Non-fiction is a bit of an odd genre for me because I love documentaries and regularly start books about subjects I’m interested in, but I almost never finish non-fiction books. So I went hunting through my book piles and picked out the three I found the most interesting, and I’m going to try and finish them this Summer!
The True History of Chocolate by Sophie and Michael Coe*
Chocolate – ‘the food of the Gods’ – has had a long and eventful history. Its story is expertly told here by the doyen of Maya studies, Michael Coe, and his late wife, Sophie. The book begins 3,000 years ago in the Mexican jungles and goes on to draw on aspects of archaeology, botany and socio-economics. Used as currency and traded by the Aztecs, chocolate arrived in Europe via the conquistadors, and was soon a favourite drink with aristocrats. By the 19th century and industrialization, chocolate became a food for the masses – until its revival in our own time as a luxury item. Chocolate has also been giving up some of its secrets to modern neuroscientists, who have been investigating how flavour perception is mediated by the human brain. And, finally, the book closes with two contemporary accounts of how chocolate manufacturers have (or have not) been dealing with the ethical side of the industry.
Chocolate is a good chunk of the food I eat so when I started reading this during Lent after I gave up chocolate, this book felt a little like torture. I’ve spent hours wandering the chocolate museum in Köln and find the whole process fascinating so I’m looking forward to taking a really deep dive into it’s history, as well as the current market and ethics. What I’ve read so far is wonderfully written and ideal for reading with a cookie or five.
Please Take Me Home: The Story of the Rescue Cat by Clare Campbell
In Please Take Me Home, Clare Campbell takes us on a journey with the nation’s rescue cats, from being treated as pests throughout history to being the pet of choice today.
For a long time, stray cats in Britain were seen as a nuisance and hunted down as vermin. Having invited this wild, independent creature into our homes, humans did not extend their welcome for long. Over time, thousands of cats were subsequently abandoned and left to live on the margins of survival.
There were, however, the kind few who sought to help. But these good spirited people were often scorned, even derided as ‘mad’. A Princess of Wales was even told to stop helping lost cats in order to avoid a royal scandal; the story was kept a secret of state for years. It would take over a century for strays to become the beloved rescue cats of today, with some now gaining celebrity status, such as Downing Street’s Larry or Street Cat Bob.
Please Take Me Home is a fascinating and insightful history through the ages of the struggle for cats to exist in domesticity alongside mankind.
I began fostering cats in 2017 and since then, it’s become about 70% of my personality. I’ve literally had to stop writing this post three times because of kittens climbing onto my desk and standing on my keyboard (look at this silly boy). So I’m really interested in the history of the rescue cat and the people that began the charity work I do now! I have a feeling this is going to fill me with righteous indignation about the ten-and-a-half million cats estimated to be on the UKs streets, and how it’s all humans fault.
Fighting Proud by Stephen Bourne
In this astonishing new history of wartime Britain, historian Stephen Bourne unearths the fascinating stories of the gay men who served in the armed forces and at home, and brings to light the great unheralded contribution they made to the war effort. Fighting Proud weaves together the remarkable lives of these men, from RAF hero Ian Gleed – a Flying Ace twice honoured for bravery by King George VI – to the infantry officers serving in the trenches on the Western Front in WWI – many of whom led the charges into machine-gun fire only to find themselves court-martialled after the war for indecent behaviour. Behind the lines, Alan Turing’s work on breaking the ‘enigma machine’ and subsequent persecution contrasts with the many stories of love and courage in Blitzed-out London, with new wartime diaries and letters unearthed for the first time. Bourne tells the bitterly sad story of Ivor Novello, who wrote the WWI anthem `Keep the Home Fires Burning’, and the crucial work of Noel Coward – who was hated by Hitler for his work entertaining the troops. Fighting Proud also includes a wealth of long-suppressed wartime photography subsequently ignored by mainstream historians. This book is a monument to the bravery, sacrifice and honour shown by a persecuted minority, who contributed during Britain’s hour of need.
I actually got this for a story I was planning on writing for my creative writing module and needed to do some research about the gay men who served in WWII. Now it’s stemmed into the whole idea behind my Camp NaNoWriMo project so, unsurprisingly, it’s really good. My only issue is that I can get really sad reading some of the stories that don’t have the happiest endings so I have to take it in small chunks. It’s a really powerful and important book.