FictionFan Awards 2014 – Factual

Drum roll please…


…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2014.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…


All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2013 and October 2014 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.


The categories have changed slightly since last year to better reflect what I’ve been reading this year.

There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories


Genre Fiction

Literary Fiction

Crime Fiction/Thrillers


Book of the Year 2014



For the winners!

I guarantee to read the authors’ next book even if I have to buy it myself!

For the runners-up!




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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in



Last year, I split my factual reads into two categories – Science/Nature/Environment and History/Biography/Politics. This year I’ve read lots of history and politics, but very little popular science, so I’ve gone for a single category of Factual. This category contains many of the books I’ve enjoyed most throughout the year. It’s a Golden Age for factual writing at the moment – both quantity and quality. Which means that the choice has been a very difficult one indeed…



the cave and the lightThe Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilisation by Arthur Herman

In this comprehensive view of the last 2,500 years, Arthur Herman sets out to prove his contention that the history of Western civilisation has been influenced and affected through the centuries by the tension between the worldviews of the two greatest of the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Philosophy, politics, religion and science are all discussed,, showing how they linked and overlapped to influence the major periods and events of Western history – the fall of Greek civilisation, the Roman Empire, the birth and rise of Christianity, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, Revolution and on past the rise of totalitarianism to the end of the Cold War. Phew! And yet, Herman’s writing style makes the book very accessible to the non-academic reader. Not the lightest read in the world, but great for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals and history of Western philosophy.

Click to see the full review

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the devil in the white cityThe Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

When Chicago won the right to hold the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, there was much sneering from the snobbish elite of New York and elsewhere at the idea of this brash, dirty city, best known as the home of slaughterhouses and pork-packing factories, being able to put on a show that would impress the world. However, brash though Chicago may have been, it was also filled with go-getters and entrepreneurs, tough businessmen with determination, drive and, most of all, massive amounts of civic pride. This is the story of how those men turned an impossible dream into an astonishing reality – the building of the White City and the Chicago World’s Fair. And it’s also the story of how one man took advantage of the huge numbers of people coming into Chicago because of the Fair to indulge his psychopathic tendencies – the serial killer HH Holmes. A fascinating story very well told, I found this a totally absorbing read, written so well that it read like a novel complete with drama and tension.

Click to see the full review

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roy jenkins2Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life by John Campbell

An affectionate and well-researched biography of one of the most influential British Labour politicians of the second half of the twentieth century. While sticking closely to his subject, Campbell sets Jenkins’ life in the context of the times at all stages thus also giving us a look at the wider political context. Jenkins did indeed live a well-rounded life – he was not just a highly successful politician but a very well-regarded biographer in his own right, of political figures such as Asquith and Churchill. But he also enjoyed the social side of life, never allowing the pressures of his various roles to get in the way of the more hedonistic side of his nature. This huge book is well written and structured so that, despite its size, it is a flowing and accessible read. An excellent biography that does its subject full justice.

Click to see the full review

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the scottish enlightenmentThe Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World by Arthur Herman

Yes, two books from Arthur Herman made the runners-up list. I don’t think I’ve read a factual book about Scotland in the last year that hasn’t referenced this one. And not surprisingly – not only is it an excellently written history, it’s also extremely flattering about the Scots. Even our First Minister, Alex Salmond, was plugging it during the Independence debate. Although there are a few chapters in this book dedicated to explaining the ideas of the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, the bulk of the book is an examination of how those ideas spread via the Scottish diaspora, and changed not just Scotland or the UK but, in Herman’s view, the Western world. As accessible as The Cave and the Light (but considerably shorter), this book is certainly not just for Scots – in fact, there’s as much in it about the founding of America as about Scotland. A fascinating and enjoyable read.

Click to see the full review

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rebel yell

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne

I can’t remember ever enjoying a biography more than this one. Well researched and clearly structured, the book balances the history and the personal perfectly, but what really made it stand out for me so much is the sheer quality of the writing and storytelling. Gwynne’s great use of language and truly elegant grammar bring both clarity and richness to the complexities of the campaigns, while the extensive quotes from contemporaneous sources, particularly Jackson’s own men, help to give the reader a real understanding of the trust and loyalty that he inspired. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for anyone to interest me in the minutiae of military campaigns, but I became absorbed by the descriptions of artillery and troop movements, supply chains and battle plans. Gwynne’s brilliance at contrasting the beauty of the landscape with the horrors of the battlefield is matched by his ability to show the contrast between Jackson’s public and private personas. If only all history were written like this – a superb book, and a worthy winner.

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Genre Fiction Award

65 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2014 – Factual

  1. You’ve got some fine choices there, FictionFan! And I don’t think you could ask for a better judging panel… Glad you enjoyed so many different factual books this year, and you’ve reminded me that I want to read Rebel Yell, so thanks for that.


    • Haha! At least the result is always unanimous! Yes, there are so many great factual reads coming out at the moment – we’re quite spoiled. I hope you enjoy ‘Rebel Yell’ – not just a good history, but a great read… 🙂


  2. Love the judging line up…and a superb prize….although Crimeworm has to admit she finds philosophy a wee bit scary…I do love books about war, but my fondness is for the political machinations behind it – I baulk at straight military history (Crimeworm has always considered this a very… *whispers*…masculine genre….scuttle – as Crimeworm goes to ground while being chased by angry feminist military history fans wielding muskets and other war…stuff…)


  3. This is such an awesome idea! Your award process makes me want to post more regularly so I can do fun things with my blog too. (Not that I’m a total slacker — I’ve been writing. :D) I think I’ll be back soon though– I’m reading Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler and it’s the best thing I’ve read all year.

    I can’t wait until your fiction awards!


    • Thanks! Haha! I must admit that it’s very time-consuming – I’ve clearly got too much time on my hands… 😉 So I think your excuse is a very good one! Look forward to your review – I haven’t heard of that one, though for some reason the author’s name seems familiar…


      • I’m reading it after a friend’s recommendation. The author rang a bell and when I looked her up, I was surprised to see she’d won the Pulitzer (Breathing Lessons) and been nominated for it two other times. So far, I can see why!


        • Gosh! Now I’m ashamed I didn’t properly recognise her name. It’s appalling how many great writers never really reach full name recognition. I’m even keener now to read your review…


          • A girl once asked me to tear a page out of a library book as she liked the picture…and I absolutely could not do it. She was utterly puzzled at my refusal (but of course proceeded to do it herself.) But at least my conscience is clear…


  4. Oh I’m going to have to request that we get a new judge, as she clearly has links to one author (probably goes and has dinner with him regularly like Fiona Woolf and Leon Brittain) I’ve called Theresa May to account for her judge selection and questions are being asked in the House

    PS Theresa May says that because Mr Herman wasn’t the winner that that must prove either

    a) The judge doesn’t know him AT ALL or
    b) He is a dreadful cook.

    You have got away with it. I suspect the answer is b.


    • Ha ha! Very topical! I suspect the answer is also b), as he’s far too busy writing excellent books to learn how to cook. I note your influential position, Lady Fancifull, should I ever require it, in case I am arrested on terrorism charges for breaking book spines…as should be the case…


      • I’m likely to be languishing in a holding pen on charges associated with annotating and underlining, so the high bookie judges have disqualified me from defending others who are violent towards books


    • Well, anyone who loves the Scots as much as Mr Herman deserves to be my friend! In fact, I’m getting up a petition to have the Wallace Monument replaced by a Herman statue! But I felt overall that two runner-up spots was probably roughly equivalent to one award anyway…


  5. A great collection of books, all of which I have read and enjoyed on your recommendation, except “Rebel Yell”, which is still on my TBR list. So I’ll look forward to that one.


    • Have you? I’m very glad you enjoyed them all then – and I look forward to hearing what you think of Rebel Yell. As you’ll have gathered. I think it’s brill – but it does seem to have reignited the Civil War on Amazon US – or at least my review has! Oops! 😉


    • Not tempted by The Devil in the White City? Well, I’m hopeful I might trap you with all of the other three categories… 😉

      I seem to have nearly only read history and politics in factual this year – I think it was all the preparation for the referendum. Hopefully I’ll get back to reading a wider range this year…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was rather embarrassed not to have got to The Scottish Enlightenment yet…to the extent that I dashed round to Waterstones and asked if they had it (it was sold out), as it’s the sort of book I like a hard copy of, as I’m likely to be flicking back and forward – the Kindle isn’t my choice for factual/reference books. But I will get it…


  6. Such a fun idea. I’m looking forward to next week. It’s good to be reminded of those books you recommended that extended my TBR list to the year 2050. Ha- ha.


  7. These all sound so interesting, especially The Cave and the Light! And you make Rebel Yell sound very tempting. I’m usually put off by biographies of generals because of the battle details, but perhaps I’ll give this one a try. Love the awards!


    • Yes, I usually give military history a wide berth too, but Gwynne described everything so well he really held my interest, and Jackson was a fascinating man – full of contradictions. And The Cave and the Light was fantastic – it was hard to decide which of these two should win… 🙂


  8. Sorry I’m so late! (Just got a place (finally!!!) to shoot this video.) I should have used brackets, I think.

    Anyway, interesting! I didn’t know you enjoyed Rebel Yell that much. I mean, I knew you liked it and all.. Bios are great. Have you read your Twain one yet?


    • I forgive you! *wipes away tears and smiles bravely* (Yay!! It sounds super-exciting – is there a time-scale so I can work out how much chocolate I’ll need to get through the wait?)

      Yes, I loved it – you might too, you know, you know. No, did I not tell you the Twain one didn’t come in a Kindle format? I couldn’t bear to read a book that length on the laptop screen. I think it’s gone now anayway…


      • Thanks! Good thing you’re so gracious. (The shoot is scheduled for Nov. 17th, if everything goes right. You wouldn’t believe how many places turned us down! *angry mean nasty face* You know, there’s lots of…jerks out there!!!)

        You let it go! *bangs head on blue desk* You would, too. Well…I have a Twain bio, and I never got around to reading it.


        • Haha! Do I detect a teensy-weensy touch of sarcasm there, sir? (Send me their addresses and Tuppence’ll sort them out! Nov 17th isn’t too long, then there’s editing and all that sort of technical business – so if you and Mic work all night it should be ready for the 18th! *nods and smiles happily*)

          Didn’t you? That was a Santa book wasn’t it? Never mind, you can read it when you’ve finished B… *giggles*


  9. Hey!! Glad to see that “Rebel Yell” was the winner! I’m so excited because I met the author last week. I got him to autograph my copy of “Empire of the Summer Moon,” a book he wrote about the Cheyennes. I, um,was… too intimidated by the page count of “Rebel Yell” to pick it up. Embarrassing.


    • How exciting! I’d love to meet him. The Summer Moon book is now on my wishlist – if it’s even half as good as Rebel Yell it’ll be great. Rebel Yell is long, but it’s so well written that it’s much easier to read than some histories of half the length. Generally I only read factual books in short burstss and then turn to fiction, but with this one I found I was reading it in great chunks…


      • I’m not approximately….. 10 pages into “Summer Moon.” In my defense, I only started last night! (Funny story about the author by the way. He said he was working as a banker, but then this wife won the jackpot on an American gameshow, so he decided ‘well cool, I’ll quit banking and be a writer.’)


        • I hope you review it – I’d love to hear what you think of it. (Haha! Great story! And I’m glad he did take to writing. I wonder how his wife felt about it, though… 😉 )


  10. Great contest and interesting criteria and judging. As for the winner, Rebel Yell, I have to tell you I live on the road that J.E.B Stuart took north to the Battle of Gettysburg against the Army of the Potomac. I’ve heard they bivouacked along the route and always hoped to find a Civil War uniform button or such in my fields.


    • Thanks, Irtrovi! How interesting! I really felt that Gwynne was brilliant at describing the beauty of the terrain – that was one of the things that made me love the book so much. It really drew a contrast with the horrors of the battlefields, and made the way the civilians lived amongst it all come to life. I hope you find a button one day… 🙂


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