Tuesday 17 January 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books For People Who Don't Usually Read Non-Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Apart from YA fiction, my other great love when it comes to books is non-fiction. I thought I'd take this opportunity to recommend 10 that readers may enjoy. (All of these are 'adult' non-fiction but, apart from the gambling theme of book 2, there's little to stop them being suitable for teens.)

1. The Boys of Summer - Roger Kahn - Virtually three books in one, this starts as an memoir of sportswriter Kahn's childhood in Brooklyn, moves on to his time covering the legendary Dodgers team for which Jackie Robinson broke the color line, and ends up by tracing that team in retirement. Outstandingly well-written and a wonderful portrayal of some colossal figures. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, the title inspired one of my all-time favourite songs.

2. Breaking Vegas - Ben Mezrich - While Mezrich's Bringing Down The House (filmed as 21) is the more famous of his gambling books, this one is slightly superior for my money. Mezrich takes the true story of Semyon Dukach, the MIT student who used three techniques to clean out the blackjack tables on the strip. Mezrich writes thrillers which just happen to be non-fiction - the excitement levels in this one could give Dan Brown et al a real run for their money.

3. The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare - Doug Stewart - A 19 year old boy in Georgian England tries to win his Shakespeare-obsessed father's love by forging letters purporting to be from the great writer, and manages to fool Robert Southey, James Boswell, and the future William IV, amongst others. As crazy as the idea was, it's amazing to see that it worked for a while, and that William Henry Ireland stuck with it despite the dangers involved. Given the potential for tragedy with forgery punishable by death at the time, this is near-Shakespearian in itself.

4. The Last Amateurs - John Feinstein - The best piece of work by an outstanding sports writer, the Last Amateurs follows the Patriot League in America. For people who haven't heard of it, the Patriot League is a rarity in American college sports as it's populated by student-athletes who actually study and play the game for love, rather than aim to get into the NBA and forget about the actual schoolwork. Feinstein's sympathetic picture of the seven schools involved is a beautiful tribute to the sport and features some memorable characters, especially the Holy Cross walk-on Chris Spitler.

5. Mom's Cancer - Brian Fies - Originally a webcomic, this graphic novel - can a non-fiction book be called a graphic novel? - is a stunning depiction of the writer's mother's battle with cancer. It's a real tearjerker but has some subtle humour and uplifting moments as well.

6. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson - While all of Bryson's books are good, his trip around Great Britain, going to many places I've seen for myself, is my all-time favourite.

7. On The Slow Train Again - Michael Williams - Michael Williams has a languid style of writing with wonderful use of language which draws you into this cosy look at the railway network, and 12 journeys in particular.

8. Pirates Of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean - Adrian Tinniswood - As you may have worked out from some of my earlier comments, it tends to be the characters I find really intriguing in non-fiction. This one has more captivating ones than most, featuring an array of pirates including John Ward, the Englishman who horrified his countrymen with his piracy then horrified them even more by converting to Islam, and the Dutchman Danseker the Devil Captain.

9. There's A Golden Sky: How 20 years of the Premier League has changed football forever - Ian Ridley - 20 years after the seminal Season in the Cold, Ridley releases an absolute masterpiece which shows the way the cash injection into the top flight has changed English football forever. Interviews with a wide range of people, from Gazza to Truro City chairman Kevin Heaney, and from Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to the calamitous Spencer Trethewy, still loathed in Aldershot for his part in their downfall, make this a must read for football fans.

10. I Blame The Scapegoats - John O'Farrell - Just about the best of O'Farrell's witty and insightful collection of newspaper columns. I can dip into this time and time again and it never fails to raise a smile.


  1. I enjoy nonfiction as well I just haven't read any of your selections, though I am a Bill Bryson fan. Have you read his book on Shakespeare. It was very good and helpful to counting the debate if Shakespeare was really Shakespeare.

  2. New follower here! I love how you did yours about non fiction - hadn't seen a list for that yet! Mom's Cancer sounds interesting!Here is my list if you'd like to follow back: http://theonceandfuturelibrarian.blogspot.com/2012/01/top-10-tuesday-10-books-i-would.html

  3. I struggle with nonfiction, but have recently enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Psychopath Test. I keep meaning to check out Bill Bryson!

  4. I keep meaning to pick up one of Bill Bryson's books... I really should! Thanks for the reminder! :)

    1. What a great idea for a topic! I often think that I don't read enough non-fic. The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare sounds really interesting.