FictionFan Awards 2016 – Factual

All stand please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2016.

In case you missed them last week, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2015 and October 2016 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

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

Genre Fiction – click to see awards

Factual

Crime Fiction/Thrillers

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2016

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

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

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

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

FACTUAL

The Golden Age of factual writing continues this year, although my general reading slump means I’ve read considerably fewer than usual. Fortunately, even from this restricted pool there have been some corkers, each of which is worthy of the award. A difficult choice, especially since there’s always an element of comparing apples and oranges in this category, but in the end the judge’s decision was unanimous…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

douglas macarthurDouglas MacArthur: American Warrior
by Arthur Herman

From the prologue of this biography, where Herman gives a dramatic description of the events at Inchon and then leaves those of us who don’t know our history on a cliffhanger, foreshadowing MacArthur’s future downfall, I knew he was going to achieve the remarkable, I might even have said impossible, feat of making me enjoy over 800 pages of the history of a soldier fighting the various American wars of the first half of the twentieth century.

The picture that emerges is of a true military hero, a man of great personal courage, with a huge ego and a desire for public recognition and even glory, but with a driving ambition to see his nation provide a shining example to the rest of the world. A flawed hero perhaps, but I sometimes think we as a society expect a level of perfection that our heroes cannot possibly achieve, and in general I prefer sympathetic biographies that recognise and allow for human fallibility, as Herman’s always do. So from my perspective, this is another great biography from Herman, thoroughly researched and immensely readable.

Click to see the full review

MacArthur striding ashore at the amphibious landing at Leyte, Philippines
MacArthur striding ashore at the amphibious landing at Leyte, Philippines

* * * * * * * * *

the wicked boyThe Wicked Boy
by Kate Summerscale

For ten days in the summer of July 1895, two boys spent their time roaming round coffee shops and attending cricket matches, and telling anyone who asked that their mother had gone to visit relatives in Liverpool. Meantime, an unpleasant smell was beginning to seep from their house, becoming so bad eventually that the neighbours complained to the boys’ aunt. When she forced her way into the house, she discovered the badly decomposed body of the boys’ mother, and immediately young Robert Coombes admitted to having stabbed her to death.

This is a chilling but fascinating true crime story from the end of the Victorian era. Robert Coombes was thirteen at the time of the murder and his brother Nattie was twelve. Summerscale tells the story of the crime and its aftermath – firstly, the trial and conviction of young Robert, and then following him through his later life to answer the question of whether there can be any kind of redemption in this life for someone who has committed such a horrific crime. Immaculately researched, well written and presented, this is an intriguing look at how children were treated in the justice system at the time, and at the regime within Broadmoor, the state hospital for the criminally insane.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

the murder of king james iThe Murder of King James I
by
Alastair Bellany & Thomas Cogswell

Following the death of James VI and I in 1625, rumours abounded that he had been done away with by his favourite, George Villiers, by then Duke of Buckingham. Over the intervening period these rumours have been dismissed by historians, partly on the grounds of lack of real evidence and partly as a result of developments in the field of forensic medicine, which suggest other, natural causes for his death. In this book, the authors’ position is that whether James was or wasn’t murdered is not the point. They argue that it is how and why the allegations were made that matters, and how they were spread, perceived by contemporary society, and altered over time to suit the end purposes of various factions. They set out to prove that the allegations played a major role in the downfall of Charles I, and were still exerting a political influence many decades after the event, all through the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate, through the Restoration, and on to the final demise of the Stuart dynasty.

I found the story the authors told fascinating. Although it’s more academic in style than most of the history I’ve reviewed, it’s very well written – thoroughly explained and convincingly argued, and free of academic jargon, so still quite accessible to the general reader. Personally I found it an immersive experience, at some points feeling that I knew the players and politics of the period of and just after the ‘murder’ better than I do the contemporary political scene.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

citizen kaneCitizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey
by Harlan Lebo

In the introduction, Harlan Lebo explains that the book is based on source documents and conversations with some of the participants in the making of the film. He starts with a brief biography of Welles’ achievements on stage and radio before he was given a contract by RKO.

Once Welles is installed at RKO, Lebo takes the reader through the entire process of the making of Kane in painstaking and pretty geeky detail. But geeky in a good way – written so that even I, who wouldn’t recognise a movie camera if I tripped over it, was able to easily understand. No detail is too small, no aspect too obscure to be included here, from budgeting, casting, direction, production, even what days particular scenes were filmed on. Sounds dreadful, huh? And yet, I found it increasingly fascinating – I had no idea of all that went into producing a film and began to feel a much greater admiration for the strange and wonderful people behind the camera, sometimes far behind it. It may not have made me enjoy the film more in the end, but I now have much more appreciation of the work that went into it, I admire a lot of the innovation, I see the stuff about the cinematography, I’m impressed by the dissolves between scenes, I hear how the music is being used. Recommended for Kane buffs, movie buffs, and people with a weird penchant for detailed geekiness…

Click to see full review

Citizen Kane galleons

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2016

for

BEST FACTUAL

gandhi and churchill

Gandhi & Churchill
by Arthur Herman

Yes, Herman makes his second appearance in the shortlist, and fourth overall appearance in the four years I’ve been doing these awards! I think that officially makes me a fan!

The scope of this book is huge. Herman gives us parallel biographies of both men from birth to death, a full political history of India under the Raj, and a wider look at the impact the battle for control of India had on the British Empire in the East and on the course of the bloody history of Europe and, indeed, the world in the first half of the century. He handles it superbly, remaining even-handed throughout, showing both men’s failures and weaknesses as well as their strengths, and how the intransigence of each grew out of their personal histories. There’s no sycophancy here, but neither is there an attempt to vilify either man – Herman suggests that neither deserves the reputation for unalloyed greatness that they tend to have been given in the popular mind in their respective nations, but both worked hard all their lives to achieve what they genuinely believed was for the best, for both nations.

The book is quite simply a stunning achievement. Herman writes brilliantly, making even the most complex subject clear. He has the gift of knowing what to put in and what to leave out, so that the reader feels fully informed without ever becoming bogged down by a lot of irrelevant details. Even on the bits of history that he mentions more or less in passing – the background to the Suez crisis, for example, or Kashmir – his short explanations give a clarity often missed in more detailed accounts. And his writing flows – the book is as readable as a fine literary novel, a great, sweeping saga covering a hundred years or more of history, populated by characters we come to know and understand. Quite possibly the best biographical history I have ever read, and one that gets my highest recommendation.

Click to see the book review

* * * * * * * * *

Next week: Best Crime Fiction/Thriller Award

35 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2016 – Factual

    • I’ve really grown to enjoy my non-fiction reading as much, if not more, than fiction over the last few years, which is a fairly new departure for me. And there are so many great ones around at the moment… 🙂

  1. A great selection, as ever! I could happily read any of these but will definitely be putting Gandhi & Churchill on my list to Father Christmas. Very excited for the next category!! 😀

  2. Fine choices, FictionFan! And you’ve reminded me that I very much want to read both The Wicked Boy and Gandhi and Churchill. I was intrigued by both when I read your reviews, and my interest hasn’t waned. I just need to wait until my TBR isn’t looking… *sigh*

  3. Well done you, with your weighty historical and political tomes. I’m probably most tempted by Citizen Kane…………but, the state of the pile awaiting reading, not to mention 6 books which I have read, and want to review but keep starting another book first…means resistance is my motto, as far as growing the TBR further. That is what I’m saying, anyway. Tilts chin firmly and aggressively outwards and upwards.

    Unfortunately, has hurried to drop the aggressive bulldog impersonation in order to answer the door to the postman, who is bearing a brown cardboard package of familiar shape…oh, it’s a book, from Amazon Vine. How on earth did that happen?

    • Citizen Kane is a true geekfest – I’m still surprised I enjoyed it so much! Haha! I get frightened every time I see the postman walking along the street, but it’s really the Kindle offers that do for me… I’m sure Amazon does it deliberately just to make me suffer! Vine’s had one or two good ones recently but I am staunchly resisting. Which is more than I can say about NG, having fallen off the wagon a bit there the last couple of days…

      • Funny that you should say that about NetGalley. I am pretty sure that I either have someone else secretly living in my flat, and or my Kindle and and PC are haunted. It is very scary. I have noticed that someone requested 4 titles from NetGalley today in the space of 5 minutes – and here’s the really scary thing. I was in, and at home, and sitting in front of the PC whilst it must have happened. I had been intending to try and write one of the 6 reviews which are writing themselves brilliantly in my head whilst I’m out walking, but have lost their flow when I sit down. I suppose I could dictate on the move, but it seems a faff. Anyway, clearly my Kindle is possessed. Spooky, huh?

        • It’s clearly a conspiracy – I reckon it’s all down to Russian hacking! They reckon if they keep us busy enough we won’t notice them subtly installing a malfunctioning android as POTUS. I’m glad I’m not alone in that difficulty of getting those words onto screen. The brilliance of my thoughts when just falling asleep would be too much for the world though – it’s fortunate that I forget them totally over-night. But I’m only three reviews behind, so I’m feeling quite smug now…

  4. I’m going to put this on my list! Ever since visiting Churchill’s bunker in London, I’ve become more interested in the man behind the legend. And, Gandhi, well, it’s Gandhi! A two for one…

    • I find Churchill fascinating. Politically we’d be miles apart, but he’s such a huge figure, and I do think WW2 may have turned out very differently without him. And this book is very fair, to both of them – neither hero-worship nor vilification. Hope you enjoy it! He’s a great writer…

  5. All of these appealled to me and the two I have read (both the Hermans – should we form a family fan club?) were excellent.

    • I’ve loved everything I’ve read of Herman’s, even when they didn’t sound like things I’d be interested in – like the Douglas MacArthur book. He’s highly recommended! And I loved The Wicked Boy – right up there with her first one, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which is great too…

    • The Summerscale is great – I love the way she widens her books out to tell you about the society of the time and so on. To be honest, any of these books would have been a worthy winner – they’re all great!

  6. Very intrigued by the Gandhi/Churchill book. What was the page count like on it? I noticed that you waded through 800 pages for a different selection, and I usually avoid 500+ unless I’m on vacation.

    • Hmm… it was also pretty huge if memory serves me right. About 600 pages plus notes, I think. Not quite as huge as the MacArthur book, but close. But his writing is so good and has such an easy flow to it that his books never seem as long as they are, if you know what I mean… 🙂

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