#NonfictionNovember is actually going well for me this year; I have preferred nonfiction this year anyway for some reason. Not sure why, but I’ve found it a lot easier to stick with consistently.
I recently posted a stack on IG which represents some of my top rated nonfiction that I own and highly suggest for various reasons. See the link at the end of this article.
1. The Five: The Untold Lives of Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (2019). Also in podcast form now on Spotify. Really, really interesting and highly important research. Well written and easy to follow.
Summary: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.
2. Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (2007). Really great biographical work on a famous author, great amount of research and extrapolation of information.
Summary: More than seventy-five years after his death, the famed creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, remains one of the world’s best-loved authors. This candid, never-before-published volume of letters sheds light on Conan Doyle’s fascinating career, not only as an author but as a physician, sportsman, war correspondent and crusader for social justice. From his troubled marriage to his controversial Spiritualist beliefs and from his early whale-hunting days to later celebrity, each chapter of Conan Doyle’s life was as gripping as any of his own adventure tales. Gracefully written and warmly revealing, these letters illuminate Conan Doyle’s life, character and career as never before.
3. Thames: Sacred River by Peter Ackroyd (2007). His writing style isn’t for everyone, but I am very interested in the River Thames, which has been a centerpiece of historical development for Britain and London proper. Additionally, this book approaches the subject uniquely — the River is often found in art, history, war, innovations, etc.
Summary: ‘Thames: Sacred River’, by the bestselling author of ‘London: The Biography’, is about the river from source to sea. It covers history from prehistoric times to the present; the flora of the river; paintings and photographs inspired by the Thames; its geology, smells and colour; its literature, laws and landscapes; its magic and myths; its architecture, trade and weather.
This book meanders gloriously, rather as the river does itself: here are Toad of Toad Hall and Julius Caesar, Henry VIII and Shelley, Turner and Three Men in a Boat. The reader learns about the fishes that swam in the river and the boats that plied on its surface; about floods and tides; hauntings and suicides; sewers, miasmas and malaria; locks, weirs and embankments; bridges, docks and palaces. All the towns and villages along the river’s 215-mile length are described.
4. Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sallie B Smith. A bit of a slog in some parts, but really great work compiling biographical info about the Queen and her life. Really one of the top Queen bios I’ve read.
Summary: Perfect for fans of The Crown, this magisterial biography of Queen Elizabeth II is a close-up view of the woman we’ve known only from a distance—and a captivating window into the last great monarchy.
From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.
In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet the thirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad, and the constant scrutiny of the press—as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends
5. Queen Victoria: 24 Days That Changed Her Life (2018) by Lucy Worsley. I really love this book and currently having it on audiobook as a reread. Great modern take, really enjoy Worsley’s writing and presenting style.
Summary: The story of the queen who defied convention and defined an era. Perhaps one of the best known of the English monarchs, Queen Victoria forever shaped a chapter of English history, bequeathing her name to the Victorian age. In Queen Victoria, Lucy Worsley introduces this iconic woman in a new light. Going beyond an exploration of the Queen merely as a monarch, Worsley considers Victoria as a woman leading a truly extraordinary life in a unique time period. The book is structured around the various roles that Victoria inhabited— a daughter raised to wield power, a loving but tempestuous wife, a controlling mother, and a cunning widow—all while wearing the royal crown.
Far from a proto-feminist, Queen Victoria was socially conservative and never supported women’s rights. And yet, Victoria thwarted the strict rules of womanhood that defined the era to which she gave her name. She was passionate, selfish, and moody, boldly defying the will of politicians who sought to control her and emotionally controlling her family for decades. How did the woman who defined Victorian womanhood also manage to defy its conventions?
Drawing from the vast collection of Victoria’s correspondence and the rich documentation of her life, Worsley recreates twenty-four of the most important days in Victoria’s life including her parents’ wedding day, the day she met Albert, her own wedding day, the birth of her first child, a Windsor Christmas, the death of Prince Albert, and many more. Each day gives a glimpse into the identity of this powerful, difficult queen as a wife and widow, mother and matriarch, and above all, a woman of her time.