Five non-fiction reads to inspire and get you thinking this Autumn

Recommended books to read this Autumn

I love to read, and very often I find it my biggest source of inspiration. While I always have a piece of fiction on the go, in recent years I have discovered the joys of non-fiction.

The beauty of non-fiction lies in its sheer diversity. One day you could be reading about the sinking of the Lusitania, and the next, about a charismatic neurologist in 1960’s America. It can take you to new places and experiences, in the past or present, or into the minds of some of the greatest thinkers or business people this world has ever known.

Irrespective of what you do for a living, there is always much to be gained from reading about new and unexplored subject matters. Creativity and ideas can sometimes come from the most far flung sources.

So if you are looking for a steer in which non-fiction reads to dip into this Autumn, here are five suggestions…

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

After a stressful day at work, there’s nothing like reading a personal account of what it’s like to be a brain surgeon, to help put things into perspective. ‘Do No Harm’ is written by one of the UK’s leading neurosurgeons, Henry Marsh, who was made a CBE in 2010. Its striking honesty about the exhilarating drama of brain surgery, the agonising decisions that surround complex or hopeless cases, and the consequences when things go wrong, make it a truly memorable and thought-provoking read. Regardless of what you do for a living, this book will have any career-minded person utterly gripped from the first page.

Marsh has an easy, colourful way of writing, and his book truly brings to life the chaos of working in a busy NHS hospital, the personalities he encounters, and the impact his career has had upon his personal life. He tells every patient story with compassion and candour, shining a light on a profession which is typically shrouded in mystery. Above all, he stresses the human fallibility of himself and other brain surgeons, and evidences the unimaginable decisions they must make on a daily basis, and the times when they get it wrong. All of this is told with good humour and not a shred of arrogance. Some of the insights he gives into the NHS and its management is truly enlightening.

Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind by Dr Yuval Noah Harari 

When you can look back at the last 100,000 years and see everything that’s shaped you as a person and the society you live in, many things click into place.

In Sapiens, Harari delves deep into our history as a species and considers how we, homo sapiens, succeeded in the battle for dominance, and how we have developed into what we are today. Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?

Harari’s writing is witty and eloquent. It’s a truly engrossing read which you won’t want to put down, and will keep you thinking long past you’ve finished it. The scope of the book is immense, and if you are looking to be intellectually challenged and enlightened, outside of your career, this is the ideal non-fiction book to pick up.

Aha! The moments of insight that shape our world by William B. Irvine

Moments of inspiration can sometimes be life changing, or even world changing, but very often we have no clear explanation of where they came from.

In his new book Aha!, philosopher William B. Irvine, explores such epiphanies, from the minor insights that may strike us daily, through to the major realisations that can shake up the course of history. Why do these flashes of inspiration so often come to us when we are focused on something completely unrelated? And when great ideas “come to” us, where do they come from?

The book is categorised into five core sections: religion, morality, science, maths and art. Within each of these domains, Irvine describes some of the great aha moments that have happened in history, and their social impact. Some feature familiar historical figures, and others may be lesser known to you. His telling of these stories is compelling and accessible. It helps to make quite meaty subject matter very accessible.

If you’ve ever questioned the source of some of your most creative or wacky ideas, and the neuroscience of such moments, then this could be the perfect book to dip into this Autumn.

Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books by Michael Dirda

The title of this book says it all, and was what instantly attracted me to it.

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, and has also been hailed as “the best-read person in America” (The Paris Review) and “the best book critic in America” (The New York Observer). So if, like me, you are continually on the lookout for book recommendations, and dream of travelling around North America in a van visiting second-hand bookshops (as Dirda does), then you need to get your hands on a copy of this book. It will provide you with a list of books you simply must read someday (probably when you are retired!).

This book contains a collection of literary columns that Dirda wrote over one year, about books or reading or people in the book business. These are not heavy, scholarly essays, but rather humorous, personal reflections written in a conversational style.

Dirda himself writes: “Rather than chronicling “the adventures of a soul among the masterpieces,” I quickly gravitated to talking digressively, and I hope amusingly, about bookishness itself. These are, in fact, very much personal pieces, the meandering reflections of a literary sybarite.”

If you love to read, this is a delightful source of inspiration. Keep a pen and paper handy while you are reading, as there will be much you may want to make a note of.

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Mark Miodownik’s personal and professional obsession, as he explains in his book Stuff Matters, is basic materials we often take for granted such as paper, glass, concrete, and steel; as well as new super-materials that will change our world in the decades ahead.The book reveals the inner workings of the man-made world, the miracles of craft, design, engineering and ingenuity that surround us every day.

Miodownik is an Oxford-trained materials scientist who has worked in some of the most advanced laboratories in the world, yet he is also a superb storyteller. He approaches his subject matter with wit and fascination, making it accessible to all. The average reader will learn a lot from this book, and it certainly makes you look at the world around you very differently. You will never look at a razor blade in the same way! Although this is a materials science book, it is written with an informal, human tone, and is extremely thought provoking.

Do you have a non-fiction book to suggest? We would love to hear your recommendations below…

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