Following on from Part One of this series, which looked at the fiction titles that have succeeded in converting some of the book-fearing men I know to the joys of reading, today’s installment will focus on a motley assortment of their non-fiction suggestions. A mixture of old and new, recommended by ages 19 through to 70, there may well be something here to ignite the curiosity of the non-reading son, brother, father, friend or partner in your life.
Top of the list is The Spy and the Traitor, Ben Macintyre’s bestselling biography which recounts the exfiltration of legendary Russian spy, Oleg Gordievsky, from Soviet Russia to the UK in the mid-1980s. Elaborately plotted, thoroughly readable, and intensely gripping, every page reads as staggeringly as a work of fiction.
Another front runner in the history category is Jonathan Bardon’s A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes, a concise breakdown of Irish history from the Ice Age through to the late twentieth century, likely to appeal both to seasoned history buffs and tentative newcomers to the subject. Divided into bite-sized chapters and written in an unfussy style, this book will have its readers devouring whole chunks before bedtime, that is, if it doesn’t find a competitor in Allen Foster’s Book of Irish Murder. Not exactly the most obvious candidate for the casual reader, this book has something of a cult following among Dubray’s history enthusiasts. On at least two separate occasions, male customers have felt moved to approach me (book clasped reverentially in hand) for no other reason than to relay their supreme admiration for this sweeping historical survey of Ireland’s lesser-known murder cases. I recently bought it for a friend with picky taste and was given a hearty (if ever so slightly traumatised) thumbs up.
A broader sampling of non-fiction tastes revealed Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers as a firm favourite. This is a book that regularly achieves the impossible, managing to convert those who are nearly always inclined to do something – please God, anything! – other than read. A round-up of the cultural and behavioural factors that have led to some of the biggest success stories of our generation, I know men who first read this book years ago (and have probably read little since), yet still grow misty-eyed in their attempt to describe its effect on their thinking.
Bill Bryson, too, is another author who’s proven similarly adept at recruiting the reading-averse. His latest book, The Body, makes for a riveting exploration of our corporeal selves and is chock-full of the sort of jaw-dropping revelations that have moved many a Whatsapp-er to whip out his phone and photograph chunks of the text to share with family and friends. Even I (a chronic avoider of all things science-related) have picked up this book, intending to dip into it for no more than a moment, and found myself still glued ten pages later, spurred on by a disbelieving sense of, ‘No way!’. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakonomics also caters for our enduring fascination with the hidden workings of contemporary life. A dizzying cocktail of freakish trivia, head-scratching riddles and mind-boggling case studies, it lays the world’s incongruities bare, revealing how economics, and not morality (as we would have ourselves believe), governs the patterns by which we live.