1. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Why it’ll trick you into being smarter: Set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it’ll teach you about some major American architecture, the decision made between AC and DC electricity, and how the Ferris wheel was invented while distracting you with the shiny subplot of a real serial killer operating a “murder castle.”
Why you’re annoying everyone: See above, minus the serial killer part.
2. Hooked by G. Bruce Knecht or Cod by Mark Kurlansky
Why it’ll trick you into being smarter: Who knew the history of fishing was directly tied to exploration, economic development, and subsequent species extinction? These guys (and now you). But there are pirates, mysteries, international conflicts, marketing schemes to get you eat disgusting ocean stuff, and high speed chases on the open sea.
Why you’re annoying everyone: Did you know that delicious Chilean sea bass you’re enjoying is actually Patagonian toothfish? Bland, fatty, ugly Patagonian toothfish. It’ll help if you are already vegetarian, but talking about the politics of what we eat always makes people think you’re a dick.
3. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Why it’ll trick you into being smarter: It is a road trip across America that visits the sites and monuments concerning the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Vowell makes history morbidly hilarious and when you’re done reading, you have inadvertently learned Garfield was a president and that Robert Todd Lincoln was present at all three (!) of these assassinations.
Why you’re annoying everyone: Because the strange American trivia you memorize is so exciting that you’ll end up sounding like a lunatic.
4. Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman
Why it’ll trick you into being smarter: Another American road trip into the morbid, this book visits the sites and legends of famous rock n roll deaths such as Buddy Holly, Kurt Cobain, and the Great White fire in Rhode Island. American music pop culture is part of our history and I didn’t even know that I liked to learn stuff.
Why you’re annoying everyone: Actually, this book just made me suspect that the most annoying person might be Klosterman.
5. King of the World by David Remnick
Why it’ll trick you into being smarter: Not only will you win EVERY Trivial Pursuit boxing question, you’ll be riveted as you follow Muhammad Ali’s rise to the top of the world. You’ll think you’re in it for the sports (or not, because you hate sports but are still inexplicably unable to put the book down), but you leave with a greater understanding of race in America, Islam, and the power of conviction.
Why you’re annoying everyone: Nothing in this book will make you annoying, unless you tell people that you found out about it by reading a published chapter in the New Yorker.