The 10 most fascinating non-fiction books to read this May

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Moya Crockett
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Non-fiction books are often perceived as being more intimidating than novels – and somehow less romantic. But the truth can be equally as fascinating as fiction, and it's just as easy to lose yourself in a cracking work of non-fiction as it is in a flight of fancy. 

Some excellent memoirs and historical biographies hit the shelves this May. The Last Act of Love, by Stylist books contributor Cathy Rentzenbrink, is a poignant story of familial loss, while self-proclaimed strident feminist Lindy West explores what it means to be a loud (and very funny) woman in Shrill.

Paula Byrne’s Kick uncovers the mysterious and glamorous life of John F. Kennedy’s forgotten sister, and The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman reveals astonishing behind-the-scenes details from the 16th century.

We’ve also found some engrossing works of social science. Banish all thoughts of boredom: You May Also Like, by American journalist Tom Vanderbilt, is a lively exploration of the concept of “taste”. Laurence Scott examines what it really means to live in a digital world in The Four-Dimensional Human, and Rebecca Asher makes the case for a reconsideration of modern masculinity in Man Up. In The Power Paradox, meanwhile, psychologist Dacher Keltner unravels what it means to be truly influential.

Persia Lawson and Joey Bradford’s The Inner Fix is a useful handbook for any so-called “millennial” who’s feeling a bit wobbly on their feet. And finally, never feel nervous before a presentation again after reading TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.

Go on – get stuck in.

  • Shrill by Lindy West

    Guardian columnist Lindy West is loud. She is a feminist. She is funny. She also writes about all of these things on the internet, which doesn’t always go down well – but West, who was a cripplingly shy teenager, refuses to be cowed as an adult. In this collection of essays, she recounts how she found her voice, taking on issues from racism to rape culture along the way. If you needed any more convincing, Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran are fans.

    Get it here

  • TED Talks by Chris Anderson

    According to one survey, only two things frighten women more than the thought of public speaking: losing a family member and being buried alive. This new book from the head of TED Talks reveals the secrets behind delivering a confident, calm and kick-ass presentation - from how to structure a speech to what to wear - and includes advice from TED speakers including Bill Gates and Elizabeth Gilbert. 

    Get it here

  • Kick by Paula Byrne

    Her brothers were three of the most famous American politicians of the 20th century, but Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy has been largely forgotten. Byrne, the bestselling author of The Real Jane Austen, tells her story in this whirlwind of a biography. Just before the outbreak of WW2, the cheerful and clever Kick moved to London, where she fell in love with the son of the Duke of Devonshire. Their marriage prompted a scandal on both sides of the pond – but that was just the beginning of an astonishing life. 

    Get it here

  • You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice by Tom Vanderbilt

    From our dress sense to our favourite author, most of us have a pretty firm grasp on what we like. But figuring out why is a little more complex. How do we decide what’s “good”? Is it shaped by our personal experiences – or something more innate? And in the digital age, how much are our personal preferences shaped by the “likes” of others? Intellectual and buoyant, you’ll feel savvier than ever after reading this. 

    Get it here

  • The Last Act of Love: The Story of My Brother and His Sister, by Cathy Rentzenbrink

    Is there anything worse than death? In this tender, heartbreaking memoir, Stylist's literary contributor Cathy Rentzenbrink tells the story of what happened after her teenage brother was knocked down by a car in the summer of 1990. Matty’s family willed him to survive – but when he did, countless further dilemmas arose. A bestseller when it was first published, this is the paperback edition.

    Get it here

  • The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

    From Wolf Hall to The Other Boleyn Girl, we’re fascinated by fiction set in 16th century England. But how much do you actually know about the Tudors? Historian Tracy Borman has pored over eyewitness accounts from people who were there, from the servant who slept at the foot of Elizabeth’s bed to the maids who knew the tragic secret behind ‘Bloody’ Mary’s phantom pregnancies. A rich and intimate portrait of some very familiar characters. 

    Get it here

  • The Four-Dimensional Human by Laurence Scott

    We spend increasing amounts of time in a digital world. In this exploration of post-internet life, academic Laurence Scott outlines how the web has effectively created a strange, seductive fourth dimension: a world where communication and information are always at our fingertips. But how is this shift really affecting us? Why do moments feel flat if we can’t share them with the world? And what does it mean to communicate more by text than by spoken word? Fascinating stuff. 

    Get it here

  • The Inner Fix by Persia Lawson and Joey Bradford

    Sky-high rents, unstable careers, the pressures of social media, suffocating debts, uncommitted relationships: we know all about the ‘issues’ facing young adults today, and it's unlikely that many of them can be solved by a self-help book. Thankfully, The Inner Fix doesn’t pretend it can sort those external things. Rather, it’s a guide to staying grateful for what you do have, and how to build a happy, purposeful life in uncertain times. 

    Get it here

  • Man Up by Rebecca Asher

    Anyone with half a handle on feminism knows that narrow, rigidly prescribed gender roles are as damaging to men as they are to women. This impassioned book examines the social, sexual and educational pressures faced by boys and young men, and how these can lead to struggles with issues ranging from mental health to sexual relationships. Ultimately, it calls for boys to be given the tools they need to grow into good men, citizens, partners and fathers - and shows that change is possible.

    Get it here

  • The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner

    Influential people get to where they are by being socially intelligent and kind. The problem is, says Keltner, that once they’re rewarded for these qualities with power, they start behaving like sociopaths. The psychologist behind Pixar movie Inside Out shows how traditional perceptions of power turn people into hideous human beings, and explores how - from the bedroom to the boardroom - we can become powerful and remain pleasant. 

    Get it here


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.