It’s time for Part 2 of my best books of the decade, and today I’m be discussing my favourite non-fiction books!
I hope you enjoy the books on this list! I’ve never been the biggest fan of non-fiction books because I don’t tend to like how they’re written, but the books that I have selected for this list are the best of the best. They’re all written like fiction books, which is how I prefer non-fiction 😅.
If you missed Part 1 about my favourite YA books of the decade, you can check them out right here!
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (2018)
“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,” you threatened a victim once.
Open the door. Show us your face.
Walk into the light.
Michelle McNamara’s true crime account of the Golden State Killer is one of the best books on this incredibly elusive burglar turned serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade. McNamara became obsessed with the case after writing about him on her true crime website, and was even the person responsible for coining his name, the Golden State Killer. Unfortunately McNamara passed away before she managed to finish writing this book and so it was finished by her colleagues. But McNamara’s writing is evocative and atmospheric; she is incredibly respectful to the victims, but she paints an amazing picture of 1970s California and the terror they went through.
Women and Power by Mary Beard (2017)
We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured. To put it another way, if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?
From Homer’s Odyssey to modern politics, Mary Beard traces the long history of women being forcefully silenced and prevented from taking any kind of positions of power. Beard discusses how women have been prohibited from taking a role in civic life and prevented from publicly speaking with frightening parallels between Medusa, Philomela, Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, and how women — those in power and those not — must resist being forced into a system that is coded as inherently male. Beard discusses the misogyny she herself has experienced and asks: “If women aren’t perceived to be within the structure of power, isn’t it power itself we need to redefine? And how many more centuries should we be expected to wait?”
What Happened by Hillary Clinton (2017)
In my experience, the balancing act women in politics have to master is challenging at every level, but it gets worse the higher you rise. If we’re too tough, we’re unlikable. If we’re too soft, we’re not cut out for the big leagues. If we work too hard, we’re neglecting our families. If we put family first, we’re not serious about the work. If we have a career but no children, there’s something wrong with us, and vice versa. If we want to compete for a higher office, we’re too ambitious. Can’t we just be happy with what we have? Can’t we leave the higher rungs on the ladder for men?
What Happened reveals what Hillary Clinton was thinking and feeling during what is arguably the most controversial election in American history. She takes us on a very personal journey from growing up as a child, to her university years, to becoming the first woman ever nominated for president by a major party — in a world marked by sexism, Russian interference, FBI interference, and an opponent who was allowed to break all the rules. This book gives us an inside look into what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she admits she made, how she coped with such a loss and how she found the strength to pick herself back up.
What Happened is a very important book as it discusses the assaults on democracy but a foreign government and what America — and countries what might find themselves in a similar position *cough* Australia *cough* can do to prevent something like what happened in America from happening again.
Queer, There and Everywhere by Sarah Prager (2017)
I cannot understand those so-called ‘normal’ people who believe that a man should love only a woman, and a woman love only a man. If this were so, then it disregards completely the spirit, the personality, and the mind, and stresses the importance of the physical body.
Queer people have shaped human history but you’d be hard pressed to learn anything about them — and that’s because for so many centuries, we have been illegal and executed. But that doesn’t mean that queer people never existed: countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people have contributed massively to the world and in this novel you get to learn about them! In this novel, you learn all about 23 queer individuals that you probably won’t find in your history book. Queer, There and Everywhere is a novel that made me feel seen and it will undoubtedly make you feel seen too.
Born a Crime: Tales from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)
People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.
Trevor Noah’s 18 biographical essay collection is a compelling and inspiring story of a young man’s coming of age during the last few years of apartheid in South Africa. Noah’s birth was already an act of rebellion: he was the sun of a Black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father, during a time where such unions was publishable with five years in prison. As such, Noah spent most of his early years of life inside, bound by his mother’s attempts at protecting him from a government that could steal him away at any moment. Born a Crime is the story of a cheeky young boy who grows into a restless man, and about that young man’s tumultuous relationship with his fearless, rebellious and ultra religious mother. Both hilarious and deeply affecting, Trevor Noah’s personal tale features stories of his attempted kidnapping, trying to survive high school, and dealing with his difficult family. A must read.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (2015)
And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.
One in five people suffer from depression. Reasons to Stay Alive is Matt Haig’s personal account of how he struggled for years dealing with this disease and how his girlfriend, his parents, and a love of reading and writing helped him deal with it. It is a very long journey he goes on, and he’s tempted multiple times to just give up, but slowly he begins to gain an appreciation for life once again and in this novel, he hopes he can inspire just one person dealing with depression. Haig’s deeply personal but often humorous account of his experiences will both inspire and encourage people to never lose hope and reminds us of the many reasons to stay alive.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (2016)
There are frontiers where we are learning, and our desire for knowledge burns. They are in the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, at the origins of the cosmos, in the nature of time, in the phenomenon of black holes, and in the workings of our own thought processes. Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.
This book was a great introduction to all the of the key discoveries and understandings of modern physics, perfectly summing up hundreds of years worth of knowledge in just 81 pages. I am nowhere near capable of understanding physics unless it’s broken down easily like this, but even so, I’m really drawn to quantum theory (as unlikely as it is). The idea that our universe began from a preceding universe that had contracted under its own weight, like a black hole, until it was squeezed into a very small space and then exploded and re-expanded is so fascinating to me. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a playful and highly entertaining account of the most complex discoveries of human history in a quick way, and gets straight to the point.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014)
Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.
This small book is adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk as she discusses what feminism means today in the twenty-first century. Adichie shines a light on the institutional sexism that is rooted in every part of the world that continually marginalises and discriminates women. Throughout the book, Adichie touches on her own experiences from Nigeria and the U.S., and how the gender divide is different in every country. Adichie’s powerful essay highlights what is means to be a woman today and how both men and women can recognise and understand the silent politics of involving sexism and misogyny.
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (2012)
We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.
Malala Yousafzai’s incredible account of that fateful day where she was shot by the Taliban is one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read. When Malala was fifteen years old, she was shot point-blank in the head on the bus on her way home from school — no one expected her to survive but she did. Her crime? Going to school and encouraging other young women to get their education. This novel discusses the fascinating history of Pakistan and how the Taliban forestalled and destroyed so much progress, and follows Malala’s journey from a school girl who read Twilight to becoming a global symbol of peace and becoming the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize. But most importantly this book is about a young girl standing up for herself and of her father who championed her.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.
—ELIE WIESEL from The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is undoubtedly the best non-fiction book I’ve read this entire decade. Henrietta Lacks is the most famous woman in the world … but no one knows her name. Instead, we know her as HeLa, the first immortal human cells grown in culture which are still alive today. But before HeLa was created, Henrietta Lacks was a real person: she was a poor Black Southern tobacco farmer who worked on the same lands as her slave ancestors, and who got cancer in the 1950s and passed away, leaving behind her husband and children. After she died, doctors took her cancer cells and successfully grew them … and they’re continuing to grow to this day. Scientists say that if you were to pile all the HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons. Her cells have: helped create the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses and the effects of the atom bomb; helped advances in in vitro fertilisation and cloning; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
And yet, we don’t know the woman behind the cells. Skloot’s novel tracks Lacks’ personal history and that of her family’s who still struggle with the legacy of the cells today. Over the decade it took to research this story, Skloot became involved in the lives of Lacks’ family who still have questions, mainly: if Henrietta is so important to medicine, why can’t her family afford health insurance?
HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THE BOOKS ON MY LIST? WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE NON-FICTION BOOKS OF THE DECADE? LET ME KNOW!