2019 has been quite the year for non-fiction; there has been a lot to talk about after all. It’s all very well to hear about NHS waiting times on the news or read strongly worded tweets around high-stakes whistleblowing, but when it comes down to it, the media is a minefield of information and misinformation. The best non-fiction books get to the heart of the issues in an informative yet accessible way, or simply give us a valuable insight into the lives of others. From political exposés to discussions around climate catastrophe, non-fiction has continued to do what it truly does best in 2019. It has opened our eyes, inspired discussion, and helped us understand our world, and each other, a little bit better. Here is our edit of the best non-fiction books of 2019, as well as some of the must read non-fiction books to come in 2020.
The best non-fiction books of 2019
The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynsky
Few novels have had the cultural influence that George Orwell's 1984 has had. Its ideas have become a part of our language – from 'Big Brother' to 'Newspeak' – and it seems ever more relevant in the era of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts'. In this remarkable and original book, Dorian Lynsky investigates Orwell's influences as well as the phenomenom 1984 became when it was published and its continuing relevance today.
Discover the most insightful George Orwell quotes.
Me by Elton John
Me is the heartfelt and candid memoir of world-renowned musician Elton John. We all know the name, and we’ve all heard his songs, but it hasn’t always been glamour and admiration for the singer-songwriter. From his dramatic rise to fame, to coming out as gay whilst in the public spotlight, Me follows the ups and downs of an incredible life.
Read Elton John on life, fate and embracing your bad side.
Discover seven amazing stories you didn’t know about Elton John.
Queer Intentions by Amelia Abrahams
What is it like to be queer in the 21st century? With gay marriage legal in many countries across the west, and brands embracing pride celebrations, some might think it’s an easy life. Amelia Abrahams’s book delves into the experiences of those across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, beyond these positive but limited changes, and reveals the battles for progress queer communities continue to fight.
Buy Queer Intentions
Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux
Everyone’s dream dinner guest has put down the camera in favour of the pen. Louis Theroux’s memoir takes the reader from his first gig with documentary maker Michael Moore to establishing himself as a household name. We all trust him to share the stories of communities and individuals with honesty and sensitivity on our screens, and now he offers the same experience for readers with his own life story.
Watch us put Louis to the test in our ‘Did I really say that?’ quiz.
Don’t miss Louis Theroux’s top five documentaries.
Buy Gotta Get Theroux This
Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini
Science journalist Angela Saini provides an accessible introduction to the history of race science in her 2019 book Superior. Tracing the impact of scientists’ attempts to categorise the human race from the 1800s until now, the book unravels the loose threads of centuries of bad science. Angela also reminds us that there are still those who argue for ‘scientific’ racism today, and that understanding their arguments better equips us to fight these opinions.
Buy Superior: The Return of Race Science
Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay
Adam Kay is back. This is Going to Hurt gave readers an unparalleled insight into the work of a junior doctor, with a dose of wry wit but no less emotion. In Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas Adam returns to his shifts on the ward amidst the festive season: when hospital admissions reach their height. He reminds us to think of those working to care for the UK during a time that many of us think of as a blissful haze of parties and presents.
Read the true stories of NHS staff at Christmas.
Buy Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas
It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
Mariam Khan brings together the voices of seventeen Muslim women living in the west in the twenty-first century. The women tackle issues from arranged marriage to queer identity, racism to wavering faith. Each essay is a passionate call to end the oppression, misogyny and Islamophobia that Muslim women face in western society.
Watch the contributors to It’s Not About the Burqa discuss what it means to be a Muslim woman.
Buy It's Not About the Burqa
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
We’ve all heard the name Edward Snowden, and there are plenty of opinions about his actions. In Permanent Record, however, the reader hears from Edward Snowden himself. He tells us about the dangers he faced when he decided to release classified information from his time at the CIA, and how he became the (in)famous whistle blower on everyone’s lips.
Discover more about Permanent Record here.
Buy Permanent Record
Dear Girls by Ali Wong
Ali Wong’s comedy special Baby Cobra took the internet by storm in 2019, and for good reason. Dear Girls carries on this special brand of fearless, intelligent humour in a collection of letters written to Ali’s young daughters. Full of sharp insights and humour, this is an entertaining and enlightening read for all.
Buy Dear Girls
Losing Earth by Nathaniel Rich
From David Attenborough to Greta Thunberg the words on everyone’s lips are ‘climate change’. It’s not a new discussion but it’s an increasingly relevant one. Nathanial Rich’s book embodies this by turning back the clock to the climate activism of the 1980s and where it went right or wrong, imparting lessons and vital information for the 21st century reader.
Buy Losing Earth
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff
That’s right, the hosts of one of the most popular podcasts currently out there, My Favourite Murder, have come to us with a book. Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered brings both womens’ blend of personal anecdotes, humour, and true crime enthusiasm to audiences new and old.
Buy Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered
War Doctor by David Nott
David Nott’s incredible memoir tracks the twenty-five years he has spent volunteering as a doctor in warzones from Afghanistan to Gaza. His commitment and dedication has changed lives as well as the medical community, and now he is using his experience to train more doctors to follow in his footsteps.
Listen to an exclusive interview between David Nott and his wife Elly.
Buy War Doctor
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
How far can you get with no expertise, technology that doesn’t work, and an extraordinary sales pitch? Disturbingly far. Bad Blood is the story of one of the biggest corporate fraud cases of the 21st century. Journalist John Carreyrou explores the rise and shocking fall of tech start-up Theranos, which was valued at $9 billion based on its innovative medical technology before it was all revealed to be a lie.
Read everything you need to know about the Theranos scandal.
Buy Bad Blood
The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
Ever wished Ms Marple was a real person? Susannah Stapleton’s 2019 historical look at detective Maud West may satisfy that craving. In 1905, a time when many women were still eschewed from the workplace, Maud was taking cases and solving mysteries for the people of London. This book combines Maud’s own casebooks with Susannah’s own research and fascinating insights.
Buy The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective
No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, translated by Omid Tofighian
When Behrouz came to Australia seeking asylum he was wrongly incarcerated and found himself entirely stateless and alone. He wrote this book by sending one text at a time in Farsi from his cell in the detention centre, knowing that his story was also the story of so many others that had gone unheard.
Learn more about Behrouz’s story here.
Buy No Friend But the Mountains
My Life and Rugby by Eddie Jones
One of the most recognisable names in rugby, Eddie Jones has finally committed his own personal journey to writing. From growing up in a working-class household in Sydney, Australia, to devising the Japanese team’s 2015 victory, and coaching the English rugby squad to new heights, My Life and Rugby tells it all.
Read all about Eddie’s rugby highlights.
Buy My Life and Rugby
New non-fiction books to come in 2020
The Economists' Hour by Binyamin Appelbaum
In the second half of the 20th century a new kind of economist rose to prominence, championing the separation of state and market. But where has this transformation got us? Both accessible and authoratitive, The Economists' Hour provides both a reckoning with the past and a call for a different future.
Fake Law by The Secret Barrister
The epidemic of fake news continues, with amateurs spreading ‘fake law’ through our media. Enter the Secret Barrister, to make sure readers are informed on how the British legal system really works. Revealing the truth behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and shows us how the law touches every area of our lives.
Not Quite White by Laila Woozeer
Not Quite White is an examination of mixed-raised identity in a modern Britain, based on the author’s own life. Looking at the impact that pop culture and media representation has on non-white people and examining the multi-racial experience, the book uses child psychology, race theory and personal experience to get to the core of the issues.
A House Through Time by David Olusoga and Melanie Backe-Hansen
Historian and award-winning TV presenter David Olusoga offers readers the tools to explore the histories of their own homes, as well as giving a vivid history of British cities, industry, disease and class. Packed with remarkable human stories, A House Through Time is an intimate history of ordinary lives through extraordinary buildings across Britain.
Antisocial by Andrew Marantz
For several years Andrew Marantz immersed himself in the world of America’s alt-right, seeing first-hand how they use social media to advance their corrosive agenda, as well as meeting the social media entrepreneurs whose reckless ambition made this possible. Antisocial is the result – a shocking look at the changing political landscape in the face of ‘fake-news’ and fringe ideas going viral.
Joy at Work by Marie Kondo
First she helped us fall back in love with our homes, and now Marie Kondo has returned to help us organise our work lives. Joy at Work shows you how to refocus your mind on what’s really important at work and how to identify the most joyful way to work for you.
In this episode of Book Break, Emma takes a look at some of the weird and wonderful non-fiction books you may not have heard of:
Looking for more world-class literature?
Sign up to the Literary Reads newsletter and be the first to discover the latest news from our award-winning Picador authors.