Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review of 2010: Non-fiction

For the second year in a row, I read less non-fiction than has been my wont, and am actually struggling to even come up with a top five for 2010. Part of the problem is that I took on several weighty tomes, one apiece on the English and American civil wars and Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che Guevara, with which I have yet to make enough progress for them to feature here. The order isn't all that important here, as I enjoyed all these books to a roughly equal extent.

Kitchen Confidential was a fortuitous find at the Aware bookshop attached to Revue magazine. Mezrich's highly readable account of the founding of Facebook (review in the pipeline) was fascinating, not least for its occasional divergences from the version filmed as The Social Network.

I took on Out of Captivity, Surviving 1967 Days in the Colombian Jungle largely because I'd heard it has plenty of unflattering things to say about Ingrid Betancourt, possibly our least favourite Latin American of the 2009-10 season. I was soon however in the grip of a hefty loathing of these oafish gringos metiches and couldn't wait for the FARC to start making their lives a total misery. In the end, all three, even the seemingly unreconstructable Keith Stansell earned more than a grudging respect and a good deal of compassion. There were even moments when I felt for Betancourt. However, their FARC captors, jungle carpentry skills aside, don't come out of this too well. One can certainly learn almost as much about human psychology under duress from this book as one can from spending an entire summer glued to Big Brother ...which isn't an option any more.

Douglas Preston's The Monster of Florence was this year's Mr Whicher, a gripping investigation into an unsolved series of brutal 80s killings in the Tuscan countryside, an insight not just into the twisted mind of a murderer, but also that of a fairly loopy prosecutor from Perugia, who would later be let loose on poor Amanda Knox.

I've had plenty to say already about Beevor's latest; in many ways a solid example of his best and worst work, pockets of incredible detail and narrative incisiveness, followed by pages of drift with ill-selected (and occasionally oddly withheld) information.

1. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
2. The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
3. Out of Captivity, Surviving... by Howes, Gonsalves and Stansell
4. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
5. D-Day, The Battle for Normandy, by Anthony Beevor

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