My Favourite non-fiction books of 2019

To finish my lists of favourite books I have read during the year I now turn to non-fiction. It was my aim at the start of 2019 to have one quarter of my reading devoted to non-fiction of all sorts. I don’t think I achieved that, although I haven’t yet tallied up all the figures I have for the full year. Non-fiction did, however make up a large and enjoyable part of my reading diet.

I particularly enjoy reading memoirs and biographies and there are a few of these on the list. History is also a great love as is, well written, true crime. Other than that I am interested in a lot of different things and tend to pick up quirky books which take my fancy.

Non-fiction books take longer to read on average and are often longer than novels. I often listen to them on audio-book and my list of my favourite ten audio-books of the year can be found here – half of the books on it are non-fiction. You can find the list of my favourite novels of the year here. All the books on today’s list were read in paper form or on Kindle.

  1. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold is a work of social history looking at the lives of the women who became the victims of Jack the Ripper. I found it a sympathetic and fascinating read and very illuminating about the lives of Victorian women who had fallen into poverty. When I read this earlier this year I blogged about some other, similar books which might be of interest if you enjoyed this one – you can find that list here.
  2. The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es is a memoir of a young woman in occupied Netherlands during WW2. You can see from the book the effect of the life she had to live on her and also all those in her family and those who sheltered her. This enhances what we already know about the place and the period from the Diary of Anne Frank and I felt that it really showed how the trauma of the time lives on even after the initial events are finished. I write a bit about books which highlight the experience of women in war here
  3. Kick by Paula Byrne is a biography of the sister of John F Kennedy who married into the English aristocracy. I actually thought that the book was very strong about the family dynamics and the background of the children – you will not quickly forget the fate of Rosemary. An interesting read.
  4. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir of a childhood. The author was brought up in a survivalist, religious, fundamentalist, dirt poor family in rural America and survived neglect and abuse to escape to a life of academia. This is riveting and quite eye-opening.
  5. The Patient Assassin by Anita Arnand is the story of a massacre in British occupied India in 1919 and of a man who was present and his revenge on the perpetrators. Another eye-opening book which is revealing about the realities of occupation and the attitudes of some of the British officers and officials.
  6. Selling Hitler by Robert Harris is the second of this author’s books to appear on my end of year lists. Unlike the excellent thriller I listened to on audio this is a factual book about the fraudulent diaries purported to be written by Hitler which were accepted as true by some people when they appeared in 1983. The book tells the whole story of the events leading up to the publication of the diaries in the newspapers and opens your eyes to the world of Nazi memorabilia collectors, con artists and journalists who are eager for the next success. What you are left with is bemusement that things got to the point that they did and also surprise at the amount of money that changed hands.
  7. The Lost Boys by Catherine Bailey is about the daughter of one of the plotters against Hitler. He was executed after the bomb plot failed and his daughter and grandsons were tracked down in their home in Italy and detained by the Nazi authorities. The book tells of the family’s experiences during the remainder of the war and the efforts to find the young boys and reunite them with the family after the Allied victory. A great tale and a reminder, should we need one, of the personal effects of war.
  8. American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin is the story of the events around the kidnap of a rich American woman Patty Hearst in the 1970s by a group of political extremists. What happens to the group and to Patty as they are pursued by the authorities and they seek to make their mark is well told and the author is open about the differences in treatment received by the poor and marginalised and the wealthy.
  9. Josephine by Carolly Erickson is a biography of the French empress. Apart from jokes about her I confess that I knew nothing about her life and this book was excellent in introducing me to her tumultuous life from poverty in the Caribbean, imprisonment during the revolution, riches with Napoléon and eventually being cast off and dying in obscurity. Very readable.
  10. Severed by Frances Larson is one of those quirky histories I like a lot. It is a study of severed heads in history. It looks at religious relics, beheadings, medical experiments, artistic installations and other incidents when heads are displayed apart from the body. Strangely compelling.

Ten books, all of which were new to me this year and which I enjoyed. Looking back on it they are quite a mixture but with the majority being the stories of people and their lives.

Keep reading.


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