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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Jessie Thompson

The best non-fiction books to read in 2024


Sorry, but we’re about to make your reading pile for 2024 very big. From candid memoirs to provocative essays, little-told histories to behind-the-scenes accounts of sensational trials, the new year is full of must-reads to suit every taste. Here’s our guide to the unmissable non-fiction books of the year.

Robert Hardman offers an insider account of the first year of King Charles III’s reign
— (source)

Charles III: New King. New Court. The Inside Story by Robert Hardman

Boris Johnson gave a copy of Robert Hardman’s last book, Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II, to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky as a gift – so you know this probably won’t be an Omid Scobie-style takedown. Instead, with impressive access to the royal family, Robert Hardman offers an insider account of the first year of King Charles III’s reign, including the royal’s plans for reform and his relationships with his sons. 18 Jan, Macmillan

Only Say Good Things by Crystal Hefner

Crystal Hefner married Playboy tycoon Hugh when he was 86 and she was 26. In her memoir, she lifts the lid on life inside the Playboy mansion, which – in a surprise to no one – was apparently rife with misogyny and objectification. Hefner’s story has the potential to be as provocative as Ariel Levy’s cult feminist classic, Female Chauvinist Pigs. 25 Jan, Ebury

Empireworld by Sathnam Sanghera

With Empireland, Sathnam Sanghera wrote the British history book that should be on every school reading list, laying bare how imperialism formed modern Britain. In Empireworld he takes it further, looking at the legacy of the British empire around the globe. 25 Jan, Viking

Biographer Paula Byrne turns her eye to the female figures that formed Thomas Hardy
— (source)

Hardy Women by Paula Byrne

Women in Thomas Hardy’s novels tend to have an absolutely terrible time – but what about the women he knew in his own life? Paula Byrne, who has written biographies of Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, turns her eye to the female figures that formed him, shedding light not just on his mother, sisters, girlfriends and wives, but creating a refined portrait of the author himself. 1 Feb, William Collins

Keir Starmer by Tom Baldwin

He’s described by many as the PM-in-waiting, but he’s also regularly accused of being dry and boring. So who is Keir Starmer, really? This new biography of the Labour leader attempts to shed light on the man who may lead our next government. 15 Feb, William Collins

A Bookshop of One’s Own by Jane Cholmeley

In the 1980s, feminist bookshop Silver Moon opened its doors on Charing Cross Road and became home to a generation of creative women. Jane Cholmeley, one of the owners, is putting it back in the history books with her new memoir of that time. The perfect read for anyone who dreams of running away and opening a bookshop with all their friends (I know it isn’t just me). 29 Feb, Harper NonFiction

The drag superstar describes his journey from growing up Black, queer and poor in a broken home to becoming a celebrated and successful champion of self-acceptance
— (source)

The House of Hidden Meanings by RuPaul

Drag Race addicts get ready: RuPaul has written the story of his life. The drag superstar describes his journey from growing up Black, queer and poor in a broken home to becoming a celebrated and successful champion of self-acceptance. 5 March, Fourth Estate

The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain by Kazuo Ishiguro

Fans of the Never Let Me Go author know that Kazuo Ishiguro originally dreamed of becoming a songwriter, inspired by Bob Dylan. And he did fulfil that dream, in fact – this publication collects the lyrics he wrote for American singer Stacey Kent, with illustrations by Italian artist Bianca Bagnarelli. 7 March, Faber

The Chain by Chimene Suleyman

Chimene Suleyman’s memoir begins with her trip to an abortion clinic in 2017. She’s accompanied by her boyfriend, but she soon finds out he isn’t who she thinks he is. Soon a community of women, all affected by him, begins to form, exposing a pattern of harm and manipulation. 28 March, W&N

Lauren Oyler’s first essay collection should be fun to read; she doesn’t care about winding people up
— ( )

No Judgement by Lauren Oyler

Apparently, Lauren Oyler’s literary hot takes (including a skewering of media darling Jia Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror) have caused the London Review of Books website to crash – twice. It’s quite fun to read someone who really doesn’t care about winding people up, and Oyler’s first essay collection has one piece on Goodreads and critical timidity that’s really worth paying attention to. 7 March, Virago

Travelling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell by Ann Powers

In her 80th year, the Blue singer continues to provide inspiration. After Amy Key’s gorgeous meditation on a life alone, Arrangements in Blue, which riffed on Joni Mitchell’s seminal album, music writer Ann Powers now goes looking for the story of one of the most beguiling and enigmatic stars in music. 14 March, Harper NonFiction

Easy Wins by Anna Jones

If you don’t have an Anna Jones cookbook on your shelf, all I can ask is: why? Over the last decade, she’s made a name for herself as the vegetarian answer to Nigella, offering recipes for meals that are the holy trinity of easy, healthy and delicious. Her latest is based around 12 “hero ingredients”, from garlic to lemons to olive oil. 14 March, Fourth Estate

Whisked away: Charles Spencer’s new book will explore the antiquated nature of the boarding school system
— (Source)

A Very Private School by Charles Spencer

He has written a number of history books, but this time, Charles Spencer – Princess Diana’s younger brother – is writing something more personal. A Very Private School is his account of being sent to Maidwell Hall, a boarding school in Northampton, when he was eight years old. It’s been described as “a clear-eyed account of a culture of cruelty” and Spencer’s “candid reckoning with his past” by the publisher – who is also the publisher behind Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me in the UK. There could be marmalade-droppers. 24 March, Gallery Books

The Lasting Harm by Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s 2019 book I Choose Elena was a moving account of how literature helped her to overcome the trauma of an assault she experienced as a teenager. So she has a first-hand understanding of the legacy of abuse – or, to steal a phrase from the prosecutors of Ghislaine Maxwell in the trial that saw the wealthy socialite sentenced to 20 years for sex trafficking, the “lasting harm”. Her latest book is the behind-the-scenes story of that trial, and Osborne-Crowley its apt storyteller. 14 March, Fourth Estate

Barbara Comyns: A Savage Innocence by Avril Horner

Barbara Comyns was a poodle breeder, antique dealer, painter, and the wife of a spy, and is also the best novelist you’ve never heard of. That may be about to change, though, with the publication of the first Comyns biography, featuring a number of unpublished letters. 19 March, Manchester University Press

Who’s Afraid of Gender? by Judith Butler

Judith Butler’s unreadably long academic-speak sentences didn’t stop her ideas about gender from becoming some of the most influential in modern culture. Gender Trouble popularised the notion that gender is largely performative and something that can be subverted. In what could be one of the most divisive books of the year, Butler – who now identifies as they/them – has written about how gender is now being weaponised by the far right. 19 March, Allen Lane

Rebel Wilson is set to discuss everything from weight loss to sexuality to fertility in a new memoir
— (supplied)

Rebel Rising by Rebel Wilson

The Australian actor Rebel Wilson is apparently revealing her “deepest, darkest secrets” in a new memoir. The Bridesmaids star is set to discuss everything from weight loss to sexuality to fertility. She also teased that there would be “at least one story about Brad Pitt”. 2 April, Harper NonFiction

By the River: Essays from the Water’s Edge

Essay collections from Daunt Books have previously brought together wonderful writers to talk about the joy of gardens or the pleasures of the kitchen, in beautifully packaged editions with gorgeously illustrated covers. This time round, writers from Jo Hamya to Amy Key to Caleb Azumah Nelson reflect on rivers. 11 April, Daunt Books Originals

It’s Not Banter, It’s Racism by Azeem Rafiq

Azeem Rafiq’s testimony of the racism he said he endured at Yorkshire County Cricket Club was one of the most shocking reckonings in the recent history of British sport. He has now written about his experiences, which resulted in a £400k fine for the club, as well as the dangers that come with denying racism. 25 April, Trapeze

Salman Rushdie writes about the attack that almost killed him in his new book
— (source)

Knife by Salman Rushdie

The world watched in horror when Salman Rushdie was violently attacked on stage at an event in New York. He now writes his account of the incident, which left him without sight in one eye or the use of one hand, 30 years after he was first placed under the threat of a fatwa. 16 April, Jonathan Cape

Reading Lessons by Carol Atherton

Not another year of Of Mice and Men, surely? It’s the same book but different, argues English teacher Carol Atherton. She writes about how the books we study at school may not change that much, but their meanings do, from her first-hand experience of teaching everything from Jane Eyre to Jeanette Winterson. 4 April, Fig Tree

The Garden Against Time by Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing has walked Suffolk’s River Ouse in search of its stories, journeyed around America trying to understand alcoholic writers, and wandered through New York looking for an antidote to loneliness. In her latest book, she picks up her hand trowel and heads into her own garden, planting bulbs as she looks at gardens’ historic associations with paradise and utopia. 2 May, Picador

Kathleen Hanna discusses life with Lyme disease, as well as her friendship with Kurt Cobain and her marriage to Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz in her memoir
— (source)

Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk by Kathleen Hanna

She’s the first lady of riot grrl-dom, and now Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna has written her memoir. Hanna will discuss life with Lyme disease, the affliction that stopped her from performing for several years, as well as her friendship with Kurt Cobain and her marriage to Beastie Boys member Adam Horovitz. 14 May, William Collins

On Green Pitches by David Kitson

After the shocking 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died, a community of survivors began to look for ways to come together and help one another with the raw grief. Within weeks, Grenfell Athletic Football Club had been formed. This book, by former professional footballer David Kitson – who would go on to coach the team – tells their story. 23 May, Harper NonFiction

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