20 new non-fiction books to chew on – The Irish Times
Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with Kids, by Scott Hershovitz. Allen Lane
Scott Hershovitz thinks children are born philosophers. With their inquisitive minds, free from cynicism and prejudice, they see the world as it is. Through conversations with his two young sons, Hershovitz takes us on a vast tour of philosophical ways of thinking, from antiquity to the present day.
The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit, by Ron Shelton. Knopf Publishing Group
Regular listeners of The second captains podcast will get to know Ron Shelton after a great recent interview, but even if you’ve never heard of him before, the stretched title of this book tells you exactly what to expect. If you have even a passing interest in sports or Hollywood movies, this is a very entertaining read, filled with interesting trivia and Hollywood insights.
Fen, bog and swamp: a brief history of bog destruction and its role in the climate crisis, by Annie Proulx. Fourth power
In a book that will be of particular interest to Irish readers, American novelist Annie Proulx presents an exquisite and lyrical condemnation of our disconnection (and destruction) from nature. Both a telling story of neglected wetlands and a passionate argument for their protection and conservation.
An Irish Atlantic Rainforest: A Personal Journey into the Magic of Regeneration, by Eoghan Daltun. Hachette Books Ireland
Moving west with his family in 2009, Eoghan Daltun had a vision to regenerate a 73-acre farm he purchased on the Beara Peninsula. His background is fascinating and a nice companion to Fen, Bog & Swamp. Read our review
Thieves: True Stories of Scammers, Killers, Rebels and Swindlers, by Patrick Radden Keefe. Doubleday Books
Patrick Redden Keefe follows empire of pain, his superb history of the Sackler family and their role in the opioid crises, with 12 long-running essays originally published in The New Yorker. Every globetrotting story follows a thug of some description (some good, some bad) – those people on the fringes of society, from arms dealers to wine counterfeiters. Completely convincing. Read our review
The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit and Peril at the Beach, by Sarah Stodola. Eco
If you’ve ever sat on the beach in the sun, you’ve probably thought about the beauty of the water when the light glistens on the waves, or the pleasant feeling of warm air against your skin. You probably haven’t thought about the beach’s grip on the local economy, or the difficulties of preserving the beach as sea levels continue to rise. These questions and more are explored in The Last Resort, a fascinating look at the history and future of beach culture.
How Civil Wars Begin, by Barbara F. Walter. viking
If you’ve followed American news for the past few years and thought with grim fascination that it wouldn’t take many sparks for the country to explode into a full-scale civil war, you’re not alone. Barbara F. Walter, an eminent political scientist who has spent her life studying civil wars around the world, describes how healthy autocracies and democracies are largely immune to civil wars; these are the intermediate countries you need to worry about. Countries like the United States.
Last Call at the Imperial Hotel: The Reporters Who Tackled a World at War, by Deborah Cohen. Random penguin house
There’s undeniably something alluring about wartime reporting, and storytelling doesn’t get much better than that. Follow a close-knit group of American journalists who traveled the world in the 1920s interviewing everyone from Hitler and Mussolini to Nehru and Ghandi.
Bessborough: Three women. Three decades. Three Stories of Courage, by Deirdre Finnerty. Hachette Books Ireland
The stories of three women, Joan McDermott, Terri Harrison and Deirdre Wadding, and their experiences over three decades at one of Ireland’s largest mother and baby institutions, Bessborough, will break more than one heart. Deirdre Finnerty tells all three stories with compassion, empathy and precision, resulting in an emotionally devastating vital book. Read our review
Battles and transformations of a woman, by Édouard Louis (translated by Tash Aw). Harvill Secker.
One day, while organizing newspapers, Édouard Louis comes across a photo of his mother that he has never seen. It was taken in his early twenties, before he was born. He marvels at how happy and carefree she looks – so different from the angry, violent woman he remembers as a child. This truly beautiful and redemptive memoir is an “archaeology of the destruction of that happiness.”
Chums: How a tiny caste of Oxford Tories took over the UK, by Simon Kuper. Profile Books
It all depends on who you know, doesn’t it? Eleven of the last fifteen British Prime Ministers have been to Oxford; the institution sucks in ambitious students from public schools and spits them out the other end, ready to rule the country. In his highly entertaining and often infuriating examination of the Oxford Tory clique that gave us Brexit, Simon Kuper argues for an end to this treadmill of basically unserious people in very serious positions of power.
Without warning and only sometimes, by Kit De Waal. Tinder press
In Kit De Waal’s vivid and richly observed memoir, she recounts her working-class upbringing as one of five children who grew up with an Irish mother and a Caribbean father in 1960s Birmingham. Through hardship, she captures moments of true sweetness. Read our review
Super-Infinity: The Transformations of John Donne, by Katherine Rundell. Faber & Faber
You may only know John Donne as a poet, but after reading Katherine Rundell’s top biography, you will marvel at how not everyone knows about her amazing life. He was a man of contradictions who wore many hats: jurist, adventurer of the seas who fought alongside Sir Walter Raleigh in Cadiz and the Azores, elected deputy, priest, dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and of course poet of genius love.
Cuba: An American History, by Ada Ferrer. Scribner
Is there anything better than sitting down with a crisp new, one-volume history of a distant land you hope to visit one day? Winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for History, Cuba: An American History covers five centuries of the island’s history, with a particular and resolute focus on its relationship with the United States.
The Last Colony: A History of Chagos Race, Exile and Justice in The Hague, by Philippe Sands. Weidenfeld
In his extraordinary 2016 memoir East West Street, Philippe Sands skillfully intersected his own family history with the Nuremberg trials and the formation of human rights law. His latest report describes a case in which he is actively involved, namely Maurice fighting for the return of the Chagos, the last British colony in Africa. It is a fascinating story that shows the personal and continuing toll of colonial rule. Read our review
The Digital Republic: On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st Century, by Jamie Susskind. Bloomsbury
The Internet was supposed to be the “great leveler”, a tool to democratize the dissemination of ideas and give everyone a voice. But we embraced it without foresight, and now large swaths of the online space are little more than cesspools of hate, racism and misinformation. In The Digital Republic, Susskind argues that this lack of foresight, coupled with the inability to properly govern technology, has led us to a very dangerous fork. Read our review
Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich 1945-1955, by Harald Jähner (translated by Shaun Whiteside). WH Allen
The devastation and chaos that wracked Germany at the end of World War II is hard to fathom. Entire towns were reduced to rubble. More than half of the remaining population has been displaced. How could society ever recover from such carnage? This is the question that Harald Jähner sets out to answer in this masterful story. Read our review
Pacemaker, by David Toms. Banshee Press
A memoir about living with lifelong heart disease, Pacemaker is both a beautiful meditation on our relationship with our own bodies and insight into the destruction Covid can wreak on vulnerable people. A slim book filled with sparse prose and beautiful imagery, it lingers in the memory for a long time. Read our review
The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World, by Malcolm Gaskill. Allen Lane
One of the best books of the last year, recently released in paperback, The Ruin of All Witches is history writing at its finest. Meticulously researched and filled with atmospheric and lyrical touches, it brings to light a chilling moment in the life of a small 17th-century frontier town in Massachusetts.
Regenesis, by George Monbiot. Allen Lane
There are some gargantuan and painful truths that we, as a species, find hard to digest. The first is that we are, beyond a shadow of a scientific doubt, destroying the planet. Another is that almost a billion people go hungry every day. Regenesis makes a compelling case against outdated agricultural practices and in favor of food production models that will benefit both the planet and its poorest inhabitants. Read our review