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7 Classic Science Fiction Books Worth Revisiting

best non fiction books uk 2021

Science Fiction stories delve into all things futuristic, technological, extraterrestrial — you catch our drift. Pivotal authors in the space include Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, N. K. Jemisin, and countless others.

In celebration of both Asimov, his peers, and the entire genre, we’ve put together a collection of sci-fi books that are always worth rereading (or reading for the first time if you’re just getting into these magical worlds of tomorrow). From fun and fascinating intergalactic travels to dystopian futures that will leave you with much to think about, these sci-fi tales are fundamental to the genre.

Foundation Series – Isaac Asimov

best non fiction books uk 2021

The Foundation series began as a few short stories published in the magazine Astounding Stories of Super-Science back in the 1940s and ultimately became an entire series of seven epic books. The tale is set in the distant future where a man named Hari Seldon has invented “psychohistory,” a mathematical means of predicting the future. 

Unfortunately, its predictions aren’t very flattering: They foretell a time when humanity will more or less revert back to the Dark Ages. These predictions get Seldon and his crew exiled to a distant planet known as “the Foundation,” where they attempt to shorten the period of decline to come. Apple TV+ also turned the series into a TV show and released the first season in 2021. 

Dune – Frank Herbert

best non fiction books uk 2021

As fans of the 2021 Dune film may know, the story is based on the 1960s book by Frank Herbert and its sequels. Dune eventually became a bit like a literary version of Star Wars, as Herbert wrote six novels in the Dune series before he passed away. Later, his son Brian and author Kevin J. Anderson teamed up to produce numerous sequels and spinoffs based on the Dune -iverse.

The saga is set in a future where noble families rule different planets under a sort of intergalactic feudal system. In the first of the six foundational novels, readers are introduced to the heir of one such distinguished group, a boy named Paul Atreides whose family is charged with ruling a planet called Arrakis. When his family is betrayed, Paul embarks on a journey that blends everything from adventure to mysticism in one of the most epic sci-fi tales of all time. 

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

best non fiction books uk 2021

While some earlier sci-fi classics tend to reflect women in the light of the times in which they were written, The Left Hand of Darkness is a whole other experience altogether. The 1969 novel follows the adventures of Genly Ai, an envoy who is sent to a stray world called Winter in an attempt to bring it back into the intergalactic fold. 

However, to stand a chance, he must overcome his own preconceptions when he’s confronted with a culture that exists entirely without gender prejudice. As Ai soon discovers, some of the creatures on Winter express multiple genders, while others don’t identify with any at all. If you’re a reader who loves to go deep, this one makes for a fascinating read. 

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

best non fiction books uk 2021

While the actual 1984 may have come and gone, the dystopian novel that shares its name remains a pivotal work of science fiction. The Atlantic notes that “No novel of the past century has had more influence than George Orwell’s 1984 ,” and this assessment is indeed a fair one. Published in 1949, the story follows Winston Smith, who lives under a totalitarian government in which “the Party” controls every aspect of its citizens’ lives. 

“Big Brother,” an invisible yet omnipresent leader, is always surveilling the populace to ensure that no one commits so much as a thoughtcrime, which involves no more than thinking of rebelling against the Party. When Smith dares to think for himself, he sets off on a haunting journey that transports readers to a world that’s all too easy to imagine actually existing. While this isn’t necessarily an easy read, it’s an important one that will stay with you for years.  

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

best non fiction books uk 2021

Though you may not think you’ve heard of this one, it may be a bit more familiar than you think — it’s the inspiration behind Ridley Scott’s film, Blade Runner (1982). First published in 1968, the novel takes place in a dystopian 2021 where entire species have been eliminated by a global war. In an effort to replace live animals, which are highly prized, series of incredibly realistic androids have been developed, some of which are even fashioned after human beings. 

However, when the government becomes wary of these AI humans and their disturbing capabilities, it eventually bans them from Earth. Bounty hunter Rick Deckard is sent to “retire” any rogue androids that remain, which doesn’t prove to be an easy task. 

Kindred – Octavia E. Butler

best non fiction books uk 2021

Kindred has become a foundational work of sci-fi and African-American literature alike. The story follows a modern young Black woman named Dana who is suddenly deposited back in time to the pre-Civil War South. Through a series of trips between that era and her own time, Dana is forced to contend with the horrors of slavery, racism and sexism while completing a series of tasks. 

Though each journey becomes more dangerous, Dana realizes that her own family’s future depends on their successful completion. First published in 1979, the novel remains relevant today with its skillful blend of romance, sci-fi, feminism, equality and adventure. 

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

best non fiction books uk 2021

A Wrinkle in Time is a classic story of good vs. evil presented through an adventurous sci-fi lens. The tale follows a high school student named Meg Murray, her friend Calvin O’Keefe and her younger brother Charles Wallace. When the three are introduced to tesseracts (or wrinkles in time) by an unearthly visitor, they set off on a journey through time and space to rescue Meg’s missing scientist father.

Along the way, she learns a series of timeless life lessons about everything from the power of individuality to the resiliency of love. Appropriate for both young and adult readers alike, this one is a fun and fascinating tale that seems impossible to outgrow. 


best non fiction books uk 2021

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7 best non-fiction books of 2021: Explore historical titles, self-help and more

From ‘some body to love’ to ‘the transgender issue’, inspire your reading list with these impactful tomes, article bookmarked.

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<p>Whether you’re after philosophical exploration or a good laugh, these are sure to revive your reading list  </p>

Whether you’re after philosophical exploration or a good laugh, these are sure to revive your reading list

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Having spent much of the past two years living alone or in small groups with limited social contact, it’s not surprising that so many of us have been desperate to hear stories from others. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of 2021’s best non-fiction writing.

This year has seen breakthrough work examining the landscape for Britain’s trans, Black, and Asian communities, as well as some compelling memoirs, notably Ruth Coker Burks’s Aids history, All The Young Men , theatre critic Arifa Akbar’s memoir about her sister, Consumed, and the novelist Kate Mosse’s memoir of caring for her parents, An Extra Pair of Hands .

How we sleep and use our time and resources have been the subjects of excellent investigations, with Otegha Uwagba’s We Need to Talk About Money shining light on financial shame, and Tom Rasmussen’s examination of marriage, First Comes Love , which turns the institution inside out.

How we tested

When compiling our list, we considered not only what writers were doing remarkable things in their field, but what impact their books had and would have in the months and years to come. And most of all, they need to be fantastic to read.

If you’re looking for escapism, then head to our list of best fiction books of 2021 , otherwise settle in for our pick of the very best in memoir, travel, journalism, commentary and analysis – with the odd self-help book for good measure. (Don’t worry, it’s a good ‘un.)

Here are our winners.

The best non-fiction books of 2021 are:

  • Best history book – ‘Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain’ by Sathnam Sanghera, published by Penguin: £8.95, Hive.co.uk
  • Best analysis – ‘The Transgender Issue’ by Shon Faye, published by Penguin: £18.60, Bookshop.org
  • Best travelogue – ‘I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain’ by Anita Sethi, published by Bloomsbury: £8.49, Waterstones.com
  • Best for philosophy –  ‘No Cure For Being Human’ by Kate Bowler, published by Ebury: £13.94, Bookshop.org
  • Best for self-help – ‘Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It’ by Oliver Burkeman, published by Vintage: £12.69, Hive.co.uk
  • Best memoir – ‘Some Body to Love’ by Alexandra Heminsley, published by Vintage: £14.99, Waterstones.com
  • Best for humour – ‘Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?’ by Séamas O’Reilly, published by Penguin: £6.99, Hive.co.uk

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‘Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain’ by Sathnam Sanghera, published by Penguin

Best: History book

Rating: 10/10

Categorising Sanghera’s book as history feels like a massive undersell. It’s also memoir, journalism, commentary on how we live now by examining how we lived then, and a book that achieves the crucial distinction of being important without being inaccessible.

As a columnist for The  Times , a memoirist, and a popular tweeter, Sanghera has had plenty of experience of reader blindness over Britain’s non-white citizens, and their distaste for America and its racist history, despite the British Empire being “one of the biggest white supremacist enterprises in the history of humanity”. One could only wish more people read this engaging book, not just to better understand our country’s history, but to finally put to bed that awful question, “Where are you from really ?”

‘The Transgender Issue’ by Shon Faye, published by Penguin

Best: Analysis

With so much being written about transgender people at the moment, largely by people who are not trans, it feels eerily as though we are going through a trans iteration of the “gay panic” of the Eighties and Nineties. In this compelling book, Faye discusses the issues facing the less than 1 per cent of Britons who are trans – among them poverty, discrimination, lack of access to health care, and not being allowed to just get on and live in peace – while dismantling  “bathroom panic” and other myths monstering the trans community.

A former lawyer and journalist, Faye employs a deliberately even tone in contrast to the hysteria commonly seen on Twitter and in newspapers. And while she doesn’t centre herself in the book, her experience is valuable and fascinating – not least because trans people are rarely given the platform that the bathroom warriors so often enjoy, unless it’s to defend their right to exist at all.

‘I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain’ by Anita Sethi, published by Bloomsbury

Best: Travelogue

Rating: 9/10

After being racially abused on a train, Anita Sethi sought to walk along the Pennines as an act of reclamation, while thinking about her identity. Her newfound interest in walking led her to beauty and newness while trying to remove the ugliness of the train incident. This proved to be traumatic, stirring up memories of many similar incidents that she, and others, have endured. Being in nature gives her a quiet space to think and reclaim her right to be there.

Sethi’s book is part of an initiative shown by British organisations such as Ebony Horse Club, The Urban Equestrian Academy, and Black Girls Hike, all providing safe access to countryside enjoyment that might otherwise be out of reach.

‘No Cure For Being Human’ by Kate Bowler, published by Ebury

Best: For philosophy

Rating: 8/10

Bowler was a divinity professor at Duke University in North Carolina and mother to a young son when, at 35, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She explored the aftermath of her diagnosis and loathing of self-help culture in a hit op-ed in the New York Times which turned into a bestselling book, and a popular interview podcast called Everything Happens (the “for a reason” of that epithet is firmly crossed out).

This book examines society’s obsession with self-improvement and asks what it takes to simply exist and be happy with that. Bowler, currently living with incurable cancer, is a dry, witty, and compassionate writer and her book is a balm for the prickly soul.

‘Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It’ by Oliver Burkeman, published by Vintage

Best: Self-help book

We’ve never been as acutely aware of time passing as during the past two years: working from home, increased stress and illness are not a good combination for achieving a “flow” state. But this book isn’t yet another invitation to rise at 4am and perform an absurdly complex morning routine before taking over the world.

Instead, Burkeman lays out a compelling argument for why we should be doing less and doing it better. Four thousand weeks is how long he estimates we have in each lifetime, which seems incredibly short when you see it written down. This comforting book is filled with sensible, practical ideas of how to make the most of those weeks.

‘Some Body to Love’ by Alexandra Heminsley, published by Vintage

Best: Memoir

Heminsley’s first memoir, Running Like A Girl , has influenced a generation of runners who didn’t believe they could until they did. Her second, Leap In , saw her learning how to sea swim as a way of dealing with IVF treatment. This third instalment packs in several jaw-dropping experiences that Heminsley writes about lovingly and thoughtfully in clear, engrossing prose.

First, her IVF clinic believing they had mixed up embryos meaning she might be carrying someone else’s child. Then, being sexually assaulted on a train while pregnant, and her pregnancy being used against her in court as a reason for why she may not remember the incident accurately. And then her long-term partner coming out as trans, and the couple having to negotiate how they parent and live. This is a kind and generous book about what it means to live in a woman’s body and the questions you ask yourself along the way.

‘Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?’ by Seamas O’Reilly, published by Penguin

Best: For humour

O’Reilly found global fame, and a column in The Observer , after a Twitter thread detailing how he once met the president of Ireland while on ketamine went viral. This memoir about his Nineties upbringing in a grief-stricken household in rural Derry with his father, widowed when O’Reilly was five, and 10 siblings was gloriously well-written and funny. Fans of Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls will be brought in by its similar setting, but O’Reilly’s writing will keep them entranced. Although it’s temporarily sold out, you can get the ebook for now or preorder a new copy.

The verdict: Non-fiction books

Sanghera’s Empireland takes a subject that continues to divide Britain and brings cool, sensible reasoning and evidence to the table – along with some excellent writing. This is the history lesson we all need (and, unlike school, one that is utterly compelling).

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Culture | Books

Best non-fiction 2021: Memoir, essays, biographies and history, from Candice Brathwaite to Craig Brown

The Evening Standard's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

best non fiction books uk 2021

Love , grief, sex, marriage , art, literature , family and nature: our favourite non-fiction reads this year cover a truly brain-expanding range of topics.

If you’re looking for something to get you thinking, here’s our edit of the very best non-fiction to read this year. Looking for a fiction fix? You can find our round-up of the best new novels here .

Real Estate by Deborah Levy

best non fiction books uk 2021

Deborah Levy’s ‘living autobiography’ series has become something of a talisman for many readers. The final instalment is full of evocative writing about food and travel, meditations on home and hard-won wisdom about being a female writer.

Buy it here

Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

best non fiction books uk 2021

After the death of her father last year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie penned this powerful essay about loss. It’s both a tribute to him and a raw, articulate study of grief.

Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn

best non fiction books uk 2021

This intelligent study of love is full of clever nuggets that will have you underlining sentences and turning down the corners of pages. It combines interviews with interesting figures like Philippa Perry, Esther Perel and Lemn Sissay with the author’s own essays.

Everything Under the Sun by Molly Oldfield

best non fiction books uk 2021

What are toes for? And why can’t penguins fly? These are just a couple of the (actually very good) questions answered in this gorgeous compendium, full of curious queries from kids. QI Elf Molly Oldfield has based this book on her successful podcast, in which experts field questions from children. It’s accompanied by beautiful pictures by 12 different illustrators, and makes for a wonderful gift for families.

First Comes Love by Tom Rasmussen

best non fiction books uk 2021

What is marriage these days - a beautiful symbol of commitment, an excuse for a fancy party or an outdated patriarchal institution? Tom Rasmussen, who is queer, non-binary and in a relationship with a man, but grew up in a working class community where marriage was massively important, grapples with the question in this intriguing new book.

My Mess is a Bit of a Life by Georgia Pritchett

best non fiction books uk 2021

Georgia Pritchett is TV royalty - Succession, Veep, The Thick of It, Smack the Pony and Spitting Image are just a few of the shows she’s written for. We can probably consider her literary royalty now too, since her new memoir, documenting her struggles with anxiety, is already this year’s most Instagrammed book cover.

Oh What a Lovely Century! By Roderic Fenwick Owen

best non fiction books uk 2021

If you’ve got a penchant for posh goss, don’t miss this riotous memoir by Roderic Fenwick Owen, an Etonite who became a well-connected travel writer. Fans of Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting will love it.

Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel

best non fiction books uk 2021

The debut authors you’ll love in 2023

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This London bookshop is dedicated to black children's literature

Europe’s largest Black literature festival comes to Southbank

Europe’s largest Black literature festival comes to Southbank

How to use less energy and save money on your household bills

How to use less energy and save money on your household bills

These excellent essays on female desire, consent and vulnerability are a must-read for anyone searching for a more nuanced perspective on sex in a post-#MeToo world. One of the most important books you’ll read all year.

Everybody by Olivia Laing

best non fiction books uk 2021

Olivia Laing uses psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich as the linchpin for this free-wheeling look at bodies and freedom . She stylishly skips from artists to thinkers to illuminate the subject in a way that makes your brain hum and always feels fun.

All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

best non fiction books uk 2021

The remarkable life of Ruth Coker Burks is set for the big screen - next year, she’ll be played by Ruth Wilson in a new film. Before it arrives, read her memoir , in which she recounts how she cared for hundreds of men suffering from Aids in the 1980s, while she was a single mother in her twenties.

Many Different Kinds of Love by Michael Rosen

best non fiction books uk 2021

This deeply affecting record of Michael Rosen ’s experience of being hospitalised with Covid-19 might make you do a little sob. He spent a month in an induced coma, during which time nurses would write hopeful messages in a diary at the end of his bed. They are included here along with Rosen’s own memories, poems and illustrations by Chris Riddell.

One Two Three Four by Craig Brown

best non fiction books uk 2021

Craig Brown’s playful, collage-like style made his Princess Margaret biography, Ma’am Darling , a must-read. He uses a similar style for his story of the Beatles , which includes fan letters, diaries, interviews, news announcements and essays, and won him the Baillie Gifford Prize last year.

An Extra Pair of Hands by Kate Mosse

best non fiction books uk 2021

Kate Mosse is best known for her spell-binding historical novels and being the founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, but her foray into memoir is set to become an important read too. Here she writes with hope and humour about caring for her elderly parents and mother-in-law, showing that caring is a feminist issue.

Too Young Too Loud Too Different ed. Maisie Lawrence and Rishi Dastidar

best non fiction books uk 2021

Twenty years ago, poets Malika Booker and Roger Robinson set up a meeting place for poets at Booker’s kitchen in Brixton. From there grew a groundbreaking collective for writers who were marginalised elsewhere, known simply as Kitchen. A new anthology celebrating its work includes poems by Booker and Robinson as well as Inua Ellams, Warsan Shire, Kayo Chingonyi and Dean Atta.

Consumed by Arifa Akbar

best non fiction books uk 2021

This moving memoir by journalist Arifa Akbar is a touching love letter to her sister, who died from TB at the age of just 46. In it, Akbar recounts not only the bafflement of doctors throughout the ordeal but her journey to better understanding her sister’s life.

Chaise Lounge by Baxter Dury

best non fiction books uk 2021

Sex and drugs and rock and roll, sang Ian Dury, but not the school run. His son Baxter, also now a musician himself, has written a memoir about his bohemian upbringing, which Dury often disappeared from, leaving Baxter supervised by a depressed drug dealer called the Sulphate Strangler. A must-read for pop culture fans.

Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles

best non fiction books uk 2021

Nature writing lovers will adore this collection of lyrical essays from award-winning writer and poet Nina Mingya Powles. Traversing Borneo to New Zealand to North London, it explores what bodies of water have meant to her while navigating girlhood and growing up.

The Burning Man: The Ascent of DH Lawrence by Frances Wilson

best non fiction books uk 2021

At a time when it feels like we don’t always know what to do with the work of complex historical literary figures, this new biography looks past the noise around DH Lawrence to present an illuminating portrait of a contradictory man.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

best non fiction books uk 2021

After his unputdownable Say Nothing, the story of a woman’s disappearance in 1970s Belfast, Patrick Radden Keefe unpicks the story of the Sackler family and their controversial fortune. Art galleries, prescription drugs and addiction combine in a shocking story that’s grippingly told.

Hype: How Scammers Took over the Internet by Gabrielle Bluestone

best non fiction books uk 2021

Has there ever been a better illustration of Instagram vs. reality than the hot mess that was Fyre Festival? If you can’t get enough of stories about grifters going viral, Hype should be next on your reading list.

Sista Sister by Candice Brathwaite

best non fiction books uk 2021

Candice Brathwaite follows her bestselling first book I Am Not Your Baby Mother with a series of wise, witty essays about the things she wishes she’d been told as a young black woman.

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne

best non fiction books uk 2021

If your idea of Barbara Pym is a twee spinster novelist who had her ailing career saved by Philip Larkin, this new biography from Paula Byrne shows a very different side to her, including several passionate love affairs.

Landslide by Michael Wolff

best non fiction books uk 2021

Trump who? Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the news again, Michael Wolff brings dispatches from the final days of the Trump administration. And yes, it was as messy as it seemed on CNN .

All in It Together by Alwyn Turner 

best non fiction books uk 2021

Struggling to make sense of our divided society? You’ll find plenty of answers in Alwyn Turner’s highly accessible and very enjoyable history of England since the year 2000. He traces the warning signs of fragmented communities that eventually materialised as the Brexit vote, stopping to chart the cause célèbres and TV shows of the time too.

Lost in Work by Amelia Horgan

best non fiction books uk 2021

The pandemic blurred the boundaries between work and home for many of us, so this new book from Amelia Horgan feels timely. It promises to explain ‘how work stole our lives and what we can do about it’.

The Barbizon: The New York Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren

best non fiction books uk 2021

Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Grace Kelly and Liza Minnelli are just a few of the notable guests who have stayed at The Barbizon, an iconic women-only hotel in New York. Paulina Bren’s new history charts how it became an important place for women with ambition.

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The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2021

best non fiction books uk 2021

I n an era when time spent trying new things and meeting new people was still a rare privilege, the best books served to please our wandering minds. These works, from well-known writers as well as exciting new voices, dissect a range of subjects from the history of Black performance in America to the value of the 19th-century Russian short story to the intimate pain caused by losing a parent . They are sweeping histories and bold essay collections, powerful memoirs and brilliant literary criticism. Their diversity is a virtue in and of itself, a means of exploring and satisfying our curiosities. Here, the top 10 nonfiction books of 2021.

10. The Kissing Bug , Daisy Hernández

best non fiction books uk 2021

  • International edition
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A composite picture of covers of 10 new books

Books that explain the world: Guardian writers share their best nonfiction reads of the year

From a Jacobean traveller’s travails in Sindh to the tangled roots of Nigeria, our pick of new nonfiction books that shine a light on Asia, Africa and South America

Share your top recommendations for books on the developing world in the comments below

You Have Not Yet Been Defeated: Selected Works 2011-2021 By Alaa Abd El-Fattah

Cover of You Have Not Yet Been Defeated

In a totalitarian system where even ideas are punishable with imprisonment, this collection of essays from one of Egypt’s most high-profile political prisoners is like an oasis in a desolate landscape. Part manifesto, part memoir and part record of some of Abd El-Fattah’s trial scenes that are more than worthy of Kafka, the book contains passages smuggled out from Cairo’s infamous Tora prison.

Abd El-Fattah has been detained repeatedly , and held in a maximum-security facility indefinitely without charge since 2019. “When I demand my right to read and write, I am not demanding a luxury. Rather, I am asking to be allowed to live in this age,” he tells a prosecutor, while still unable to know the charges against him. He is also denied access to reading materials, making this book all the more powerful.

“The text you are holding is living history,” Naomi Klein declares in her foreword. The pages of You Have Not Yet Been Defeated are a journey through the uprising of 2011 , autocracy and ultimately hope. It is a call to arms for the digital age, and for protest movements worldwide. Ruth Michaelson You Have Not Yet Been Defeated is published by Fitzcarraldo

Lula and His Politics of Cunning: From Metalworker to President of Brazil By John D French

Cover of Lula and His Politics of Cunning

At first sight, Lula and His Politics of Cunning appears to be a book about Brazil’s past: the storybook tale of a sharp-witted union leader who rose to become “the most popular president in the history of Brazil and perhaps the world”.

But French’s masterly account of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s journey from rural poverty to the Brazilian presidency – and his subsequent downfall – is infused with the present and the future. “The story is not yet over,” French writes of his 76-year-old protagonist, who looks poised for a sensational political comeback in next year’s presidential election.

The looming showdown between the leftist Lula and his far-right arch-rival, Jair Bolsonaro – elected in 2018 after Lula was jailed by a judge who went on to work for Bolsonaro – hovers over French’s biography. The author’s contempt for the current president – whom he calls a “fascistic far-right troll” – is also clear.

But the star of the show is the grit and sagacity of a politician who once likened himself to a Brazilian pit viper called the jararaca . Based on French’s admiring telling, Lula the pit viper is gearing up for the fight of his life. Tom Phillips Lula and His Politics of Cunning is published by University of North Carolina Press

The Silent Coup: A History of India’s Deep State By Josy Joseph

Cover of The Silent Coup: A History of India’s Deep State

India may still often be referred to as “the world’s largest democracy” but in recent years it has become apparent that this is a democracy at a crossroads. In this compelling book by the award-winning Indian journalist Josy Joseph, it is not India’s political leaders who are under the spotlight but the murky workings of India’s deep state, from the police to the federal investigative and intelligence agencies.

Traversing incidents such as the Mumbai train blasts , the Kashmir insurgency , the Gujurat “war on terror” and the Delhi riots , Josy depicts, through a variety of colourful characters, how corruption and political agendas run through the core of the agencies that should be responsible for justice and accountability, subverting democracy in the process.

“India no longer feels like a democracy. The contract of trust between citizens and law enforcers is permanently broken,” he writes. “In most parts, Indian society is adrift in lawless waters.” Hannah Ellis-Petersen The Silent Coup is published by Context, an imprint of Westland publishing house

Youthquake: Why African Demography Should Matter to the World By Edward Paice

Cover of Youthquake: Why African Demography Should Matter to the World

A common stereotype about Africa is that it is a ticking timebomb; its population is exploding, threatening to “swamp” Europe with an ever-increasing “flood” of illegal immigrants. There is another less common but equally misleading stereotype that the growing youth population, the “democratic dividend”, will lead to economic miracles as the energetic under-25s, who make up 60% of Africa’s population, will generate spectacular growth as people elsewhere in the world age and decline.

Youthquake turns both the doom-laden and rose-tinted narratives on their heads. This meticulously researched, nuanced and careful book brings a voice of reason to the debate. The fact that Africa comprised 10% of the world’s population in 1980 and is projected to make up 25% of it by 2050 will have immense and complex consequences for the continent and the rest of the world.

The book explores in compelling detail the positives, the negatives and all the bits in-between of what will be one of the most significant global shifts in the coming decades. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Africa and its place in the world. Mary Harper , BBC Africa editor and author of Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State (Zed Books, 2012) and Everything You Have Told Me is True: The Many Faces of Al Shabaab (Hurst, 2019). Youthquake is published by Head of Zeus

Mithi: Whispers in the Sand By Salman Rashid

Cover of  Mithi: Whispers in the Sand

In 1984, when Pakistan’s Thar desert was largely inaccessible to outsiders due to a lack of roads, the travel and history writer Salman Rashid could be seen negotiating his way across its dunes in a 4x4. Today, life in the rural areas of Pakistan is as unfamiliar and alien to the country’s urban residents as it is to foreigners. Mithi: Whispers in the Sand, an account of Rashid’s explorations in Sindh’s Tharparkar district between 1984 and 2017, provides a nuanced understanding of the sensibilities and habits of local people through a series of detailed interviews.

Rashid notes that the communities in every village and town in the district are “remarkably cohesive”, with Hindus and Muslims coexisting peacefully in the same areas and demonstrating a spirit of unity.

“We are growing in numbers, but God has stopped making more land,” says Kheth Singh, a Rajput elder, as he expresses concern over the felling of trees when land is brought under cultivation. He refers to the village of Keetri, where locals have banned cutting down trees or plants.

Rashid also attempts to weave a historical narrative, comparing the reports of colonial administrators with locals’ oral histories and his own archaeological findings. He refers to the published observations of the English merchant Nicholas Withington , who was robbed endlessly while travelling through the area in the winter of 1613-14 and left with barely even his clothes. Ali Bhutto Mithi: Whispers in the Sand is published by Sang-e-Meel

The Middle East

Our Women On The Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, Edited by Zahra Hankir

Cover of Our Women On The Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World

This memoir collection is a refreshing insight into living and working in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Nineteen female storytellers – all journalists from the Middle East, or with family links to the region – share their experiences of reporting in their homelands, whether in peacetime, on the frontlines, or in the thick of revolutions. In doing so, they upend our understanding of what it means to be a foreign correspondent.

Our knowledge of the Middle East is richer and more nuanced thanks to these courageous women; it is long past time that we looked at things from their perspectives. What it means to love, and to fear for those we love, echoes throughout these stories. Even if you have never set foot in Syria, Egypt or Yemen, everyone can relate to that. Bethan McKernan Our Women On The Ground is published by Vintage

Formation: The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation , By Fola Fagbule and Feyi Fawehinmi

Cover of Formation: The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation

Fagbule and Fawehinmi’s book reads almost like a historical novel in which a cast of unlikely characters acting independently over time brought about a series of unlikely events that culminated in the emergence of Nigeria as a country. Chief among these characters were the two lovelorn figures of Frederick Lugard and Flora Shaw who, after severe heartbreaks, found solace in each other in their 40s and were midwives in the birth of Africa’s most populous nation in 1914 .

While many Nigerians today see the country as the flawed tapestry of Lugard and Shaw’s broken dreams, Formation argues that from the 1800s, when the Oyo empire in the south collapsed and the jihadist empire of Dan Fodio rose in the north, regardless of the intervention of the two colonialists, Nigeria as a country was on the verge of emergence.

Told in clear, precise prose, this is a rare history book written by two young finance executives that moves Nigeria’s narrative in a different and exciting direction for the 21st-century reader. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim ’ s latest book, Dreams and Assorted Nightmares , is published by Masobe Books. Formation: The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation is published by Cassava Republic Press

All Roads Lead North: China, Nepal and the Contest for the Himalayas By Amish Raj Mulmi

Cover of All Roads Lead North: China, Nepal and the Contest for the Himalayas

Amish Raj Mulmi’s book describes the recent pivot by Nepal from south to north. In 2008, with Nepal’s monarchy in the dustbin of history , the new Maoist prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal , chose to go first not to Delhi but to Beijing to attend the Olympics, provoking a sharp intake of breath from Indian policy strategists.

That process has only gathered momentum with Nepali political leaders sympathetic to China gaining ground and talk of a high-speed rail link between China and the Nepali capital, Kathmandu. There has been growing pressure too on the Tibetan diaspora living within Nepal.

Mulmi’s detailed look at Nepal’s long encounter with Tibet and China is leavened with personal experiences but the message is clear: Modi’s bullish nationalism does not play well in Himalayan capitals. Ed Douglas is the author of Himalaya: A Human History All Roads Lead North is published by Hurst

The Philippines

The Philippines is Not A Small Country By Gideon Lasco

Cover of The Philippines is Not A Small Country

Is Manila traffic really the worst in the world? Why do many Filipinos support President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal “drug war” ? Why do they keep electing bad leaders? Are they racist?

This collection of essays is Gideon Lasco’s love letter to Filipinos who are tired of complaining about everything going wrong in the Philippines, especially these days. Lasco, a medical anthropologist, wants his compatriots to redirect their energies into understanding the country’s vicious cycle of poverty and bad governance – correcting some misconceptions along the way – so they may find a way out of it.

“In the process of writing and curating this manuscript, I was especially mindful of young Filipinos, many of whom are unsure as to what the future brings, uncertain as to what to make of their national identity, and unclear as to how to critically engage with our nation’s problems,” Lasco wrote in his introduction.

Lasco’s musings make it a good read for non-Filipino readers who want to better understand the idiosyncrasies of the country and its people. Carmela Fonbuena The Philippines is not a Small Country is published by Bughaw , an imprint of the Ateneo de Manila University Press

Ship of Fate: Memoir of a Vietnamese Repatriate By Trần Dình Trụ

cover of Ship of Fate

After the takeover of Saigon by Vietnamese communists in 1975, a million refugees – Trần Đình Trụ included – fled Vietnam, often in flimsy fishing boats. It is estimated that half of them drowned at sea in their attempt to seek refuge in south-east Asia before resettling in the west. Although Trụ managed to escape, his heart remained in Vietnam, where his wife and children had been left behind. So, along with 1,500 Vietnamese repatriates, Trụ decided to return.

On his arrival, he was imprisoned in a “re-education camp” for 13 years, suffering gruelling labour and torture. Written in 1991, when he and his family finally resettled in the US, Trụ offers a rare Vietnamese perspective into both the chaotic fallout of the Vietnam-US war – and the private war raging inside him as he witnessed the loss of his homeland. “We are all just water lilies, carried by the current without ever knowing where the river flowed.”

This is not a new book – although the English translation is only from 2017 – yet it resonates with our current era, tackling the complex, traumatic limbo experienced by the many desperate people fleeing conflict today. Georgina Quach Ship of Fate is published by University of Hawai’i Press

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14 best literary non-fiction books 2021

Literary lives and the writers behind the covers — let lucy atkins and laura freeman be your guides to 2021’s best books about books.

best non fiction books uk 2021

Monstrous egos, sinister imaginings, Siberian exile and the doyenne of the middle-class English novel who fell in love with a Nazi. All life — all literary life, at any rate — is here in our tour of the bookish highlights of the year.

best non fiction books uk 2021

Patricia Highsmith’s reputation as a rude and misanthropic alcoholic who kept live snails in her bra is not entirely unfair. The author of 22 dark novels, including Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) left 18 diaries and 38 notebooks , which the heroic Anna von Planta has decoded and cut into this vast, engrossing collection . We get young Pat’s hopeful lesbian passions, her endless heartbreaks, her dark, consuming creativity and her embittered, rancorous, sometimes vulnerable later

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International Edition

The best non-fiction books of all time

From eye-opening autobiographies to political exposés, broaden your horizons with our edit of the best non-fiction books of all time. .

best non fiction books uk 2021

The best non-fiction books can educate readers on vital subjects, offer fresh new perspectives, or simply give us a valuable, and often entertaining, insight into the lives of others. Here is our edit of the must-read non-fiction books of 2023, and the best non-fiction books of all time. 

  • New non-fiction books
  • Science & technology
  • Autobiographies, biographies & memiors
  • True stories & exposés
  • Self-help, lifestyle & wellbeing
  • Finance & investing
  • Political & historical
  • Natural world & environment
  • Sports books & autobiographies

The best non-fiction books of 2023

The making of the modern middle east, by jeremy bowen.

Book cover for The Making of the Modern Middle East

BBC's International Editor, Jeremy Bowen, provides a compelling and informative exploration of the Middle East in The Making of the Modern Middle East . Drawing on his extensive experience and insights from his prominent podcast, 'Our Man in the Middle East', Bowen journeys across the region, tracing its history. He encounters everyday people, their leaders, and delves into the power dynamics that have inflicted suffering on civilians. From Syria to Israel and Palestine, Bowen's deep comprehension of the region's varied political, cultural and religious aspects is evident throughout the book.

Mozart in Italy

By jane glover.

Book cover for Mozart in Italy

At thirteen years old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy who had captured the hearts of northern Europe, but his father Leopold was now determined to conquer Italy. Together, they made three visits there the last when Mozart was seventeen, all vividly recounted here by acclaimed conductor Jane Glover. Evocative, beautifully written and with a profound understanding of eighteenth-century classical music,  Mozart in Italy  reveals how what he experienced during these Italian journeys changed Mozart – and his music – for ever.

Ten Times Calmer

By dr kirren schnack.

Book cover for Ten Times Calmer

Dr Kirren Schnack is here to tell you that your anxiety isn’t here to stay. As an Oxford trained and practicing NHS clinical psychologist with twenty years’ experience, she offers a first aid kit of tools to help you understand what you’re going through and change how you’re feeling – and it might just be easier than you think. The ten chapters cover everything from dealing with anxious thoughts and stress to managing uncertainty and safely tackling trauma, with each tip taking you one step closer to an anxiety-free life. 

Holding the Note

By david remnick.

Book cover for Holding the Note

David Remnick, the Pulitzer Prize-winnning journalist and editor of The New Yorker, writes about the lives and work of some of the greatest musicians, songwriters, and performers of the past fifty years. He portrays a series of musical lives – Leonard Cohen, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, and more – and their unique encounters with the passing of that essential element of music: time. These are intimate portraits of some of the greatest creative minds of our time written with a lifetime’s passionate attachment to music that has shaped us all.

Book cover for Stay True

Winner of Pulitzer Prize in Memoir, Stay True  is a deeply moving and intimate memoir about growing up and moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging. When Hua Hsu first meets Ken in a Berkeley dorm room, he hates him. A frat boy with terrible taste in music, Ken seems exactly like everyone else. For Hua, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to – the mainstream. The only thing Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the US for generations, have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them. 

Father and Son

By jonathan raban.

Book cover for Father and Son

On 11 June 2011, three days short of his sixty-ninth birthday, Jonathan Raban suffered a stroke which left him unable to use the right side of his body. Learning to use a wheelchair in a rehab facility outside Seattle and resisting the ministrations of the nurses overseeing his recovery, Raban began to reflect upon the measure of his own life in the face of his own mortality. Together with the chronicle of his recovery is the extraordinary story of his parents’ marriage, the early years of which were conducted by letter while his father fought in the Second World War.

A Brief Atlas of the Lighthouses at the End of the World

By gonzález macías.

Book cover for A Brief Atlas of the Lighthouses at the End of the World

From a blind lighthouse keeper tending a light in the Arctic Circle, to an intrepid young girl saving ships from wreck at the foot of her father's lighthouse, and the plight of the lighthouse crew cut off from society for forty days, this is a glorious book full of illuminating stories that will transport the reader to the world's most isolated and inspiring lighthouses.

Beyond the Story

Book cover for Beyond the Story

Published in celebration of their 10th anniversary, this is the BTS's first official book , including unreleased photos, QR codes of videos and other exclusive content. Through in-depth interviews and years of coverage by Myeongseok Kang, the world of K-pop comes alive. As digital artists, BTS has been communicating with the world through the internet and this book allows readers to immediately access trailers, music videos, and more online to have a rich understanding of all the key moments in BTS history. Complete with a timeline of all major milestones,  Beyond the Story is a remarkable archive — truly everything about BTS in one volume.

Party Lines

By ed gillett.

Book cover for Party Lines

From the illicit reggae blues dances and acid-rock free festivals of the 1970s, through the ecstasy-fuelled Second Summer of Love in 1988, to the increasingly corporate dance music culture of the post-Covid era,  Party Lines  is a groundbreaking new history of UK dance music, exploring its pivotal role in the social, political and economic shifts on which modern Britain has been built. Ed Gillett   charts an ongoing conflict, fought in basement clubs, abandoned warehouses and sunlit fields, between the revolutionary potential of communal sound and the reactionary impulses of the British establishment.

Gonzo Capitalism

By chris guillebeau.

Book cover for Gonzo Capitalism

In Gonzo Capitalism , Chris Guillebeau explores how millennials and gen-Z are embracing unconventional ways to make money amidst financial challenges. He showcases individuals who have earned substantial income by sending potatoes in the mail, naming other people's babies, and getting paid to play online games. With a keen eye on the evolving platform economy, he reveals the inner workings of our economy and empowers readers to capitalize on new tools and platforms to turn their talents into income. Gonzo Capitalism provides valuable insights for those seeking alternative paths to financial success in a changing world.

The Snakehead

By patrick radden keefe.

Book cover for The Snakehead

From the author of Empire of Pain comes a thrilling panorama of a secret world run by a surprising criminal. Cheng Chui Ping, a charismatic middle-aged grandmother managed a multimillion-dollar business smuggling people – all from a tiny noodle shop in New York's Chinatown. The Snakehead, uncovers the inner workings of this empire, and recounts the decade-long FBI investigation that eventually brought her down. But this is not just a crime story. As an incompetent and corrupt INS pursues desperate immigrants, Patrick Radden Keefe paints a portrait of a generation of these undocumented people, and ultimately the ironies of immigration in America more broadly. 

The Queer Parent

By lotte jeffs and stu oakley.

Book cover for The Queer Parent

From fertility and adoption queries to starting school and navigating conversations with your kids, The Queer Parent is the essential guide for LGBTQ+ parents, parents-to-be and allies. Written by Lotte Jeffs and Stu Oakley, the hosts of the award-winning podcast  Some Families , this funny, empathetic guide contains advice from dozens of queer families and experts who share their experiences, tips, and pitfalls they faced in the journey to becoming parents. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a friend or anything in between, this book is essential reading for everyone.  

Closer to Love

By vex king.

Book cover for Closer to Love

Vex King is back with Closer to Love , a practical guide to creating lasting connections. After finding peace and joy in his own romantic relationship, he is now sharing his wisdom to guide readers on their own journeys. He considers the complexities of modern relationships and how to navigate these in an ever-changing world, helps us to overcome fears, expectations and insecurities, and clarifies our sense of selves, ultimately helping us to get closer to love. From the bestselling author of Good Vibes, Good Life and Healing is the New High , Closer to Love is an unmissable read from one of the nation's favourite self-help gurus.  

To My Sisters

By courtney daniella boateng.

Book cover for To My Sisters

From the hosts of the hit podcast, To My Sisters, comes this essential guide to sisterhood. Old friends Renee Kapuku and Courtney Daniella Boateng are united in one mission – reinvigorate and redefine sisterhood to inspire a global community of women to uplift each other and reclaim their power. They argue that unconditional love is too often limited to parents or spouses, when actually embracing the power of friendship and community in an authentic way is just as powerful. Packed with practical advice, reflective activities and wise words, To My Sisters  will teach you how to find, build and nourish lifelong friendships. 

A Girlhood: A Letter to My Transgender Daughter

By carolyn hays.

Book cover for A Girlhood: A Letter to My Transgender Daughter

This thought-provoking and moving memoir is an ode to Carolyn Hays's transgender daughter – a love letter to a child who has always known herself. After a caseworker from the Department of Children and Families knocked on the door to investigate a complaint about the upbringing of their transgender child, the Hays family moved away from their Republican state. In A Girlhood, Carolyn Hays tells of the brutal truths of being trans, of the sacrificial nature of motherhood and of the lengths a family will go to shield their youngest from the cruel realities of the world. Hays asks us all to love better, for children everywhere enduring injustice and prejudice just as they begin to understand themselves.

‘ Stunning . . . Built like a thriller, moving, wise and illuminated on every page with love. ’ Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

by Jo Cheetham

Book cover for Killjoy

In this story of everyday people doing extraordinary things, Jo Cheetham writes of her time protesting up and down the country as part of the No More Page 3 campaign. When studying and working as a nanny in London, Jo saw news of an upcoming protest against the Page 3 pictorial in The Sun . Soon, she was embroiled in a movement determined to expose and take down this exploitative industry. In doing so she made an unlikely group of friends that would become her closest confidents and allies. Both hilarious and moving, Killyjoy shows us the power of a grassroots campaign and of shouting a little bit louder. 

Finding Hildasay

By christian lewis.

Book cover for Finding Hildasay

After hitting rock bottom having suffered with depression for years, Christian Lewis made an impulsive decision to walk the entire coastline of the UK. Just a few days later he set off with a tent, walking boots and a tenner in his pocket. Finding Hildasay tells us some of this incredible story, including the brutal three months Christian Lewis spent on the uninhabited island of Hildasay in Scotland with no fresh water or food. It was there, where his route was most barren, that he discovered pride and respect for himself. This is not just a story of a remarkable journey, but one of depression, survival and the meaning of home. 

How Big Things Get Done

By bent flyvbjerg.

Book cover for How Big Things Get Done

Understanding what distinguishes the triumphs from the failures has been the life’s work of Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg. In How Big Things Get Done , along with bestselling author Dan Gardner, he reveals the errors that leads projects to fail, and the principles that make them succeed. Think of how Apple’s iPod went from a project with a single employee to an enormously successful product launch in eleven months. But such successes are the exception. Exploring case studies across a broad spectrum of technologies and businesses, discover why this is an exception, and how to be one of these exceptions. 

Blood on the Snow

By robert service.

Book cover for Blood on the Snow

Exploring the world events that preceded the 1917 Russian Revolution, in Blood on the Snow, Robert Service revisits the period that has fascinated him throughout his career. The esteemed historian presents the revisionist idea that it was Tsar Nicholas II’s decision to join the war against Germany in 1914, rather than a revolution driven by worker and peasant activism, that sowed the seeds of the Revolution. Through examination of primary source material, including diary entries from ordinary Russians, Service presents a compelling narrative of the events leading up to the birth of Bolshevik Russia. 

Warhol After Warhol

By richard dorment.

Book cover for Warhol After Warhol

Twenty years ago, art critic Richard Dorment received a phone call that would change his life. The caller asked Dorment for his help after two of his prized pieces, paintings by the late pop artist Andy Warhol, had been declared fake. As the duo embark on a decade-long quest to prove the authenticity of the paintings, they stumble upon a world full of corruption and greed, and meet the colourful characters who hold the power. A stranger-than-fiction examination of the corruption and lies that have permeated the art world, Warhol After Warhol lifts the lid on the mystery and scandal that surrounds the billion-dollar art industry.

by Rob Copeland

Book cover for The Fund

Five decades after founding hedge-fund Bridgewater Associates, in October 2022 billionaire Ray Dalio announced he would be retiring from running the firm that has made him extremely rich, and infamous in the process. Now, through hundreds of interviews with those who know the fund and Dalio most intimately, Rob Copeland tells the shocking and fascinating story behind the firm’s enduring success. Revealing the secrets of the man behind the biggest hedge-fund on Wall Street, The Fund is a must-read business book for fans of The Big Short and Million Dollar Whale.  

Breaking Twiter

By ben mezrich.

Book cover for Breaking Twiter

For more than twenty years, Twitter was a digital home for users to post, retweet and debate, until one bizarre day in October 2022. Charting one of the strangest and most polarising business takeovers of modern times, in this expose of Elon Musk’s acquisition of the brand, bestselling author Ben Mezrich charts the fateful fall of the platform formally known as Twitter. With interviews with Twitter employees, and sources close to Musk, Mezrich lifts the lid on the mass firings, the exodus of advertisers and how one man’s decisions have changed the internet forever. 

by Scott Shigeoka

Book cover for Seek

When was the last time you learned something new or spoke to someone totally different to you about their viewpoints and experiences? In his new book, Seek , curiosity-expert Scott Shigeoka invites us to wonder, explore what makes us curious and expand our understanding of the world. In this practical and accessible guide you’ll learn how harnessing your natural curiosity by letting go of assumptions and embracing hardship can help you enjoy a more connected, compassionate and interesting life. 

The Geek Way

By andrew mcafee.

Book cover for The Geek Way

If you’ve ever had an incredible idea that fell on deaf ears when you spoke to your boss about it, this book is for you. Rethinking the traditional structures of top-down hierarchies, some of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies have embraced the geek way of thinking, making decisions using trial and error, evidence and stress-testing, and doing away with the practice of upper management being the sole decision makers. By examining what it is that makes businesses and teams that embrace the approach work, Andrew McAfee has unlocked the secrets of The Geek Way , and how you can apply the principles to improve your business. The future is geeky! 

Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary

By nina stibbe.

Book cover for Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary

Two decades after she left the capital for Cornwall, Nina Stibbe made the life-changing decision to take a ‘sabbatical’ from her life and marriage to move in with her friend, writer Deborah Moggach, for a year. From spending more time with her adult children and rediscovering the London she once called home, to realising that both she and the city have changed immeasurably over the years, Stibbe charts the experience with her trademark humour and grace. Went to London, Took the Dog is a funny, deeply moving read for anyone who is dreaming of or embarking on a new chapter in their life. 

The best non-fiction books about science & technology

The psychology of stupidity, by jean-francois marmion.

Book cover for The Psychology of Stupidity

Edited by Jean-François Marmion, this dissection of stupidity is brought to you by some of the brightest brains around, including a Nobel Prize winner. The Psychology of Stupidity explains how lazy thinking leads to bad decisions, why even smart people can believe nonsense, how media manipulation makes us all dumber, and the pitfalls of trying to debate with a fool.

by Laurent Richard

Book cover for Pegasus

Pegasus is the most powerful piece of spyware ever developed, installed on a phone by as little as a missed Whatsapp call. Once on your phone it can record your calls, copy your messages, steal your photos and secretly film you, and those controlling it are able to track your daily movements. Award-winning journalists Laurent Richard and Sandrine Riguard have been investigating this for more than twenty years. Pegasus outlines this journey and explores how people's lives and privacy are being threatened by cyber-surveillance.  

Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

By lisa feldman barrett.

Book cover for Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

In seven short essays about that big grey blob between your ears, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett explores the origins and structure of the brain, as well as shelving popular myths about the alleged battle between thoughts and emotions, or between nature and nurture. Sure to intrigue casual readers and scientific veterans alike, the book is full of surprises, humour and revelations about human nature.

Scary Smart

By mo gawdat.

Book cover for Scary Smart

In Scary Smart,  The former chief business officer of Google outlines how artificial intelligence is way smarter than us, and is predicted to be a billion times more intelligent than humans by 2049. Free from distractions and working at incredible speeds, AI can look into the future and make informed predictions. But AI also gets so much wrong. Because humans design the algorithms that form AI, there are imperfect flaws embedded within them that reflect the imperfection of humans. Mo Gawdat, drawing on his unparalleled expertise in the field, outlines how and why we must alter the terrifying trajectory of AI development and teach ourselves and our machines to live better. 

‘ Mo Gawdat is my life guru. His writing, his ideas and his generosity in sharing them has changed my life for the better in so many ways. Everything he writes is an enlightening education in how to be human. ’ Elizabeth Day

The Book of Minds

By philip ball.

Book cover for The Book of Minds

Philosophers have spent centuries trying to understand the workings of the human mind. But, asks award-winning science writer Philip Ball, what about the non-human mind? His contention is that we need to move on from considering the human mind as the standard to judge all others. And that the more we understand about the minds of other creatures, from octopuses to chimpanzees – as well as the potential minds of computers and aliens – the more we begin to see and comprehend our own.

A Brief History of Black Holes

By dr becky smethurst.

Book cover for A Brief History of Black Holes

Right now, you are orbiting a black hole. The Earth goes around the Sun, and the Sun goes around the centre of the Milky Way: a supermassive black hole – the strangest and most misunderstood phenomenon in the galaxy. In  A Brief History of Black Holes  University of Oxford astrophysicist, Dr Becky Smethurst shares why black holes aren’t really ‘black’, that you never ever want to be ‘spaghettified’, and why beyond the event horizon, the future is a direction in space rather than in time. Full of wit and learning, this captivating book explains why black holes contain the secrets to the most profound questions about our universe.

How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch

By harry cliff.

Book cover for How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch

‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’ - Carl Sagan. Inspired by Sagan’s famous line, Harry Cliff ventures out in search of the ultimate apple pie recipe, tracing the ingredients of our universe through the hearts of dying stars and back in time to a tiny fraction of a second after our universe began. If you've ever wondered what matter is really made of, or how our world began after the Big Bang, or what the very first moments of our universe looked like – then this is the book for you.

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The best autobiographies, biographies & memoirs, queen of our times, by robert hardman.

Book cover for Queen of Our Times

This is the definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth II by one of Britain’s leading royal authorities. With original insights from those who knew her best, interviews with world leaders and access to unseen papers, bestselling author Robert Hardman explores the full, astonishing life of our longest reigning monarch in this compellingly authoritative yet intimate biography.

by Yusra Mardini

Book cover for Butterfly

After fleeing her native Syria to the Turkish coast in 2015, Yusra Mardini boarded a small dinghy full of refugees headed for Greece. On the journey, the boat's engine cut out. It started to sink. Seventeen-year-old Yusra, her sister, and two others took to the water to push the overcrowded boat for three and a half hours in open water. Eventually, they managed to land on Lesbos, with Yusra and the others having saved the lives of those on board. Butterfly is Yusra Mardini's journey from war-torn Damascus to Berlin and from there to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Discover Yusra and her incredible story of resilience and unstoppable spirit.

This Is Going to Hurt

By adam kay.

Book cover for This Is Going to Hurt

This is Going To Hurt  began life as a comedy show inspired by the junior doctors’ strike and is Adam Kay’s no-holds-barred account of his life as a junior doctor. Written in secret  between gruelling hospital shifts, the book is by turns shocking, sad and laugh-out-loud funny, while telling you everything you ever need to know - and more - about life on a hospital ward. Highlighting the long hours, poor pay and staffing problems caused by underfunding, this is a must-read for anyone who values the NHS.

I Heard What You Said

By jeffrey boakye.

Book cover for I Heard What You Said

Jeffrey Boakye’s experience as a black student shaped the teacher he became. In I Heard What You Said , his unflinching memoir, Boakye examines his experience as a black teacher in today’s education system. From outrageous questions about his background to his ability to navigate spaces that are white by default and teaching problematic texts in English, Boayke reflects with wit and passion on why he chooses to teach in a system designed to fail millions of children each year. 

The Happiest Man on Earth

By eddie jaku.

Book cover for The Happiest Man on Earth

This heartbreaking yet hopeful memoir shows us how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. In November 1938, Eddie Jaku was beaten, arrested and taken to a German concentration camp. He endured unimaginable horrors for the next seven years and lost family, friends and his country.  But he survived. And because he survived, he vowed to smile every day. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’. This is his story. 

Brown Girl Like Me

By jaspreet kaur.

Book cover for Brown Girl Like Me

Equal parts memoir and manifesto, Jaspreet Kaur equips women with the confidence and skillset they need to navigate the difficulties that come with an intersectional identity. Interviews with brilliant South Asian Women of all walks of life as well as academic insight show what life is really like for brown women in the diaspora. Pulling no punches, and tackling topics from mental health and menstruation stigma to education and beauty standards,  Brown Girl Like Me  will educate, inspire and spark urgent conversations for change; essential reading for South Asian women and people with an interest in feminism and cultural issues.

The Reluctant Carer

Book cover for The Reluctant Carer

The phone rings. Your elderly father has been taken to hospital, and your even older mother is home with nobody to look after her. What do you do? Drop everything and go and help of course. But it's not that straightforward, and your own life starts to fall apart as quickly as their health. This funny, deeply honest and moving book is a love letter to family, to all carers, and to anyone who has packed a bag to help out for a few days and found they are back to stay. 

50 best autobiographies & biographies of all time

The best true stories & shocking exposés, by john carreyrou.

Book cover for Bad Blood

How far can you get with no expertise, technology that doesn’t work, and an extraordinary sales pitch? Disturbingly far. Bad Blood is the story of one of the biggest corporate fraud cases of the 21st century. Journalist John Carreyrou explores the rise and shocking fall of tech start-up Theranos, which was valued at $9 billion based on its innovative medical technology before it was all revealed to be a lie. This is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, and a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

Everything you need to know about the Theranos scandal

Empire of pain.

Book cover for Empire of Pain

Empire of Pain is the story of three generations of the Sackler family, and their role in the stories of Valium and Oxycontin. As one of the richest families in the world, the Sacklers are known for their lavish donations in the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that they were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis – an international epidemic of drug addiction which has killed nearly half a million people. This masterpiece of narrative reporting is the secret history of the Sackler dynasty.

‘ You feel almost guilty for enjoying it so much. ’ The Times

Book cover for Rogues

From forgers to money launderers to arms merchants and those on death row, this is a book about behaving badly. Award-winning and hypnotically brilliant New Yorker  writer Patrick Radden Keefe takes readers on a gripping but also humane trip into the psyches of those who society would rather forget. With global reach and meticulous research, this is a bravura piece of journalism. 

by Oliver Sacks

Book cover for Awakenings

For over four decades, twenty First World War veterans languished in hospital, treated by professionals who had no idea how to awaken them from their catatonic stupor. Motionless and silent, the men were aware of their surroundings but had no interest in engaging in them. That was until the day Dr Oliver Sacks administered a revolutionary new drug, L-DOPA, which roused the men from their inertia. A stranger-than-fiction story written in Sacks’ unmistakable prose, Awakenings is a compelling read and a classic of medical writing. 

The Sleeping Beauties

By suzanne o'sullivan.

Book cover for The Sleeping Beauties

In Sweden, refugee children fall asleep for months and years at a time. In upstate New York, high school students develop contagious seizures. In the US Embassy in Cuba, employees complain of headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises in the night. These disparate cases are some of the most remarkable diagnostic mysteries of the twenty-first century, as both doctors and scientists have struggled to explain them and – more crucially – to treat them. Neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan travels the world to visit other communities who have also been subject to outbreaks of so-called ‘mystery’ illnesses.

True crime books better than any podcast

The best self-help, lifestyle & wellbeing books, how to calm your mind, by chris bailey.

Book cover for How to Calm Your Mind

Productivity expert Chris Bailey offers a toolkit of accessible, science-based strategies to pursue calmness, and ultimately live a less anxious and more engaged life in How to Calm Your Mind. Covering topics including our desire for dopamine, 'busyness' and the digital world, Chris Bailey encourages us to develop our capacity for calm. In doing so, he believes we can build a deeper, more expansive reservoir of energy to draw from throughout the day and invest in the missing piece that leads our efforts to become sustainable over time, ultimately making room to do good work and live a happy life. 

by Marisa G. Franco, PhD

Book cover for Platonic

When was the last time you put yourself out there to make a new friend? For many of us, the answer is too long ago. In Platonic , Dr Marisa G. Franco explains how the undervaluing of friendship in our culture has led to an epidemic of isolation, and what we can do about it. Platonic  teaches us to identify and understand our individual attachment styles and why exploring how we behave in relationships is the key to unlocking what we’re doing right (and what we could do better) in our friendships. This book is the ultimate guide to learning how we make and keep friends for life.

That Little Voice In Your Head

Book cover for That Little Voice In Your Head

Mo Gawdat's That Little Voice in Your Head  is a practical guide to rewiring your brain for joy. He reveals that by talking down the negative voice within, we can change the way we think, turn greed into kindness, transform apathy into compassionate action and create our own happiness. Gawdat's brain exercises draw on his experience as a former Google engineer and Chief Business Officer, as well as from his neuroscience studies. And he explains how – despite their complexity – our brains generally behave in predictable ways. Drawing inspiration from the life of his late son, Gawdat has written a manual for happiness that is steeped in empathy.

The Kindness Method

By shahroo izadi.

Book cover for The Kindness Method

In these difficult times, we could all benefit from showing ourselves a little kindness. If you want to use this time to make a change, Behavioural Change Specialist Shahroo Izadi believes there’s only one way to make change last, and that’s to be kind to yourself . The Kindness Method was developed through a combination of professional training and personal experience and will leave you feeling empowered, positive and ready to make a change, whether it’s weight loss, cutting down on alcohol or improving your relationships.

The Greatest Self-Help Book (is the one written by you)

Book cover for The Greatest Self-Help Book (is the one written by you)

From Sunday Times bestselling author of  Good Vibes, Good Life  and  Healing is the New High , Vex King and social media star Kaushal, this is a journal like no other. Filled with exercises, activities and visual prompts, it will help you to understand and regulate your emotions, maintain habits that work for you, shift negative mindsets and cultivate positive thought patterns, build self-awareness and carve out time to practise self-love and gratitude. Think of this as your companion to help you build a healthier relationship with yourself and others;  The Greatest Self-Help Book  is the one written by you.

‘ I have always believed in the idea that people inspire people. I know what's what inspired me... and Vex really is the ultimate example of that. ’ Deliciously Ella

Kurashi at Home

By marie kondo.

Book cover for Kurashi at Home

Create an oasis of calm and find what sparks your   joy with the first full-colour, beautifully photographed guide from Marie Kondo. Over a decade on from the launch of  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,  Marie Kondo is back with new wisdom on how to transform your life and home into spaces of calm. This guide introduces the concept of  kurashi –  meaning way of life – and encourages readers to spend every day in the pursuit of joy, moving her focus from the physical act of tidying towards an even more holistic and personal approach to curating our environments.

H is for Hawk

By helen macdonald.

Book cover for H is for Hawk

In this original blend of memoir, biography and nature writing, Helen Macdonald explores how raising Mabel the goshawk helped her heal after her father's sudden death. After buying Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside, Macdonald embarked on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals. The book parallels her experience to that of T. H. White, a closeted homosexual and sadist in the 1930s, who also flew a hawk to self-soothe. With beautiful descriptions of nature, as well as profound reflections on grief, this award-winning book will dazzle and delight in unexpected ways. 

The best self-help & self-care books

The best finance books.

‘ The Psychology of Money is bursting with interesting ideas and practical takeaways. Quite simply, it is essential reading for anyone interested in being better with money. Everyone should own a copy. ’ James Clear on The Psychology of Money

The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness

By morgan housel.

Book cover for The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness

In The Psychology of Money award-winning author Morgan Housel reveals that our success with money isn’t necessarily about what we know, but how we behave . Through nineteen short stories, Housel explores the way we think about our finances in the real world, helping us understand more about our strange relationship with money and teaching readers how to make better sense of one of life’s most important topics. This is a vital read for anyone looking to redefine their relationship with their finances, and if you’re already a fan, Morgan Housel’s new book, Same as Ever: Timeless Lessons on Risk, Opportunity and Living a Good Life , came out this year.


By jl collins.

Book cover for Pathfinders

Hailed as 'The Godfather of Financial Independence', in Pathfinders , JL Collins accompanies readers through fascinating real-life stories from people on the journey to financial independence, and accompanies these with reflections on his 'rules for the road'. These heartfelt, and often surprising tales are the ultimate companion for your own journey to financial freedom, and the true and lasting wealth that lies at the end.

The best political & historical non-fiction books

God: an anatomy, by francesca stavrakopoulou.

Book cover for God: An Anatomy

Three thousand years ago, in the region we now call Israel and Palestine, people worshipped an array of deities led by a god called El. El had seventy children, all of whom were gods themselves; one of these children, Yahweh, fought humans and monsters and eventually evolved into the God of the great monotheistic faiths. The history of God in culture stretches back centuries before the Bible was written. Elegantly written and fiercely argued, Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou provides a fascinating analysis of God’s cultural DNA, and in the process explores the founding principles of Western culture.

In Defence of Witches

By mona chollet.

Book cover for In Defence of Witches

Who is a witch? In Defence of Witches recasts the term 'witch' into a powerful role model to women today, as an emblem of power free to exist beyond the narrow limits society imposes on women. Witches are everywhere, whether they are casting spells on Donald Trump or posting photos of their crystal-adorned altar on Instagram. Historically accused of witchcraft, often meeting violent ends, many types of women have been censored, eliminated, repressed, over the centuries. Mona Chollet shows that by considering the lives of those who dared to live differently, we can learn more about the richness of roles available. 

The Ship Beneath the Ice

By mensun bound.

Book cover for The Ship Beneath the Ice

On 21 November 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship,  Endurance , sank beneath the ice of the most hostile sea on Earth. While the miraculous survival of all those on board has entered legend, the iconic ship that bore them to the brink of the Antarctic was considered forever lost . . . until March 2022. Including countless fascinating stories of Shackleton and his ship, photographs from Shackleton's original voyage and from the legendary recovery expedition itself; in The Ship beneath the Ice, the Director of Exploration tells the story of the monumental discovery in his own words.

Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries

By kate mosse.

Book cover for Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries

Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries  is a celebration of unheard and under-heard women’s history . Within these pages you’ll meet nearly 1000 women whose names deserve to be better known: from the Mothers of Invention and the trailblazing women at the Bar; warrior queens and pirate commanders; the women who dedicated their lives to the natural world or to medicine; those women of courage who resisted and fought for what they believed; to the unsung heroes of stage, screen and stadium. Joyous, celebratory and engaging, Kate Mosse's book is for everyone who has ever wondered how history is made.

A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth

By henry gee.

Book cover for A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth

This lyrical and moving account takes us back to the early history of the earth, a wildly inhospitable place with swirling seas, constant volcanic eruptions and an unstable atmosphere. The triumph of life as it emerges, survives and evolves in this hostile setting is Henry Gee's riveting subject: he traces the story of life on earth from its turbulent beginnings to the emergence of early hominids and the miracle of the first creatures to fly. You'll never look at our planet in the same way again.

The Fall of Boris Johnson

By sebastian payne.

Book cover for The Fall of Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson was touted as the saviour of the country and the Conservative Party, obtaining a huge commons majority and finally getting Brexit done. But within three short years, he was deposed in disgrace, leaving the country in crisis. Sebastian Payne, Whitehall Editor for the  Financial Times , tells the essential behind-the-scenes story, charting the betrayals, rivalries and resignations that resulted in the dramatic Conservative coup and set in motion events that saw the party sink to catastrophic new lows.

‘ A genuinely page turning, gripping account of some of the most extraordinary days in modern British history. ’ Andrew Marr

Black and British

By david olusoga.

Book cover for Black and British

In this vital re-examination of a shared history, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga tells the rich and revealing story of the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean. This edition features a new chapter encompassing the Windrush scandal and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, events which put black British history at the centre of urgent national debate. This is vivid confirmation that black history can no longer be kept separate and marginalised. It is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation and it belongs to us all. 

How to Survive a Plague

By david france.

Book cover for How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague was the winner of The Green Carnation Prize for LGBTQ Literature and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT non-fiction. The book is a riveting and moving account of the AIDS epidemic and the activists at grass-roots level who fought to develop the drugs which turned AIDS from an almost always fatal infection to a manageable disease. Weaving together dozens of individual stories, many from people who were facing their own life or death struggles with the disease, this is an insider’s account of an incredibly important moment in our history.

The best history books to read right now

The best non-fiction books about the natural world & environment, the rise and reign of the mammals, by steve brusatte.

Book cover for The Rise and Reign of the Mammals

In  The Rise and Reign of the Mammals , palaeontologist Steve Brusatte weaves together the history and evolution of our mammal forebears with stories of the scientists whose fieldwork and discoveries underlie our knowledge, both of iconic mammals like the mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers of which we have all heard, and of fascinating species that few of us are aware of. For what we see today is but a very limited range of the mammals that have existed; in this fascinating and ground-breaking book, Steve Brusatte tells their – and our – story.

A World on the Wing

By charles scott weidensaul.

Book cover for A World on the Wing

This is the rousing story of the billions of birds that, despite the numerous obstacles we have placed in their path, continue to head to the far horizon. The past two decades have seen an explosion in our understanding of the feats of endurance and complexity involved in bird migration. A World on the Wing  sees Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted writer and ornithologist Scott Weidensaul track some of the most remarkable flights undertaken by birds around the world.

The Green Gardening Handbook

By nancy birtwhistle.

Book cover for The Green Gardening Handbook

Going green in the garden has never been easier with Nancy Birtwhistle’s sustainable, eco-friendly tips that will help you make the most of your space, and what it can grow. Whether you have a sprawling garden, a modest patch of grass or just a spare windowsill,  The Green Gardening Handbook  has over 100 tips that will help you embrace the joy of growing and eating from your own garden. This is a book for anyone green-fingered or not, packed with practical advice to save money and reduce waste, packaged in a beautifully illustrated guide. 

Nancy Birtwhistle shares her eco-friendly cleaning tips

The last drop, by tim smedley.

Book cover for The Last Drop

A gripping, thought-provoking and ultimately optimistic investigation into the world’s next great climate crisis – the scarcity of water. Water stress is already driving the first waves of climate refugees. It’s increasingly clear that human mismanagement of water is dangerously unsustainable, for both ecological and human survival. And yet in recent years some key countries have been quietly and very successfully addressing water stress. In  The Last Drop , award-winning environmental journalist Tim Smedley meets experts, victims, activists and pioneers to find out how we can mend the water table that our survival depends upon.

The Sixth Extinction

By elizabeth kolbert.

Book cover for The Sixth Extinction

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Elizabeth Kolbert combines field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the stories of a dozen species. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy and Elizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Live more sustainably with these essential reads

The best non-fiction sports books, the inner game of tennis, by w timothy gallwey.

Book cover for The Inner Game of Tennis

Recently named by Bill Gates as one of his 'all-time favourite books', and described by Billie Jean King as her 'tennis bible', this bestseller has been a must-read for tennis players of all abilities for nearly fifty years. Rather than concentrating on how to improve technique, Gallwey deals with the 'inner game' within ourselves as we try to overcome doubt and maintain clarity of mind when playing. 'It’s the best book on tennis that I have ever read,' says Gates, 'and its profound advice applies to many other parts of life.'

Alone on the Wall

By alex honnold.

Book cover for Alone on the Wall

In the last forty years, only a handful of climbers have pushed themselves as far, ‘free soloing’ to the absolute limit of human capabilities. Half of them are dead. Although Alex Honnold’s exploits are probably a bit  too  extreme for most of us, the stories behind his incredible climbs are exciting, uplifting and truly awe-inspiring. Alone on the Wall  is a book about the essential truth of being free to pursue your passions and the ability to maintain a singular focus, even in the face of mortal danger. This updated edition contains the account of Alex's El Capitan climb, which is the subject of the Oscar and BAFTA winning documentary,  Free Solo .

by Poorna Bell

Book cover for Stronger

Poorna Bell’s journey to get strong began when – following the death of her husband, Rob – she realized that she had been relying on the men in her life to take out the bins, carry the luggage and move furniture. Poorna is now a competitive amateur power-lifter and the strongest she has ever been. This inspiring non-fiction book is part memoir and part manifesto, starting a conversation about women’s mental and physical strength and fitness which has nothing to do with weight loss. 

The Damned Utd

By david peace.

Book cover for The Damned Utd

In 1974 the brilliant and controversial Brian Clough made perhaps his most eccentric decision: he accepted the position of Leeds United manager. A successor to Don Revie, his bitter adversary, Clough was to last just 44 days. In one of the most acclaimed British sports novels of recent years –subsequently made into a film starring Michael Sheen – David Peace takes us into the mind and thoughts of Ol' Big 'Ead himself, and brings vividly to life one of football's most complex and fascinating characters.

Discover more sports books & autobiographies

In this episode of Book Break, Emma takes a look at some of the weird and wonderful non-fiction books you may not have heard of:

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Must reads: 50 best books of all time, the best self-help audiobooks to kick-start 2023, 52 best autobiographies & biographies of all time.

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Nonfiction Books

The best nonfiction books of 2021, recommended by sophie roell.

Five Books Expert Recommendations


Five Books Expert Recommendations

As the Covid pandemic gets another lease of life with the appearance of the omicron variant, those of us spending additional time at home may need a few more books to read. Here, Five Books editor Sophie Roell shares some of her favourite nonfiction books of the year, from history to economics, lessons on how to write like Chekhov to the part each of us can play in reducing political polarization.

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2021 - A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2021 - Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail

Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2021 - Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy by Anne Sebba

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy by Anne Sebba

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2021 - Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity by Claudia Goldin

Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity by Claudia Goldin

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2021 - River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads by Cat Jarman

River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads by Cat Jarman

best non fiction books uk 2021

1 A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

2 breaking the social media prism: how to make our platforms less polarizing by chris bail, 3 ethel rosenberg: an american tragedy by anne sebba, 4 career and family: women’s century-long journey toward equity by claudia goldin, 5 river kings: a new history of the vikings from scandinavia to the silk roads by cat jarman.

It’s been a phenomenal year for nonfiction, with lots of books coming out that cover important topics and are written in a gripping way. On this, my personal list of the best of the year, I’m not going to include books chosen by others on our best of 2021 lists , though some of these are real eyeopeners. Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe , about the opioid crisis and the role of a company called Purdue Pharma in that, won the UK’s most prestigious nonfiction prize and is a fantastic read. I loved Leah Ypi’s Free , about growing up in Stalinist Albania—chosen by Nigel Warburton as one of the best philosophy books of 2021 . It’s a funny book that also touches on a common feature of many former Communist states that’s difficult to understand unless you spend time there: nostalgia for the past.

I was excited to see a book called The Shortest History of China by Linda Jaivin —recommended by Jeffrey Wasserstrom in his best China books —covering the entire history of China in a couple of hundred pages. I’ve read a lot on China from the 20th century onwards, but the preceding three millennia have always been a bit of a blank for me. Stuck at home with little to do thanks to omicron, I used it as a springboard for my daughter and myself to learn the order of the Chinese dynasties by heart , something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Also, while I haven’t read it yet, I’m looking forward to starting on The Horde by Marie Favereau , which was shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize and chosen by Paul Lay as one of his best history books of 2021 . As he said when recommending it, “it changes the way you see the world”, which for me is the defining quality of what a really good book should do. Of course, that depends a lot on how you currently see the world, so what makes a good book for me is not necessarily what makes a good book for someone else. With that caveat in mind, some of my favourite nonfiction books of 2021:

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life by George Saunders

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is the most surprising book I’ve read this year. Most of the great Russian writers of the 19th century wrote short stories and, in this book, American author George Saunders teaches us what a handful of his favourites are about. It’s based on a class on Russian short stories he teaches to talented aspiring writers at Syracuse University. After class one day, he realized that “some of the best moments of my life, the moments during which I’ve really felt myself offering something of value to the world, have been spent teaching that Russian class.” He then tries to recreate that teaching experience in the pages that follow. It’s an extraordinarily successful effort. I don’t particularly enjoy short stories: I find them too short to be satisfying, but I was completely mesmerized by his explanations of what they meant to him, and what they can teach us about how to write effectively. After reading it, not only had I read some stories—by Leo Tolstoy , Anton Chekhov , Ivan Turgenev, and Nikolai Gogol—which I would never have embarked on otherwise, but I felt I’d spent a few days in 19th century Russia.

Breaking the Social Media Prism by Chris Bail

I’m fascinated by the toxicity of online debate, and how people can write detestable things to each other in a way they never would face-to-face. Living in the UK and with family in the US, I’m also slightly shocked by how polarized these two societies seem to have become. Each side seems to almost hate the other. Breaking the Social Media Prism by Chris Bail, a sociologist at Duke, takes on both these issues. Bail runs a ‘Polarization Lab’ at Duke (you can read more about it and even try out some of their interactive tools here ). The book outlines not only what he’s learnt from his research, but what we can do to make things better. And ‘we’ is the operative word here, because while it’s easy to blame Facebook, the Russians, Cambridge Analytica etc. for everything that’s gone wrong, ultimately it is about us, and how each of us behaves. As he writes, “our focus upon Silicon Valley obscures a much more unsettling truth: the root source of political tribalism on social media lies deep inside ourselves.”

Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy by Anne Sebba

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York,” writes Sylvia Plath in the opening lines of her only novel, The Bell Jar . The execution of an American Jewish couple, Julian (‘Julie’) and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for espionage was one of those moments that rocked the world. In this book, historian Anne Sebba stops looking at them as a couple and tells Ethel’s story. She was born into poverty but was blessed with brains and a great voice and wanted to become a singer. She cared deeply about social justice and thought communism might be a solution. Through her activism, she met her husband. They had kids. She worried about being a bad mother and read piles of parenting books. Her husband was a spy for the Soviet Union, she probably wasn’t. She was executed by electric chair, leaving behind two boys, aged 10 and 6. As the subtitle says, it was a Cold War tragedy indeed.

Career & Family by Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin is an economist, in fact the first female economist ever to get tenure at Harvard. Career & Family is a book everyone should read because it analyses an issue that affects many of us: the wide disparities in pay that develop after people have children. The fact is, it’s very hard to both care for kids and be at the top of your profession. In the economy, the highest paying jobs go to workers who are prepared to work crazy hours and are available 24/7: they either don’t have children or have someone else who is prepared to look after them. This, Goldin has long argued, is the reason women with college degrees still earn so much less than men, especially in jobs like law and investment banking. It’s not so much about sexism or women being worse at bargaining for higher pay than men (say), it’s about a system. If that structure isn’t changed, no number of workshops training people to be less sexist, better at negotiating etc. is going to make a difference. This book is full of data looking at different cohorts of American women through the 20th century, though I love that there are also lots of examples of what prominent women did regarding marriage and children. Goldin remains outraged at the current situation but is also at pains to show that women have come a long way: a century ago, women who had a career did not, in general, get married and have children, now they can have both (even if they’re paid less for their efforts).

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River Kings  by Cat Jarman

I’m always interested in books about the Vikings , this violent group who wreaked havoc around Europe in the medieval period, traded slaves, and had astonishing seafaring skills. Cat Jarman is a bioarchaeologist, and this book looks at what the latest findings in her field can tell us about them. Her own research focuses on a burial site in Repton, in Derbyshire and many miles from the sea, where nearly 300 bodies were found that were very likely from the Great Viking Army that invaded England. Lots of iron nails used for ships were also found at the site, indicating they got there by river. As the title of the book suggests, even if it’s crossing the Atlantic in a ship that seems more impressive, Vikings were a group who were able to flourish because of their ability to sail down rivers. In particular, they sailed along rivers in Russia, down to Byzantium and traded with the Middle East. I love the texture of the book, the information gleaned from Viking skeletons and objects found at burial sites: lots of playing pieces (Vikings liked playing games, apparently useful for strategy), a ring with Arabic script, beads from India, a coin from Afghanistan—and then the DNA evidence as techniques get more sophisticated. One Viking warrior turned out to be a woman, another one was bald, there was quite a bit of immigration to Scandinavia, even from the Middle East. Also, I found out a fact I never learned in school: Harald Hardrada—who famously invaded England just a few weeks before William of Normandy, another Viking, in 1066—spent time as a bodyguard to the Roman emperor in Constantinople.

December 24, 2021

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Sophie Roell

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Sophie Roell is editor and one of the founders of Five Books.

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21 Fascinating Non-Fiction Books That Should Be On Your Radar This Autumn

Life Editor at HuffPost UK

best non fiction books uk 2021

A fascinating work of non-fiction has the ability to change the way we view the world – and there are plenty of new titles on sale.

The first Thursday of September has long been known as “Super Thursday” in UK publishing: the day in the calendar when the largest number of new releases hit shelves. It’s also Bookshop Day – a nationwide celebration of all high street bookshops, big and small – on October 9, making autumn an even better time to stock up.

To mark the most wonderful time of the year for bookworms, we asked a leading bookseller which new non-fiction titles they’re most excited to read. We’ve also added a few suggestions of our own. Happy reading!

best non fiction books uk 2021

10 books recommended by Kate McHale, non-fiction buyer at Waterstones .

Renegades – Barack Obama & Bruce Springsteen , £35 Penguin

“Following on from their brilliant podcast, Obama and Springsteen discuss life, music and America alongside an array of photos and archive material.”

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows – Ai Weiwei , £25 Vintage

“The seminal artist looks back at both his own life and that of his father to create a memoir that is both an intimate personal and family story and a powerful portrait of twentieth century China.”

Windswept and Interesting – Billy Connolly , £20 Hodder & Stoughton

“The first full-length autobiography from the comedy legend, recounting his tough early days and later rise to stardom – with the odd digression along the way…”

Don’t Laugh, It Will Only Encourage Her – Daisy May Cooper , £20 Penguin

“A warm, honest and hilarious autobiography from the star of This Country.”

Don’t Laugh, It Will Only Encourage Her, Beautiful Country and 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows.

And Away… – Bob Mortimer , £20 Simon & Schuster

“Irrepressibly funny autobiography from one of our best-loved comedians.”

Beautiful Country – Qian Julie Wang , £16.99 Penguin

“A lyrical memoir of a family’s life as undocumented migrants in America. Written from the author’s childhood perspective, it is a powerful read but one that is full of love and hope.”

Manifesto – Bernardine Evaristo , £14.99 Penguin

“A powerful and urgent manifesto on never giving up from the Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman Other.”

Storyland – Amy Jeffs , £20 Quercus

“A beautifully illustrated mythology of the British Isles that uncovers the founding legends of our islands and brings them vividly to life.”

Powers and Thrones – Dan Jones , £25 Head of Zeus

“An epic new history of the Middle Ages, which grippingly chronicles the forces that defined the period – and which would go on to shape ours.”

A Cook’s Book – Nigel Slater , £30 HarperCollins

“A collection of over 200 favourite recipes from a life in the kitchen.”

Storyland, Manifesto and A Cook’s Book.

3 non-fiction titles the HuffPost UK team are excited about

Black Joy – Edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotire , £14.99 Penguin

This uplifting and empowering anthology, edited by award-winning journalist Charlie Brinkhust-Cuff and up-and-coming talent Timi Sotire, sees 28 inspirational voices come together to celebrate being Black British, sharing their experiences of joy and what it means to them.

Rough – Rachel Thompson , £14.99 Vintage Publishing

Rough explores the narratives of sexual violence that we don’t talk about. Through powerful testimony from 50 women and non-binary people, this book shines a light on the sexual violence that takes place in our bedrooms and beyond, sometimes at the hands of people we know, trust, or even love. Read our interview with the author here.

The Transgender Issue – Shon Faye , £20 Penguin

Author Shon Faye reclaims the idea of the ‘transgender issue’ to uncover the reality of what it means to be trans in a transphobic society. The book is a manifesto for change, and “a call for justice and solidarity between all marginalised people and minorities”.

8 recommendations from Emma Bradshaw, head of campaigns at the Bookseller’s Association.

The Sweet Roasting Tin – Rukmini Iyer, £15.99 Penguin

“From the bestselling author of The Green Roasting Tin comes the last in the Roasting Tin series, offering seventy-five easy yet delicious one-tin bakes. I’m such a fan of this series. Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows I’ve been cooking my way through The Quick Roasting Tin page by page. I will definitely be adding this one to my collection.”

Amy Winehouse Beyond Black – Naomi Parry, £30 Thames & Hudson

“10 years after her untimely death, this affectionate and evocative visual celebration tells the definitive story of the life and career of Amy Winehouse through photographs, memorabilia and recollections of those whose lives she touched. A must-have for anyone who’s a Winehouse fan, and who isn’t?”

Outdoor Europe – DK Eyewitness Travel, £20 DK

“Epic adventures, incredible experiences and mindful escapes. Bursting with beautiful images, this inspirational book rounds up Europe’s most incredible outdoor experiences, covering everything from birdwatching and forest bathing to scuba diving and wild swimming. While holidays are on hold for me, and many others, I shall be doing some armchair travelling and planning for the future with this gorgeous DK title.”

Of This Our Country Acclaimed Nigerian writers on the home, identity and culture they know, £14.99 Harper Collins

“Within these pages, acclaimed and award-winning writers share memories and experiences of Nigeria that can be found nowhere else, bringing to the fore a country whose influence can be found everywhere. The cover is stunning and I can’t wait to read this one.”

The Storyteller – Dave Grohl, £16.99 Simon & Schuster

“I suspect this will be in many a stocking this Christmas and I for one know several people who would be thrilled to receive a copy. You only have to watch an interview with him to know that Dave Grohl is indeed a storyteller. Whether you are a Nirvana and Foo Fighters fan or not, I reckon this will be a great read. Available to pre-order from your local bookshop now.”

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall, £14.99 Elliott & Thompson

“Marshall explores ten regions that are set to shape global politics in a new age of great-power rivalry: Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Greece, Turkey, the Sahel, Ethiopia, Spain and Space. Delivered with Marshall’s trademark wit and insight, this is an exploration of the power of geography to shape humanity’s past, present – and future. Tim’s books are a big hit with many of our members.”

Letters of Great Women – Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, £20 Welbeck Publishing

“A collection of the most inspiring, illuminating, poignant and compelling correspondence from remarkable women through history, including Greta Thunberg, Harriet Tubman and Jane Austen. I will definitely be gifting this one to my girlfriends.”

A Year Unfolding – Angela Harding £20 L ittle, Brown Book Group

“A beautifully illustrated guide to nature through the seasons by popular artist and printmaker, Angela Harding. The evocative imagery of the prose makes this a wonderful book for nature lovers everywhere. I’m a big fan of Angela’s work. Simply stunning!”

Before You Go

Rachel Moss - Life Editor at HuffPost UK

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