In November this year, I participated in ‘Non-Fiction November’ – an awesome activity, designed by book reviewer Olive Fellows, to encourage the reading and discussion of non-fiction. I’m pleased to write about my numerous accomplishments of this task; I read, or at least started to read, over five non-fiction books. Many fulfilled Olive’s imaginative prompts: fraud, web, capital, and display. 

My non-fiction reading tastes lean towards history and travel, particularly on Eurasian topics. Olive, much to her credit, has different tastes. She is drawn to books about the environment, crime, animals, American culture, preservation, resilience, and biography. Although we differ in preference, I find Olive’s videos a delight to watch and therefore, I highly recommend her channel. This November also saw experimentation on my end. I broadened my reading tastes by including one true crime book and some travel writing. 

Sovietistan by Erika Fatland 

When the Soviet Union finished, five nations appeared in Central Asia: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, all famous for their Silk Roads history and excellence at weaving and creating carpets. Erika Fatland, a journalist from Norway, travels to this region and gives a keen ear to the many lives among the sand and mosques. It’s a well-written, politically savvy, and insightful read which quickly became one of my most beloved books of 2023. Fatland’s skill at listening to others without parting with severe judgement is truly remarkable; journalists ought to learn from her. Concerningly, Central Asia is plagued by numerous problems, from bride-snatching to plotting terrorists, as well as cynicism (although sympathetic) towards the political institutions shaping daily life. Erika Fatland may not have the answers, or solutions, to the woes found in Central Asia. Beyond her aptitude at history and travel writing, Erika Fatland exceeds expectations and now, Central Asia is a place I want to visit. Her chapters on Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are terrific. 

The Great British Dream Factory by Dominic Sandbrook 

The British Empire lives on. Not via borders, trade agreements, or national charters – but in pop culture, from James Bond to Harry Potter. Such is the thesis of Sandbrook’s exploration into British pop culture. Covering over 600 pages, readers track its development via historic trends regarding de-industrialisation, the Falkland Islands, and Tony Blair. Culture, whether it belongs to the Beatles or Blur, is so often a relic from politics, economics, and protest. The British triumph in pop culture is particularly remarkable due to the collapse of economic and political ability from Westminster. It is the American President – not Number 10 in Downing Street – who now commands the seas. The Americanisation of Great Britain also coincides with the United Kingdom winning the hearts and minds of Americans and Australians who adore Paddington Bear, The Chronicles of Narnia, Sherlock Holmes, and Jane Austen. 

I bought The Great British Dream Factory on Kindle and have not yet finished it. I’m quite excited to read about Harry Potter and J.R.R Tolkien; the legacy of fantasy literature is an intense interest of mine. I’ve liked what I’ve read so far.

The Louvre by James Gardner

The most famous museum in the world has a history – covering empires, dynasties, and bankers. But it’s also the home of some of the greatest artworks in Western history, from the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci to Liberty Leading Her People by Eugène Delacroix. With its three wings – Richelieu, Sully, and Denon – the Louvre is covered in terrific detail. There’s also mentions of world wars and archeological excavations. Remember, the Louvre’s collections are far more greater than Western art and archeology! There’s also artefacts, evidence, and art from Mesopotomia, Ancient Egypt, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and other Oriental places. Gardner shines as a writer. However, this is a biography about the Louvre and may not assist those who seek to visit the Louvre. No guidance is given in what to see or do there, and whilst that is regretful, The Louvre remains a terrific read. 

The Other Renaissance by Paul Strathern

Italy had a Renaissance. But so did Northern Europe; from Britain to Sweden, early modern history saw the ‘rebirth’ of science, scholarship, and the human soul. With short chapters dedicated to certain figures including Queen Elizabeth I, Albrecht Dürer, Martin Luther, Desiderius Erasmus, and Catherine De Medici, Strathern takes us on a voyage through Northern Europe in the early Modern period. This was a time of not only scientific and artistic achievement, but also religious and political strife, as seen in the Reformation and the resulting Wars of Religion across Europe. I loved reading about Cardinal Richelieu and his contribution to modern statecraft. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get his own chapter – but he deserves one. The Other Renaissance is also good for art and architecture history. Whereas the Italian Renaissance conjures images of the Vatican, one may consider Chambord in France or St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The references to Russia near the end were a delightful surprise. 

Paul Strathern finishes with ‘an era of progress had begun.’ Ultimately, this is a cold approach, because it seems we can only appreciate an era if it is ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’ enough. Whilst we ought to have appreciation for the world Shakespeare and Gutenburg built for us, we also have a moral duty to act, and live in a way that honours those who come before us. Instead of wondering what previous generations have done for us, perhaps we should ask ourselves what we are doing for them. This is a nitpick from a small comment in the book, however. The Other Renaissance is an excellent read and introduced numerous fascinating figures from the Northern Renaissance.

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

The Sackler family weren’t always known for their crimes. In this work of nonfiction, Patrick Radden Keefe takes a documentary approach to chronicling Sacklers, from their beginnings in New York City, to the scandals concerning opioid and fentanyl. This is a true crime, and it is gripping and heartbreaking. Whilst my knowledge of American crime and the Sackler family is not sophisticated, Keefe creates an engaging narrative and connects the many lives destroyed due to the selfish and greedy decisions made by NYC’s elite. Highly recommended.

Have any non-fiction recommendations? Comment below, or send an e-mail to connect@snowyfictions.com

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