Book Reviews

Armchair BEA: Reading non fiction

I love buying non fiction books. Reading them — well that’s another story.  My bookshelves are crowded with business books and books on world issues that I bought fully intending to read but never actually doing so.

Rachel Carson’s environmental classic Silent Spring has formed a very cosy relationship with Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and Charles Handy’s The Empty Raincoat over the years the three of them have nestled on the bookshelf. At least I’ve opened the Carson book which is more than I can say about  The Dragon and the Elephant: China, India and the New World Order. 

Out of the ones I have managed to read, here are a few of my favourites.


Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… one School at a Time

Greg Mortenson was a registered nurse and mountain-climber whose life was transformed when he lost his way descending the K2 mountain in Pakistan. He was saved by villagers who nursed him back to health. As a thank you he pledged to build them a school. Eventually he raised enough support to build not one but 55 schools in the remote and troubled region and Mortenson became a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and promoting education for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The veracity of Mortenson’s account has now been challenged unfortunately but this is still a good read.


The Unequelled Self – by Claire Tomalin

This is a magnificent biography of a man whose diaries give us an eye witness account of the tumultuous events of sixteenth century England.  The execution of a King, the Great Plague and the Fire of London, Pepys lived through them all, sometimes fearing for his own life but somehow surviving and thriving in fortune and status. Tomalin’s biography reveal the multi faceted man who was a superb naval administrator as well as a bon viveur.




Mumbai-1Maximum City  by Suketu Mehta

In part this is a travelogue, but it’s also a memoir and a journalistic essay on the nature of one of the fastest growing cities in the world — Mumbai. Mehta was born in the city but lived most of his youth in North America. On his return to Mumbai he turns an uncompromising eye on the nature of the city. At times it’s a hilarious rendition of the frustrations of living in this city – a place he labels The City of No simply because, no matter what the question, the answer will invariably be no. It’s also a city whose inhabitants cope with its phenomenal increase in population size by ‘adjusting’. The train may be full to the brim but there is always room for one more if everyone inside just budges up a bit.

Other times, the sheer impossibility of getting anything done make you question whether this country can ever really rival China as an economic superpower.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

9 thoughts on “Armchair BEA: Reading non fiction

  • I concur with you on Maximum City and The Sea, having read them a number of years ago. In non-fiction I am finally reading the highly praised “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond. A anthropological history on a number of levels, it is thought provoking. Got me thinking about the need for a holistic environmental/epistemological forensic anthrological across all living organisms (especially micro).

  • I have read Three cups of tea and I liked it very very much because I don’t know much about this world in which women are hardly allowed to have their own lives.
    And for me it’s the same: I don’t read many non-fiction books, but they are good readings from time to time. For example I’m reading a book at the moment about how the brain works, and it is really interesting. But I read it from time to time, between other books.

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  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    “I love buying non fiction books. Reading them — well that’s another story.” <~ That made me giggle 😉 I completely understand!

    Thank goodness the library keeps me stocked with nonfiction books. I've tried to stay away from buying so many. I was running out of space, and money 😉

    That Tomalin book sounds so interesting! I'm a big nonfiction nerd and I'll definitely be checking that one out.

    Happy reading!

  • I’m exactly the same. I have so many interests and buy books to reflect them all but I never read any of them, always floating back towards the fiction shelves instead. The boyfriend however, although he may not read as much, is much more well-balanced and has read ‘Three Cups of Tea’, which thought was great.
    Have you read ‘Queen of the Elephants’ by Mark Shand? It’s fabulous.

  • Becca Lostinbooks

    I have Three Cups of Tea but I haven’t read it yet! I need to remedy that!

    • I got a bit lost with the info about different warring factions that happens about three quarters in but stick with it – in the end it doesn’t really matter. the story is powerful enough.

  • Three cups of tea is a book I’ve wanted to read! The Unequelled self looks great, too! In fact, all three of your picks are going on my to-be-read list!

    • Sorry if I have added to an already towering TBR list! But they are all good reads, Maximum City is a series of essays so you can dip in over time rather than feeling you have to read in sequence


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