10 Great Non-Fiction Books To Read This Season

If you tend to prefer non-fiction over novels, you’re in luck – this autumn there are plenty of new titles on the shelves, from biographies to essays and celebrity memoirs, too. To help pick out some the best, we asked Waterstones’ non-fiction buyer, Angie Crawford, to share her recommendations.
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Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel                  

From the brilliant mind of the creator and star of I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum comes this passionate declaration against fitting in. Michaela Coel's MacTaggart Lecture touched a lot of people with her striking revelations about race, class and gender. But in the end, the person most impacted was Coel herself. Building on this speech, Misfits immerses readers in her vision through powerful allegory and anecdote – from her East London upbringing to her discovery of theatre and love for storytelling. With inspiring insight and wit, she tells of her reckoning with trauma and metamorphosis into a champion for herself, inclusivity and radical honesty, and in telling her journey invites us to reflect on our own.

“Inspired by her Edinburgh Festival McTaggart lecture, Misfits is a razor-sharp interrogation on race, class and gender. A timely, profound read on what it means to fit in and why it’s okay not to, Coel’s passionately argued and devastatingly articulate manifesto for greater transparency and honesty is a clarion call for speaking truth to power.” – Angie Crawford, Waterstones. 

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Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain by Amy Jeffs

Storyland is a new illustrated mythology of Britain, set in its wildest landscapes. Told with narrative flair, readers will visit beautiful, sacred places that include prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge and Wayland's Smithy, spanning the length of Britain from the archipelago of Orkney to as far south as Cornwall; mountains and lakes such as Snowdon and Loch Etive and rivers including the Ness, the Soar and the story-silted Thames in a vivid, beautiful tale of our land steeped in myth. In Storyland, Jeffs reimagines these myths of homeland, exile and migration, kinship, loyalty, betrayal, love and loss in a landscape brimming with wonder.

“This is an enchanting journey through the mythology of the British Isles from the start of time. Amy Jeff’s stunning artworks brings these myths to life in a beautiful volume. An art historian and printmaker, Jeffs brings a fresh perspective to the mythology that flows through Britain for an enlightening, transporting survey of the stories that suffuse our landscape and have shaped its people.”

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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of Virginia Hall, WWII's Most Dangerous Spy by Sonia Purnell

In September 1941, a young American woman strides up the steps of a hotel in Lyon, Vichy France. Her papers say she is a journalist. Her wooden leg is disguised by a determined gait and a distracting beauty. She is there to spark the resistance. By 1942, Virginia Hall was the Gestapo's most urgent target, having infiltrated Vichy command, trained civilians in guerrilla warfare and sprung soldiers from Nazi prison camps. The first woman to go undercover for British SOE, her intelligence changed the course of the war – but her fight was still not over. This is a spy history like no other, telling the story of the hunting accident that disabled her, the discrimination she fought and the secret life that helped her triumph over adversity.

“A Woman of No Importance charts the incredible career of Virginia Hall ­– the most important female spy in the Second World War, the Gestapo’s most important target and a crucial force in the French Resistance. A powerful, superbly gripping story about exceptional courage in the face of tyranny.”

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Mantel Pieces by Hilary Mantel

This collection from twice Booker Prize winner and international bestseller Hilary Mantel comprises 20 reviews, essays and pieces of memoir. Her subjects range far and wide: Saudi Arabia where she lived for four years in the 1980s, the Bulger case, the Virgin Mary, pop icon Madonna, and Helen Duncan, Britain’s last witch. Plus, there are essays about Jane Boleyn, Christopher Marlowe and Margaret Pole, which show her insight into the Tudors – manifested in the bestselling Wolf Hall trilogy. Elsewhere, her famous lecture, ‘Royal Bodies’ – which caused a media frenzy – explores the place of royal women in society and our imagination. Illuminating and often very funny, Mantel Pieces is a must-read selection from one of the UK’s greatest living writers.

“Covering everything from Tudor biography to the Virgin Mary with precision, flair and wit, this collection of Hilary Mantel’s essays and reviews for the London Review of Books pulsates with originality and insight.”

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The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

London, 1938. Alma Fielding, an ordinary young woman, begins to experience supernatural events in her suburban home. Nandor Fodor – a Jewish-Hungarian refugee and chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical research – begins to investigate. In doing so he discovers a different and darker type of haunting: trauma, alienation, loss – and the foreshadowing of a nation's worst fears. As the spectre of fascism lengthens over Europe, and as Fodor's obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed. With daring and insight, the award-winning pioneer of historical narrative non-fiction, Kate Summerscale, follows Fodor's enquiry, delving into long-hidden archives to find the human story behind a very modern haunting.
 
“From the author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher comes the chilling true story of a woman and the phantasms that tormented her, as Europe teetered on the brink of war.”

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Tunnel 29 by Helena Merriman

It's summer 1962, and Joachim Rudolph, a student, is digging a tunnel under the Berlin Wall. Waiting on the other side in East Berlin are dozens of men, women and children; all willing to risk everything to escape. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with the survivors, and thousands of pages of Stasi documents, Helena Merriman brilliantly reveals the stranger-than-fiction story of the ingenious group of student-diggers, the glamorous red-haired messenger, the American News network which films the escape, and the Stasi spy who betrays it. For what Joachim doesn't know as he burrows closer to East Germany, is that the escape operation has been infiltrated. And as the escapees prepare to crawl through the cold, wet darkness, above them, the Stasi are closing in.

“This is the remarkable story of an escape tunnel dug under the Berlin Wall, building on the acclaimed Radio 4 podcast. A unique insight into life in divided Berlin, told in a thrilling and utterly gripping style.”

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You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone: The Biography of Nico by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

Nico was an ever-evolving myth, an enigma that escaped definition. Born Christa Päffgen, Nico grew up in war-torn Berlin before being scouted by a fashion photographer in her early teens. At age 27, she became Andy Warhol's newest superstar, becoming the singer of the Velvet Underground. Though she is primarily remembered for contributions to their seminal debut album – and her relationships with Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison – her own artistry and influence have often been overlooked. Nico spent most of her career as a solo artist on the road, enduring empty concert halls, abusive fans and the perilous reality of being a drug addict. In You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike cements Nico's legacy as one of the most vital artists of her time, inspiring a generation of luminaries including Björk, Morrissey and Iggy Pop. Containing over a hundred new interviews and rare archival material, this is an empowering reappraisal of an underappreciated icon.

“A must not just for fans, but for anyone interested in the popular culture of the late 20th century, this biography of the enigmatic and multitalented singer and model Christa Päffgen takes readers on a fascinating journey from post-war Germany to the Warhol circle.”

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Redhanded: An Exploration of Criminals, Cannibals, Cults, and What Makes a Killer Tick by Suruthi Bala and Hannah McGuire

This is the highly anticipated book from the UK's number one true crime podcast, RedHanded. What is it about killers, cults, and cannibals that capture our imaginations even as they terrify and disturb us? How do we carefully consume these cases and what can they teach us about what makes victims and their murderers our collective responsibility? RedHanded rejects the outdated narrative of killers as monsters and that a victim 'was just in the wrong place at the wrong time'. Instead, it dissects the stories of killers in a way that challenges perceptions and asks the hard questions about society, gender, poverty, culture, and even our politics. With Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire's trademark humour, research on real-life cases, and unflinching analysis of what makes a criminal, the authors ask: what makes a killer tick?

“Drawing from a vast amount of research and lacing their prose with humour, the popular true crime podcasters Bala and Maguire explore the drivers – behavioural, societal and cultural – that turn people into killers.”

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The Audacity by Katherine Ryan

The debut book by superstar comedian Katherine Ryan comes out at the end of the month. Now the star of The Duchess8 Out of 10 Cats and Taskmaster, this book details Katherine's journey from a naive ex-Hooters waitress fresh from Canada to comedy megastar, with chapters covering ‘How to Potty Train Your Baby at 10 Months’, ‘How to Cut Off Your Racist Aunties’, ‘How to Marry Your High School Boyfriend’ and ‘How to Co-Parent when you're a Single Mum’. The Audacity combines Katherine's unerring ear for the perfect line with the warmth, compassion and hard-won wisdom that makes up her life both on and off stage.

“Sparkling with insight and its titular audacity, Katherine Ryan’s memoir charts her path to comedy stardom through a wealth of observations about life that are as perceptive as they are hilarious.”

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Miss Dior by Justine Picardie

Miss Dior is a story of freedom and fascism, beauty and betrayal, roses and repression, and how the polished surface of fashion conceals hidden depths. It paints a portrait of the enigmatic woman behind the designer Christian Dior: his beloved younger sister Catherine, who inspired his most famous perfume and shaped his vision of femininity. Justine Picardie’s journey takes her to Occupied Paris, where Christian honed his couture skills while Catherine dedicated herself to the French Resistance, until she was captured by the Gestapo and deported to a German concentration camp. With unparalleled access to the Dior family homes and archives, Picardie’s research into Catherine’s courageous life shines a new light on Christian Dior’s legendary work, and reveals how his enchanting ‘New Look’ emerged out of the shadows of his sister’s suffering. The result is an unforgettably moving book.

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