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Looking to find out something more about the world we live in, instead of gallivanting off into the realm of fiction? Have a look at our hand-picked non-fiction choices.
The name Kamal Ahmed wasn’t familiar to me when I was first introduced to this book. It should have been. In my defence, I would argue that, as I watch little television, I may be forgiven. The case against me, however, would certainly point out that since one of my favourite programmes is BBC News – where Kamal has, since 2016, regularly appeared in his role as Economics Editor – I really ought to have recognised him. Hopefully, I will be forgiven. Kamal Ahmed is a first generation descendent of a Sudanese immigrant father. I am third generation, through my grandmother’s family who come from South Africa – they were Xhosa and, I learned many years ago, from the same tribe as Nelson Mandela. And so, it was with an ever-increasing sense of déjà vu that I became absorbed by this book. Through a series of personal anecdotes, political comment and astute observations, The Life and Times of a Very British Man makes a compelling case for a new debate about what is it to be British, what makes us who we are and how we view those we consider to be ‘others’. I don’t use the word ‘absorbed’ lightly. Kamal is a talented writer, something apparent from the very first pages. He uses language skilfully, not so much to impress, but to present his arguments logically and passionately. He is perceptive, reasoning and persuasive. And he is absolutely right as he asks the reader to consider what it is that makes us British? Kamal Ahmed. Not a terribly British name is it? That antithesis is, perhaps, something that makes the title of this work so germane. What is it to be British? To quote the author, he likes National Trust Houses, the Specials, Victoria sponge cake and double-cooked chips. What is it that makes us feel British? At times disturbing, at times amusing, The Life and Times of a Very British Man asks searching questions about us, our country and our attitude to change. One day I hope to meet Kamal Ahmed and explain to him how, as I reached the end of this book, I realised a complete stranger had become a friend. I hope it does the same for you. I recommend it.
A powerful, heart-warming and inspiring memoir from the UK's most famous and beloved vet, Professor Noel Fitzpatrick - star of the Channel 4 series The Supervet.Growing up on the family farm in Ballyfin, Ireland, Noel's childhood was spent tending to the cattle and sheep, the hay and silage, the tractors and land, his beloved sheepdog Pirate providing solace from the bullies that plagued him at school. It was this bond with Pirate, and a fateful night spent desperately trying to save a newborn lamb, that inspired Noel to enter the world of veterinary science - and set him on the path to becoming The Supervet. Now, in this long-awaited memoir, Noel recounts this often-surprising journey that sees him leaving behind a farm animal practice in rural Ireland to set up Fitzpatrick Referrals in Surrey, one of the most advanced small animal specialist centres in the world. We meet the animals that paved the way, from calving cows and corralling bullocks to talkative parrots and bionic cats and dogs. Noel has listened to the many lessons that the animals in his care have taught him, and especially the times he has shared with his beloved Keira, the scruffy Border Terrier who has been by Noel's side as he's dealt with the unbelievable highs and crushing lows of his extraordinary career. As heart-warming and life-affirming as the TV show with which he made his name, Listening to the Animals is a story of love, hope and compassion, and about rejoicing in the bond between humans and animals that makes us the very best we can be.
More Dashing is the follow-up to Dashing for the Post: Selected Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor published by Bloomsbury in 2016. With The Spectator portraying the first book (in what many hoped would be a series) as a veritable treasure trove, and Countrylife describing it as a distilled treat drawn from so much rich material, it should please Fermor fans no end to discover that Adam Sisman has again taken the time to patiently select, edit, analyse and – where necessary – explain more from the vast array on entertaining and fascinating letters penned by Fermor to such a wide range of recipients. Author and former soldier, Patrick ‘Paddy’ Fermor was regarded during his lifetime as, arguably, Britain’s greatest travel writer. Writer Adam Sisman – rather a hero of mine having penned John le Carré’s autobiography – is an award winning author himself and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Fermor’s letters are full of wit and sparkle. They vary in length and content a great deal but, without exception, they offer an insight into a society and a way of life not many of us will be familiar with. Fermor exchanges include with such varied figures as Sir Anthony Eden, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Oswald Mosley and Peter Mandelson. We also learn a little more about his wartime exploits – heroic yet understated – as a member of the Special Operations Executive working in Crete against the occupying German forces. A treat for Fermor’s fans – they won’t be disappointed.
With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump's White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies. Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence. Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president's first years in office.
Where Has Mummy Gone? is a captivating insight into the life of a foster carer. Eight-year-old Melody is angry and confused when she comes to live with Cathy Glass and her family, claiming that her drug-dependent mother Amanda can’t manage without her. Over time, it transpires that this vulnerable child isn’t the only one who needs help. Cathy works tirelessly to juggle Melody’s needs alongside the bureaucracy of fostering and bringing up her own children. It’s a difficult and demanding role, especially because, in this particular situation, Amanda needs specific care as well. This is my first Cathy Glass book and certainly won’t be my last. It’s written in a clear and easy-to-read style, with vivid descriptions bringing people, places and events to life. At times I forgot that this is a true story, with several revelations that could have come straight out of fiction. Where Has Mummy Gone? is filled with compassion and love, mixed with heartbreak and tragedy – a reminder that foster care can help to make a big difference to people’s lives. Its bittersweet ending brought tears to my eyes, touched me deeply and left me thinking.
Born from Elaine Halligan’s experiences of raising her son Sam, each chapter in My Child is Different deals with a specific stage of childhood and development. The format is simple and easy to follow when reading the book from cover to cover, or locating a specific age or time frame. Elaine’s story in its own right is insightful and honest, allowing the reader to find out about Sam’s development and some of the obstacles that were faced by the entire family. The additional content from Melissa Hood deals specifically with the events in each chapter, any specific underlying causes as well as broader behaviour examples before efficiently providing a range of possible solutions or parenting changes that could help to provide a marked improvement. This book has something for everyone. The recollection of Elaine and Sam’s hard work and endurance is compelling; Melissa's helpful advice, explanations and techniques are perfect not only as parenting techniques but also as points for reflection for interacting with people in the world around you. In the Epilogue, Elaine states the ways that using positive parenting skills has made her more accepting and can help to get the best out of everyone. I would definitely recommend.
Letters from Alice is an enchanting mix of mystery, social history and family dynamics. It focuses on the work of almoners (usually women), who were the forerunners to modern social workers, responsible for the welfare of hospital patients and their families. Petrina Banfield brings to life the sounds, sights and aromas of 1920s London in a cleverly crafted drama that reads like fiction but is steeped in fact. I was mesmerised by almoner Alice Hudson’s story, which is based on original archive material – reports, newspaper articles, letters, receipts and even weather reports. Letters from Alice was hard to put down, with its realistic colourful characters, a mystery to solve and vivid descriptions of the grit and grime of the poorest parts of London. This is a thought-provoking read and also incredibly moving, highlighting the hardships experienced by many families at that time. Yet despite the sadness of the story, I also found myself full of hope, knowing that these hardworking almoners were fighting for patients’ rights and welfare. If you have an interest in social history (whether non-fiction or fiction), this is a perfect choice for you - a delightful story, a learning experience and a joy to read. Perfect for fans of Call the Midwife and other British dramas.
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown - Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost ... In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.
100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? In Sapiens, Dr Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical - and sometimes devastating - breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, palaeontology and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behaviour from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come? Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power ... and our future. 'Here is a simple reason why Sapiens has risen explosively to the ranks of an international bestseller. It tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language. You will love it!' - Jared Diamond
Blending the tactics he learned from America's elite force with lessons from the Spartans, samurai, Apache scouts, and other great warrior traditions, Mark Divine has distilled the fundamentals of success into eight powerful principles that will transform you into the leader you always knew you could be. Learn to think like a SEAL and take charge of your destiny at work, at home, and at life. Want to be tough? Cool under fire? Able to sense danger before it's too late? In The Way of the SEAL, Updated and Expanded Edition, retired Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine reveals exercises, meditations, and focusing techniques to train your mind for mental toughness, emotional resilience, and uncanny intuition. Along the way, you'll reaffirm your ultimate purpose, define your most important goals, and take concrete steps to make them happen. In this updated and expanded edition, timely new chapters apply the principles to leading in an ever-accelerating world and leading in teams. Plus, new key takeaways distill the principles in the book into easier-to-use chunks.
An unforgettable memoir of growing up in Syria under al-Assad's regime, surviving a gas attack, and rallying worldwide support to break the siege of cities across the country, with a foreword by Janine di Giovanni Chosen for the Big Issue's Best Summer Non-fiction 2018 Born to Palestinian refugees, Kassem Eid grew up in the small town of Moadamiya on the outskirts of the ancient city of Damascus. The streets that he and his many siblings played on were perfumed with jasmine. A precocious child, he excelled at school, and had a natural gift for languages. But it didn't take long for Kassem to realise that he was treated differently at school because of his family's resistance to the brutal government regime. When Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000, hopes that he would ease its severity were swiftly crushed. When the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Syria were met with extreme violence, it was yet another blow - and as Kassem reached young adulthood, life in Syria became increasingly precarious, as the country spiralled into civil war. Then, on 21 August 2013, Kassem nearly died in a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians. Later that day, he would pick up a gun for the first time, to join the Free Syrian Army as they fought government forces. For Kassem, this marked the moment that he and his country changed forever. A searing account of oppression, war, survival and escape, My Country is both a brave and deeply felt memoir of one man's life, as well as a compelling indictment of a world that turned its face away as a nation fell apart.
I think all of us at some time in our lives when we reach a certain age worry a little about cancer. I think the thought, “how will I react” crosses our minds occasionally. That this brave lady chooses to make her ordeal so public, she produced video diaries and tweets and now her written diary, has helped thousands. At the end of the book she encloses some messages of thanks, a few from those who didn’t make it. It is tear-jerking but it is also laced with humour. Throughout, whenever possible, she kept working, collecting the kids from school and running her hectic household with the enormous support of her wonderful partner. During the end stages of thirty sessions of chemo, she had to drive forty-odd miles round trip between work and school collection for a ten minute appointment her local hospital couldn’t do. Well she was certainly a fighter, although that is not what she calls herself. She believed talking about it really helped alleviate the fear and despair. She was diagnosed shortly after she started hosting a daily news and current affairs show for BBC2 and takes us through her fascinating work as well as the 301 days of treatment. A brave lady.
Cartoonist, Robert Crumb said; “When I come up against the Real World, I just vacillate”. Well, he can happily vacillate here for a while. This section features a whole host of books covering subjects as diverse as Mankind’s place in the Universe (Human Universe by Brian Cox), the history of the human journey to work (Rush Hour by Iain Gateley) and the real business of reading books (Bookworms, Dogears and Squashy Big Armchairs by Heather Reyes). This is the ‘Human’ section in our book lovers’ journey.
If you love reading, then you’ll find something here to fascinate you. There are new and interest-piquing passages here from science, philosophy, politics, history, religion, and all of the things that occupy the lives of humans. And we mean ALL of them. The fight against Cancer, the fight for freedom, feminism, fatality, frailty and fame. It’s too big to list. Have a browse through the titles by using our monthly recommendations past and present. We guarantee you’ll be hooked in minutes!