Following on from yesterday’s best fiction post, here are the best non-fiction books I read this year. (Note that not all of these were published this year, that’s just when I read them.)
The following are abridged reviews; where there’s a longer version on the blog, I’ve linked to it.
The Scholl Case by Anja Reich Osang
One of the first books I read this year, The Scholl Case got 2017 off to a good start. It tells the true story of an investigative journalist who’s looking into the death of Birgitte Scholl, a popular woman in the town of Ludwigsfelde, where she lived with her husband Heinrich.
It’s a really good book, whether you’re into crime fiction, true crime, investigative journalism, or just like a good story… and you might forget you’re reading a true story at times, since it’s so easy to read.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
Sometimes I read a book and think it’s something everyone should read. It happens rarely, because different people like different things, etc. But it does happen. And A Righteous Mind is one of those books.
I think it’s especially important for people who, like me, consider themselves politically liberal and find themselves stunned by conservative reasoning. How is it possible that they just don’t care, you think, shaking your head in despair at yet another tweet coming from the wrong side of the gun control argument, or the abortion argument, or something else that plucks at your ethical guitar and makes an out-of-tune twang.
Whether you’re conservative or liberal or something else entirely, reading this book will give you an idea of how the other side thinks, and why they think that way, from a rational viewpoint rather than an overly emotive one.
Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann
Trentmann’s ambitious goal was to describe how consumption came about – or, as the subheading of his book states: “How we became a world of consumers, from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first”.
It is a hugely impressive work of sociological history, and one I think anyone should read if they are interested in how we have developed into a culture of consumers.
A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea by Melissa Fleming
This is not a novel. I had to keep reminding myself of that all the way through.
This is not a novel. This is real life. These things happened, and are still happening, and sadly will probably continue to happen for a while yet.
Melissa Fleming is Chief Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In her work, she comes across many stories of desperate people trying to reach safety, a place where they can flee the horrors going on in their countries of origin and make a new home.
Doaa’s story moved her greatly, and she knew it would move others too. So she set out to record it, with the help of Doaa herself, her family and friends, and some of the people Doaa had met in her journey from Syria across the sea.
This is not a novel. It is a hugely important book, and I think everyone should read it.
A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch
If you’re interested in the history of religion, this is a fascinating read. It’s huge, so it might take you a while to get through it, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh
Do No Harm is the autobiographical memoir of one of the UK’s most experienced neurosurgeons. It was brilliant. It read like a thriller: each chapter a page-turner in itself. Marsh is humble and open about his mistakes, which is quite refreshing even if we’d all like to believe that doctors are superhuman. It also provided an interesting perspective on how things have changed for doctors under the NHS reforms of the past decade or so.
Marsh’s wealth of experience and gripping writing style will have you hooked. Unless you’re at all squeamish, in which case you might want to give this one a miss.
How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb
Without a doubt my favourite thing throughout the book is how Webb manages to be hilariously self-deprecating yet sympathetic towards his younger self. He is searingly honest about his own thoughts and beliefs, even when being so doesn’t paint him in the best light.
Robert Webb in his autobiography demonstrates all the qualities of the best possible kind of man, ironically largely because he demonstrates some bad ones too.
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson
I swear Mark Manson lives inside my head. Practically every time I read one of his blog posts, I find myself nodding along enthusiastically and then sharing it with everyone I can.
So it wasn’t exactly surprising that the same could be said about this book.
Gut by Giulia Enders
Probably the only book I read this year whose advice I’m actually going to take, Gut akes a fun look at things so isn’t too heavy-going, and it’s not so full of medical jargon as to be illegible to the lay reader.
Definitely worth a read if you’re into popular science books, or if you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside you when you eat. And if you are looking for ways to stay healthy or lose weight, you’ll be able to glean some actual scientific tips from this book, rather than falling for all sorts of bumph on the internet.
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
This book was absolutely excellent and definitely something I’d recommend if you’re looking to hone your fiction or memoir writing skills. Le Guin understands writers (which makes sense, what with her being such a popular one) and the exercises are fun and certainly worth doing. I settled down with it over the course of a couple of rainy afternoons, which I think worked well.
What were your favourite non-fiction books this year? Let me know in the comments!