The Best Non-Fiction Books I read in 2017

Author: Anne

Date Published: Dec 31st 2017, 4:07pm

One of my ambitions for 2017 was to read more non-fiction books and I have certainly achieved that. Among the 54 I read were some excellent, entertaining and informative books. A lot of them were histories and biographies and these predominate in this list – it was definitely a challenge to get this down to ten titles.

Here are the ten best non-fiction books I read in the year – they are not necessarily newly published but were all new to me :

1. “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson is a book about the sinking of the Lusitania during WW1. It is interestingly told and follows some of the passengers through their ordeal. The author presents the facts about what the ship was carrying and who knew where it was as well as why ships took so long to come to their aid. Riveting.

2. “Blood in the Water” by Heather Ann Thompson tells of the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 and its consequences. It’s not an easy read but especially for a British reader it shows clearly the institutional racism which led to acts of horrific brutality and which is still prevalent in American society.

3. “SPQR” by Mary Beard is a history of Rome and its empire told in a very accessible way. I don’t know much Roman history but I found this fascinating and easy to follow

4. “A Very English Scandal” by John Preston is a story of abuse of power in the British establishment and the situation which led to the ex-leader of a political party facing charges of conspiracy to murder. This is also excellently told

5. “The Holocaust: A New History” by Laurence Rees is a comprehensive narrative of exactly how this appalling event happened and who was involved. It is a harrowing read but we really need to know and understand this.

6. “The People v OJ Simpson” by Jeffrey Toobin is a study of the trial of the American footballer. The author makes it clear that virtually everybody involved on all sides thought that OJ was guilty but he was acquitted – yet again race is the key. Much more interesting than you would think from that summary

7. “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann is a gripping telling of the expeditions into the Amazon basin to search out a fabled city which may not have existed. I love books about exploration and I really enjoyed this one

8. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. Yet another true crime book and a rightfully classic one. Step by step the author outlines the circumstances around the death of family and its consequences. Beautifully written and it depicts so well the pointlessness of it all

9. “Go Down Together” by Jeff Guinn is a history of Bonnie and Clyde. Forget the film and the myth, here is what really happened.

10. “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance is an autobiography of a man born in poverty in a family which had known nothing else for generations. He draws some generalisations from his experience which don’t necessarily follow in my opinion but which certainly provoke a lot of thought.