Have you ever read a non-fiction book that made you stop everything and think, “Whoah, I didn’t know that, and now I do my entire worldview has changed”?
Well, here are five books that did exactly that to me when I read them, and I feel a much more informed and enlightened human being because of them.
1. Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned in the United States. On the eve of this centenary, journalist Johann Hari set off on an epic three-year, thirty-thousand-mile journey into the war on drugs. What he found is that more and more people all over the world have begun to recognize three startling truths: Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war has very different motives to the ones we have seen on our TV screens for so long.
In Chasing the Scream, Hari reveals his discoveries entirely through the stories of people across the world whose lives have been transformed by this war. They range from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn searching for her mother, to a teenage hit-man in Mexico searching for a way out. It begins with Hari's discovery that at the birth of the drug war, Billie Holiday was stalked and killed by the man who launched this crusade--and it ends with the story of a brave doctor who has led his country to decriminalize every drug, from cannabis to crack, with remarkable results.
Chasing the Scream lays bare what we really have been chasing in our century of drug war – in our hunger for drugs, and in our attempt to destroy them. This book will challenge and change how you think about one of the most controversial – and consequential – questions of our time.
My note: This book blew my notion of 'drugs are bad' and 'addicts are bad' WIDE apart. I didn't realise that the 'war on drugs' was started by a policeman in the US whose team had nothing to do after prohibition ended and alcohol was made legal so to keep them busy, they turned their attention to drugs - making up claims about the effects with no scientific evidence. I also didn't appreciate how awfully we treat drug addicts, when we should be looking at what made them turn to drugs in the first place (often a traumatic childhood) and fixing that.
2. Revolution by Russell Brand
We all know the system isn’t working. Our governments are corrupt and the opposing parties pointlessly similar. Our culture is filled with vacuity and pap, and we are told there’s nothing we can do: “It’s just the way things are.”
In this book, Russell Brand hilariously lacerates the straw men and paper tigers of our conformist times and presents, with the help of experts as diverse as Thomas Piketty and George Orwell, a vision for a fairer, sexier society that’s fun and inclusive.
You have been lied to, told there’s no alternative, no choice, and that you don’t deserve any better. Brand destroys this illusory facade as amusingly and deftly as he annihilates Morning Joe anchors, Fox News fascists, and BBC stalwarts.
This book makes revolution not only possible but inevitable and fun.
My note: I listened to the audiobook of the this which is narrated by Russell Brand and it was brilliantly entertaining as well as enlightening. It lays out why he believes current day capitalism is unfair, how democracy is a sham and also why we need a non violent revolution to improve the quality of life for ordinary people.
3. The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It by Owen Jones
In The Establishment Owen Jones, author of the international bestseller Chavs, offers a biting critique of the British Establishment and a passionate plea for democracy
Behind our democracy lurks a powerful but unaccountable network of people who wield massive power and reap huge profits in the process. In exposing this shadowy and complex system that dominates our lives, Owen Jones sets out on a journey into the heart of our Establishment, from the lobbies of Westminster to the newsrooms, boardrooms and trading rooms of Fleet Street and the City. Exposing the revolving doors that link these worlds, and the vested interests that bind them together, Jones shows how, in claiming to work on our behalf, the people at the top are doing precisely the opposite. In fact, they represent the biggest threat to our democracy today - and it is time they were challenged.
My note: I did not appreciate how the establishment across politics / corporate world / media etc is so interlinked until I read this book. It took me a long time to read and digest as I was so shocked - and ultimately educated.
4. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
No Place to Hide is a groundbreaking look at the NSA surveillance scandal, from the reporter who broke the story.
Investigative reporter for The Guardian and bestselling author Glenn Greenwald, provides an in-depth look into the NSA scandal that has triggered a national debate over national security and information privacy. With further revelations from documents entrusted to Glenn Greenwald by Edward Snowden himself, this book explores the extraordinary cooperation between private industry and the NSA, and the far-reaching consequences of the government’s surveillance program, both domestically and abroad.
My note: This is an eye-opening account of the Edward Snowden whistleblowing and one which is alarming in its depiction of information security and how we are all being watched / listened to.
5. The Man from Pakistan: The True Story of the World's Most Dangerous Nuclear Smuggler by Douglas Frantz, Catherine Collins
The world has entered a second nuclear age. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation is on the rise. Should such an assault occur, there is a strong likelihood that the trail of devastation will lead back to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani father of the Islamic bomb and the mastermind behind a vast clandestine enterprise that has sold nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Khan's loose-knit organization was and still may be a nuclear Wal-Mart, selling weapons blueprints, parts, and the expertise to assemble the works into a do-it-yourself bomb kit. Amazingly, American authorities could have halted his operation, but they chose instead to watch and wait. Khan proved that the international safeguards the world relied on no longer worked.
Journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins tell this alarming tale of international intrigue through the eyes of the European and American officials who suspected Khan, tracked him, and ultimately shut him down, but only after the nuclear genie was long out of the bottle.
My note: This book was seriously interesting in terms of the decisions (blunders) that led to Khan's pilfering of key information about building nuclear bombs, selling that knowledge on and how parts / necessary products were clandestinely shipped around the world.
If you have any non-fiction books that have blown your mind – please let me know in the comments below! I’m always looking for recommendations for the next brain-popping read :)
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