When I published my top books of 2017 earlier this month, it was surprisingly easy to pick my top 3 non-fiction books because I only read 7 in total – I couldn’t have done a top ten if I wanted to. I was quite disappointed when I realised how much non-fiction I’d read; I honest thought I’d read a lot more. I often space out my non-fiction reads because the majority of the books I pick up are harrowing reads and I need to lose myself in many fictional titles to comes to terms with the horror I read about in the world.
My goal is to be able to do a 2018 top ten non-fiction books post at the end of the year. While I’m building my collection of non-fiction reviews, you can always pop over to What’s Nonfiction? – a fantastic blog for keeping up to date with all things non-fiction.
So the idea for today’s post is to showcase some of the non-fiction books on my unread shelf, and hopefully interest you in some of these titles. There’s a few I’m hoping to read that haven’t been published yet. And please, do let me know some of the non-fiction titles you recommend.
A Long Way Gone: The True Story of a Child Solider by Ishmael Beah
The first-person account of a 26-year-old who fought in the war in Sierra Leone as a 12-year-old boy.
This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. There are more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide and it is estimated there are some 300,000 child soldiers fighting. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.
What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived. Ishmael Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve in Sierra Leone, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found he was capable of truly terrible acts.
This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.
Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murders, and Mysteries During the London Blitz by Molly Lefebure
It is 1941. While the “war of chaos” rages in the skies above London, an unending fight against violence, murder and the criminal underworld continues on the streets below.
One ordinary day, in an ordinary courtroom, forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson asks a keen young journalist to be his secretary. Although the “horrors of secretarial work” don’t appeal to Molly Lefebure, she’s intrigued to know exactly what goes on behind a mortuary door.
Capable and curious, “Miss Molly” quickly becomes indispensible to Dr. Simpson as he meticulously pursues the truth. Accompanying him from somber morgues to London’s most gruesome crime scenes, Molly observes and assists as he uncovers the dark secrets that all murder victims keep.
With a sharp sense of humor and a rebellious spirit, Molly tells her own remarkable true story here with warmth and wit, painting a vivid portrait of wartime London.
Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Professor Stephen Westaby
An incredible memoir from one of the world’s most eminent heart surgeons, recalling some of the most remarkable and poignant cases he’s worked on.
Grim Reaper sits on the heart surgeon’s shoulder. A slip of the hand and life ebbs away.
The balance between life and death is so delicate, and the heart surgeon walks that rope between the two. In the operating room there is no time for doubt. It is flesh, blood, rib-retractors and pumping the vital organ with your bare hand to squeeze the life back into it. An off-day can have dire consequences – this job has a steep learning curve, and the cost is measured in human life. Cardiac surgery is not for the faint of heart.
Professor Stephen Westaby took chances and pushed the boundaries of heart surgery. He saved hundreds of lives over the course of a thirty-five year career and now, in his astounding memoir, Westaby details some of his most remarkable and poignant cases – such as the baby who had suffered multiple heart attacks by six months old, a woman who lived the nightmare of locked-in syndrome, and a man whose life was powered by a battery for eight years.
A powerful, important and incredibly moving book, Fragile Lives offers an exceptional insight into the exhilarating and sometimes tragic world of heart surgery, and how it feels to hold someone’s life in your hands.
My Fight Your Fight by Ronda Rousey
‘I have this one term for the kind of woman my mother raised me not to be, and I call it a ‘Do-Nothing B-tch’. It’s the kind of chick that just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious when people say that my body looks masculine or something. Just because my body was developed for a purpose other than f-cking millionaires, doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass as f-ck because there isn’t a single muscle on my body that doesn’t have a purpose because I’m not a ‘Do-Nothing B-tch.’
When Ronda Rousey made this speech she inspired women everywhere. Beyoncé even played a recording on-stage and it went viral. But Rousey has been inspiring others her whole career.
The journey to the top for the most dominant mixed-martial-arts fighter in history has been filled with challenges. From a childhood marked by speech problems to the painful loss of her father, she grew up repeatedly pushing her mind and body to the limit in order to win. She battled prejudice to become the first female fighter in UFC. Now she is the biggest name in the sport, breaking attendance levels and re-writing the history books with her astonishing knockout victories, most in under a minute. She has also forged a successful Hollywood career as an actor.
In this honest and inspiring book, Rousey relives her greatest fights and shares her secrets for success and mental toughness. She reveals how we can all be at our best, even on our worst days, and how we can turn our limitations into opportunities. It will leave you ready to face your own challenges in life, whatever they may be.
Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25 Year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton
He spent twenty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He lost his wife, his son, and his freedom. This is the story of how Michael Morton finally got justice—and a second chance at life.
On August 13, 1986, just one day after his thirty-second birthday, Michael Morton went to work at his usual time. By the end of the day, his wife Christine had been savagely bludgeoned to death in the couple’s bed—and the Williamson County Sherriff’s office in Texas wasted no time in pinning her murder on Michael, despite an absolute lack of physical evidence. Michael was swiftly sentenced to life in prison for a crime he had not committed.He mourned his wife from a prison cell. He lost all contact with their son. Life, as he knew it, was over.
It would take twenty-five years—and thousands of hours of effort on the part of Michael’s lawyers, including the team at the New York-based Innocence Project—before DNA evidence was brought to light that would ultimately set Michael free. The evidence had been collected only days after the murder—but was never investigated.
Drawing on his recollections, court transcripts, and more than one thousand pages of personal journals he wrote in prison, Michael recounts the hidden police reports about an unidentified van parked near his house that were never pursued; the treasure trove of evidence, including a bandana with the killer’s DNA on it, that was never introduced in court; the call from a neighboring county reporting the attempted use of his wife’s credit card (a message that was received, recorded, and never returned by local police); and ultimately, how he battled his way through the darkness to become a free man once again.
Getting Life is an extraordinary story of unfathomable tragedy, grave injustice, and the strength and courage it takes to find forgiveness.
Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino & Ronald Cotton
The New York Times best selling true story of an unlikely friendship forged between a woman and the man she incorrectly identified as her rapist and sent to prison for 11 years.
Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken– but Jennifer’s positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars.
After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face– and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives.
With Picking Cotton, Jennifer and Ronald tell in their own words the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge our ideas of memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.
The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother Nattie set out from their small, yellow-brick terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord’s. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents’ valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building.
When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the ‘penny dreadful’ novels that Robert loved to read.
In The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale has uncovered a fascinating true story of murder and morality – it is not just a meticulous examination of a shocking Victorian case, but also a compelling account of its aftermath, and of man’s capacity to overcome the past.
The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere
ON THE SATURDAY MORNING OF JANUARY 9, 1993, WHILE JEAN CLAUDE ROMAND WAS KILLING HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN, I WAS WITH MINE IN A PARENT-TEACHER MEETING…
With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense, Emmanuel Carrère, begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, eighteen years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.
‘As a writer, Carrère is straight berserk; as a storyteller he is so freakishly talented, so unassuming in grace and power that you only realize the hold he’s got on you when you attempt to pull away… You say: True crime and literature? I don’t believe it. I say: Believe it’ Junot Díaz
Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders That America Forgot by Michael Arntfield
Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders That America Forgot is a chilling, unflinching exploration of American crimes of the twentieth century and how one serial killer managed to slip through the cracks—until now.
In fall 1967, friends Linda Tomaszewski and Christine Rothschild are freshmen at the University of Wisconsin. The students in the hippie college town of Madison are letting down their hair—and their guards. But amid the peace rallies lurks a killer.
When Christine’s body is found, her murder sends shockwaves across college campuses, and the Age of Aquarius gives way to a decade of terror.
Linda knows the killer, but when police ignore her pleas, he slips away. For the next forty years, Linda embarks on a cross-country quest to find him. When she discovers a book written by the murderer’s mother, she learns Christine was not his first victim—or his last. The slayings continue, and a single perpetrator emerges: the Capital City Killer. As police focus on this new lead, Linda receives a disturbing note from the madman himself. Can she stop him before he kills again?
Three more well-known non-fiction books I’m looking forward to reading are:
Last, but by no means least, Crown Publishing are sending me a copy of:
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were “thunder.” In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries, searching for safety―perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.
When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted refugee status in the United States, where she embarked on another journey―to excavate her past and, after years of being made to feel less than human, claim her individuality.
Raw, urgent, and bracingly original, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war: what is forever destroyed; what can be repaired; the fragility of memory; the disorientation that comes of other people seeing you only as broken―thinking you need, and want, to be saved. But it is about more than the brutality of war. It is about owning your experiences, about the life we create: intricately detailed, painful, beautiful, a work in progress
And that concludes a look at some of the titles on my unread non-fiction shelf. I hope you enjoyed browsing and hopefully, I’ll be reviewing the majority of these titles this year.