1. Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell.
Sarah Vowell is perhaps better known for being the voice of Violet in The Incredibles, but she's a very talented writer, informative and entertaining, and I look forward to reading more of her work. This book is about the assassinations of US presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. I realize that the history of US presidential assassinations may not have universal appeal (or, come to think of it, universal availability), but at the very least I recommend that anyone with an interest in current events (i.e. war in Iraq) read the chapter about William McKinley because, as Vowell puts it, "We seem to be reliving [the McKinley administration]." This was a revelation to me, because I've felt all along a strange sense of deja vu with regard to this war, but I've never been able to draw a satisfying parallel. I realize now that this is because I wasn't looking back far enough; I was looking towards the '40s and '50s, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Cold War, but it is much more similar to the Spanish-American War. It just goes to show that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. I know that I didn't study the Spanish-American War until I was a junior in high school, and it probably got even less attention during the school days of our presidential administration (though I personally suspect that Bush's bachelor degree in history was bought). Let us just hope and pray that the current president (as Vowell likes to call him), doesn't go the way of McKinley, because if he were to become a martyr we may as well kiss the Constitution good-bye.
This book also goes a long way toward answering the question, "What the fu*k is up with the Republican Party?"
2. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.
While I recommend this book, I do NOT recommend it for everyone. Specifically, I do NOT recommend it to anyone who is prone to paranoia and/or hypochrondria. If you can't help worrying about things well beyond your control, do not read this book.
That being said, I recommend it for anyone else who has anywhere from a mild to avid interest in science, particularly those who are interested in science but haven't taken a science class in several years and have forgotten what they've learned, or else haven't kept up with scientific developments since then and need to learn what has developed in those intervening years.
I first became interested in Bryson from his linguistic-centered book Made in America, and the linguistics show up every so often in this book as well. But the main focus is science and the history of science--what we know about the world, how we came to know it, what we thought we knew but turned out to be wrong, and who the people were who found all this stuff out. Most interesting to me is the stories of the scientists themselves, how catty and egotistical and competitive they are, how they'll often ignore piles of evidence pointing to a certain conclusion just because it contradicts their own hypothesis. You think, or at least I do, of science being this very logical, methodical, emotionless enterprise, but it turns out this is not the case. Scientists, it both pleases and worries me to say, can be as pig-headed and short-sighted as anyone else.
Oh yeah, and how could I forget:
3. Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.
Okay, I haven't read it lately, but I intend to soon, since I have the benefit of five more years life experience and a semester of contemporary criticism under my belt. And everyone else should read it, too.