The best non-fiction books of all time

From eye-opening autobiographies to political exposés, broaden your horizons with our edit of the best non-fiction books of all time. 

15/01/2021
8 minutes to read

The best non-fiction books can educate readers on vital subjects, offer fresh new perspectives, or simply give us a valuable, and often entertaining, insight into the lives of others. Here is our edit of the must-read non-fiction books of 2021 and the best non-fiction books of all time. 

The best political books and legal books

Saving Justice

by James Comey

Book cover for 9781529062816

James Comey is the FBI director who was famously fired by Donald Trump, but before that, he had a long career in the justice system. In his much-anticipated follow-up to A Higher Loyalty, he uses stories from his career to show how the federal justice system works. From prosecuting mobsters to his tumultuous stint as FBI director which began in 2013, James Comey shows us just what a force for good the US justice system can be, and how far afield it has strayed during the Trump Presidency.

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.

Losing Earth

by Nathaniel Rich

Book cover for 9781529015843
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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.

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Antisocial

by Andrew Marantz

Book cover for 9781509882489
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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.

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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.

The best general non-fiction books

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

by Emmanuel Acho

Book cover for 9781529064063

This timely non-fiction book on race and racism from the host of the viral video series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man is an essential guide to systemic racism and how to address it. Emmanuel  Acho takes on all the questions, large and small, insensitive and taboo, many white people are afraid to ask – yet which everyone needs the answers to, now more than ever.

Dear Reader

by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Book cover for 9781509891528

Cathy Rentzenbrink has always been a reader, from a childhood spent with a nose in a book to taking comfort in reading in times of tragedy. Her love of reading led her first to a career as a bookseller and then as a writer, and no matter what the future holds, reading will always help. This moving and joyful exploration of the impact books can have on our lives is packed with recommendations from one reader to another. 

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. 

Sex Robots & Vegan Meat

by Jenny Kleeman

Book cover for 9781509894888
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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?

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John Hudson's How to Survive a Pandemic

by John Hudson

Book cover for 9781529054507
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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.

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The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

by Susannah Stapleton

Book cover for 9781509867325
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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.

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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.

Queer Intentions

by Amelia Abraham

Book cover for 9781509866175
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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.

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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.

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.

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
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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.

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The best biographies, autobiographies and memoirs

Brown Baby

by Nikesh Shukla

Book cover for 9781529032918

This heart wrenching but hilarious memoir is dedicated to Nikesh’s two daughters, and explores themes of racism, feminism and parenting as Nikesh struggles to prepare his children for a world that is racist, sexist and facing climate crisis. Faced with all this, it can be hard to find hope, and even joy, in the world but through love, grief, food and fatherhood Nikesh shows it is possible. 

Promise Me, Dad

by Joe Biden

Book cover for 9781509890088

While Promise Me, Dad was in fact published in 2018, Joe Biden’s international #1 bestselling memoir is certainly a must-read in 2020.

For four, seemingly endless days, Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s race to the American presidency teetered on a razor’s edge while votes in so-called ‘battleground states’ were counted. With America’s fate hanging in the balance, the rest of the world stood as a captive audience until 7 November, when Joe Biden was announced as president-elect and Kamala Harris made history as the first woman of colour to be elected as US vice-president. 

After four years of turmoil on America’s political stage, 7 November 2020 marked the turning point that so many had hoped for.

In a book that The New York Times described as ‘honest, raw and rich in detail’, Biden tells the story of the twelve months that followed his son Beau’s diagnosis with a malignant brain tumour. As Biden travelled the world tackling crises in Ukraine, Central America and Iraq, Beau fought for and ultimately lost his life at the age of 46. Before he passed, Beau had said to his father 'Promise me, Dad. Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.'

Promise Me, Dad is a story of the endless ability of family and friendships to sustain us, and the power of hope in guiding us through loss and ultimately toward the light of new beginnings.

Look Again

by David Bailey

Book cover for 9781509896820

This fantastically entertaining memoir is an enjoyable romp through an extraordinary career. From the moment David Bailey burst onto the scene in 1960 with his revolutionary photographs for Vogue, he was a true icon in the making. In Look Again Bailey looks back on an outrageously eventful life, telling all about his East End childhood, celebrity friendships and love life.

The Happiest Man on Earth

by Eddie Jaku

Book cover for 9781529066333

This heartbreaking yet hopeful memoir shows us how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. In November 1938, Eddie Jaku was beaten, arrested and taken to a German concentration camp. He endured unimaginable horrors for the next seven years and lost family, friends and his country.  But he survived. And because he survived, he vowed to smile every day. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’. This is his story. 

Me

by Elton John

Book cover for 9781509853342

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.

Walking With Ghosts

by Gabriel Byrne

Book cover for 9781529027433

 Gabriel Byrne’s stunningly evocative memoir takes the reader from his childhood growing up on the outskirts of Dublin to years of stardom in Hollywood and Broadway, via his years in an English seminary, odd jobs in Dublin and his battles with addiction. Walking With Ghosts is a lyrical homage to the people and landscapes that ultimately shape our destinies.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey

by Mariah Carey

Book cover for 9781529038958

In this memoir, global icon Mariah Carey finally tells the unfiltered story of her life. This moving portrait of an extraordinary life is not to be missed. The Guardian called it ‘a carefully pieced together self-portrait of one of this generation’s most fascinatingly idiosyncratic, frequently misunderstood artists.’

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. 

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.

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

by Mary Seacole

Book cover for 9781529040326

Mary Seacole was a fiercely independent self-funded entrepreneur from Jamaica. A trained nurse, she was desperate to offer help during the Crimean War, but was denied work by officials and by Florence Nightingale. Mary knew what she wanted to achieve and wouldn’t let anything stand in her way, so she set up her famous hotel for British soldiers, offering respite from the front line. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands is her gutsy autobiography.


Kika and Me

by Amit Patel

Book cover for 9781529021226
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This is the moving and inspirational true story of Amit, a trauma doctor who lost his sight within thirty-six hours due to a rare condition, and the guide dog who changed his world. When they were paired up in 2015, they had to learn to trust each other, and slowly the partnership gave Amit both a renewed lease of life and a new best friend. 

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More Myself

by Alicia Keys

Book cover for 9781529046069
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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.

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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.

War Doctor

by David Nott

Book cover for 9781509837052
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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.

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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.

Discover more of the best autobiographies and biographies.


The best history books

How to Be a Refugee

by

Book cover for 9781529042818

The fate of Jews living in Hitler’s Germany is most familiar as either emigration or deportation to concentration camps. But another, much rarer, side to Jewish life at that time was denial of your origin to the point where you manage to erase almost all consciousness of it. How to Be a Refugee is Simon May’s gripping account of how three women – his mother and her two sisters  – grappled with what they felt to be a lethal heritage. 

The Quiet Americans

by Scott Anderson

Book cover for 9781529042474

At the end of World War Two, the US formed the CIA in response to fears of the Soviet Union’s expansion. The Quiet Americans is the compelling true story of four US spies – Michael Burke, a charming former football star fallen on hard times, Frank Wisner, the scion of a wealthy Southern family, Peter Sichel, a sophisticated German Jew who escaped the Nazis, and Edward Lansdale, a brilliant ad executive –  who ran covert operations around the world. But their plans went awry again and again, thwarted by stupidity and ideological rigidity at the highest levels of government, and slowly the United States managed to permanently damage its moral standing in the world. The New York Times called this gripping history book, ‘a darkly entertaining tale about American espionage.’

A World Beneath the Sands

by Toby Wilkinson

Book cover for 9781509858705

The golden age of Egyptology was undoubtedly the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time of scholarship and adventure which began with Champollion's decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822 and ended with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon a hundred years later. In this history non-fiction book, the acclaimed Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson tells the riveting stories of the men and women whose obsession with Egypt's ancient civilisation drove them to uncover its secrets.

Thebes

by Paul Cartledge

Book cover for 9781509873166
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Paul Cartledge brings Thebes to life in this vivid portrait of what was once the most powerful city in Ancient Greece. Thebes has long been overshadowed by it’s better-known rivals Athens and Sparta, but Paul argues that it is central to our understanding of the ancient Greeks’ achievements, and to our own civilization. 

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A House Through Time

by David Olusoga

Book cover for 9781529037241
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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.

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Don’t miss our edit of the best history books


The best business books and books about success

The Character Edge

by Robert L. Caslen Jr.

Book cover for 9781529035049

A former superintendent of the US Army's West Point Academy and a psychologist explain why a strong character is an essential component of strong leadership. In this new book about leadership, General Caslen and Dr Matthews offer practical tools and exercises to help you strengthen your character and become a more effective manager.

How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace

by Robert Glazer

Book cover for 9781529068252

Robert Glazer is here to help you transform your career or business with simple tricks and tips to make virtual working easier than ever before. Robert shares the principles, tactics and tools his company has developed in more than a decade of successfully working as a joined-up but 100 per cent remote workforce. This step-by-step guide will help you build a culture of flexibility and trust as a successful remote business.

Working Backwards

by Colin Bryar

Book cover for 9781529033823

Launched out of Jeff Besoz's garage in 1994, Amazon is now one of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world. In Working Backwards, two Amazon executives lift the lid on how the company achieved such domination, and how products including Kindle, Amazon Prime, Amazon Echo and Alexa came to be. Sharing the secrets of the company's fourteen leadership principles, meticulous hiring process and rigorous business principles, this is a must-read book for entrepreneurs.

Growth IQ

by Tiffani Bova

Book cover for 9781529004670
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In Growth IQ, Salesforce's Tiffani Bova shares ten strategies for how companies big and small can achieve sustainable growth. In this book about success, Bova explains that a purpose-led culture is at the heart of the world's most successful organisations and teams, and shares practical takeaways you can apply to your business.

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Looking for more inspiration? Read on for the best books about success. 

The best sports books

My Life and Rugby

by Eddie Jones

Book cover for 9781509850730
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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.

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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.

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. 

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.

Discover our edit of the best sports books and autobiographies.


The best self-help books

Joy at Work

by Marie Kondo

Book cover for 9781529005370
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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.

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Good Habits, Bad Habits

by Wendy Wood

Book cover for 9781509864690

In this accessible and highly practical book, Professor Wendy Wood shows you how to harness the extraordinary power of your unconscious mind to achieve your goals. She draws on three decades of original research to explain how we form habits, and how we can unlock our habitual mind to make the changes we seek.

Stress Less, Accomplish More

by Emily Fletcher

Book cover for 9781509876167

In these difficult times, many people are trying to balance working from home in less than ideal conditions – possibly while caring for children – with looking after their own physical and mental wellbeing. In Stress Less, Accomplish More, Emily Fletcher shares an ancient meditation technique to relieve stress, clear your mind and increase productivity. All you need is somewhere to sit, a little training and some time to yourself.

Discover more about the benefits of meditation. 

How to Just Eat It

by Laura Thomas

Book cover for 9781529043693

Nutritionist and bestselling author of Just Eat It Laura Thomas PhD is back with this practical self-care book to help you reframe your approach to food. She uses the principles of intuitive eating, from mindful eating practices and understanding hunger and what it feels like to be full, to focusing on changing our mindset, in order to develop a judgement-free attitude to food. Laura also helps us to understand and spot diet culture in the media and society. Her wonderful practice called ‘Diet Culture Bullsh*t Bingo’ involves spotting phrases such as ‘burning off food,’ ‘cleanse’ and ‘80/20 rule’ to help understand and learn to identify diet culture (and how it affects us) in everyday life, social media, TV and even our own language.

The Kindness Method

by Shahroo Izadi

Book cover for 9781509881826

In these difficult times, we could all benefit from showing ourselves a little kindness. If you want to use this time to make a change, Behavioural Change Specialist Shahroo Izadi believes there’s only one way to make change last, and that’s to be kind to yourself. The Kindness Method was developed through a combination of professional training and personal experience and will leave you feeling empowered, positive and ready to make a change, whether it’s weight loss, cutting down on alcohol or improving your relationships.

Here, Shahroo shares five ways to be kinder to yourself today. 

For more inspiring reads, don’t miss the best self-care books. 


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: