Best non-fiction books of 2020

From Louis Theroux's candid memoir Gotta Get Theroux This to the Secret Barrister's eye-opening exploration of British law, here are just a few of our recommendations for non-fiction books to read in 2020, and some of the best non-fiction of 2019.

23/10/2020
4 minutes to read

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. Non-fiction opens our eyes, inspires discussion, and helps us understand our world, and each other, a little bit better. Here is our edit of the must-read non-fiction books of 2020, as well as some of the best non-fiction books of 2019. ​

The best non-fiction books of 2020

My Life and Rugby

by Eddie Jones

Book cover for 9781509850730

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.

Fake Law

by The Secret Barrister

Book cover for 9781529009941

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.

No Fixed Abode

by Maeve McClenaghan

Book cover for 9781529023718

This timely and important book gives a voice to those who are so easily forgotten in society. These personal, human stories of people struggling in today’s system will teach us how, with just a little misfortune, any of us could find ourselves homeless. Maeve McClenaghan investigates the skyrocketing number of homeless people in Britain and meets some of the courageous people fighting to help. A true picture of Britain today, this vital non-fiction book encompasses themes of inequality and austerity measures and shows how close to breaking point we really are. 

The Running Book

by John Connell

Book cover for 9781529042351

Part memoir, part essay, The Running Book is an exploration of what it means to be alive from the bestselling author of The Cow Book. In summer, before the hay and silage have been made on his farm, John Connell has time to indulge in his other passion, and so sets off to run 42.2 kilometres through his native Longford. As he runs he tells the history of Ireland and the story of his own life, recounting other great runs he has done, from Australia to Canada. This delightful non-fiction book is about the nature of happiness and how one man found that through his feet. 

A Nurse’s Story

by Louise Curtis

Book cover for 9781529058932

This is the true story of a nurse’s life on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis. Louise Curtis loves her challenging role as a nurse in a busy A&E department. She was newly qualified as a clinical practitioner when the unthinkable happened – the country was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this moving and inspiring non-fiction book Louise describes what happened next, as A&E staff were faced with both a flood of Covid-19 patients and the effects of lockdown on society. This heartbreaking yet heartwarming book shines a light on the dedication of NHS staff during this unprecedented time. 

Add Lights Out, Full Throttle

by Damon Hill

Book cover for 9781529039993

Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill have competed in 261 Grand Prix between them, with twenty-five wins, forty-nine podium finishes, one World Championship, 458 championship points and a Le Mans win. Since retiring from the sport they have earned cult status as commentators and pundits. Lights Out, Full Throttle is a tour through the world of Formula One – the oily rag for the petrolhead fan to inhale while waiting for the racers to line up on the grid.

Gotta Get Theroux This

by Louis Theroux

Book cover for 9781509880393

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.

Unshakeable

by Shane Byrne

Book cover for 9781529034325

This is the incredible true story of Shane 'Shakey' Byrne – the most successful rider in British Superbike history and a living motorbike legend. Full of winning, risk-taking and hard-fought glory, Shakey shares his life story for the first time, from being abandoned as a baby in a London hospital to winning the British Superbike Championship six times. 

Sex Robots & Vegan Meat

by Jenny Kleeman

Book cover for 9781509894888

What if we could have babies without having to bear children, eat meat without killing animals, have the perfect sexual relationship without compromise or choose the time of our painless death? In Sex Robots and Vegan Meat, Jenny Kleeman meets the people who are trying to find solutions to problems that have always defined and constricted humankind. Along the way she interviews a sex robot, eats a lab-grown chicken nugget and attends a meeting where people learn how to kill themselves. This is a book which asks a simple question: are we about to change what it means to be human . . . for ever?

The Age of Football

by David Goldblatt

Book cover for 9781509854271

David Goldblatt explores the history of football in the twenty-first century through the prism of sociology, politics, and economics.  The Age of Football charts football’s global cultural ascent, its economic transformation and deep politicization, taking in prison football in Uganda and amputee football in Angola, the role of football fans in the Arab Spring, the footballing presidencies of Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, China’s declared intention to both host and win the World Cup by 2050, and the FIFA corruption scandal.

A House Through Time

by David Olusoga

Book cover for 9781529037241

Historian and award-winning TV presenter David Olusoga and research consultant Melanie Backe-Hansen offer 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.

John Hudson's How to Survive a Pandemic

by John Hudson

Book cover for 9781529054507

John Hudson, acclaimed author and the UK Military's Chief Survival Instructor, provides the key elements needed for us to cope with a pandemic - how to prepare rather than panic. From understanding that mindset is key and staying informed and make the right decisions, to practical advice on how to know your enemy, and defend your vulnerabilities, this free eBook is the perfect guide for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently facing, and how to come out of self-isolation stronger and wiser.

More Myself

by Alicia Keys

Book cover for 9781529046069

One of the most celebrated musicians of our time, Alicia Keys has a career that many would aspire to. But her rise to fame and success has not been without its challenges. More Myself is a raw and honest account of how one of America’s most successful female singer/songwriters was able to start accepting herself and embracing her self worth.

Endurance

by Louis Rudd

Book cover for 9781529031737

Captain Louis Rudd MBE made history when he finished a solo, unsupported crossing of Antarctica, pulling his supply-laden sledge for more than 900 miles. He had honed his skills in the SAS, but this was a challege like no other and it would take all his mental strength to survive. With edge-of-the-seat storytelling, Endurance is an awe-inspiring account of courage and resilience by a remarkable man.

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

by Susannah Stapleton

Book cover for 9781509867325

Ever wished Ms Marple was a real person? Susannah Stapleton’s 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.

The Economists' Hour

by Binyamin Appelbaum

Book cover for 9781509879137

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.

Antisocial

by Andrew Marantz

Book cover for 9781509882489

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.

Losing Earth

by Nathaniel Rich

Book cover for 9781529015843

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.

Joy at Work

by Marie Kondo

Book cover for 9781529005370

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.

Queer Intentions

by Amelia Abraham

Book cover for 9781509866175

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.

It's Not About the Burqa

by Mariam Khan

Book cover for 9781509886425

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.

War Doctor

by David Nott

Book cover for 9781509837052

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.


The best non-fiction books of 2019

The Ministry of Truth

by Dorian Lynskey

Book cover for 9781509890736

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

Book cover for 9781509853311

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.

Bad Blood

by John Carreyrou

Book cover for 9781509868087

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.

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas

by Adam Kay

Book cover for 9781529018585

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.

No Friend but the Mountains

by Behrouz Boochani

Book cover for 9781529028485

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.

Permanent Record

by Edward Snowden

Book cover for 9781529035650

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.


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: