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Old 04-10-2013, 03:19 AM
 
Location: Tennessee
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Except for biographies of dead people written after they were dead, it seems to me that most nonfiction doesn't age as well as fiction because real situations update/evolve/become less interesting over time. What's your own personal "too old" point for reading nonfiction? Does it depend on the type of nonfiction?
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:05 AM
 
Location: Colorado (PA at heart)
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I think a lot of history books do indeed age well, especially farther back you go in history because there's not actually that much about history which changes with time. Perceptions may change over time but the facts rarely do. The recent Richard III's excavation aside, major new discoveries that cause scholars to completely reassess what they know about a historical figure or event are rare.

In fact, when it comes to my family history research, I make us of local history books which are so old, they are out of copyright and in the public domain - many can be found for free as ebooks.
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Old 04-10-2013, 12:42 PM
 
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I think it absolutely depends on the kind of non-fiction, yes. I think that you can keep on reading some things like Powers of Mind (1975), Robert Benchley (1920s), or Lord Chesterfield's letters (1700s).
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Old 04-14-2013, 12:46 AM
 
Location: Old Mother Idaho
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A couple of years ago, my mother was clearing out some old books and I picked out a couple of them to read. One was a book I remember seeingin my grandparent's bookshelf as a little kid: Inside Asia by John Gunther. It was written in 1938.
Gunther had written Inside Europe two years earlier. Both were first person travelogues that were part traveller's guide, part politics, and part social observations, with commentary on all of them.

I found Inside Asia to be competely engrossing. It was written at a time when the beginnings of what became World War II were just developing, and Asia, including the Orient (now known as the Middle East) were still in part under the control of several fading European empires. He covered Asia, the Orient, and Indo-China.

There was a ton of what was then current events- the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and China, the civil war in China between the Nationalists and the Communists, a lot about the Japanese Emperor, their pre-war culture, the Japanese army and it's position in regards to Russia and the west.

He wrote about Thailand when it was still a kingdom and called Siam, French Indochina (now Vietnam).
Much was written on the beginnings of the civil unrest in colonial India and the early situation that brought about the founding of Pakistan, which was part of India until after the British left.

He wrote about Iran and Iraq when both were one nation called Persia, Afghanistan, the Arab world and all the Kings, of colonial Israel and it's first nationalist leaders.

Reading the conditions of the 70 year old past as current events gave me a deep perspective on the causes of our present day tensions in all of those countries and regions. Gunther did not know what would happen in just a few more years, and he certainly knew nothing of the outcome of World War II, but he had a very good sense of the gathering storms.

What was as interesting to me was Gunther's very American opinions and prejudices, which are in full display throughout the book. In some parts, he was very interested and went into great detail, especially concerning the Japanese fascism and militaristic society, and in other parts, he was dismissive. His dismissal was especially evident in his Middle East chapters, which were written before the vast oil deposits were just begging to be explored.

I see some of his atitudes still present today, though much of his writing was very accurate in regards to how the people in he wrote about still think and act. Some of the world he wrote about is long gone, some has drastically changed, and some is still the same as it was 70 years ago, but it all was a great reading experience. I'm sure public libraries still have copies of both his books.
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:19 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PA2UK View Post
...In fact, when it comes to my family history research, I make us of local history books which are so old, they are out of copyright and in the public domain - many can be found for free as ebooks.
Lord, yes! I have looted some of these books mercilessly for info on how my ancestors in various tiny towns and villages lived...and have often found them mentioned too.
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Old 04-15-2013, 09:34 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LauraC View Post
Except for biographies of dead people written after they were dead, it seems to me that most nonfiction doesn't age as well as fiction because real situations update/evolve/become less interesting over time. What's your own personal "too old" point for reading nonfiction? Does it depend on the type of nonfiction?
There are many types of old non-fiction that age well because they are not vulnerable to being outdated by information that may be discovered in the future.

Examples:

Sir Richard Burton's highly detailed accounts of virtually everywhere he travelled (and he got around) provide a perspective that can never be replicated from the increasingly distant present. He was certainly wrong at times about some things, by his eyewitness accounts are themselves timeless.

Crusade in Europe, Eisenhower's memoir of World War II from before the United States joined the conflict to the post-war settlements amongst the Allies, provides a unique first-person perspective from one of the most influential men involved in the war.

Colin Fletcher's wrote extensively about backpacking. Some of this writing was instructional (his various installments of The Complete Walker). While these works contain much that is obsolete (gear reviews, etc.) they also provide timeless contemplations on all manner of things (mostly backpacking-related but some only tangentially so). And his accounts of his journeys (walking the length of California in The Thousand Mile Summer, trekking the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim in The Man Who Walked Through Time, and his backpacking/rafting account of following the Colorado River from its spring source high in the mountains of Wyoming to its mouth in Mexico in River) do not involve material that is going to be superseded by some future discoveries.

Some histories will become outdated, of course. And science works are particularly prone to factual updating. On the other hand, for example, On The Origin of Species remains highly readable as science (while understanding the limitations of the knowledge of the time), as a simple application of the scientific method, and as scientific history.
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Old 04-15-2013, 10:08 AM
 
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I love reading old non-fiction. And old fiction as well. While perspectives have changed, and we may have more knowledge of certain events than was available when these older books were written, they still provide tremendous insight into the past.
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Old 04-15-2013, 04:16 PM
 
Location: Windham County, VT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LauraC View Post
Except for biographies of dead people written after they were dead, it seems to me that most nonfiction doesn't age as well as fiction because real situations update/evolve/become less interesting over time. What's your own personal "too old" point for reading nonfiction? Does it depend on the type of nonfiction?
Don't know, it really does depend on the specific type of book, and what my purpose is in looking at it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DC at the Ridge View Post
I love reading old non-fiction. And old fiction as well. While perspectives have changed, and we may have more knowledge of certain events than was available when these older books were written, they still provide tremendous insight into the past.
Absolutely.

I have collection of old ephemera from earlier generations of my family: printed pamphlets & guidebooks from 100+ years ago.
It is such a "trip" for me to read how people used to think about how to behave, and notice how thinking has or hasn't changed since then.
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Old 04-17-2013, 07:58 AM
 
Location: Austin, Texas
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Depends on the non-fiction. Biographies and narratives are pretty entertaining. But if it's of an academic nature, it can be pretty dated.
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Old 04-17-2013, 07:59 AM
 
Location: Phoenix, AZ
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Yes, natural history stuff, mostly. . . . .
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