Despite my background as a non-fiction writer, I haven’t yet written a blog covering my top ten non fiction books. Time to put that right, methinks. I’m focusing here on books that anyone might enjoy, so I’ve excluded specialised works or things which have dated, and ignored niche things like craft books or cook books (maybe another time…. ) I’m also going to save biography, autobiography (and travel, which is really autobiography) for another date. (Oooh I do love a list, but regular readers of this blog probably already know this.)
I adore fiction, and with only 24 hours in a day to read and soooo many good books out there, waiting… who has time for non-fiction? I’ve tried to be very selective here and only pick books which I think are entertaining, thought provoking, and above all, well-written. Here we go. These are not in order of preference, by the way.
1 Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt. Let’s get the hardest choice out of the way first. As a writer of childcare books, it’s really, really hard to choose just one book about child development, but I think every human being who takes care of babies should probably be forced to read this book. Fortunately the word ‘cortisol’ is now more widely in circulation and maybe some people are beginning to understand its effect on the developing brain, thanks in part to this pioneering book, but sadly not enough. It’s not the easiest of reads, but it is forensically researched. Best science/parenting book.
2. The Year 1000: What life was like at the turn of the first millennium by Robert Dacey. This book came out in the year 2000 and it still fascinates me. An intimate portrait of England in the year 1000, month by month. Best social history book.
3. Lines in the Sand by AA Gill. Gill was an amazing journalist; his columns were a joy to read. I subscribed to the Sunday Times for years just to get that weekly treat. I probably prefer his collection, Previous Convictions, but the contents of Lines In the Sand were published posthumously and so they contain the poignant, painfully few, columns where he discovered he had terminal cancer. Best book of journalism
4. Eat that frog! by Brian Tracy. I’m a sucker for self-help books – aren’t we all?- but this one has been the most useful. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘eat a frog’ but not understood its origin. Well here is the most useful advice you’ll ever have to get things done, and it’s a short snappy book as well. Best self help book.
5. Eats, shoots and leaves by Lynn Truss. An unexpected but deserving best seller at the time of its release. Who would’ve thought a book about punctuation would take off? The power of good writing. Best reference book.
6. Rubbish! by Richard Girling. There have been many books written about the environmental crisis, so maybe it’s foolish to try and choose, but this one from 2005 stands out for me. The sad thing is that nothing really has changed in the intervening years – if anything it has got far worse. Best environmental book
7. Quiet; the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. Might not be for everyone, this book, but for anyone who’s ever dreaded going to a party, doing karaoke or – that 2020 thing: having a group chat on Zoom, this book will explain it all. It’s not about shyness, it’s far more complicated than that, but Cain makes it all simple and entertaining. (Incidentally if you like this then you’ll probably also love Sara Maitland’s brilliant Book of Silence – but I’m saving that for my top ten biographies list). Best psychology book
9. The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. The watchmaker argument is a ‘teleological’ argument which states that God must exist because the universe is so complex. (Basically if you found a watch on the ground you would never assume it had come into existence by chance, so why would you assume the same for the universe?). I did a year of Metaphysics at University and remember reading David Hume’s refutation of teleology, but have to say I didn’t find it so convincing, even though Edinburgh loves him so much they’ve put up a statue to him and named one of their biggest university buildings after him. But The Blind Watchmaker shows how evolution can create something complex in a (relatively) short period of time. Dawkins is a controversial figure, but he is also a captivating writer. I’d also recommend his earlier work The Selfish Gene. Best popular science book.
10. On Roads by Joe Moran. Honestly why has a book about roads made this list? Because it is so entertaining, informative and just damn well written. This is a fantastic piece of recent social history and I couldn’t put it down. His follow up book, Queueing for Beginners also deserves to be in my top ten. (I’ve just had a quick look online and he has written several more books which I’ve yet to read. That’s my Christmas book token spent I guess). Best general non-fiction book.
I could’ve carried on for ages with this list, but ten categories feels like enough. There was the brilliant Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid which is a gruesome yet fascinating read. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, published in 2008, is definitely a must-read for these days of Fake News, and then there are the weird and eclectic books about niche subjects which I adore: Counting Sheep; the science and pleasures of sleep and dreams by Paul Martin, or Biting the Dust; The joys of housework by Margaret Horsfield, or how about Proust and the Squid: the story and science of the reading brain, by Maryanne Wolf? And don’t even get me started on all those political texts which helped form who I am today… Enough is enough. Enjoy the list and, as always, let me know if I’ve missed anything special.