Saturday, 8 September 2012

Top Ten Non-Fiction Books

I can't believe it's been almost 2 months since I last posted here. It's been a busyish time. The missus and I went to England for 3 weeks over the Olympics' time-frame to visit family and friends, watch BBC Olympics coverage and try to get to see at least one event live. We did manage to get tickets to see the Canadian women vs the US women footie semi-final at Old Trafford in Manchester. Great venue, unfortunately the result wasn't what I'd been hoping for. I'm sure the Canadian women were as disappointed. All-in-all we had a great trip, saw some interesting sites such as Chatsworth House in the Peak District, ate well and had a wonderful time.

Now, on to the purpose of this Blog. I've previously posted various Top Ten Lists; All-time Favourite novels, various genres of movies. But I've never done a list of my favourite non-fiction novels. So that's my aim today. Non-fiction is a genre that I've always read, but probably not to the scale of my fiction addiction. The list will probably contain a more current (e.g. last ten years) listing of books for the most part. Partly that's because my memory of what I read as a child isn't quite so good anymore and partly because in the past ten years I've started reading more non-fiction, very much to my pleasure I must add. So rather than continuing to ramble on, here are my current Top Ten favourite Non-fiction novels.

10. A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr

A History of Modern Britain was published in 2007. Andrew Marr is a British journalist who has worked for various newspapers in Great Britain and is also a political editor for the BBC. This book displays a wide and varied knowledge of British culture and history. It focuses on modern Britain, from the period just after WWI to the 1990's.

Marr explores all aspects of British life; politics, music, culture, etc to provide a wide perspective of events, people and activities that shaped modern Britain.

I am somewhat of an Anglophile and this may come out somewhat in my Top Ten selections, but I found this a most accessible, interesting novel. The personalities covered, the events highlighted and the life of Britons over the periods covered were all fascinating. Britain went through monumental changes over this period, the little island that both experienced and impacted the world as we know it. Highly recommended story. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

9. Lives of Mothers and Daughters by Sheila Munro

This book has a very personal aspect for me. I had seen it when it was first released in 2001 but never bought it. By the time I decided I wanted it, I couldn't seem to find it anywhere. My lovely wife knew I wanted to read it and searched the 'interweb' and finally contacted Munro's Books in Victoria who put her on to the author herself, Sheila Munro. It turns out she lives just across the straits from our small town of Comox. Sheila delivered a signed copy to our doorsteps on Xmas Eve 2005. It was such a sweet surprise and Sheila stayed for a cup of tea and a nice chat. It made this book more personal and enjoyable. The book is Sheila's thoughts about her relationship with one of Canada's most interesting writers, Alice Munro, whose second novel of short stories, Lives of Girls and Women, put her on the map as a writer. Lives of Mothers and Daughters is a tender, reflective novel about growing up with this talented woman. I enjoyed the thoughtful nature of the novel and the perspective that it provided on both Alice Munro and on how it must have felt growing up in her household.

8. Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson

Troublesome Young Men was published in 2007. Lynne Olson is a former White House correspondent who has written a number of books, including another I'm interested in, Citizens of London. This particular story is about the crisis England faced leading up to World War II and the people, the Troublesome Young Men in politics who feared for Britain's future should Hitler start WWII and felt very strongly that they needed a strong leader like Winston Churchill to lead them into this crisis.

They were a brave group who went against their party to oust Neville Chamberlain and to bring Churchill into power. Olson provides an interesting perspective, introducing these rebels, men such as Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery and Ronald Cartland and the risk they took to changed the political landscape. There were many who supported Chamberlain's efforts at appeasement with Hitler. Churchill was a reluctant candidate who was very loyal to his party, even if he disagreed with their plan of action. A fascinating story featuring daring, interesting people during one of the World's major crises.

7.  Pointless by Jeff Connor

The sub-title to this book is 'A Season with Britain's Worst football team'. Let me start this off by saying that before I met Jo, my wife, I knew little to nothing about football. I had watched the Edmonton Drillers of the short-lived North American Soccer league play once back in 1979 or so. I had watched the World Cup a bit and played some footie in school. But since Jo has come into my life, I've become somewhat of an 'anorak' as she calls it, basically a footie geek. I get up Saturday at 5ish in the morning to watch the Premiereship, I joined a Fantasy Footie league, I challenge Lawro each weekend to see if I can better predict the outcomes of the weekends games. Well, because of my new found love of footie, I've received many footie - related books from the missus and family. Of those, this is a particular favourite. It is a tender, humorous year in the life of Britain's worst footie club, East Stirlingshire FC which plays in the third division of the Scottish Football League. Jeff Connor, a well - published writer, followed the team for a year, meeting the team and fans and recording their exploits over this season. Funny at times, poignant at others, it's a wonderful view of life in the lower divisions of any footie league. Loved it!

6. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

I was introduced to Bill Bryson's writings by my wife. I'd bought her some of his travel books for Xmas over the past few years and used to listen to her chuckling and laughing out loud as she read his adventures, either trekking through the British Isles or Australia. The first Bryson novel I read was actually A Short History of Nearly Everything which I enjoyed very much. However,I bought At Home for Jo Xmas in 2010. I chose this as my next Bryson novel and I can really see what the fuss is all about now.

The setting of this book is Bill Bryson's home in Norfolk. He uses the various rooms of the home, a Victorian parsonage, loosely to tell stories, I guess is the best way to describe it. When he describes the bedroom, the discussion moves on to subjects as varied as sex, sleep and death. The kitchen evolves into a discussion of spices and nutrition. It's a historical novel, we are introduced to some of the most interesting people, mainly British, but not strictly, people who impacted various aspects of our lives in some small or big way. Bryson's way of telling a story draws you in; it is light-hearted, keeps your interest but when you've finished, you find you've learnt so much about our history and culture, our ways of life and met some amazing people. I will be reading more of his stories.

5. The Quantum Ten by Sheila Jones

Let me start this off by saying that in high school, I hated Physics. I don't know if it was just the subject matter, or the way it was taught, but it was my least favourite subject. So here I was reading a book about Quantum physics, sub-titled 'A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Ambition and Science.' Passion? Physics? Who knew!

Sheila Jones is a Canadian journalist with an advanced degree in theoretical physics. And for some reason, she makes this story fascinating, interesting and one of my favourites. The characters include such stalwarts of science as Albert Einstein, Max Born, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and so many others. If the names don't ring a bell, watch The Big Bang Theory. :0).

This story is the history of Quantum Physics, string theory, the people who developed and created the fascinating ideas, and their lives which make for interesting reading in itself. Whether you like Physics or not, this book is well worth the read.

4. The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester

I have to give credit, once again, to my wife for introducing me to Simon Winchester. Christmas 2008, as I opened my gifts from her, I found this book and another, The Professor and the Madman. Both deal with the same subject, the making of the first Oxford English Dictionary, the OED. I don't know how she thought I would like this, but I must say, I loved them both. Either could be here as my number 4 all-time non-fiction novel. I chose The Meaning of Everything partly a flip of the coin, partly because the scope was somewhat bigger. Winchester is a very interesting writer; other books of his I've read include the Map that Changed the World (the first geological map of England), Outposts (a visit to the remaining British colonies) and Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded.

Winchester is able to cover these disparate subjects and tell an interesting story that has such scope. The making of the OED seems a simple subject, but as you read, the work and years involved in gathering the data to make this first volume was detailed and so very fascinating. The dedication of the creators, the people from around the world who sent the publishers words and meanings. The madman who was in an insane asylum down the road from Oxford and turned out to be one of the biggest contributors to the final product. You won't be able to put either of these books down once you start. A pure joy to read!

3. Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury

I saw this book while wandering around my local book shop, The Laughing Oyster. The title attracted me first, then the blurb inside sounded very interesting. I finally talked myself into buying it and must say, the story did not let me down at all. It was one of the first books I read in 2012 and it's still one of my favourites of the year.

Deborah Cadbury is from the Cadbury family, although from the US side, not the chocolate makers. She tells a story of the development of the chocolate industry, introduces the Cadburys, and also the other great chocolatiers, the Frys, Nestle, Rowntree, Hershey and others. How these people went from actually finding a use for the cocoa bean to making it into a world - wide chocolate making industry is fascinating reading. The personalities involved, this was largely a Quaker-run industry in Britain, how they wanted not only to make chocolate, but also to make the world a much better place is so very interesting. Times have changed so much since large mega companies like Kraft have taken over so many of the original family run businesses, but their legacy does still remain. Think of this book and this history every time you bite into a lovely Mars bar. :0)

2. Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

I read this while on a six month deployment to the UAE back in 2005. It was written by Margaret MacMillan, who received her PhD from Oxford and was a professor of history at University of Toronto and was also the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, one of the participants at the Paris conference at the end of World War I.

This is a fascinating story, another tale of historical import with characters who influenced the world as we know it today. The Paris conference was a gathering of World leaders; Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, etc who sat down together to decide how to end WWI, how to set down the foundations of a New World from the destruction caused by WWI. Each had his own agenda, they were influenced by their allies, but with the best will in the world, they ultimately came up with the solution, the best that they could. The results of this conference are still felt today; in the Middle East, Africa, the Far East. Countries that participated were often for the first time making their voices known on the World stage, countries such as Canada, Australia, South Africa. MacMillan breaks the conference down by personalities, regions of the world and clearly analyses and discusses the impacts on the decisions on these regions. It's a fascinating, interesting book, presented in such a manner that you will be drawn in to the time, the people, the world.

1. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

This is probably one of the first historical novels I ever read. It had an impact on me then, probably in junior high school, and it did since then when I reread it. Barbara Tuchman is one of those writers, as many of those I've mentioned above, who is able to take momentous events, and bring them down to a personal level, introducing historical characters so you can get a sense of their personality, what drives them and how they impacted on these events.

This story deals with the first few months before the commencement of WWI and the first month of the war, the German invasion of Luxembourg, Belgium and France, how close they came to winning this war and how the beleaguered British and French were ultimately able to stop the advance.

Once again, this is a fascinating subject, well-written and provides you with an interesting historical perspective of the events that impacted the world at that time.

Well, there you have it, my top ten favourite non-fiction novels. I've got a few on my TBR shelves to read that may challenge this; some Bill Brysons, The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry, The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, The King's Speech, Rin Tin Tin, the Life and Legend and others.. I'm looking forward to getting into them and maybe discussing further..

Remember, Keep on reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails