Twelve non-fiction book recommendations for life in lock-down (or any other time…)

When I was younger, I would devour book after book after book and the vast majority would be fiction. I would never consider looking for non-fiction books to buy, asking for them as gifts or getting them out of the library. I had a few, such as my trusty encyclopedia which I would happily sit and flick through but my main interest was always reading stories. That all changed rather suddenly in my early twenties. Whilst I still very much enjoy fiction, I’ve found myself reading more non-fiction than ever before. I have a long list that I want to read and I find myself gravitating towards non-fiction new releases in bookshops.

In part, I think this is a good way of continuing learning now no longer in formal education, but it’s also because there’s a lot of things I’m interested in. A number of my friends have found the same, and as such it gives us something to discuss and to swap book recommendations. I also think non-fiction books have undergone a bit of a makeover. Books for reference and coffee table books look aesthetically appealing. Books designed to be read cover to cover have provocative titles. Perhaps it’s just because I’m noticing them more, but they look a bit more as if they are designed to stand out. Now is as good a time as any to read something new, and so here are some of my top non-fiction reading recommendations.

Conversation Starters

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

I read this book not because of the title, or the fact it was the top of the bestseller lists, but because I heard Reni Eddo-Lodge speak at a conference I attended whilst she was still writing the book and I thought she was an excellent speaker. She referenced the book in her talk and I knew then that I wanted to read it. It actually took me a little longer to get round to than I expected and I’ll admit that after reading it I felt a little deflated. I felt angry and upset, I felt guilty and helpless and I felt frustrated at the system we live in. The book is designed to make you react to it, especially if you are privileged enough to not have experienced institutional or systematic racism. Race is a subject that most of us shy away from, but you can start out by reading this book and asking yourself some difficult questions.

Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates

The first and, in my opinion, the best of Laura Bates’ books. I have lost count of the number of people I’ve recommended this book to since I first read it. I found it empowering and full of important messages which are relevant to everyone in our society. The real-life examples used throughout help to bring the book to life, but sadly are also all too relatable. If it were up to me, this is the sort of book people should be discussing and reading at school rather than taking exams in ‘General Studies’.

Understanding our world

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics – Tim Marshall

So far this is the only one of Tim Marshall’s books on geopolitics which I have read, but the others are all firmly on my to-read list. It’s pretty straightforward to read, isn’t too dry and will make you look at the world map in a completely different way. I wouldn’t say there was anything in this book which came as a surprise, but just covered things I hadn’t really ever considered before. Why do many countries in Africa have straight borders? It wasn’t something I’d thought about, let alone the consequences of where those borders have been put. I’d recommend this one to those who like to travel or have an interest in global politics.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Noah Harari

I’m still to read the third book in this collection and I think it is potentially the one I’ll find the most interesting. I know quite a few people who have read and recommended these books and they didn’t really disappoint. If you want a really brief history of humankind which focuses on key developments such as farming, religion, science and technology rather than who was in charge between which dates then it’s a good one to read. At times it doesn’t feel as if there is enough detail there, at other moments too much but the overarching concept that as humans we are evolving into a new species is pretty fascinating.

Autobiographies and Memoirs

Becoming – Michelle Obama

I really admire Michelle Obama and admire her even more so after reading her book. Every person I know who has read this book has found it to be inspiring and reassuring in equal measure. If Michelle Obama doesn’t know what she wants to do, then it takes the heat off the rest of us a bit. I found it fascinating to read, and found it particularly interesting that she has little interest in politics but has done so much to try and improve people’s lives.

Step by Step – Simon Reeve

I read this book purely because it was recommended by a good friend and I’ve seen a few of his travel TV shows which are pretty good. I nearly stopped reading it after a couple of chapters as I disliked the picture he painted of himself as a child so much. But it was worth persevering with. This book shows that you can reach your lowest low and still manage to do and achieve more than you could imagine. There’s a lot more to this guy than you first realise.

I am Malala: The girl who stood up for Education and was shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai

Ever since I first heard Malala’s incredible story on the news, I couldn’t help but be inspired so when she released her story I knew it was one I wanted to read. It is written in a very honest and modest way. It’s written as though she doesn’t really believe she did anything great, and it makes it all the more inspiring to encourage other people to speak out for what they believe in.

The C Word – Lisa Lynch 

When I first read this book I think I must have recommended it to just about everyone I know. I don’t think I ever imagined that a book about cancer would be funny. But this is hilarious. It is honest and personable and I couldn’t put it down. It will make you laugh and cry in equal measure and shows that there can always be a bright side of life.

Other non-fiction

The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World – Lonely Planet

I have a very large collection of Lonely Planet books and this is one of the first that I was given. It does exactly what it says on the tin and takes you everywhere. For each country there are key facts, glossy photos, the best time to visit, top things to see and do and a random fact. Even better, it suggests how to get under the skin of each place with recommendations of what to read, watch, listen to, eat or drink for each place. Perfect for armchair backpacking whilst in lock-down or planning your next big adventure.

The Best Things in Life are Free: The Ultimate Money-Saving Travel Guide – Lonely Planet

I could quite easily have gone on to list all of my Lonely Planet books but this is one I find myself reaching for each time I plan a trip now. Whilst it doesn’t cover everywhere, it does cover over 60 cities worldwide and is pretty handy if you’re trying to plan a city break on a budget. It’s not all museums and parks, there are also cheap transport options suggested, places to eat and alternatives to some of the main sights in each city.

Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know – Derek Fagerstrom, Lauren Smith & The Show Me Team

A slight departure from some of the other books on this list, this isn’t one I’d read cover to cover but is a surprisingly useful one to have on your shelf. I bought this for James as a present one year and whilst some of it is a little random, some of the tips it includes are actually really useful. Ever wondered how to serve and pair wine with food? Install a dimmer switch? Mount a camel? Open a pomegranate? Well this book has all the answers you need and quite possibly some you don’t. A great gift for big kids.

Do you enjoy reading non-fiction? Which books would you recommend?

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