10-must-read nonfiction books for teens
Kitaabo: The Blue City Literature Fest for Children concluded in Jodhpur last week. The initiative was conceptualised by my friends Ira and Vikas with an objective to encourage kids and teens to read more books. Being a teacher of management subjects and an author of nonfiction myself, I curated a list of few nonfiction books for teens and shared the list in my sessions at the Kitaabo Fest. This blog is a summary of my talk and has more than 10 names. I encourage you to add more nonfiction books in your comments below and share it with teens around you.
Remember, just like how food gives nutrition to our bodies, books give nutrition to our brains. So pick a book and feed your brain.
I have classified this list in five sub-categories/genres so that teens can dig deeper into these subjects depending on their interest and it is easier to remember.
- Math & Science – These books have made me fall in love with Math and Science all over again. I wish I had read these books when I was in Class 9th or 10th. In those days, all we had to do was memorise textbooks of these subjects to get marks. It is no wonder that a lot of teens including me, hate these subjects. But these books are a rich source of knowledge that can transform the hatred to admiration. They tell us stories about the lives of these scientists and mathematicians, how their equations and theories are applied in everyday life around us and finally, inspire us to have a scientific temper in our thinking. Some names of books in this category are as follows – “17 equations that changed the world” by Ian Stewart, “Six Easy Pieces” by Richard Feynman (or you could read his biography called Genius and watch his lectures), and “Godel Escher Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter. This last book is a gem. It also takes you into the realms of cognition, creativity and art. If you are not in the habit of reading, then you could watch some movies to kindle your interest in this subject. Some good movies are The Imitation Game (story of Alan Turing), A Beautiful Mind (story of John Nash), The Man who knew Infinity (story of S Ramanujam) and The Theory of Everything (story of Steven Hawking)
- Social Sciences (History, Civics, Geography) – The best way to know about history is to start with books on your own city and country. When I was a teen, I used to wait for every episode of “Bharat Ek Khoj” which was based on the book called “Discovery of India” by Jawahar Lal Nehru. When I read the book recently, I enjoyed it more because I recalled the episodes and could relate to the chapters. Another brilliant book on the history of India from a geographical perspective is called The Ocean of the Churn written by Sanjeev Sanyal. Thankfully, his book has a children’s version called “The Incredible History of India’s Geography“. Both books explain the historical roots of India and make us appreciate our rich cultural diversities.
- Behaviour and self-development -Have you ever wondered why we feel terrible when we get more marks than our best friend or why we consume junk food more despite knowing that they are harmful? The answers to these observations are explained in a variety of books from behavioural psychology, neurosciences and self-improvement. One nice simple book is called “You are not so smart” written by David McRaney. If you watch a program on National Geographic channel called “Brain Games”, you will know what I am talking about. Understanding the brain is the most baffling problems that we face and books like these offer a sneak peek into the realms of this organ and how it impacts our lives. Many teens are shy or lack the confidence to face an audience. These topics can be very easily understood by reading books on these topics and learning from others who found a way to tackle them. Check out a brilliant book by Dale Carnegie called “How to win friends and influence people” or my own book that I wrote on communication called “What to Say When to Shut Up“. More books on confidence, introversion and self-esteem are “The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova, “Quiet” by Susan Cain and “Presence” by Amy Cuddy. Make sure you see TED videos of Susan and Amy if you can’t read the book.
- Nature, trees, birds and animals – Our societies, schools and families teach us so many things. But I wish they also teach us how to live with other living things around us. If we are to save the environment, we need to prepare the teens from now and help them appreciate nature first – especially plants, birds and animals. My son taught me this lesson in his summer holidays. We were walking in a park and he named me few birds he spotted there. I felt so stupid that day. Beyond a sparrow or a crow or a pigeon, I could not identify any other bird. So I picked this simple delightful book called “Common Birds” by Salim Ali and Laeeq Futehally. And I am waiting to have a competition with my Son in his next holidays to see who can name a bird faster. Another fascinating book I read recently is called “The Hidden life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. In this book, he shows the reader the secrets of trees, how they communicate and how they interact with each other. After reading this book, I feel that a tree or a plant is a person. They talk, they feel, they fight and so much more. Maybe they have their own facebook too :).
- Others – These books don’t fall into any particular genre but offer vast knowledge too. Biographies of famous leaders tell you fascinating accounts of their human side. Like any other teen, they also loved to play, had to face challenges like anyone else but over time, made certain tough choices to become an example for others to follow. Gandhi’s “My experiments with truth” and JRD Tata’s “Beyond the Last Blue Mountain” are my favourite biographies. Last, not least, I encourage teens to understand religion and spirituality as well. Karen Armstrong’s “History of God” is a brilliant book that documents the story of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Jaya” depicts Mahabharata in a simple manner with illustrations. And Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” is an absolute gem that makes you wonder the simplicity of the eternal truth and our ignorance to believe in it.
About the Author
Rakesh Godhwani calls himself a nobody. He teaches, writes, reads a story to his kids every night before they sleep, bicycles his way to work when he can, does yoga, earns a fraction of what he used to, but lives a million times better. Check his online course Present with Confidence. Follow him @godhwani. Read his other posts at https://rakeshgodhwani.wordpress.com or on Linkedin https://in.linkedin.com/in/rakeshgodhwani or medium https://medium.com/@Godhwani