Nonfiction November is being hosted by Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Julie (JulzReads), and Katie (Doing Dewey). through the site What’s Nonfiction? They have a wonderful programme mapped out for November here.
The topic for the first week is “Your Year in Nonfiction ” in which we’re encouraged to review the NF books we’ve read this year, note the topics we’ve read, and the ones we really recommend, so I thought I’d start off with a list of all those I’ve read – which is 22 at the time of writing, up on last year. They fall neatly into three groups
- Educated by Tara Westover – (8.5/10) Review
- I am, I am, I am by Maggie O’Farrell – (10/10) Review
- To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine – (10/10) – Shiny Review
- Once Upon a Time in the East by Xiaolu Guo – (8.5/10) Review
- Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Eric Idle – (8/10) Shiny Review
- All Quiet on the West-End Front by Will Rycroft – his memoir of acting in War Horse. Just finished so not reviewed yet.
As you can see, there were two stand-out memoirs in this batch and it’s near impossible to pick between them. Some days I think former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine edges it over Maggie O’Farrell, other days that reverses. Whichever, these are a fine pair of memoirs which are both bold and honest, unsparing of their readers who will laugh, cry, gasp all the way through.
Science and Medicine:
a) The Wellcome Book Prize Shadowing
- The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman – O (7/10) Review
- To be a Machine by Mark O’Connell – RC (10/10) Review
- The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris – O (8.5/10) Review
- With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix – O (9/10) Review
- Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing – O (6/10) Review
- I am, I am, I am by Maggie O’Farrell – O – (10/10) Review
This was my first year on the Wellcome Book Prize shadowing panel, and I loved it. For me, there were four great books with two stand-outs, plus a couple of also rans – which weren’t bad, but not as gripping as the others. Everyone’s winner – mine, the shadow panel and the real judges was Mark O’Connell’s outsider’s look at transhumanism, using technology to prolong, enhance and preserve lives.
b) Other Science and Medicine:
- All that Remains: A Life in Death by Sue Black – (8.5/10) Review
- Pavlov’s Dog and 49 other experiments that revolutionised psychology by Adam Hart-Davis – (7.5/10) Review
- Liquid by Mark Miodownik – (9/10) Shiny Review
- Under the Knife by Arnold Van de Laar – (6.5/10) Review
- What’s Your Type by Merve Emre – about the genesis of the Myers-Briggs Test – review to come
- Eye of the Shoal by Helen Scales – Marine biologist Scales talks about fish – review to come
As a trained materials scientist, I like to keep up with popular science books and love medical memoirs too. Fellow materials scientist Mark Miodowski’s new tome, which I reviewed for Shiny was excellent – entertaining yet educational – I learned much I’d forgotten and lots of new things about liquids. He is able to express complex scientific information succinctly for the general reader which is a real gift.
- Vogue Essentials: The Little Black Dress by Chloe Fox – Review
- The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – (8/10) Review
- The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris – (9/10) Review
- Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott – (9/10) Review
- ‘Broadsword calling Danny Boy’: On Where Eagles Dare by Geoff Dyer – Wonderful – review to come.
The surprise of this bunch was Desmond Morris’s book on the Surrealists – but their lives rather than their paintings. This was gossipy, full of personal anecdotes (Morris is one of the Surrealists himself, as well as a noted zoologist), and really got under the skin of what made them tick!