Interesting books and movies
(* means not suitable for ages approx. 16 or under, ** means also suitable for middle school students, otherwise generally for ages 14-99)


Fun non-fiction Fun fiction
Factual and interesting Classic fiction


Documentary Classics
Funny Will become classics
Scary Musical
Grade Z 1950's science fiction  

Fun and interesting non-fiction books

Surely Youre Joking, Mr. Feynman, by Richard Feynman, memoirs of the Nobel-prize-winning physicist.  My favorite chapter is the one on lock-picking.  If you like it, read the sequel What Do You Care What Other People Think?
Yeager:  An Autobiography
by Chuck Yeager (he broke the Mach 1 sound barrier)
Into Thin Air
by Jon Krakauer, disastrous climb of Mt. Everest
** Never Cry Wolf
by Farley Mowat.  A naturalist studies wolves in the Canadian arctic
The Ship Who Wouldn't Float
by Farley Mowat.  A landlubber restores a sailing ship with hilarious consequences
The Falcon and the Snowman
by Robert Lindsey. A rebellious Southern California teen becomes a Russian spy.  If you enjoy it, read the sequel The Flight of the Falcon
(or the juvenile book Wintersong) by Gary Paulsen.  He trains dogs to race in the Iditarod and everything goes wrong
Travels on my Elephant
by Mark Shand.  A British expatriate purchases an elephant and travels around India on it, meeting interesting people.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain.  He apprentices to a pilot on a sternwheeler.  Full of wry humor.
Child of the Jungle by Savine Kuegler.  The daughter of missionaries grows up living with a tribe in new Guinea.
The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu.  A little-known but fascinating counter-espionage operation during World War II.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean.  Little-known factoids and stories about the elements.
Napoleon's Buttons:  How 17 Molecules Changed History, by Penny Le Couteur.   The impact of certain substances on history, and our world today
Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice for All Creation:  The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex, by Olivia Judson.  Fun facts about sex in the insect world and other critters.
The Elephant Whisperer:  My Life with the Herd in the African Wild, by Lawrence Anthony.  Anecdotes from a game warden in southern Africa. 
Alex and Me:  How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process, by Irene Pepperberg
Do Your Ears Pop in Space? and 500 Other Surprising Questions About Space Travel, by R. Mike Mullane.  A retired astronaut's answers to people's FAQs.
Theo Gray's Mad Science:  Experiments You Can Do at Home - Put Probably Shouldn't, by Theodore Gray.  Do most of these outdoors, please!
Stiff:  the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach.  What happens to cadavers
*Compare the current failed attempt at nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan to their post-WW-II counterparts in Germany and Italy in the excellent historical fiction novels Armageddon by Leon Uris (Germany) or A Bell for Adano by John Hersey (Italy).  While fiction, they took actual historical occurrences and retold them as if they had happened to fictional characters.  Like Iraq, Germany and Italy were recently cobbled together from smaller entities speaking different languages and, in the case of Germany, different religions.  Not fun, but fascinating. 


Molvania, Phaic Tan or San Sombrero by Santo Cilauro.  Fake "travel guides" to non-existent countries.  The more you've traveled, the funnier they are.
America's Dumbest Criminals
by Daniel Butler or The Darwin Awards by Wendy Northcutt.  How to remove yourself from the gene pool by doing really dumb things.
Dave Barry Does Japan,
Dave Barry in Cyberspace, or Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway .  Very funny.
Selected short stories by James Thurber, appearing in The Thurber Carnival and other Thurber short story collections.  My favorites:  The Night the Bed Fell, The Day the Dam Broke, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Dog that Bit People.

Fun fiction books

The Princess Bride by William Goldman, swashbuckling adventure, even better than the movie!
*Infinity Hold
by Barry Longyear, violent convicts dumped on a planet invent a government
And Then There Were None
(also titled Ten Little Indians) by Agatha Christie.  Classic murder mystery.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One,
If you think sci-fi is trash, you haven't read these!  The best sci-fi short stories ever written.  If you like them, also read Volumes 2A, 2B, 3 and 4.  My favorites in Volume One are Nightfall, Arena, Mimsy Were the Borogroves, and Flowers for Algernon.
A few short stories by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Just So Stories.  My favorites:  The Elephant's Child and How the Alphabet Was Made

Classic fiction books 

Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  (if you like it, also read the sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
Animal Farm
by George Orwell.  Social commentary
The Bible - rather than read the entire thing, you might find a kid's version which recounts the most popular stories from both Testaments.  The King James translation isn't very accurate, but is poetic and the most-quoted.  Different translations preserve the meaning better. 
Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley.  Dystopia
**Call of the Wild
and/or White Fang by Jack London.  Sled dogs and men in the Yukon gold rush era
by James Michener.  Epic historical fiction about Colorado.  Skip the opening chapter on geology and dinosaurs.  
*A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess.  Violent dystopia.  
The Crucible
by Arthur Miller.  Play about Salem witch trials that indicted McCarthyism
The Food of the Gods
by H. G. Wells.  Sci-fi classic about Frankenfood, written in 1904.
, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (read in order).  Classic sci-fi trilogy.
**The Gift of the Magi
, short story by O. Henry.  The ultimate irony.
The Good Earth
by Pearl Buck.  Follows the fortunes of a family of peasants in pre-Revolution China
Hawaii by James Michener.  Fictionalized epic history of Hawaii.  Skip the opening chapter on geology.  
I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov (not to be confused with the awful movie with a totally different plot).  Excellent short story collection.  If you like it, also read The Rest of the Robots, or the combination The Complete Robot, which contains both earlier books.
Inherit the Wind
by Jerome Lawrence.  Play based on the Scopes monkey trial. Or see the excellent movie starring Spencer Tracy.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  The original muckracker's 1906 exposé of the Chicago stockyards.  Led to the passage of the Food and Drug Act.  
by Rudyard Kipling, the adventures of a poor orphan in India in the 1800s.
The Nine Billion Names of God
by Arthur C. Clarke.  Collection of classic sci-fi short stories.  Make sure to read the title story and The Star.  The cult film 2001:  A Space Odyssey was based on the story The Sentinel.
by George Orwell.  Dystopia.  A must-read.
The Once and Future King
by T.H. White.  A humorous take on the King Arthur legend. 
* One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey.  Who is mentally ill and who is sane in this crazy world?
* QB VII by Leon Uris.  An eminent doctor is accused of collaboration with Nazis.
by Alex Haley, the fictionalized epic history of a black American family tracing its roots back to Africa.
Any famous play by William Shakespeare.  Watch the movie version or read a synopsis first to help you understand it.
Any Sherlock Holmes short stories and novelettes  by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Find a collection and read several, in any order.  The Complete Sherlock Holmes has them all in chronological order.
** Short stories by Mark Twain.  My favorites are The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg and The 100,000 Note
The Source  by James Michener.  Epic historical fiction about Israel/Palestine.  Helps to understand the current situation there.
Tarzan of the Apes
by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Very different from the Disney movie.  Skip the numerous sequels.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Growing up in the segregated South
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Pirates, buried treasure and adventure on the high seas.  Quaint language.

Factual and interesting books

Wars, Guns, and Votes:  Democracy in Dangerous Places by Paul Collier.  Examines different types of government in the Third World.  Fascinating mix of economics, political science, history, and current events.  Many of his well-researched findings will surprise you.  A must-read for anyone interested in international relations or how to break the cycle of poverty in developing countries.  If you enjoy it, read his previous book The Bottom Billion.
Why Won't You Apologize?  Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner
.  Excellent book to help heal relationships and psyches. 
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  Fascinating story behind the food we eat.  Traces food from farm to table, stopping along the way to examine the politics of farm subsidies and the phoniness of the "organic" label on food.  A must-read.
The Oregon Trail
by Rinker Buck.  In 2011, two men, three mules, and a covered wagon travel the length of the Oregon Trail.  Mix of adventure, history, horsemanship and interesting people.
*The Lexus and the Olive Tree, * The World is Flat  or *Longitudes and Attitudes by Thomas Friedman; or *Fortune Favors the Bold or *The Zero-Sum Game by Lester Thurow.  Globalization from an economic perspective.
* Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody.  An American woman held hostage in Iran tries to escape.
The Mother Tongue:  English and How It Got That Way
by Bill Bryson.  The history of the English language.  Fun for word nuts.
* Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.  Fascinating mix of social sciences and hard sciences to explain why certain countries are more advanced than others.  A must-read.
Arrest-Proof Yourself
by Dale Carson and Wes Denham.  What to do, and more importantly, what to NOT do to keep from attracting attention of the police.  A must-read for teenagers, young adults, parents of teenagers and young adults, and anyone involved in political protests.
* The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Fascinating mix of ecology and history. What would the world be like if there were no people?
** The Worlds Great Stories: 55 Legends that Live Forever by Louis Untermeyer.  Very short retellings of classic tales.
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler.  The author spent the years 1998-1999 teaching English in a small town in provincial China.  Fascinating glimpse into another culture.  
* Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christian's Journey Through the Jewish Year by Harvey Cox. Written by a Baptist professor of theology at Harvard who is married to a Jewish woman. Learn more about your faith, other peoples' faith, and the historical background behind both.
How We Got Here:  A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets by Andy Kessler.  The interplay between inventions, finance, technology, and history.  Who gets rich, the inventors or the investors, and why?
Substitute:  Going to School with a Thousand Kids, by Nicholson Baker.  Thinking of becoming a teacher?  Want to know what it's like teaching K-12 nowadays?

Factual and interesting non-fiction books about current events

The World of Mexican Migrants: The Rock and the Hard Place by Judith Adler Hellman.  Insight into the explosion in illegal immigration.   
Energy for Future Presidents:  The Science Behind the Headlines, by UC Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller.  Looks at the feasibility and impact of various types of energy, and also looks at Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill, to see how their true impact contrasts with the view in the popular press.  Written in a chatty, entertaining style, I couldn't put this book down.
*The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea.  Harrowing account of illegal immigrants crossing the desert to the USA.  If you find it interesting, also read Enrique's Journey A boy travels from Honduras the the USA to be reunited with his mother.  Not for the squeamish.
*Infidel by Ayyaan Hirsi Ali.  The author grows up as a fundamentalist Muslim in a Somali refugee camp, emigrates to the Netherlands, and gets elected to the Netherlands State Assembly.  Examines the clash of culture between the third world and the developed world, and the clash between modern and fundamentalist Islam.


Movies (rent or borrow if you haven't seen them yet)

Classic drama:  

Doctor Zhivago
, epic about a man whose life is disrupted by the Russian Revolution
** The Wizard of Oz
, an icon of Americana.
** Fantasia
(the 1940 original), amazing hand-drawn animation set to classical music.  If you like it, also see Fantasia 2000
Lawrence of Arabia
, epic struggle for Arab independence from the British during WW I. More than 3 hours long
, classic Humphrey Bogart romance-during-the-war film. 
Gone With the Wind
, epic set during the Civil War.  An American icon.
*The Great Escape, Allied POWs during WW II engineer an escape.  All-star cast.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
, Gold-prospectors strike it rich. Or do they?  John Ford directs Humphrey Bogart.
Twelve Angry Men
, jurors deliberate on a murder case.  Must-see performance by Henry Fonda.  No special effects, fancy sets, sex, or violence.  Just excellent acting and a marvelous script.
*Schindlers List, multiple-Oscar-winning movie about the Holocaust
The Magnificent Seven, quintessential Western with an all-star cast

 (Unless you really like the genre, one of these Alfred Hitchcock films is plenty.)
, Rear Window, *Psycho


, satirizes disaster films, particularly Airport.
Top Secret
, makes fun of war movies and Elvis movies at the same time.  Campy and very, very funny.
** Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Screwball 1960s comedy with an all-star cast.  A must-see.  Starts slowly but picks up steam once the characters are introduced.
** The Gold Rush Classic silent film starring Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp in the Alaska gold rush.  Slow-paced by modern standards, but well worth watching.
** Arsenic and Old Lace. Two sweet old ladies have a deadly secret..  
** Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, classic 1960s romantic comedy.  
Any movie featuring the Marx Brothers such as A Night at the Opera or Monkey Business.  All are slow by modern standards, so be patient and wait for the funny parts.
** The Music Box 15-minute short film featuring Laurel and Hardy moving a piano up an endless flight of stairs.  A must-see.
assorted Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, or Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons.  Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, etc.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by The Reduced Shakespeare Company.  Spoofs of the Bard's plays
West Bank Story
Re-telling of the classic musical West Side Story with Palestinians and Israelis.  Download this 15-minute film from iTunes for $3.  It helps to have seen the movie West Side Story.

Will become classics:  

** Raiders of the Lost Ark now renamed Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Swashbuckling adventure
** Back to the Future.  A fun time-travel romp but don't take the "science" seriously.  If you like it, watch both sequels.
Dave.  An ordinary American becomes the acting President of the United States.  Fun yet thought-provoking.
Big. A 13-year-old boy wishes he were grown up. His wish comes true, but he's not ready for the adult world.

Classic Broadway musicals (Unless you really like the genre, one musical is enough.)

West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet retold in 1960s New York City.  The quintessential musical.
** The Sound of Music, Based on true life, a nun becomes a governess to a wealthy Austrian
Fiddler on the Roof
, life in a  Jewish village around 1900.
** My Fair Lady, retelling of the Pygmalion story in Victorian London
*Cabaret, love blossoms in 1930s Berlin
** Mary Poppins, a magical governess transforms a Victorian family.  The first movie to blend live-action with animation.
** South Pacific. romantic view of life in the military in the South Pacific during WW II.
** The King and I,
based on real-life Anna Leonowens, an Englishwoman becomes governess to the children of the King of Siam.

Grade Z 1950s science fiction:
 (pick just one unless you're a glutton for punishment)

** So bad, they're good!  The worst (I mean the best) include Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Mothra, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, or The Monolith Monsters.   Or pick one from  The more raindrops, the worse (better) it is!


   Jesus Camp.  How the religious right raise their kids in the red states, watching televangelists and being homeschooled in Creationism.  A must-watch to understand      Trumpism and flyover country.
* An Inconvenient Truth
, Al Gore's documentary about global warming.
* Bowling for Columbine
.  Michael Moore looks at gun control in the USA
* Sicko
Michael Moore examines health care in America
   The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.  Escaped parrots form a breeding colony in San Francisco, and interact with the residents.

(* means not suitable for ages approx. 16 or under, ** means also suitable for middle school students, otherwise generally for ages 14-99)