply the productivity concepts in The 5 a.m. Miracle. It’s about the high-achieving, motivational concepts, not the time. The book will teach you how to work your morning with an intentional routine and provides seven steps to use to accomplishing amazing levels of productivity. I found it so helpful that I want to read it again, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.
It’s difficult to describe what I loved so much about this book. Rachel is the writer behind The Chic Site and the owner of her own media company. But I didn’t know anything about her when I started reading her book. I just knew that some of my friends liked the book and I’d seen it recommended on a few lists.
Rachel’s book focuses on lies she once believed that left her feeling like she wasn’t good enough or doing anything well. All I could think as I was reading it was “Wow, she’s really real.” Obviously I don’t know Rachel personally, but I just felt like her book was really honest. Even though I couldn’t relate to all of her specific struggles, I related to the lies we tell ourselves that belittle and destroy us.
Kerpen claims that those with the best people skills, those with the ability to truly connect, are most successful in today’s competitive business environment.
Kerpen goes on to give practical advice for how to develop and use people skills that will help you be a respected, trusted and likable leader.
This book about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., seems like a story from an apocalyptic movie. Sadly, though, it’s true.
The state government made the poorly-informed decision to switch the city’s water supply to a source that corroded Flint’s aging lead pipes. The decision was made mostly for economic reasons.
After the change, officials essentially ignored complaints from residents about the water’s foul smell and off color as the population began growing increasingly ill as a result of lead poisoning.
It took 18 months for state officials to finally admit that the water was poisonous. By then, 12 people had died and we still don’t know the long-term impact of their terrible decision.
Allison Pataki’s story is the kind of thing we’re all afraid of but don’t think will ever actually happen to us.
Allison was five months pregnant and headed on a vacation with her 31-year-old husband, Dave, when he had a life-threatening stroke on the plane. The pilot made an emergency landing and Allison found herself in a Fargo, N.D., hospital uncertain if her husband would even live through the night.
Dave survived, but he was without his short- and long-term memories, and the former surgeon had to learn even basic things again.
Allison found herself caring for a new baby and a husband trying to become himself again. This memoir is letters Allison wrote to Dave during that time.
It’s better to be white, wealthy and guilty than it is to be black, poor and innocent.
Anthony Ray Hinton was poor, black and without appropriate legal representation when he was convicted of two murders he didn’t commit. For the next three decades he was trapped in solitary confinement on death row, watching as fellow prisoners were taken past him to the execution room.
Eventually his case was taken up by lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who managed to have him exonerated, though it took 15 years. During those 15 years, Hinton started a death row book club and helped the men there see that someone cared about them.
Hinton didn’t give up hope and gave it to others too. He tells his powerful story of faith and strength in this book.
I’ve been looking for years for a second mainstream book for my Principles of Public Relations class. We found it last semester when we read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. I loved this book, so did my students.
In the book, Sinek describes a world where people want to go to work because they are fulfilled in their workplaces. This fulfillment comes from the fact that these people feel trusted and valued by their employers and those around them. Sinek then provides real-world examples of how such workplaces and feelings of fulfillment toward them can be achieved. Spoiler alert: It starts at the top.
Sometimes a book seems perfect because of its timing in your life. That was the situation for me with Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter and Thrive by Jessica Turner.
Jessica’s story of how working mothers are constantly pulled in many directions didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know and haven’t already lived. But the book became available through my library loans at a time when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Because of the timing, Jessica’s advice on boundaries, achievable goals, self care, and having compassion enough for yourself to give yourself a break really resonated with me.
Sometimes it’s all about timing. You may not learn anything new from Jessica’s book, but reminders are important too.
I almost stopped reading this book. Craig actually tells the reader that now might not be the right time in your life for this book if you’re not struggling. I’m not particularly struggling right now, although I have struggled to understand deaths in my family. Those struggles kept me reading.
The most important message in this book is that a just and loving God doesn’t mean a God that protects you from anything bad or negative in your life. It’s about trusting in a plan that is bigger than you, which is not always an easy thing to do.
In the book, Kelly shares with us 12 essential phrases that she’s learned to use in her life and the stories of those lessons. Some of Kelly’s 12 hard things she’s learning (or has learned) to say are things we all need to learn to tell others.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha did not quit. And, while it will be decades before we know the true damage caused by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, there is little question that the children in Flint are safer today because of her.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha, along with a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders, discovered that the children were being exposed to lead in their tap water. But the discovery wasn’t enough. They had to battle their own government and even those in their medical community to expose how the children were being poisoned and what it meant for their futures, if they were to have them at all.
There they are, my 15 favorite non-fiction books of 2018. I hope you’ll find something here to read and love. As always, Happy Reading!