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Top 5 non fiction books

 
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Apple



Joined: 24 Nov 2008
Posts: 1751



PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2013 11:48 pm    Post subject: Top 5 non fiction books  Reply with quote

This is my genre of choice, I prefer non fiction to fiction any day of the week, there is something satisfying reading about something which has actually happened rather than something made up.

My personal favourite genre of non fiction is history, and in particular the two world wars, I have lost count of the number of books I have read on this subject and for something which has been so widely written about, it is amazing but you can still find some books which offer a new slant of what is a well written about time period.

Anyway my top 5:

Number 1 is one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, it is Until the final hour by Traudl Junge, the story of the crubling Third Reich in the final days of World War II from the bunker in Berlin, through the eyes of Hitlers final secretary.

An uncomfortably honest account of how she saw her boss, how the man in private behind the public ranting, shouting and gesticulating, was someone who she liked, you read her guilt for not knowing more about what was going on and how the man who had ordered the suffering of so many was a man she was fond of.  Its a very moving story, but in some ways a very mundane one of a girl doing her job but in extraordinary circumstances.

Number 2: We are at War, by Simon Garfield a compilation of accounts of ordinary people trying to live their lives at the beginning of the second world war, when the threat of invasion was very real.  It is very humbling to read these accounts - knowing what we know now that there was no invasion and that we won. You feel the anxiety coming off the pages and the sense that England really stood alone against the Nazi war machine the stories and yet people were still trying to make a living and get on with their lives are very moving indeed and add an extra depth to that period of time.

Number 3: Forgotten Voices of the Great War Max Arthur.  This is a unique book. It is an oral history of the First World War, the stories of many people, soldiers, women of the Land Army, soldiers from all sides I've read many, many books on the First World War. I can't remember ever reading one that moved me so much though. The voices of those who fought really comes through in this book.This book will make you appreciate the thoughts and feelings of those who fought in the first world war, it covers such a wide spectrum including those forced to participate in firing squads for example, which is something few books have dealt with so poignantly. As I said first of all it is truely a unique book it is about the day by day horror of the unfolding drama and the struggle to survive, the way the participants of this book speak is humbling and very moving they speak of the greater good and with a complete lack of self importance. Its just stunning.

Number 4: Bletchley Park People: Churchill's Geese that Never Cackled by Marion Hill is a social history of Bletchley Park from the point of view of the thousands of unknown people who worked at the Park, known only as Station X during WW2.  I love these witness type books which tells the story and paints the picture of the tiime by the very people who lived it.

Number 5:An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge) by John O Farrell Possibly not as impartial as the first part of the title suggests, but a highly entertaining book, it sort of felt a bit like Horrible Histories for grown ups,  the narrative is a wonderfully sarcastic wit, which not only serves to make the book more pleasurable to read but also reminds us of our true murky past, there are inaccuraces but that can be forgiven for the sheer pleasure you get from reading it.



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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 8:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have your Book No 3, Apple, but have only read bits of it. I'm afraid although I understand why you like and admire this type of book I find them very harrowing to read and can't take much at a time. I've got one about children's voices from the 2nd world war and I've never even started that one! I can read more distanced factual books and watch documentaries on this topic but when it comes to reading/hearing read people's actual letters I find it too moving to bear. There was one about Vietnam soldiers' letters home on TV years ago the memory of which still makes me feel like that. So ordinary and so easy to identify with, yet in extraordinary times; some tried to be cheerful and jokey for their families, you felt, even though they didn't feel like that themselves, so that they wouldn't worry so much. As if...

No 2 sounds fascinating but again, probably hard for me to read if as you say the tension comes off the page. I love the Cazalet books, as I've posted elsewhere just now, about the same era and experiences but I feel "safer" reading it, knowing it's a fictional distillation of E J Howard's experiences and those of people known to her, so she has balanced misery and fear and deprivation and sadness with other more cheerful and gripping stuff. I am a wimp.

The last book sounds just up my street, though! Haven't heard of it before. I will look out for it.


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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
Posts: 2108


Location: Seaford, East Sussex

PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 9:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have no 3 too, and have read it cover-to-cover. I would also recommend any of Lyn MacDonald's WW1 books, which draw extensively on interviews with veterans. Her "The Roses of No-Man's Land" is very interesting on the role of women, eg VAD nurses, ambulance drivers etc.



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Apple



Joined: 24 Nov 2008
Posts: 1751



PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Green Jay wrote:
I have your Book No 3, Apple, but have only read bits of it. I'm afraid although I understand why you like and admire this type of book I find them very harrowing to read and can't take much at a time. I've got one about children's voices from the 2nd world war and I've never even started that one! I can read more distanced factual books and watch documentaries on this topic but when it comes to reading/hearing read people's actual letters I find it too moving to bear. There was one about Vietnam soldiers' letters home on TV years ago the memory of which still makes me feel like that. So ordinary and so easy to identify with, yet in extraordinary times; some tried to be cheerful and jokey for their families, you felt, even though they didn't feel like that themselves, so that they wouldn't worry so much. As if...

No 2 sounds fascinating but again, probably hard for me to read if as you say the tension comes off the page. I love the Cazalet books, as I've posted elsewhere just now, about the same era and experiences but I feel "safer" reading it, knowing it's a fictional distillation of E J Howard's experiences and those of people known to her, so she has balanced misery and fear and deprivation and sadness with other more cheerful and gripping stuff. I am a wimp.

The last book sounds just up my street, though! Haven't heard of it before. I will look out for it.
I love anything like that, hearing what people actually went through and you are right it was harrpwing I had tears pouring down my cheeks by the time I'd finished it but it left me with a emense feeling of gratitude and in someways pride of what our now dead family members went through to secure our freedom and the way of life we enjoy now.

There is also a sequel to the last book called An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain: or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always, again a very entertaining read concentrating on the last 60 odd years. I would recommend both of them as a thoroughly entertaining read they are talked about here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/An-Utterl...TF8&qid=1358014634&sr=8-1

and here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Utterly-E...dp/0552775460/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2999


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I have just wiped almost a complete post by popping off to Google to check an author (some sites let you do that and return to your writing but this one doesn't).

I have probably read lots of great non-fiction over the years but have only kept records for the last ten years or so and these are taken from those.  I think perhaps the best non-fiction book I have read, though not the one I enjoyed most perhaps, was The Rose by Jennifer Potter.  This showed the history and mythology of the rose, its origins, its meanings to people over the years, its importance in religious and sensuous life, its significance to people of China, India, Europe, America and Britain, and to people over a number of centuries.  Fantastic research over writings in various languages, poetry, prose, letters, non-fiction reports, etc. And the most gorgeously produced book too.  But not easy reading and quite long and full of Latin names and breeding styles.

I think Agincourt by Juliet Barker is perhaps my favourite non-fiction book.  I like history and this was history at its best.  Barker didn't automatically accept modern values put onto medieval people, but showed the values they lived by, the importance of religion to even the most highly-born and powerful people.  She provided details of the preparation for the journey to France, the food and items gathered and taken, the way the soldiers were chosen, the lives they left behind.  

I loved No Greater Death, using the letters and reports of NZ commander at Gallipoli, William Malone.  These showed his Victorian values of duty and stiffness with the Victorian romantic streak, and his letters to his wife were honest to a degree that made uncomfortable reading at times (not so much because of the subject matter but because of my feeling that I was impinging on someone's private life that they had not expected).  Another similar book I loved was Soldier Boy, the letters of a young NZ soldier in the South Africa/Boer War.

I seem to enjoy biographies of things more than people (the writer's agenda sometimes gets in the way of these or their lack of skills) and though Mauve by Simon Garfield and The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by T Carhart are quite different in style and tone and subject matter they both concern themselves with things (if a colour can be considered a thing).  I loved the history in Mauve and the author's care with the science and the stories behind the science. And the readability of the book and the interesting personalities he filled it with.  And The Piano Shop is a great example of a memoir done well, not just the account of a life or a place, but the story of a love affair with a piano and an account of its value to someone's life.  We learnt the mechanics of the piano, the life of Paris, the lives of some eccentric characters (eccentric at least to an English-speaking readership) and how these affected Mr Carhart.  His own biography was just touched upon, and that only when it fitted his theme.  (How he felt when asked to perform in public as a child, for example.)

So quite a varied lot, I feel, but all excellent writing and particularly good research with a feeling of objectivity to them (except in the case of the letters).


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Apple



Joined: 24 Nov 2008
Posts: 1751



PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is a fascinating list Caro! I have to say I am most drawn to Agincourt on your list, I remember way back Luna who used to post on here also enjoyed that book and you have now backed up her positive feedback on it.

I was also interested by No greater death, a lot of the war literature I read is either from the perspective of the British solider or the Germans.  I think it would be interesting to read about the war from the perspective of the soldiers from elsewhere who played such an important role in thetwo world wars.

Soldier boy is also interesting me, I don't really have an extensive knowledge of the Boer War, what I have read doesn't paint the British in a very good light.




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