The best non-fiction reads to broaden your horizons in 2021
Books to bring us sunshine! Helen Brown reveals the best non-fiction reads to broaden your horizons in 2021
- Helen Brown reveals a selection of the best non-fiction books to start the year
- Literary critic Lucasta Miller examines John Keats best-known verses in a tome
- Joe Wicks shares 100 family-friendly recipes including Mexican chicken burgers
FRANCIS BACON: REVELATIONS
by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan (HarperCollins, January)
the volatile Irish-born English painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was thrown out of the family home in his early 20s for wearing his mother’s underwear. ‘The divine demon of British art’, as he became known, was obsessed with chronicling the ‘brutality’ of human flesh. His work tackled war, faith and his discomfort with his homosexuality. Drawing on extensive new material, Stevens and Swan argue that Bacon’s talent is more varied than has been acknowledged and that ‘the 20th century does not know itself without him’.
Helen Brown reveals a selection of the best non-fiction books to start the year. Pictured: Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne and Ben Whishaw as John Keats
by Lucasta Miller (Vintage, February)
A lower-middle-class outsider from a dysfunctional family, John Keats was only 25 when he died of TB. But his vital, sensuous poems — including Ode To A Nightingale and Endymion — have been cherished now for 200 years.
In this lively book, literary critic Lucasta Miller reveals what Keats’s best-known verses tell us about the shocking death of his father, his apprenticeship to an apothecary-surgeon and his secret engagement to neighbour Fanny Brawne, to whom he wrote: ‘You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving … I cannot breathe without you.’
ONE OF THE FAMILY: WHY A DOG CALLED MAXWELL CHANGED MY LIFE
by Nicky Campbell (Hodder, February)
‘In nearly four decades on the radio I have wept perhaps a dozen times on the air, half of those since March 2020,’ says Nicky Campbell.
Taking call after call from people whose lives were falling apart during the Covid epidemic, the Radio 5 presenter realised how much he relied on his 12-year-old labrador, Maxwell, to keep him grounded.
In this heartwarming tribute to man’s best friend, Campbell explores how Maxwell has also helped him come to terms with his early adoption. He talks to biologists and psychologists and concludes that: ‘All dogs are therapy dogs.’
HENRY ‘CHIPS’ CHANNON: THE DIARIES OF THE CHIPS CHANNON VOL 1
‘What is more dull than a discreet diary? One might as well have a discreet soul,’ said ‘Chips’ Channon. Born in Chicago in 1897, he married into the wealthy Guinness family before becoming MP for Southend-on-Sea from 1935 to 1958.
His career was unremarkable, but his gossipy record of the decadent parties of the interwar period are anything but.
He gives the inside story on Proust, Cocteau, Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson and raises an eyebrow at the grand balls thrown by the Nazi elite. Editor Simon Heffer promises us ‘Reputations will be damaged’.
ELIZABETH AND MARGARET: THE INTIMATE WORLD OF THE WINDSOR SISTERS
by Andrew Morton (Michael O’Mara, March)
ELIZABETH AND MARGARET: THE INTIMATE WORLD OF THE WINDSOR SISTERS by Andrew Morton (Michael O’Mara, March)
Close friends growing up, sisters ‘Margot’ and ‘Lillibet’ nevertheless engaged in childhood scuffles, with the future Queen packing a mean left hook and the future ‘Party Princess’ preferring to bite.
Dutiful Elizabeth and rude/witty Margaret remained close into adulthood, but many — including scriptwriters for Netflix series The Crown — believe the relationship cooled when Elizabeth opposed Margaret’s marriage to divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. Has royal biographer Andrew Morton got to the bottom of the sibling rivalry in this book? Or is it just more gossip?
MONICA JONES, PHILIP LARKIN AND ME
by John Sutherland (Orion, April)
‘It seems to me that what we have is a kind of homosexual relationship, disguised … Don’t you think yourself there’s something fishy about it?’ So wrote poet Philip Larkin to his longterm girlfriend, Monica.
A brilliant academic with flamboyant dress sense, she could be witheringly disdainful of the students she taught at Leicester university and was constantly disappointed by Larkin’s lack of interest in sex with her, repeated infidelities and failure to commit to their relationship. Like Larkin, she was racist and drank heavily. He credited her with making his work ‘literate’. Sutherland examines her complexities with thoughtful nuance.
by Stewart Binns (Headline, April)
BAFTA-winning Stewart Binns had access to never-before-seen Soviet material to deliver this new perspective on the battle for the Eastern Front during World War II when 6 million Nazi troops marched on Moscow, with a merciless scorched-earth tactic that saw millions of Soviet citizens massacred.
From the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, to the brutal Soviet revenge wreaked during the Fall of Berlin in April 1945, Binns tells the moving personal stories of those on the Eastern European side.
THE KENNEDY CURSE by James Patterson (Century, April)
THE KENNEDY CURSE
by James Patterson (Century, April)
Bestselling writer James Patterson says if he wrote a novel outline featuring all the drama of the real Kennedys, his publishers would say: ‘This is silly. All of this couldn’t possibly happen to one family.’
His pacy book asks why the charismatic members of ‘America’s Royal Family’ have been so uniquely blighted by assassinations, addictions, accidents and sex scandals.
He argues that the real ‘curse’ was the pressure Joe Kennedy Snr put on all his children to continually ‘strive for something bigger, better … take risks’. Arresting details include the fact that JFK would phone Judy Garland and ask her to sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow to him.
by Jay Blades (Bluebird, May)
Five years ago the star of hit primetime TV show The Repair Shop ‘left the family home, gave the house to my ex-wife and just drove. I didn’t know where I was going’.
JOE’S FAMILY FOOD by Joe Wicks (Bluebird, May)
But after meeting his new partner he began to reflect on the difficulties in his early life which may have caused this crisis. In a frank memoir, the 50-year-old furniture restorer looks back on the violent racism he endured at secondary school in Hackney, being brutalised by police as a teen and the womanising father he first met when he was 21.
‘If something’s broken,’ says Blades, ‘you can always find a way to put it back together.’
JOE’S FAMILY FOOD
by Joe Wicks (Bluebird, May)
The nation’s favourite PE teacher serves up 100 family-friendly recipes in a book aimed at busy parents struggling to find healthy options the kids will enjoy.
Having realised many of his own childhood ‘behavioural issues’ were down to poor nutrition: ‘eating loads of sweets and crisps’, these days he encourages families to enjoy the odd chocolate brownie, while finding fun in the best fruit and vegetables.
Highlights include his peanut butter popcorn, Mexican chicken burgers with sweetcorn salsa and frying-pan pizzas with ‘tiny trees’, otherwise known as broccoli, and fennel sausages.
SUNSHINE & LAUGHTER: THE STORY OF MORECAMBE & WISE
by Louis Barfe (Head of Zeus, July)
SUNSHINE & LAUGHTER: THE STORY OF MORECAMBE & WISE by Louis Barfe (Head of Zeus, July)
Starting out in 1941 as a song-and-dance comedic team (with Eric playing the more bumbling comic role and Ernie the affable straight man), Morecambe and Wise went on to become ‘the most illustrious, and the best-loved, double-act that Britain has ever produced’.
At the peak of their popularity in the 1970s, 28 million Brits tuned in to watch their capers, while catchphrases such as ‘What do you think of it so far?’ became part of daily banter. The secret to their success was their genuine affection for each other. They continued to make each other laugh until Morecambe’s death in 1984.
THE MASTER: FEDERER
by Christopher Clarey (John Murray, August)
THE MASTER: FEDERER by Christopher Clarey (John Murray, August)
The New York Times’ tennis correspondent delivers the definitive biography of one of the world’s greatest sportsmen.
With unique access to the Swiss star’s inner circle (including his coach and the wife he first kissed when he was 18 and she was 21), Clarey explores how Federer transformed himself from a racket-chucking temperamental teenager into one of tennis’ most graceful players.
‘I can’t just be ice,’ he says, ‘it becomes horribly boring.
‘I need the fire, the excitement, the passion, the whole rollercoaster.’
And at 39, with most of his contemporaries long retired, he’s still ranked fifth in the world.
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