5 Fascinating Things I Learned from Reading Nonfiction This Year

It’s Nonfiction November, which means it is time to read ALL THE NONFICTION. Or at least listen to me talk about nonfiction all month (I have to annoy someone other than my coworkers with all the weird facts I learn). This year, I have read a lot of nonfiction books. And I have learned a lot of really cool facts. Some of which I still can’t shut up about. So I thought I’d share some, and maybe convince a few of you to read more great nonfiction because you can learn a lot of really cool things (and freak people out talking about zombifying parasites, which I have done multiple times this year).

Cockroach Wasps Perform Neurosurgery on Cockroaches to Turn Them Into Zombies so They Can Unwittingly Become a Nice, Warm Place for Wasp Eggs (and Then Wasp Larvae Food)

This is easily one of the most bizarre things I have learned… ever. And I can’t stop telling people. Because nature is seriously batshit crazy. Cockroach wasps inject their venom into the brains of a cockroach so that it will do their bidding and be slowly eaten alive by wasp babies. And they don’t just inject willy-nilly. They know exactly where to inject and how much venom to use. Essentially performing neurosurgery on the poor cockroach. Don’t believe me? Check out this YouTube video. And then read Matt Simon’s Plight of the Living Dead to find out about more weird zombifying parasites. Like the worm that turns crickets into kamikazes or the one that makes snails dance.

Tyrannosaurus Rex (aka The Tyrant Lizard King) Was as Smart as a Chimpanzee and Could Bite Down Hard Enough to Make Bones Explode

Is that not the most terrifying thing you’ve ever read? Imagine a thirty-foot tall, bipedal, warm-blooded lizard with feathers who can run thirty-five miles an hour with teeth that are basically small railroad spikes. And what if it’s actually kind of smart. And when it inevitably catches you (contrary to Jurassic Park they could see you if you stood still), it will probably bite down until your bones shatter – like the impact of a large caliber bullet, but worse – and then pull its jaws back while holding you with its short little arms to shred you before it eats you. I know that was pretty gruesome, but every time someone brings up the idea of bringing back the dinosaurs, that’s what I picture thanks to Steven Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. Basically it’s a very bad idea. No matter how cute the T-rex babies probably were. (This and the zombifying wasps are the reason my friends and coworkers hate me now. I’m super fun at dinner parties.)

Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire was a Man Named Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Who Had Amassed a Fortune Worth Over $46 Million in Today’s Money by the Time He Died in 1875

Sure, Alexander Hamilton was awesome (I read his biography a few years ago, he really was), but there’s another Hamilton we should also be talking about: Jeremiah. How did a black man in the nineteenth century, who might have actually been a slave at some point in his life and lived through the Civil War, end up a millionaire? Don’t take shit from anyone. Including white men. A lesson we can still learn from. I was kind of shocked that I’d never heard of him, and glad I picked up his biography, Prince of Darkness by Shane White.

The Most Expensive Painting in the World is a Leonardo da Vinci Called the Salvator Mundi and No One Knows Where it is Now (or if it’s Actually Real)

It was last purchased in 2017 for $450 million dollars – the highest price ever paid for a piece of art – by a Saudi Crown prince. Current theories include that it is on a yacht (it hurts my soul to think of a da Vinci masterpiece being exposed to salt water), but no one has seen it since it was purchased. Ben Lewis’s book The Last Leonardo goes into the history of the Salvator Mundi, where it might be now, and if it is actually a real da Vinci.

The Exploding Frog Cure was a Popular Treatment for the Bubonic Plague

I learned a lot of weird things from History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright. But one of the weirdest things I learned was that a fairly common cure for the bubonic plagues was exploding frogs. Yes, actual frogs. They would put the belly of a live frog on their boils to absorb the poison. If the frog exploded (from poison overload), you would live. If not, you were probably going to die.


I hope this post showed you why you should be reading more nonfiction. Even if it’s only so you can learn interesting facts to impress your friends, it’s worth it. Personally, I LOVE learning about anything and everything, and reading nonfiction provides me a great way to do it. Anything you want to learn, you can read a book about. Even if that thing is zombifying cockroach wasps.

I highly recommend all of the books mentioned in this post, and they’re all linked to Goodreads, so you can add them to your TBR!

What’s the best thing you’ve ever learned from a nonfiction book?

13 thoughts on “5 Fascinating Things I Learned from Reading Nonfiction This Year

  1. This is so awesome! I love reading nonfiction.
    Do you listen to the Ologies podcast? She has a different -ologist on each week to talk about their field. It’s very casual and nerdy and informal. I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, and the fact I am always telling people at parties that gets weird faces is that there is dirty astronaut underwear still on the moon. Apollo 11 left a package of trash and dirty laundry (including underpants) with the lunar lander on the moon. Boys… always leaving messes for other people to clean up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My favourite non-fiction read this year has been Underland by Robert Macfarlane. The chapter about the Paris catacombs is fascinating and he writes so beautifully too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another interesting nonfiction read for you, if you haven’t read it already is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which taught me, (among other more serious things) that human cells have been sent to the moon. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

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