Why should people read nonfiction?
Throughout the book, Foster provides some insight into why nonfiction writing is important. First, nonfiction can provide us with information: if we want to learn about history, current events, politics, or even facts and trivia, we will usually turn to a nonfiction source. And, while it is important to remember that nonfiction is not always accurate, a nonfiction source about Alexander Hamilton is likely going to be much more reliable than a historical novel. Second, because of the way nonfiction exposes us to new ideas and information, it can challenge our biases and assumptions, and give us a more well-rounded worldview. Finally, Foster makes the argument that nonfiction can be just as well-written and inspiring as other genres like poetry and fiction. When a reader can confidently read nonfiction, they can more fully appreciate the beauty of this kind of literature.
Why do people generally think that all nonfiction is true?
Quite early on in the book, Foster shares a quote that illuminates how people think about nonfiction: "when I got to college, I believed that nonfiction meant the thing was true," one of Foster's friends said. Though this is a naïve statement, it reveals how many people think. Because of the word that is attached to a book (i.e. fiction or nonfiction), people often assume that a book is either made-up (fiction) or true (nonfiction). People don't consider a writer's bias in how a book and its argument is constructed, which should be heavily considered because it generally affects how factual nonfiction is. In other words, people take claims at face value without digging deeper into those claims.
What is the connection between nonfiction and political power?
Throughout the book, Foster advocates for nonfiction as a key factor in a successful democracy where citizens are politically aware, engaged, and can make sound decisions when they vote for elected leaders. In general, readers who are accustomed to thinking critically will be better able to detect false logic and sloppy arguments more quickly, and will not be easily swayed by rhetoric or appeals to emotion. More specifically, readers also gain information through nonfiction sources, and this impacts their view of political leaders and current events. Foster argues that nonfiction has played a role in unmasking political corruption and that it has also swayed elections with damaging results. Foster discusses investigative journalism's role in uncovering events like the Watergate scandal, but he also points out that false information likely had an impact on the results of the 2016 election. Reliable and ethical nonfiction writing is vital for a healthy democracy, but the spreading of fake information can potentially undermine political legitimacy.
Why might people be tempted to believe false claims or faulty information?
Foster largely positions his book as a corrective that will help people avoid falling prey to false arguments and misinformation being spread via nonfiction sources. He also provides some explanations for why people might easily fall victim to false or biased information. One key reason is that people have often been taught to read nonfiction in a complacent, passive way, and it is easier to blindly accept information than to critically reflect and evaluate it. Another reason people may be duped is that, especially with online sources, unreliable sources can seem just as professional and compelling as much more well-founded ones. Even someone who is trying to critically assess a source may be stymied if the author is taking pains to be deceptive or misrepresent facts. Finally, readers may actually want to believe certain sources more than others: Foster points out that we are all subject to biases and are often inclined to uncritically trust sources if we believe those sources share viewpoints similar to our own.
How does Foster choose the nonfiction sources he uses as examples?
In order to illustrate the points he makes, Foster refers to many different nonfiction texts, including books, articles, and essays. He chooses sources from a range of different time periods and genres, including history, biography, politics, and memoirs. Foster does concentrate on mostly American sources (or sources that discuss American events, such as the success of Seabiscuit or the Watergate scandal), and several of the nonfiction sources he discusses have been adapted into successful movies. The choice of American sources is relevant because Foster seems to be writing primarily to either an American audience or an audience with a keen interest in American politics. By selecting sources with film adaptations, Foster also shrewdly increases the odds that readers will be somewhat familiar with the details of their content. Finally, Foster also highlights nonfiction texts that he has clearly enjoyed reading (for example, the John McPhee books); this allows him to write about these nonfiction books with genuine enthusiasm and increases the odds that his readers will also become more interested in engaging in nonfiction reading.