I do love a good non-fiction book, but usually the non-fiction I read is memoir. But this year, two of the best books I read all year were non-memoir non-fiction. The first was Race of a Lifetime by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.
This book was recommended by Jenny Colgan who said it was as gripping as a novel and it absolutely was. It’s subtitled How Obama Won the White House and, you know, that’s what it’s about, but I don’t think you need to have a great grip on politics to enjoy it – it’s more about the characters than the politics. And, as such, it gives a fascinating (and sometimes scary) insight into those involved: Bill and Hillary, John McCain, Sarah Palin, John and Elizabeth Edwards and, of course, Barack and Michelle Obama. Loved it.
I’d heard a lot about Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The story sounded fascinating and important, but almost unbearably sad…
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
It’s brilliantly written. It will stick with me for a long time. I cried a lot. I think everyone should read it. (Again, you don’t need to understand science to appreciate this book.)
(I pinched the 12 Books of Christmas idea, with permission, from Carly Bennett. It’s her birthday today so go and read her 9 Books I Missed Out On in 2010.)