September Non-Fiction

September Non-Fiction

September is a mammoth month for non-fiction. There is quantity, but I'm delighted to report that the quality is there too: real strength in depth. We have an array of titles with sterling precedents: Michael Palin provides the third volume of his diaries, Stephen Fry delivers his second memoir, and second books also come from the immensley popular Clare Balding and the multi award-winning (and also immensely popular) Alan Johnson MP. Luis Suarez may be less popular, but even if only Liverpool fans and Uruguayan expats buy his autobiography, that's still a lot of sales. In Food and Drink, there's a new Ottolenghi, a new Lorraine Pascale and (well, strike a light) another new Mary Berry. 

There are also some auspicious debuts this month. Debuts are not much talked about in the context of non-fiction, but the launch of a new talent is equally to be celebrated. First books of great promise include Crumb by Ruby Tandoh - a food writer of some flair, accoridng to Chatto - and How to Live by Vincent Deary, garlanded with this plaudit from Allen Lane: "It is impossible to read it without marvelling that he has never been published before". 

The most marvellous debut of all, in my view, is Sapien by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. In his first book for a general audience, he has pulled off something utterly spectacular: an accessible, eminently readable history of our species across 100, 000 years, all in under 500 pages. It's completely genre-busting: history, science, anthopology, philosophy, psychology, art, the meaning of life - it's all in there. I'd love to see this brief history of mankind sell like A Brief Histoy of Time. 

Editor's Choice: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (Harvill Secker, £25)

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one: homo sapiens. This lucid, illuminating and brilliantly written single-volume history of our species examines who we succeeded in the battle for dominance, thanks to such crucial factors as fire, gossip, agriculture, mythology, money, contradictions and science (which made us deadly). Harari explains how we came to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism. Rights have been sold in more than 20 countries. Having read it, I feel as if I've had a whole new education. 

Editor's Picks:

The Beatles Lyrics edited by Hunter Davies (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25)
Whether originially scribbled on the back of an envelope or napkin, this large format illustrated book contains the first authorised collection of original handwritten Beatles lyrics, edited by Davies, who knew the Fab Four during their heyday, and recently gave his own collection to the British Library. He charts the stories behind the songs, revealing their fascinating contexts. My favourite Beatles book of the past few years (and there have been a few). 

Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-Wests by Matthew Dennison (HarperCollins, £25)
In the first biography of Vita Sackville-West for 30 years, Dennison draws on a wide range of sources to get behind the "beautiful mask" of her public achievements and to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level. "Dazzling", promises Collins, and it's certainly my literary biography of the month.

Terrible Estate Agent Photos by Andy Donaldson (Square Peg, £8.99)
For sale: From the creator of viral blog, a book of the most baffingly dreadful property photographs ever taken, an "endless sources of confusion, confusion, confusion, frustration, frustration, frustration and, perversley, satisfaction, satisfaction, satisfaction". Less Rankin, and more plain rank, this provides an invigorating injection of homeowners' schadenfreude. It's my favourite humour titles of the season so far. 

The Most of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron (Doubleday, £20)
Whopping big celebratory anthology of writings by the late and much-lamented Ephron at her funniest and most acute; on feminism, being a woman, journalism, the importance of food, and the bittersweet realities of growing old. Also includes extracts from her "When Harry Met Sally" screenplay. So far, the book I'd most like to curl up with after Christmas lunch.

A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape, £16.99) 
The author of the Samuel Johnson-shortlisted A Sting in the Tale returns with an enthralling look at the insect world found in one field in France. We learn how a Deathwatch Beetle finds its mate, about the importance of houseflies, why butterflies have spots on their wings, along with fascinating facst about dragonfly sex, bed-bugs and wasps. A book that is set to cure me of my creepy-crawly phobia. 

Pretty Honest: The Straighforward Beauty Companion (Fourth Estate, £20)
The Guardian's Weekend magazine beauty columnist with a "witty, wise and truthful" beauty handbook for real women, in which she aims to show real women how to make the most of make-up's physically and emotionally transformative powers. Covers everything from teenage skin to an 80th birthday makeover, with a bit of botox (or not) along the way. I've followed her recommendations many times and rarely been disappointed. 

Good Ideas: How to be Your Child's (and Your Own) Best Teacher by Michael Rosen (John Murray, £16.99)
The children's writer, poet, broadcaster, father of five and vociferous campaigner for an enriching, all-round education for all suggests an "alternative curriculum" for parents to employ at home with their children. As you would expect, it's far from hothouse helicopter stuff, but rather packed with games, stories and memorable information, along with illustrations and a great design, as the inspiring Rosen aims to prove that the best learning really does begin at home. Let's find it a wide audience. 

Adventures in Stationery: Stories from Your Pencil Case by James Ward (Profile, £14.99)
Who is Mr Pritt? What does shatter-proof resistant mean? Who invented Tipp-Ex? And what exactly are the 1, 000 uses for Blu-Tack claimed by the manufacturers? Here are the answers to those, and many more intriguing posers from your pencil case, from the founder of blog I Like Boring Things, The Stationery Club and the sell-out Boring Conference. As someone with a long-term stationery fetish, I can't wait to take my highlighter and Post-It Notes to this one.