Tag: non-fiction

How Music Works

How Music Works by David Byrne (Canongate, 2012) As with The Bicycle Diaries, Byrne shows himself to be eloquent, thoughtful, erudite, and surprisingly scholarly in his quest for understanding; in this instance of the practical and philosophical underpinnings of (a career in) music. Talking Heads fans and wannabe musicians rejoice!    


Photograph by Ringo Starr (Genesis, 2015) ‘I just loved taking pictures and I still do,’ writes Ringo Starr; hence this big glossy book that pairs his photographs with skerricks of unpretentious memoir (primarily pre-Beatles and Beatlemania). As with the music, Ringo had the best seat in the house.    

Around the World in 50 Years

Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth by Albert Podell (Thomas Dunne, 2015) Podell writes lucidly on the difficulties (both physical and bureaucratic) of travel, his personal philosophies, and the pros and cons of visiting some of the world’s least accommodating, most beautiful, at times unthinkably dangerous countries. Podell’s achievement sometimes inspires, but mostly…

Orwell’s Cough

Orwell’s Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Maladies & Last Gasps of the Great Writers by John Ross (Oneworld, 2013) Whereas the medical diagnoses alone would have made for a much shorter book, (Dr) Ross has used the subject of medicine as a unifying theme by which to biograph and contextualise a dozen famous writers, astutely dissecting their lives and (squalid) times.…

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson (Simon & Schuster, 2004); audiobook read by Sean Mangan (Bolinda, 2005) Ronson’s exposé on the US military’s attempts to develop paranormal regiments after the Vietnam War is so outrageous yet somehow so plausible, it reads half as absurd fiction, half as laugh-out-loud scary fact. Mangan treads the perfect line between deadpan…

Improbable Libraries

Improbable Libraries by Alex Johnson (Thames & Hudson, 2015) What library could consider itself complete without this book about… libraries! Johnson has compiled a stout coffee table compendium of innovative and unusual book-borrowing facilities from around the world, all beautifully photographed and all celebrating (and inspiring) our collective love of reading.  

The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (Quercus, 2010) This significant if straightforward dual biography of speech therapist Lionel Logue and King George VI, supplemented by excerpts from both men’s correspondence, will be of particular interest to those familiar with the film but not the liberties this took in dramatising events.  

The Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception

The Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception by John Mulholland (Unpublished, 1953) ed. H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace (Hardie Grant, 2010) Although the editors try to spruik the significance of two instructional manuals commissioned from magician John Mulholland by the CIA during the Cold War, closer inspection reveals the most interesting facet of these works to be that…

Hiding the Elephant

Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible by Jim Steinmeyer (Heinemann, 2004) Even for the reader with no prior interest in magicians and their world, Steinmeyer’s history of the golden age of magic makes for an engrossing read. A book rich in passion, written by an expert who keeps his subject matter refreshingly accessible.  

Star Wars and History

Star Wars and History ed. Nancy R. Reagin & Janice Liedl (Wiley, 2012) This collection of academic articles, ostensibly undertaken in close collaboration with George Lucas, purports to show the manner and extent to which Star Wars draws on real history. In truth it clutches at loose parallels, showing little or no evidence of causation.