The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of Modern Times (No's.100-91)
Welcome to the first installment in our feature running through the best 100 non-fiction books of modern times!
A list like this is always going to be divisive and controversial. A few years ago, The Guardian ran a series on the 100 best non-fiction books of all time, which turned out to be a bit of damp squib. Inevitably, when embarking on a fool’s errand like running a “best of all time” list, works which are of historical importance tend to outweigh newer works, often at the expense of entertainment value. No one could really doubt that Marx’s Das Kapital is a more ‘important’ work than say, Bill Browder’s Red Notice, but we all know which one we’d be reaching for when in search of a thrilling read.
In this list, we’ve aimed to balance the new with the classics, the ‘important’ with the merely brilliant. But overall, we’ve simply put together a list of essential and incredibly entertaining non-fiction books. If you think we’ve left something out, let us know in the comments. Or just sit on it, our opinion is more important and refined than yours anyway.
By far the most bizarre and sobering reality of modern life is one we all overlook too readily; Our attention has become the most valuable commodity there is. Our interests and proclivities are harvested by data-hungry social media giants, and even the most self-controlled of us are often slaves to our smartphones.
But in this inspiring field guide to dropping out of the attention economy, artist and critic Jenny Odell shows us how we can still win back our lives.
Odell sees our attention as the most precious–and overdrawn–resource we have. And we must actively and continuously choose how we use it. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress. This is essential reading for anyone hoping to wrest back control of their attention from big tech. Get your copy now from LitVox online.
This is honestly one of the most beautiful memoirs ever written. From the withering and desperate mining towns of the American dustbowl to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue, Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, ‘brilliant’ but alcoholic parents.
Her life takes on as many twists and turns as an epic novel, and the reflections on self-identity will leave you with much more thought than your average biography. A fabulous memoir.
Movies and TV shows like Homeland have led many to believe that the CIA are an ultra-pervasive and powerful organisation with their claws in every nasty geo-political mess. The truth, in fact, is much more terrifying. Based on research and thousands of declassified documents, Tim Weiner paints a portrait of a dangerously inept and chaotic agency, one that bungles almost every opearyion they undertake and fails to acheive even it’s most basic objectives.
This is proper history, well-researched and written, and deeply shocking.
Death and ageing aren’t exactly the most pleasent topics, but this book is such a pleasure to read. Gawande is a surgeon, used to facing death on a daily basis. In his witty and humane manner, he reflects on the changing nature of death, as humans live longer and longer and death is kept further at bay.
While death is his topic, the message of this book is one of living life to the full. This is a thought-provoking book which will change the way you think about life….and death.
There are sports books that transcend their topic and speak to the wider human condition. This is one of those sports books. McRae is arguably the best sports journalist working today. His account of the Holy Family gym in Belfast’s New Lodge, run by the redoubtable Gerry Storey throughout the worst years of the Troubles, truly conveys the power of sport to transcend even the most bitter division. This is a boxing story, but above all it is a deeply human story.
Having travelled most of the globe and written astounding works detailing his journeys, Theroux finally turns his attentions to his country of birth. In Deep South, he sets out on a journey that traverses Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia.
This is a land steeped in contradictions. It is a country of friendly, close knit communities brimming with barely concealed racism, of faith in the American system despite decades of economic abandonment. Above all, it is a place defined by its people, a people that seem foreign and alien to much of the outside world despite being quintessentially American.
Fanon’s hugely influential work was written during the height of the Algerian War of Indpendence from France, and has become arguably the world’s most famous anti-colonial text.
In violent and strident language, Fanon argues that colonialism debases everything in human nature, stressing that for a nation to truly become free it must combine the tasks of throwing off oppressors through violence while simultaneously building a national culture.
The Wretched of the Earth inspired thousands of revolutionaries and anti-colonialists around the world, and remains one of the most compelling (and controversial) political books ever written. You can order a copy from the LitVox bookshop.
Detroit 67 is the story of Motor City in the year that changed everything. Twelve chapters take you on a turbulent year-long journey through the drama and chaos that ripped through the city in 1967 and tore it apart in personal, political and interracial disputes. It is the story of Motown, the break-up of The Supremes and the damaging disputes at the heart of the most successful African-American music label ever.
Set against a backdrop of urban riots, escalating war in Vietnam and police corruption, the book weaves its way through a year when soul music came of age and the underground counterculture flourished. LSD arrived in the city with hallucinogenic power and local guitar band MC5 – selfstyled holy barbarians of rock – went to war with mainstream America. A summer of street-level rebellion turned Detroit into one of the most notorious cities on earth, known for its unique creativity, its unpredictability and self-lacerating crime rates.
The year 1967 ended in social meltdown, rancour and intense legal warfare as the complex threads that held Detroit together finally unravelled.
Tara Westover and her family grew up preparing for the End of Days but, according to the government, she didn’t exist. She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in hospitals.
As she grew older, her father became more radical and her brother more violent. At sixteen, Tara knew she had to leave home. In doing so she discovered both the transformative power of education, and the price she had to pay for it.
This is one of the most beautiful biographies we’ve ever come across at LitVox. It’s not just a favourite with us though, this gorgeous book has been critically acclaimed since it’s first release. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, be sure to get a copy today.
How did an obscure and tight-lipped KGB official rise to become the undisputed leader of the world’s largest nation? And why, despite western bafflement, does Putin remain consistently and genuinely popular among ordianry Russians?
There have been literally dozens of high-quality accounts of Putin’s Russia published in recent years, but Catherine Belton’s insider knowledge and her investigative zeal make this the most authoratitive work. Belton writes with style and flair, but maintains that focus on her subject that is the hallmark of all great investigative journalists.
American and even European conceptions of Russia are full of whorey old myths. This book is a timely and engaging step towards correcting that. You can order your copy from LitVox now.
If you enjoyed reading through our first installment in the best non-fiction books of modern times, check back soon! The second installment with be published very soon.
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